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Pluck the Star Exchange the Moon


Students and teachers have often tried to trace the lineage of their style or the history of their forms. Different branches of Praying Mantis often come up with conflicting answers on the origins of their style and forms. For the most part, these styles and forms are collections of techniques compiled by generations of masters.


The First Book of Praying Mantis


Luohan Short StrikesInstead of trying to trace the style or even the forms, can we trace the lineage of a Praying Mantis technique from the previous era to the present? To answer this question I started by going through what I consider to be the oldest book of Praying Mantis Luohan Short Strikes  (also known as True Transmission of Shaolin), dating from the 1700‘s. I looked for clues on techniques with the same names as forms known in modern times.


The Oldest Forms of Mantis

Of the modern forms three are considered the oldest, they are called Luanjie, Bengbu and Eight Elbows. Sadly, none of these forms appear in Luohan Short Strikes. The oldest known hand written book containing these three forms is called Fist, Staff and Spear Manual (Quan Gun Qiang Pu) written sometime in the mid 1800’s by Master Liang Xuexiang.

Over the past 20 years I have had the good fortune to learn several versions of all these three forms as well as collect their manuscripts from various branches of Praying Mantis. I started my search for common techniques by looking at and comparing these two books with an eye towards finding something in Luohan Short Strikes that looked like it had made its way into Fist, Staff and Spear Manual.

The Cleaving Chop of Praying Mantis

Though Luohan Short Strikes contains no mention of these three core forms, Luanjie, Bengbu and Eight Elbows, of the several short forms that it does contain I found something of interest in 'The Cleaving Chop of Praying Mantis.' The description is written in rhyming seven character verse:

Chopping and cleaving of Praying Mantis was passed down by Wang Lang,
Who closely studied the Praying Mantis seizing the cicada.
With feet in the figure ten stance,
Swing open the arms fast as lightening.
The attacking fingers first strike ren zhong point,
Plucking the star to exchange the moon overturning top and bottom.

Cui Shoushan'Pluck a Star and Exchange the Moon' immediately caught my eye. This move is also found in Fist, Staff and Spear Manual under Master Liang’s version of Bengbu. Do both books refer to the same technique? Pluck a Star and Exchange the Moon is well documented by Cui Shoushan (pictured), student of Song Zide. Master Song Zide is the Praying Mantis master who personally studied under Liang Xuexiang and expanded greatly on the written work of Praying Mantis. He first writes the names of the techniques followed by the explanation of their application. Within 'Bengbu Explained' Cui Shoushan writes;

Advancing step double binding.
Pluck the star exchange the moon.

He attacks (with the right).
With my left side forward I do double divide and securely bind his right hand securely at his chest. My left and right hands take his eyes. Double divide at the central gate and kick the crotch.

This is how it is written in the Taiji Praying Mantis family. We will see  the use of 'double binding' the opponent again in Seven Star Praying Mantis.


Seven Star Praying Mantis Takes the Eyes Too


Seven Star Praying Mantis has no documented connection to Master Liang Xuexiang, yet we still find similarities if we look at famous master from Hong Kong Won Hanfun (Huang Hanxun).


Right after WW2 he published his book on Bengbu with descriptions of techniques, applications and 47 short poems of four lines each. He does not use the term 'pluck the star and exchange the moon', but at the same section of his Bengbu we still find the name 'binding hands,' followed by 'kick and take the eyes,' a description in line with the Taiji Praying Mantis version.


Luo Guangyu performs 'double binding hands'

Huang Hanxun follows with 'take the eyes'


Taking the Eyes Applied


Master Huang Hanxun's book on the two person form of Bengbu shows the applications and defense of these moves.


Double binding' is applied, control the opponent's right arm.



Simultaneously strike the eyes as you kick the crotch.


The Middle of Man

Taiji and Seven Star Praying Mantis versions of Bengbu both strike at the eyes while in Luohan Short Strikes, 'The attacking fingers first strike ren zhong point.'

Ren zhong point is the space located between the nose and upper lip (unless you had studied anatomy and physiology you probably wouldn’t know this space is described as being located at the center of the philtrum).

From Tui Na Mi Jue (Secrets of Massage) Circa 1575

The characters ‘ren zhong’ means the center of man. Above and below man being the heavens and the earth. The Chinese put the ‘center of man’ between mouth and nose as the nose receives the five qi from the heaven and the mouth receives the five vapors from the earth.

Striking Ren Zhong Point

Not much damage is caused by striking ren zhong point. It is listed within the safe 'eight strikes' (ba da) of Praying Mantis, points that only cause ‘pain and unconsciousness’.

This page from Xi Yuan Lu-Record of Washing Unjust Imputation

Circa 1247 shows various points that may result in death. Notably, it does not include ren zhong point. Written by a judge for the purpose of determining cause of death and identifying guilty parties in court cases

Why does Luohan Short Strikes tell us to strike the somewhat ineffective ren zhong point with our fingers? If Luohan Short Strikes is indeed describing the same technique that we know in Bengbu it could be that it was a substitute for the eyes in order to avoid blinding you training partner or student

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