|My Trip to Shandong
Master Zhou Zhendong adjusts my posture
The sun had long since set and
I stood in a large dark field catching my breath as I
gazed up at the stars. Yantai
is a city of millions of people, yet at night it seems
to turn itself off and go to sleep leaving the sky clear
with all the stars on display. Nearby was the eerie
sound of singing as a chorus of ladies sang traditional
As Master Zhou and I stood there enjoying the night
he told me that he preferred to train late at night when
it was so dark you could hardly see your hand in front
of your face. "It is the custom that I grew up with," He
explained. I asked him about his days of training and
why he had trained in the dark.
"Originally there were many kung fu schools in Yantai,
schools all over the place." He was referring to before
the 1966 cultural revolution. In 1966 China underwent a cultural
revolution that lasted until 1976.
During that time, "... all kung fu schools were closed down
and the teachers, and in many cases, students, were paraded
with a 'dunce cap' on their head," He continued, "They were made to
confess their sins against China in public for
all to hear. The masters were then shipped off..." It
was to the
countryside to re-education camps working menial farm or
other hard labor. "Martial arts instructors had it particularly bad as they
were part of the old culture, and the cultural
revolution sought to completely destroy that."
Kung Fu Family Overcomes the Revolution
The culture of kung fu had a rough time during this
period, but the revolution could never overcome the
vitality accumulated through countless generations that
bonded the kung fu family unit. Kung fu families have a
saying to describe this sentiment;
Generations of Martial Artists Wu Yi Shi Jia
Family of Kung Fu Gung Fu Men Di
the cultural revolution erased some families of kung fu. But some, such as the
teachings of Zhou Zhendong's teacher, Zhang Kaitang,
were passed on to a very small group. With such heavy
penalties for teaching kung fu those who could be
accepted as students became very limited. Zhang Kaitang
taught a select group in secret from the back of his
house. When training took place it happened in the dark
of night at the house or outside in a field.
A young Zhang Kaitang stands with his shifu, one of
the three 'Mountains of Laiyang,' Cui Shoushan
I took a photo of Niki while we
walked through a Buddhist temple talking about Mantis
Several years ago I made the online acquaintance of Niki
Diestler. After communicating back and forth I came to
know more and more of his Taiji Mantis Boxing teacher Zhou Zhendong.
In the summer of 2010 Zhou Zhendong was traveling to
Vienna to see Niki and his students so I planned to fly
to Vienna and meet master Zhou. Sadly for us, all Master Zhou was
refused the visa and would not be able to visit Niki's
school. Of course, by that time I could not change my
ticket so I went to Vienna to have a good time with Niki
and his family and students. Niki and family played an excellent host and we became close kung fu
brothers vowing that we would meet up again in Shandong during
summer of 2011.
Since the 1980's I have longed to travel
to Shandong and learn more about Mantis Boxing. This
summer I fulfilled the dream of 25 years and went to
meet Zhou Zhendong. He and I immediately hit it off and
had a great time practicing kung fu. Zhou Zhendong told
me that he was deeply moved that I had flown to Vienna
last year to meet him, and more so, that I used this
chance to fly to Shandong to finally see him in person.
I found him to be very open in his teaching, sharing and explaining
for as long as I could absorb his knowledge. I took detailed notes of his stories and
history as well as writing down details of movement and
application. Here are several pictures from our morning
Students train the 'plucking hand'
The youngest student trains 'one step three punches'
All sections of the park are covered with students
training martial arts or other traditional Chinese
exercise. Here a group of students train Tai Chi. They
have trained together so long I found it hard to
differentiate between master and student.
Zhou Lei, daughter of Zhou Zhendong, does the
technique 'overturn the sky topple the earth'
I practice the technique 'yin yang
The 36 Mother Techniques of Praying
After I had spent several days training
with the teacher and students I
went over to Zhou Zhendong's house for some serious
conversation. I had planned to request his blessing and
help for a book on the Mother Fist of Praying Mantis. I explained my point of view, "Zhou
Laoshi, I believe that the Praying Mantis Fist that has
been passed down over the previous generations is an
important treasure that should be shared with all that
care to travel this path." This was his view point also.
"Recently, many masters of Praying Mantis have taken to
mixing up the different moves of the forms to make them
appear fresh or more exciting or for whatever reason
changed the old forms around. As
new moves are added some other moves are subtracted, I
fear that in the end the Praying Mantis aspect could one
day vanish from the Praying Mantis forms. For this
reason, I wish to document the methods of Mantis as
close to the traditional way as is presently possible."
He sat their watching me as we drank
tea. He didn't say a word, nor make a facial expression,
he merely looked into my eyes waiting for me to
continue. I didn't know if he would agree to my request
to ask him to help me with the endeavor of preserving
Praying Mantis for future generations in written form or
"If I document Praying Mantis to the
best of my ability that would include the oldest
manuscripts of Mantis Boxing and their explanations of
the applications as written by your Shiye (teacher's
teacher) Cui Shoushan. Furthermore, I would like to
include pictures of you performing all the techniques. I
would like to start with the 'mother fist-mu quan' of
Praying Mantis Fist, the form called 'Luan Jie."
He looked at me in silence and for a
moment I had nothing to say. "Zhou Laoshi, would you
help me with this project?" Suddenly, his expression
changed and he replied gravely, "Yes." At which point we
drank more tea.
Before finishing the training in Yantai
we took pictures of the form 'Luanjie.'
The last technique of the 'mother
fist' of Mantis Boxing
We share a happy moment in 'Mantis
After our photo shoot
The Sunday morning practice group
My two week stay in Shandong was an
intense workout and an educational experience that I
hope to pass on to future generations. Over the
upcoming months you can look forward to articles
resulting from this latest research