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The Heavenly Taoist's Praying Mantis Strikes

'The Strikes of Praying Mantis' first appears in the writings of Shengxiao Daoren-Heaven Ascended Taoist, a hand written manual generally believed to be from the early to mid-Qing Dynasty. According to the original manuscript of Shengxiao Daoren, or the closest thing that we have to the original, the style of kung fu that he transmitted was called Luohan Short Strikes, not Praying Mantis Fist, but he does write about 'The strikes of Praying Mantis' in Illustrated Transformations of Luohan Short Strikes. This is where we find the Seven Maneuvers and it is within these Seven Maneuvers that we find 'The strikes of Praying Mantis.'

For those who research Mantis Boxing this is extremely important because this is the first instance, or as close to it as we can presently get, of the era when Praying Mantis was first recorded. Sure, Wang Lang may have been the founder of Praying Mantis, but Shengxiao's manual puts Praying Mantis into perspective of how it was incorporated into the fighting system called Luohan Short Strikes.

In other words, Praying Mantis wasn't its own style but a component of Luohan Short Strikes. 'The strikes of Praying Mantis' is what Shengxiao Daoren called a maneuver, not a style. So, what exactly is a maneuver?

Maneuvers Defined

The idea of training techniques with stationary and moving maneuvers is first recorded by General Tang Xunzhi in the mid-Ming Dynasty. General Tang's book predates and most likely influences the more famous later work by General Qi Jiguang; New Book on Effective Training. Over a decade prior to the appearance of General Qi’s book (sometime in the Jia Qing reign 1522-1566), came General Tang’s book Martial Chapter.

This is probably the best link we have to the weapons and empty hand methods of the early Ming Dynasty. General Tang compiled information on spear, staff, saber, archery, halberd, etc, as well as the listing and explanation of empty hand methods of the day.

Martial Chapter contains the earliest version of the Longfist manuscript which later became the basis of the well known Taiji Quan form.


The name of his 5th scroll, Pugilism Defines the importance of maneuvers.

The maneuvers of pugilism are what enable us to produce its changes.
Regardless of whether you move horizontally, diagonally, sideways, upwards, forwards or downwards there exists walls and doors for defending and attacking.
This is the meaning of maneuvers.
Within pugilism are the fixed maneuvers, but during their application they are no longer fixed.
And when using them their changes also have no fixed maneuvers, yet the maneuvers are still there.
This is what is known as ba shi.

Ba shi' was a common term for martial arts of that era. General Tang's point is that when you learn maneuvers they are fixed or stationary, but in application they are in motion, flowing freely from one to the other.


General Qi Jiguang writes of thirty-two maneuvers in his Chapter Quan Jing (Book of Pugilism).

From ancient times until the present the families of fighting include Song Taizu's (first emperor of the Song Dynasty) Thirty-Two Maneuvers of Longfist as well as ... (he names more styles of fighting popular in the mid-Ming Dynasty).

Quoted from document at right.

General Qi's book contains the oldest verifiable recording of maneuvers that include illustrations and brief descriptions. His descriptions are shorter and more cryptic than that recorded by Shengxiao. Here is a sample from the 'Four Level Maneuver.'



The Four Level Maneuver

A steady solid push,

Hard attacking and rapid advancing,

Both hands close on the opponent's single hand,

The key to short strikes is in being well versed.



The Maneuvers of Luohan Short Strikes

The postures of Luohan Short Strikes are drawn with metered verse for each maneuver. The style of writing suggests that the verse was written by a single person. The title of the work lists Shengxiao Daoren-Heaven Ascending Taoist as the compiler, so he may have written the verse from his own thoughts or experiences or he may have copied it from an earlier work. This is the complete page. The first sentence says:

Seventh Step Praying Mantis Strikes

In Shengxiao's book each of the seven maneuvers has two illustrations. A Buddhist monk facing a bearded fighter wearing a head wrap. In every single case, the monk is the one with the title of the maneuver. For example, the first maneuver is called 'wrap and seal' and there is a picture of a monk below it. The verse suggests that the techniques of the monk counter those of the warrior and vice versa. It seems very likely that the maneuvers are actually short two person drills or that the author was simply explaining the attacks and counter attacks of each move.

This makes a lot of sense since some valuable training of Mantis is within short two person drills such as Pai An, Little Four Hands, Seven Hands etc.


The Seven Maneuvers Illustrated


From the writings of Shengxiao Daoren it is obvious that knowing the counter of each technique was of prime importance. I have only translated the titles and a first few sentences of the Seven Maneuvers, a more complete translation would require us to actually know these drills.


First Step Seven Connected Maneuvers.

Wrap, seal and drag the short fist.

The maneuver of riding the horse with the rattan shield.

Raise the hand attack straight to the face.

(the opponent answers) When the hand is raised use double chasing the moon (this move is now part of the 4th Essentials form).


Second Step Both Hands Fasten.

Circle punch follows with the blunt elbow.

Move the shoulder raise the knee.

The head strike uses plucking hands.

(the opponent answers with)

Wrap and seal push the palms.

The uprooting step pastes to the wall and rushes to the face.

Blunt elbow is countered with the colliding elbow.

Third Step Dig Out the Hole.

Both legs stand together dig out the hole.

Attack and enter to strike the pressure point.


Fourth Step Double Club and Pull

Swallow pecks the water double club and pull.

Lower the palm on the eyebrows and kick to the groin

(opponent answers with)

Collapse open upon the double club and snatch at the brain's eye.

Smash down on the groin kick and tap the heart cavity.

Fifth Step Iron Door Bolt.

Throw the leak raise the step iron door bolt.

Four seal four close rush straight to the face.

Return the body and take the 'tiger tendon bone'

(opponent answers with)

For piercing ear the sealing hand takes the place of the plucking hand.

Leak from the bottom and go for the face.

When there is a lower attack to the 'tiger tendon.'

Hook, hang, overturn the body and fold with the coiled elbow.

Sixth Step Yellow Dragon Waves (its tail).

Yellow Dragon overturns its body and hastily shakes its tail.

Raise the step lower the body and have no regrets.

(opponent answers with)

Collapsing and smashing is originally the praying mantis attack.

The attacking hand enters and returns and pastes to the wall.

Seventh Step Mantis Strikes.

Defeating palm chops from top to bottom.

Raise the step put your palms together.

The head strike overturns the returning horse.

Change to hook and raise the knee.

Sparrow goes to the sea bottom.


Though these masters are training techniques that are not always familiar to us by names, we can see that specific counter striking was a strong part of the training. This is something for us to keep in mind and practice when we are training our applications


The Masters and Their Hair

This is slightly off topic but something for future research

What I find so interesting is that the artist was not drawing random figures from memory. Close inspection of the illustrations reveals that these are illustrations of different people. There are monks both young and old as well as bearded and mustached warriors in different styles of dress, some with head wraps and some without.

Nowhere is anyone drawn with the Queue, the required hair style of all Chinese males with the exception of ordained Buddhist monks during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The penalty for cutting your queue was death. This hair fashion was a sign of subjugation of the Chinese under their Manchu rulers. The only ones exempt from this law were ordained Buddhist monks.

This lack of visible queue is worthy of further investigation. There are several reasons that I have come up with on why the queue may be missing.

  1. The drawings may have been passed and copied and recopied from generation to generation since the Ming Dynasty or earlier. There is a belief that this style dates back nearly 1000 years, but a lack of verifiable evidence to support it.
  2. These warriors had a queue kept it in their head wraps. Perfectly logical since long hair might get in the way during fighting.
  3. The men in head wraps are not Chinese but part of an aboriginal group or a Muslim group that did not follow the law of the queue.
  4. They were outlaws that refused to follow the law of the queue.
  5. The artist found it too tedious to draw the queue, though in light of the facial hair he bothered to draw that seems unlikely.

Whatever the reasoning, it should be kept in mind for further research

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