|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,
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?
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
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.
maneuvers of pugilism are what enable us to produce
Regardless of whether you move horizontally,
diagonally, sideways, upwards, forwards or downwards
there exists walls and doors for defending and
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.
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.
Jiguang writes of thirty-two maneuvers in his Chapter Quan Jing (Book
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).
from document at right.
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
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
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
Seventh Step Praying Mantis Strikes
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
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
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
First Step Seven Connected
Wrap, seal and drag the short
The maneuver of riding the horse
with the rattan shield.
Raise the hand attack straight to
(the opponent answers) When
the hand is raised use double chasing the
moon (this move is now part of the 4th
Second Step Both Hands Fasten.
Circle punch follows with the
Move the shoulder raise the knee.
The head strike uses plucking
(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
Attack and enter to strike the
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.
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
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
Raise the step put your palms
The head strike overturns the
Change to hook and raise the
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
and Their Hair
This is slightly off topic but something for future
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.
- 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
- These warriors
had a queue kept it in their head wraps. Perfectly
logical since long hair might get in the way during
- 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
- They were outlaws that refused to follow the law of the queue.
artist found it too tedious to draw the queue, though in
light of the facial hair he bothered to draw that seems
Whatever the reasoning, it should be kept in mind for