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Wah Lum and the Heaven Ascended Taoist

Heaven Ascended Taoist, a mysterious character from the earliest history of Praying Mantis Kung Fu left behind a manual which describes a technique that I believe is still practiced as an essential of Wah Lum praying mantis 華林螳螂 under the name Bai Fut Sow 拜佛式 (Mandarin bai fo shi).


Grandmaster Chan Poi

Arthur D'Agostino's Wah Lum Praying Mantis school, where I trained in the '80's, always started class with bai fo shi to stimulate the flow of qi and activate the heart. Holding this posture strains the legs to the point that only a strong will and determination will lead to any accomplishment. Shifu D'Agostino told us that this exercise had been handed down from the time of Lee Kwan Shan, Grand Master Chan Poi's revered Shifu and my great-grand shifu.

My first Praying Mantis Shifu Arthur D'Agostino

To perform bai fo shi take a step twice as wide as your hips with your feet parallel to each other. Bend your knees and regulate the breathing as you spread your hands out and in. Push the knees outwards and tuck the hips inwards, the hips should not sink below the knees. If at first your legs can't take the strain rise up a little bit, then let your body slowly sink down again, but remember you are also training the determination of your mind to control your body. This exercise causes the heart to beat powerfully but allows the breath to remain calm.

Bai Fo Shi from Chan Poi's Book Wah Lum's First Form

The meaning of bai fo is to pay our respects to Buddha. The exercise has this name because the hands are held in a similar fashion to how we pay our respects at the alter of Buddha. It is performed with two hands together as you face the alter.

Shimu April performs bai fo at a temple in Tainan, Taiwan

Tyrant Raises the Cauldron

To lift a cauldron requires a great strength, the idea behind the name of this series of techniques is that you are using the strength required for holding up the type of cauldron that usually sits in front of a temple.

A student of Tampa Kungfu in Taiwan and a temple cauldron

The writings of Heaven Ascended Taoist are a synthesis of Buddhism, Taoism, martial arts, and medicinal practices. One section, called Tyrant Raises the Cauldron, is where I believe we find the roots of Wah Lum's Bai Fo Shi.

Round One: Hold up the Hands and Strain the Legs

Separate your hands at your chest with your legs support.
The swallow opens its wings suspended in the air.
Water and fire rely on the sealing of the anus.
Block up the ears from the cicada’s ‘ding-ding’.
Rising and sinking completely relies on the kidney’s strength.
Bend the knees lower the waist keep your feet light.
On practicing this gong it is essential to learn its secret,
Endlessly working to overcome your heart’s desires.

Water and fire rely on the sealing of the anus. That means water and fire must interact with each other and the 'sealing the anus' helps the mutual relationship between water and fire. Balancing the water and fire mean the relationship between heart and kidney. Taken to a deeper level it represents three principles. Fire is your spirit, water is your essence and qi. These are our 'three treasures'

  1.  spirit,

  2. essence

  3. qi

Essence and qi develop the spirit, our spirit is our vitality. Balance your spirit with your essence and your qi. This becomes the metaphor for our breath and the idea of balancing the inhalation with the exhalation.

As you inhale, you become more enlivened but as you exhale you contract in on yourself. One is yin and the other is yang.


You may be distracted from sounds you hear or thoughts in your head, we are advised to;

Block up the ears from the cicada’s ‘ding-ding’...
On practicing this gong it is essential to learn its secret,
Endlessly working to overcome your heart’s desires.

Keeping the mind free of extraneous thoughts is crucial to success

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