Northern Praying Mantis is a style of Chinese martial arts, sometimes called Shandong Praying Mantis after its province of origin. It was created by Wang Lang (王朗) and was named after the praying mantis, an insect, the aggressiveness of which inspired the style. One Mantis legend places the creation of the style in the Song Dynasty when Wang Lang was supposedly one of 18 masters gathered by the Abbot Fu Ju (福居), a legendary persona of the historical Abbot Fu Yu (福裕) (1203-1275), to improve Shaolin martial arts. However, most legends place Wang Lang in the late Ming Dynasty.
The mantis is a long and narrow predatory insect. While heavily armoured, it is not built to withstand forces from perpendicular directions. Consequently, its fighting style involves the use of whip-like/circular motions to deflect direct attacks, which it follows up with precise attacks to the opponent's vital spots. These traits have been subsumed into the Northern Praying Mantis style, under the rubric of "removing something" (blocking to create a gap) and "adding something" (rapid attack).
One of the most distinctive features of Northern Praying Mantis is the "praying mantis hook" (螳螂勾; pinyin: tángláng gōu): a hook made of one to three fingers directing force in a whip-like manner. The hook may be used to divert force (blocking) or to attack critical spots (eyes or acupuncture points). These are particularly useful in combination, for example using the force imparted from a block to power an attack. So if the enemy punches with the right hand, a Northern Praying Mantis practitioner might hook outwards with the left hand (shifting the body to the left) and use the turning force to attack the enemy's neck with a right hook. Alternately, he/she might divert downwards with the left hook and rebound with the left wrist stump to jaw/nose/throat. Northern Praying Mantis is especially famous for its speed and continuous attacks. Another prominent feature of the style is its complex footwork, borrowed from Monkey Kung Fu.
There are many legends surrounding the creation of Northern Praying Mantis boxing. One legend attributes the creation of Mantis fist to the Song Dynasty when Abbot Fu Ju (福居), a legendary persona of the historical Abbot Fu Yu (福裕) (1203-1275), supposedly invited Wang Lang (王朗) and seventeen other masters to come and improve the martial arts of Shaolin. The Abbot recorded all of the techniques in a manual called the Mishou (祕手 – "Secret Hands") and later passed it onto the Taoist priest Shen Xiao. This manual supposedly disappeared until the Qianlong reign era when it was published under the name "Arhat exercising merit short strike illustrated manuscript" (). Some sources place the folk manuscript's publication on the "sixteenth day of the third month of the spring of 1794". The manual records Wang Lang "absorbed and equalized all previous techniques" learned from the 17 other masters.
|1||Chang Quan||Long-range Boxing||Emperor Taizu|
|2||Tongbei||Through the Back||Han Tong|
|3||Chan Feng||Wrap Around and Seal||Zhang En|
|4||Duanda||Close-range Strikes||Ma Ji|
|5||Keshou Tongquan||Blocking Hands and Following Through Fist||Jin Xiang|
|6||Gou Lou Cai Shou||Hooking, Scooping and Grabbing Hands||Liu Xing|
|7||Zhanna Diefa||Methods of Sticking, Grabbing, and Falling||Yan Qing|
|8||Duan Quan||Short Boxing||Wen Yuan|
|9||Hou Quan||Monkey Boxing||Sun Heng|
|10||Mien Quan||Cotton Fist||Mien Shen|
|11||Shuailue Yingbeng||Throwing-Grabbing and Hard Crashing||Huai De|
|12||Gunlou Guaner||Ducking, Leaking and Passing through the Ears||Tan Fang|
|13||Yuanyang Jiao||Mandarin ducks kicking technique||Lin Chong|
|14||Qishi Lianquan||Seven Postures of Continuous Fist Strikes||Meng Su|
|15||Kunlu Zhenru||Hand Binding and Grabbing||Yang Gun|
|16||Woli Paochui||Explosive Strikes into the Hollow Body Parts||Cui Lian|
|17||Kao Shou||Close Range Hand Techniques||Huang You|
|18||Tanglang||Praying Mantis||Wang Lang|
A third of the masters listed all come from fictional novels. Yan Qing (#7) and Lin Chong (#13) come from the Water Margin and Emperor Taizu (#1), Han Tong (#2), Zhang En (#3) and Huai De (#11) come from the Fei Long Quan Zhuan (飞龙全传 – “The Complete Flying Dragon Biography”), which was published prior to the aforementioned manual.
Another legend connected to the Song Dynasty states Wang Lang participated in a Lei tai contest in the capital city of Kaifeng and was defeated by General Han Tong (韩通), the founder of Tongbeiquan. After leaving the fighting arena, he saw a brave praying mantis attacking the wheels of oncoming carts with its "broadsword-like" arms, Mantis fist was born shortly thereafter. However, most legends place Wang Ming living in the late Ming Dynasty.
As previously stated, the Water Margin bandits Lin Chong and Yan Qing, the adopted of Lu Junyi, are said to be part of the 18 masters supposedly invited to Shaolin by the legendary Abbot Fuju. According to the folklore biography of Song Dynasty General Yue Fei, Lin and Lu were former students of Zhou Tong, the general’s military arts teacher. One martial legend states Zhou learned Chuojiao boxing from its originator Deng Liang (邓良) and then passed it onto Yue Fei. Chuojiao is also known as the "Water Margin Outlaw style" and "Mandarin Duck Leg" (). In the Water Margin's twenty-ninth chapter, entitled "Wu Song, Drunk, Beats Jiang the Gate Guard Giant", it mentions Wu Song, another of Zhou's fictional students, using the "Jade Circle-Steps with Duck and Drake feet". Lin Chong is listed above as being a master of "Mandarin ducks kicking technique".
Lineage Mantis Master Yuen Man Kai openly claims Zhou taught Lin and Lu the "same school" of martial arts that was later combined with the aforementioned seventeen other schools to create Mantis fist. However, he believes Mantis fist was created during the Ming Dynasty, and was therefore influenced by these eighteen schools from the Song. He also says Lu Junyi taught Yan Qing the same martial arts as he learned from Zhou. Master Yuen further comments Zhou later taught Yue the same school and that Yue was the originator of the mantis move "Black Tiger Steeling Heart".
Seven Star Praying Mantis Boxing (). This style is the original form of praying mantis kung fu and is widespread in the Shandong Province and surrounding areas. Luo Guangyu (羅光玉) is famous for having passed down this style to Hong Kong and other parts of Southern China, where it is still practiced today. Seven Star is considered by many as the 'hardest' of the Praying Mantis styles, however it still utilizes soft-hard principles and is classified as a soft-hard style.
Plum Blossom Praying Mantis Boxing (). One of the oldest among all Northern Praying Mantis styles, it is widespread in Shandong Province, Jilin, Liaoning and South Korea. It traces its lineage directly from Li Bingxiao (b.1700s) to Zhao Zhu to Liang Xuexiang (1810-1895). Liang Xuexiang was the first master to use the name of Plum Blossom. Liang Xuexiang's disciples, mainly Jiang Hualong, Liang Jingchuan, Sun Yuanchang, Hao Hong and Xiu Kunshan are responsible for popularization of this style in the 20th century. In the early 1900s, it heavily influenced the development of Taiji Mantis of Cui Shoushan and Wang Yushan, Taiji Plum Blossom of Hao Family, Taiji Mantis of Zhao Zhuxi and Babu Mantis of Wei Xiaotang.
Taiji Praying Mantis Boxing (). Today this style is represented by two distinct lineages. The first one is that of Cui Shoushan and Wang Yushan and is based on Song Zide and Jiang Hualong's Plum Blossom teachings in Laiyang, Shandong Province. It is popular in Laiyang, Yantai, Qingdao, Dalian, North America, Russia, France and Spain. The second lineage can be traced to Sun Yuanchang's Blum Blossom, who was yet another disciple of Liang Xuexiang. Its most famous progenitor is Zhao Zhu Xi, who is said to have taught (both directly and indirectly) thousands of students during his lifetime in Vietnam and Hong Kong, who have since spread to all corners of the globe. He was given the Cantonese nickname Chuk Kai, meaning "Bamboo Creek", for a famous battle he fought with bandits at that location. This style has since become prevalent in places such as Korea, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and North America.
Taiji Plum Blossom Praying Mantis Boxing (). This style is, historically, a combination of two different lineages of Mantis: Taiji Mantis and Plum Blossom Mantis. This style is widespread in Yantai, Qingdao, Beijing, Dalian, Harbin, etc. What is now called Taiji Plum Blossom traces its lineage to Hao Lianru (郝蓮茹)—a disciple of Liang Xuexiang, his sons Hao Henglu, Hao Hengxin and his grandson Hao Bin. The later three combined both Taiji Mantis and Plum Blossom in the early 20th Century, creating the current style. Hao Lianru's five sons have since spread the style elsewhere. This style is well-known for its large, two-handed sword, and for being somewhat 'softer' than Seven Star Praying Mantis.
Six Harmony Praying Mantis Boxing (). Known as the 'softest' or most 'internal' of the Praying Mantis styles, Six Harmony was passed down by Ding Zicheng (丁子成), whose students taught in Shandong Province as well as Taiwan. Six Harmony Praying Mantis has a very different curriculum, with unique routines not found in other Praying Mantis styles.
Eight Step Praying Mantis Boxing (). This style was originally conceived by Jiang Hua Long, and was further refined by his principle disciple of the style, Feng Huanyi (馮環義), which was passed down by his disciple Wei Xiaotang (衛笑堂) in Taiwan. Which was passed down to his disciple Shyun Guang Long.
Shiny Board Praying Mantis Boxing (). Also known as "flat plate" or "hidden grip" Praying Mantis.
Long Fist Praying Mantis Boxing (). Influenced strongly by Long Fist boxing.
Secret Gate Praying Mantis Boxing (). This style was passed down by Zhang Dekui (張德奎) in Taiwan and is a variation of Taiji Mantis.
In The Tricky Master (1999), Stephen Chow's apprentice beats an overweight card sharp in a "fixed" high-stakes poker game. When taunted, the card sharp jumps onto the playing table and defeats Chow's deaf, cross-dressing bodyguard with a "long lost kung fu" called "Fat Mantis", which is the "most powerful...and kills without blood." (Note the card sharp’s shadow cast upon the wall in the shape of an overweight mantis with a big round belly.) In the end, Stephen Chow sprays the card sharp with a can of insecticide. He falls to the ground dead with his hands and legs held into the air like a bug.
In The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), the "Silent Monk" (Jet Li) employs mantis fist in his battle over the Monkey King's magical staff with Lu Yan, the "Drunken Immortal" (Jackie Chan). But his Mantis boxing is shortly thereafter overpowered by Lu's Tiger boxing.
In the animated movie Kung Fu Panda, one of the six kung fu students is an actual praying mantis who uses Northern Praying Mantis kung fu.
In Hung Hei-Gun: Decisive Battle With Praying Mantis Fists (洪熙官: 决战螳螂拳) (a.k.a. The Kung Fu Master, 1994), Donnie Yen plays the titular role of legendary martial arts hero Hung Hei-Gun. After being beaten up as a Child, Hung's parents send him away to study Kung Fu. He returns eight years later to find his father (who is secretly an anti-Manchu rebel leader) working as the military arms instructor for the Qing government, much to the chagrin of the local villagers. Despite his years of training, a rakish manchu Prince easily overpowers Hung with the mantis style. After the supposed death of his father, Hung faces the prince once more. When the prince shoots poisonous arrows from his sleeves, Hung twirls his staff to collect the projectiles and then flings them back. The Prince dies from his own poison arrows.
Mantis is about a half-Vietnamese serial killer who murders erotic dancers because he believes his pet praying mantis tells him to do so (which is quite similar the real life case involving the "Son of Sam"). He uses this style of fighting utilizing his fingers to attack the neck veins and the eyes.