Southern Praying Mantis

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Despite its name, the Southern Praying Mantis style of Chinese martial arts is unrelated to the Northern Praying Mantis style. Southern Praying Mantis is instead related most closely to fellow Hakka styles such as Dragon and more distantly to the Fujian family of styles that includes Fujian White Crane, Five Ancestors, and Wing Chun. Southern Praying Mantis is a close range fighting system that places much emphasis on short power and has aspects of both internal and external techniques.

As in other southern styles, the arms are the main weapon, with kicks usually limited to the hip and under. Emphasis is placed on strengthening and lengthening the arms.

When an extended arm has strength, it allows the practitioner to move about faster since his arms don’t need to recoil or move back for more strength, like in boxing or many other fighting systems.

Like Wing Chun and Xingyiquan—other styles created as pure fighting arts—Southern Praying Mantis has relatively no aesthetic value, unlike its northern counterpart and many other styles.

Southern Praying Mantis is informed by traditional Chinese medicine, in particular the concept of meridians, which it uses for dim mak and tui na.

Branches: The four main branches of Southern Praying Mantis are:

  • Chow Gar (周家; Chow family)
  • Chu Gar (朱家; Chu family)
  • Kwong Sai Jook Lum (江西竹林; Jiangxi Bamboo Forest)
  • Iron Ox (鐵牛)

A common antecedent can be surmised not only from their similarities but also from the fact that they all share a common routine, Sarm Bo Jin. However, the genealogies of these branches are not complete enough to trace them to a single common ancestor.

Lau Shui 劉瑞/劉水: Only the kinship between the Chow and Chu family branches can be verified as their most recent common ancestor, Lau Shui (劉瑞, 劉水﹞, died in 1942, comparatively recently.

Chow Gar 周家: The Chow family branch traces its art to c. 1800 to Chow Ah-Nam (周亞南), a Hakka who as a boy left his home in Guangdong Province for medical treatment at the Southern Shaolin Monastery in Fujian Province where, in addition to being treated for his stomach ailment, he was trained in the martial arts and eventually created Southern Praying Mantis.

Chu Gar 朱家: The Chu family branch attributes its art to Chu Fook-To, who created Southern Praying Mantis as a fighting style for opponents of the Manchu Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) that overthrew the Han Chinese Ming royal family (1368–1644) of which he was a member. According to the Chu family branch, because Chu took refuge there, the Qing destroyed the original Shaolin Monastery in Henan, forcing Chu to flee to the Southern Shaolin Monastery in Fujian.

Kwong Sai Jook Lum 江西竹林: The Kwong Sai Jook Lum style traces its origins to the temple Jook Lum Gee[2] on Mt. Longhu (龍虎山) in Kwong Sai, where it was created in the early 19th century by one of the monks, Som Dot.In the mid-19th century, Som Dot passed the art on to fellow monk Lee Siem, who would visit Guangdong to the south and teach the art to lay practitioners there.

One of Lee’s students from Guangdong, Chung Yu-Chang, would return with him to Kwong Sai to complete his training at Jook Lum Gee. C. 1900, Chung opened his first martial arts school in a traditional Chinese medicine clinic in Bao’an County in Píngshān (坪山) Town, which his eventual successors Wong Yook-Kong and Lum Wing-Fay were natives of. Wong would be responsible for the preservation of Kwong Sai Jook Lum Praying Mantis within China and Lum (also referred to as “Lum Sang” 林生, literally “Mister Lum,” out of respect by his successors) responsible for its dissemination without. Succeeding the 4th generation master Lum Wing-Fay is Gin Foon-Mark (Mok, Mok Fun). Gin Foon-Mark represent the highest living authorities on Kwong Sai Jook Lum Praying Mantis.

Southern Praying Mantis

The following history are the Kwong Sai Bamboo (Jook Lum) Temple Praying Mantis under Master Wong Yuk Gong stream

The original Kwong Sai Bamboo (Jook Lum) Temple Praying Mantis Kung Fu is neither differentiated by southern and northern styles. However, many people have popularly classified this system as Southern Praying Mantis.

The history was told and passed by Master Cheung Yiu Chung (“Master Cheung”); Som Dot (the founder of Praying Mantis Kung Fu) was raised in Tibet. During the Qing Dynasty, Lee Kun Ching (Lee Shem See) and Wong Do Leng became the disciples of Som Dot. Som Dot taught his disciples Kung Fu and Spiritualism at Long Fu Shan in Kwong Sai province and the Jook Lum Temple of Wu Tai Shan in Shan Xi province.

On a journey to heal his patience Lee Shem See travelled to the southern regions of Zhi Zhu – the “crossroad” of Xing Ning and Mei Xian (Mei County). As destiny would have it Cheung Yiu Chung met Lee Shem See and was subsequently invited to be his disciple.

Cheung Yiu Chung accompanied Lee Shem See to the Wu Tai Shan Jook Lum Temple in order to practice Kung Fu and study medicine. Ultimately Cheung Yiu Chung mastered these pursuits. In 1917, Master Cheung completed his studies and left Wu Tai Shan Jook Lum Temple. In 1919 Master Cheung returned to resided in Wei Yang Xian (Wei Yang County) Dan Shui in Guangdong Province. During the winter of 1929, Master Cheung established a Kung Fu Kwon / School in Ping Shan to propagate the Bamboo Temple Praying Mantis Kung Fu Style.

Forefather Wong Yuk Gong, raised in Ping Shan, is the eldest disciple of Master Cheung. At the age of Thirteen Wong Yuk Gong began to follow Master Cheung and learn the art of Jook Lum Temple Praying Mantis Kung Fu. At the age of 17 Wong Yuk Gong accompanied Master Cheung to propagate the art of Bamboo (Jook Lum) Temple Praying Mantis Kung Fu in a shipping company called Tin Wo Suen Kwon (Hong Kong).

In his early years Wong Yuk Gong widely spread throughout the communities of the three Wai Dong Bao regions the art of Bamboo (Jook Lum) Temple Praying Mantis Kung Fu. Wong Yuk Gong mastered both Kung Fu and traditional medicine in Ping Shan School and then also established Kung Fu Kwon’s / Schools in many places including Tsuen Wan and Kwun Tong (Hong Kong) to nurture his disciples and propagate the art.

Bamboo Temple Praying Mantis has two primary elements: Sun Kung signifying the spiritual practice of kung fu and Ming Kung, which is the physical practice of the art. For those teaching Sun Kung, the over riding principle and practice is Spiritualism at the altar.

For those teaching Ming Kung, the phrase “Good hands technique is inherited from Som Dot and, expertise in Kung fu is practiced in the Bamboo Temple” is the over riding principle at the altar.

The foundation Praying Mantis hand skills from this stream should be the first form (“Dan Jong”) and second form (“Seung Jong”). Weapons include the Sword, Double Swords, Iron Bar, Spear, Sabre, Staff, Halberd and so on, whilst the traditional and Unicorn dance and Gong / Symbol are practiced. There is not a so-called “Head” in Wong Yuk Gong brotherhood. They just say “Heir”. The heir acts with ultimate humility, compassion, harmony and benevolence to all.

Master Wong Yiu Wah / Wong Yiu Hung, sons of Wong Yuk Gong, is alive and well currently teaching in China.

Iron Ox 鐵牛: The Iron Ox branch is named after its founder, Iron Ox Choi (Choi Dit-Ngau; 蔡鐵牛), who fought in the Boxer Rebellion (1900).

“Hakka Kuen”: Though the origins of Southern Praying Mantis may be contested, what is indisputable is its association with the Hakka people of inland eastern Guangdong. The region that is home to Southern Praying Mantis begins in the very heart of Hakka territory at Xingning, where Chow Gar founder Chow Ah-Nam came from. From Xingning, the Dongjiang flows west out of the prefecture of Meizhou through Heyuan, where Iron Ox founder Choi Dit-Ngau came from. In the prefecture of Huizhou, the Dongjiang forms the northern border of Huìyáng (惠陽) County, where Kwong Sai Jook Lum master Chung Yu-Chang and Chow/Chu Gar master Lau Shui came from. From there, the Dongjiang flows into the Pearl River Delta at Bao’an County (present-day Shenzhen), where Kwong Sai Jook Lum masters Wong Yook-Gong and Lum Wing-Fay came from. These masters all belonged to the Hakka people, who kept Southern Praying Mantis to themselves until the generation of Lau Shui and Lum Wing-Fay.

In fact, Kwong Sai Jook Lum tradition records that it was once nicknamed “Hakka Kuen” (literally “Hakka fist”) by the general public of the Pearl River Delta. When Lum Wing-Fay first began teaching Southern Praying Mantis in the United States, he did so at Hakka fraternal organizations such the Tsung Tsin Association (崇正會). Lum would eventually accept students that were not Hakka, but they still had to be Chinese (with the rumored exception of a Caucasian taxi driver whose extraordinary kindness to Lum won the driver some basic instruction from one of Lum’s disciples). It was the following generation of Kwong Sai Jook Lum masters who made the art available to non-Chinese.

Lau Shui’s acceptance of the non-Hakka Ip Shui as a disciple had much to do with the kindness that Ip and his wife showed Lau when he had fallen ill and was isolated from any relatives by the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. Most of Lau’s other disciples, including the so-called “first five tigers” and four of the “last five tigers”—Chu Kwong-Wha, Chu Yu-Hing, Lum Wha, and Wong Hong-Kwong—were all Hakka.

Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis tradition contends that the Hakka descend from loyalists of the Ming Dynasty who fled south when it was overthrown by the Qing Dynasty. However, according to mainstream Chinese historical scholarship, the term “Hakka” originally referred, not to refugees fleeing persecution by the Qing Dynasty, but to those whom the Qing Dynasty paid to settle in underpopulated regions of southern China. Among southern Chinese martial arts, the Chu family branch of Southern Praying Mantis is far from alone in claiming an anti-Qing heritage; that most do reflects the prominence of anti-Qing partisans in southern Chinese martial arts.

Both Guangdong and Fujian are provinces that the Hakka call home, both are strongly associated with the southern Chinese martial arts, and both saw strong and persistent opposition to Qing rule, such as the Hakka-led Taiping Rebellion and the Heaven and Earth Society, whose founders were from the prefecture of Zhangzhou in Fujian Province, on its border with Guangdong. Societies like Heaven and Earth were noteworthy for how their membership transcended traditional Chinese social barriers like those separating Hakka from non-Hakka. In fact, a precursor to the Heaven and Earth Society was organized by Ti Xi, one of the Heaven and Earth founders, in Huizhou, part of the aforementioned “heartland” of Hakka Praying Mantis. The Heaven and Earth Society developed myths of Shaolin origins as part of a larger anti-Qing narrative. Perhaps Hakka opposed to the Qing Dynasty did something similar, redacting their own migration and the southward flight of Ming loyalist refugees into a single narrative.

Praying Mantis?: The traditions of the Chow Gar and Kwong Sai Jook Lum branches each maintain that their respective founders Chow Ah-Nam and Som Dot created their styles after witnessing a praying mantis fight and defeat a bird. Such inspiration is a recurring motif in the Chinese martial arts and can be found in the legends of Northern Praying Mantis, both White Crane styles, T’ai Chi Ch’üan, and Wing Chun.

However, the traditions of the Chu family branch contend that the name “Southern Praying Mantis” was chosen to conceal from Qing forces its political affiliations by pretending that this esoteric style of Ming loyalists was in fact a regional variant of the popular and widespread Praying Mantis style from Shandong.