The Kung-Fu Styles Preserved at Tai Mantis
Kung-Fu Academy

Northern Shaolin Monastery SystemOriginating from the Shaolin Monastery in the Honan Province of China, it is the oldest known system of Kung-fu and is renowned for its rigorous training and calisthenics. Shaolin Kung-fu’s beginnings can be conceivably traced as far back as 1,500 years. Around 475 A.D. (C’hi Dynasty), however, an Indian monk of the Chan Buddhist faith by the name of Bodhidharma (Ta Mo in Chinese) walked hundreds of miles from India to reach Northern China.

He visited the Shaolin Monastery and found that in spite of their devotions, he felt that their bodies suffered without exercise. He taught them that the mind and body should be indivisible. Effortless movements, coupled with a relaxed “self awareness” were significant throughout his teachings.

He had then developed a set of eighteen exercises for the monks to practice. These exercises became known as “The Eighteen Hand Movements of “The Enlightened One” or “The 18 Lohan Exercises”. These exercises were said to have been patterned after the movements of several animals that Bodhidharma observed during his journey to China, and became the foundation on which the Northern Shaolin system was to expand.

This system uses every conceivable way of using one’s hands, feet and body. Erratic movement, flexibility, dynamic kicks, and varied hand combinations characterize this style, which is known as the “Grandfather of all Kung-fu styles”. Elements of movement and technique from the tiger, crane, snake, dragon, and leopard can be seen throughout the forms {or kuen) that are practiced within this system. None are complete Kung-fu styles or forms in themselves. However, there are other animal forms, which evolved from the Northern Shaolin system. Most of the martial art systems that exist today can trace their roots back to the original Shaolin Monastery.
Seven Star Praying Mantis (Chi-Hsing T’ang Lang) A Northern style of Chinese Kung-fu, which is the original Praying Mantis system, called such because of its peculiar pattern of footwork. The pattern takes its name from the stellar arrangement of the constellation Ursa Major, suggested in the angular stances and positions performed during movement.
There are many legends surrounding the origins of the Northern Praying Mantis style, but many of its exponents agree that it was founded sometime in the early 17th Century by Wang Lang, a brilliant swordsman from the Shantung Province. Impressed after witnessing a praying mantis in a ferocious struggle with a larger cicada, he had decided to capture the victorious mantis to further observe its movements. The persevering became Wang’s inspiration for the creation of a new style. Many believed that Wang Lang had previous Shaolin training and returned to “test” his new found style at the Shaolin Monastery. There are some stories told of Wang actually fighting the abbot of the temple himself to a standstill. The bipedal footwork of the monkey was blended with the movements of this style to help facilitate the unpredictability and lithe-like speed that a mantis possess from it numerous legs.
This style uses short “shuffle-like” steps with a variety of close and long-range techniques including low and high kicks, hooking and trapping hand combinations (which emulate the mantis’s swift forelegs), quick sweeps, elbow and back fist techniques, as well as simultaneous kicking and punching maneuvers. From a self-defense perspective, it is perhaps the most aggressive of the Praying Mantis styles, emphasizing direct and continuous movement incorporating straight-line and circular counterattack techniques designed to wear down an opponent for a speedy finish.

Tai Chi Praying Mantis (Tai Chi T’ang Lang)

This Northern style of Praying Mantis shares many of the techniques found in the Seven-Star style. The two styles, however, are quite distinguishable. Tai Chi Praying Mantis (Tai Mantis) incorporates the principal of circular movements also found in Tai Chi Chuan, by using the opponent’s own force against himself. This formidable style stresses quick steps and footwork while executing short and long-range punches, grapples, hooks and trapping techniques. These techniques rely on a flexible body, balance, breath control, and speed. Seizing, locking and throwing techniques, ground fighting and “drunken” movements are also commonly seen in this style. Many kicks are featured, both low and high, as well as knee strikes and leg blocks.

My-Jong Lohan (also: “18 Law Horn”)

Also known as the “Lost Track” and “18 Buddhas” style, this Northern style of Chinese Kung-fu is said to contain many of the original exercises developed by Bodhidharma. Derived from the Northern Shaolin system, My-Jong Lohan bears a remarkable similarity both in technique and form. It stresses liberal, darting movements and sweeping, low-range attacks. Acrobatic leaps and maneuvers are also common in forms of this style.

Tai Chi Ch’uan (Grand Ultimate Fist)

Tai Chi flourishes as an outgrowth of Northern style Chinese Kung-fu and is known for its unique and therapeutic health benefits. It’s fluid movements are generally practiced slower than Kung-fu and it is beneficial for the joints, tendons, tissues, and circulation. Tai Chi approaches the development of strength through the cultivation of chi, and internal energy, which inherently flows throughout the body. Chi is controlled and distributed through proper body movements, posture, and breathing techniques. The origins of Tai Chi are disputed by many historians. What is certain, however, is that it can be traced back to the Ch’en family in Honan province of China (around the Ming Dynasty period). Essentially, Ch’en is the original style with major schools appearing later as offshoots. Some of the popular Tai Chi styles are: the Yang, Wu, Sun, Fu, and Wang (or Wong). Tai Chi is an exercise that is popular worldwide, and is routinely practiced among the elders in China.

Small Circular Fist (Syau Wan Chaun or Shao Wan Chuan)

A Kung-fu style originating from the Northern Shaolin Monastery. Consisting of only one known form (or kuen), it utilizes precise footwork and quick kicking techniques with circular fist movements designed to defend against one or more opponents. It is usually taught within the curriculum of the most traditional Northern Shaolin schools.