Southern Praying Mantis (martial art)

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Southern Praying Mantis (????) is a Chinese martial art native to the Hakka (??) communities of Southern China. Despite having the name “Praying mantis”, this style is completely unrelated to the Northern Praying Mantis style. In terms of history and techniques, the Southern Praying Mantis is more closely associated with fellow Hakka styles such as the Dragon (???) or Bak Mei (???) and more distantly to the Fujian family of styles that includes Fujian White Crane (???), Five Ancestors (???), and Wing Chun (??). There are four main branches of Southern Praying Mantis being practised worldwide.

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. In application, the emphasis is on hand and arm techniques and limited use of low kicks.

The four main branches of Southern Praying Mantis are:

A common antecedent can be surmised from the same traditional region of origin, the popularity amongst the Hakka community, a reference to praying mantis, similar training forms such as Sarm Bo Jin (???) and common application principles. However, despite those similarities, the genealogies of these branches are not complete enough to trace them to a single common ancestor. The relationship between Chow Gar [1] and Chu Gar [2] can both be traced directly to Lau Shui. The origins of Kwong Sai Jook Lum system is controversial with some Chu Gar proponents claiming a relationship also to Lau Shui [2]; however, those claims have since been refuted. The Iron Ox system can be traced historically to the area of Southern China where the other branches of Southern Praying Mantis first originated and to the same Hakka communities where the art was transmitted. [3] There are many other Southern styles such as Chuka Shaolin [4] that uses similar technique but are not identified as being part of this group of martial arts according to their respective schools. Those styles can be identified as being Hakka Kuen.

Kwong Sai Jook Lum tradition mentions that the people of Pearl River Delta once referred to the Southern Praying Mantis style as “Hakka Kuen” (???), a term that was initially linked to the Southern martial arts practised by the Hakka community of inland eastern Guangdong and later applied to the skills that are practised by oversea Hakka communities. The reason for this was the close association of this style with the Hakka community.

This region, the original home to Southern Praying Mantis, covers a wide expanse in Southern China. It begins at the very heart of Hakka territory at Xingning, the home of Chow Gar founder Chow Ah-Nam. From Xingning, the Dongjiang (??) flows west out of the prefecture of Meizhou (??) through HohYuen, the place of origin for Iron Ox founder Choi Tit-Ngau. In the prefecture of Huizhou, the DongKwong forms the northern border of Huìyáng (??) County, where Kwong Sai Jook Lum master Chung Yu-Chang and Chow/Chu Gar teacher Lau Shui grew up and established their martial arts reputation. 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 originated. These masters are all members of the Hakka community and the transmission of this remained within this community until the generation of Lau Shui and Lum Wing-Fay.

The association of the term “Praying Mantis” with the style is also controversial. Each branch of the style offers a different explanation.

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.

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 Northern Praying Mantis style from Shandong. [2]

The use of the term “Praying Mantis” seems appropriate when one considers the postures of well known practitioners of this style. The emphasis on the techniques of sticky hands, the use of the forearm with the elbows tucked into the chest, claw like fingers and quick explosive actions creates an image that are visually similar to a praying mantis preparing to strike its prey. [5] However, other martial artists argues that those techniques are more similar to the actions of the Five Ancestors style or the White Crane style then a praying mantis. [6] Unlike the Northern Praying Mantis, which have a special hand technique that is directly attributed to a Praying Mantis strike, for example, the tángláng gou, the Southern Praying Mantis do not have similar special hand techniques named after the mantis. The legacy of Lau Soei that is related to the praying mantis name was his famous staff form- the Tong Long Bo Sim Staff (?????).

Lau Shui (1866-1942; ??; ??? was a Hakka who established a reputation as a martial artist during the turn of the century in Southern China and later as a martial arts teacher in Hong Kong. [7] Lau Shui was known as the “Number one of the three tigers of Dong Jiang (??????), the other two tigers being Lin Yao Kui of the Dragon Form Mo Chiao Style and Chang Li Chuan of the Bak Mei Style. [8] He was also known as the tiger of Dong Jian (????). His signature techniques include the “Chaujia-Tanglang-Sanjian” (the three arrows of Chaujia praying mantis, ???????) and the staff form “Tanglang-puchangun” (??????). Like many martial artists of his generation, he resettled in Hong Kong after the Chinese Civil war. He continued to teach the Southern Praying Mantis Style and many of his students eventually became teachers of this style. He was acknowledged by both the Chow Gar and the Chu Gar practitioners as the founding teacher of the system in the modern era.