Praying Mantis History

In the latter days of the Ming Dynasty, there was a man from Shandong Province named Wang Lang. He saw with his own eyes that China was going to fall to the Manchu invaders and thought for a time about devoting himself to the defense of his country, but though he strove to do so there was no way for him to obtain a position in the Ming army. So he instead journeyed to Mount Song in Henan Province and joined the Shaolin Temple there, where he studied the fighting arts with a view to using them against China’s enemies in the future. When the Manchu forces breached the passes along the Great Wall and invaded China, Wang Lang immediately went alone to fight against them, but owing to the presence of traitors who were selling out China to the foreign invaders there was no chance for a hero like Lang to use his martial might. After the Manchu conquest and the establishment of the new Qing Dynasty, Lang returned to the Shaolin Temple, where he organized the monks in a plan to restore the Ming Dynasty and to avenge China’s humiliation by the Manchus.

However, things did not turn out as he wished, since the Qing court learned of the details of the plot and ordered that the temple be surrounded and burned to the ground. Lang and his colleagues deployed their extraordinary skills to protect the Master of the Shaolin Temple in his flight, in order to prevent him from being seized and arrested by the Qing forces. They fled by a circuitous path to Mount Omei in Sichuan Province, and then to Kinming in Yunnan Province. They passed through several provinces one by one until they reached Mount Lao in Shandong Province where they established a residence for Buddhist monks. Not long after that, the monks’ Master passed away and one of the elder monks among them was selected to manage the group’s affairs. This monk regularly matched his pugilistic skills against those of Wong in order to break the stifling peace and quiet of the place, and every time that Lang was defeated in these contests he was humiliated and he vowed that he would beat his elder brother [Not literally his elder brother, but figuratively so.], in three years’ time.

When the three years had passed, Lang once more contended with his elder brother suicide. His elder brother planned to travel aimlessly for a time and before he left he said to Lang, “I will return in three years. Then you shall have to treat me with greater respect.”

With that, his elder brother left. One day after that, the weather was extremely hot and the monks found themselves shut up in their rundown dwelling and bored to death. Lang then took his sword and sutras and went into a dense forest in order to avoid the stifling heat. Whenhe reached the forest, a cool breeze was blowing gently and he felt joyful in both his body and soul. Just as Lang opened then sutras and began to read them, he suddenly heard a wild sound ofan insect chirping in a rather mournful way. When he looked up to observe it, he was a mantis [Tanglang in Chinese] engaged in a struggle to the death with a cicada. Relying on its two sharp arms, the mantis slowly pressed in on the cicada and before long the cicada had died in the mantis’ hands.

After Lang had observed this, he realized that the mantis measured advance and retreat, and the length of these, resembled greatly the moves involved in boxing. Lang thereupon pulled down the tree branch where the mantis was and caught it and took it back to the temple. He contended with it day and night using a stalk of grass to fight it, and found that the mantis has a variety of moves, including “adhering to”, “sticking to”, “collapsing” [Or “bursting”, the sound of collapsing],”pressing hard upon”, dodging”, feinting”, “jumping over” and “shifting places”. Now, Lang was an extremely clever fellow and before three days had passed he had awakened to the fact that there were a total of 12 techniques in the mantis’ attack, namely (Ngou)“hooking/grabbing”, (Lou) “bringing in/carrying”, (Choy or Dah) “hitting/beating/striking/snatching”, (Gwa) “hanging/ suspending”, (Diew) “snap pulling/clawing”, (Peng) “embracing or tying up the arms/ collapsing”, (Tieu) “flicking up”, (Jin) “advancing”, (Chan) “adhering to”, (Neem) “sticking to”, (Tiph) “attaching to/pressing” and (Kow) “standing next to/nestling”. These 12 techniques were collectively incorporated into the essence of the method of the 17 Clans, and were moreover integrated with the “Monkey Step Method”.

Three years passed by, and just when Lang had developed his own unique style of boxing his elder brother returned from his peripatetic wanderings. The elder brother was amazed and asked Lang how Lang had done it, whereupon Lang told him the story of the day when he heard the mantis’ chirping. From that day on, there was no limit to Lang’s ever-increasing knowledge of boxing skills, and he engaged diligently with his elder brother in study and practice of the pugilistic arts. Thus, the art of Tanglang boxing was gradually refined until it reached the point of perfection. Both Lang and his elder brother passed away during the next decade. The monks of that temple deemed Tanglang boxing to be their most valuable treasure and were loath to demonstrate it to outsiders. However, one day an itinerant Taoist priest name Sing Siew was granted lodging at the temple for a time and it was from this time that Tanglang boxing was first transmitted to the wider world.

Sing Siew further taught Tanglang boxing to one Lee Saam Jin of Haiyang County. Once Lee had honed his skills, he established a caravan protection service in Jinan in Shandong Province, whose fame spread far and wide. All of the greenwood heroes [This refers to men who lived outside the bounds of regular society, often studying martial arts and so called banditry, not unlike Robin Hood and his men.] of the Yangtze River valley who learned of the reputation of Tanglang boxing’s lightning-quick moves studied it and Lee’s heroic name lasted throughout his lifetime.

Lee had no progeny, so in his old age he traveled far and wide searching for a qualified person to succeed him. He traveled to Fushan County, where he learned of one Wong Wing Sung, who had recently passed the imperial examinations for government service in the military. Lee visited Wong’s home, and requested that Wong display his skills, so Wong obliged him with a display with his famed big sword. Lee watched to the end, but instead of praising Wong he said, “Is that all there is to your skill?” Wong was infuriated by this remark and tried to throw
himself at Lee, but before he could reach him Lee has already disappeared. While Wong pondered this, he suddenly heard the sound of laughter behind him, but when he whirled around to catch Lee he was unable to do so, and was instead checked by Lee. At this, Wong beseeched Lee to serve as his teacher and he subsequently refined his skills over several years under Lee’s tutelage. Lee then vanished, and no one knows whence he went.

The Wong family was very wealthy. It did not present its sons as candidates for official posts, nor did it attempt to dazzle others with its fighting skills. Wong used Tanglang boxing as a pastime during his abundant leisure hours. In this manner, the years passed by one after another, with a decade like a day and Tanglang boxing became still more ferocious and advanced. In his old age, Wang taught Tanglang boxing to one Fahn Yook Tung. Fahn possessed a tall and robust physique. He weighed more than 300 pounds and was called a giant. Fahn was moreover an expert at tieshazhang [iron body conditioning].

One day, Fahn was passing through a field in the countryside where two farm bulls happened to be vying with one another. When the bulls saw Fahn they thought that he had come to attack them, so both of them charged Fahn. Fahn saw that the bulls meant to inflict grievous Law Gwong Yook – 6th Generation harm on him and realized that it would truly be difficult to restrain them without employing his special fighting skills. When the first bull reached Fahn, he concentrated all his might in his right foot, and kicked it forcefully in its underbelly, whereupon the bull fell to the ground right after the thud of Fahn’s foot. When the other bull reached him, Fahn grabbed one of its horns with his left hand and struck it forcefully in the backbone with his right hand, whereupon it also fell to the ground. When the farmer who owned thebulls demanded that Fahn compensate him for the deaths of his two animals, Fahn retorted, “I was merely defending myself! Would you have paid compensation for my life had I beenkilled by the bulls?” With that the matter was laid to rest, but owing to this incident Fahn’s renown for great strength spread far and wide.Fahn in turn passed on his knowledge to several people including Jingshan Lin and Law Gwong Yook. In 1918, the boxing skills of the Tanglang School met with admiration at the General Assembly of the Shanghai Jingwu Physical Training Association, whereupon association members were sent to Northern China, and Master Law Gwong Yook was chosen to go south to Shenjiang and take up the post of general instructor. When a National Athletic Meet was held in Beijing in 1928, his disciple Chengxin Ma attended the meet as a representative of Shanghai, and took part in a competition of striking with the fists (San Sao in Chinese). The result was that Ma was one of the top contestants, and the papers in both Beijing and Shanghai vied with one another to cover him and Master Law’s own reputation became ever more widespread. Before long Master Law was ordered by the central general assembly [of the Jingwu Physical Training Association] to go South to Guangdong province. There Master Lawmade an inspection of the [Jingwu Physical Training Association] branches in each area, including Hong Kong, Macao and the islands of the South Pacific. When his mission was accomplished, he hurried back to Shanghai, but just at that time war broke out with the Japanese at the Song River over the December 12th Incident, and as a result the Jingwu Physical Training Association was damaged and the association’s affairs were in a state of disarray.

The person in charge of the Hong Kong Jingwu Physical Training Association deemed Master Law to be the embodiment of the orthodox school of Tanglang boxing, and was loath to let this opportunity pass by, so he sent a cable to the Shanghai Provisional Office [of the Jingwu Physical Training Association] in which he urged Master Law to come to Hong Kong. It was only from this that the people of Hong Kong came to know the real truth about Tanglang boxing.
Master Law left an extremely favorable impression on the people of Hong Kong, but unfortunately Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese a few years later, and Master Law was not willing to live through war and separation in Hong Kong, where patriotic Chinese and Chinese traitors were mixed together. He therefore bought a boat and returned to North China, but sadly fell seriously ill and passed away at Chunshen. This great master of learning and integrity thus withdrew from this world, and now lays dead and buried. Tanglang boxing was then transmitted to
this writer’s generation, the seventh such transmission over a period of 300 years.