Bruce Lee & The Praying Mantis Connections

August 25 2015 at 7:16 AM
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The Praying Mantis Connections
Praying Mantis Kung Fu is a Chinese martial arts that is famous for its redirection, joint manipulation, pressure point attacks and trapping tactics ("sticky hands"). It is divided into Northern Praying Mantis style and Southern Praying Mantis style. This style of Kung Fu utilises a technique known as the "Mantis Claw" or "Mantis Hook". A student's hands are positioned to resemble mantis claws and are used for trapping, striking, blocking and parrying.

According to the “Official Karate Magazine”(Jul 1986 issue), “Bruce Lee was a practitioner of southern praying mantis, on occasion demonstrating the techniques. Why? Its techniques are deadly efficient. Movements are continuous and circular, soft and hard, except in attack, where the middle knuckle (phoenix eye) of the index finger is used like a needle to pierce the internal organs and hurt the opponent internally.
Many of the movements are simultaneously defensive and offensive. The feet are separated by a distance of about 24 Inches, with the bent lead leg supporting most of the weight, while the slightly curved rear leg acts as a strut. This highly mobile posture facilitates the strategic advance and retreat, lateral and spinning maneuvers essential to the style. Sweeps are short and long, forward and backward. Kicks are high and low, including snaps, thrusts, pushes, jumps, and stomps, though shin, knee, and groin kicks are emphasized for efficiency.”

Research however shows that Bruce had learnt both the Northern Style and Southern Style Praying Mantis Boxing in the late 50s to early 60s. Bruce did a lot of trapping and Chi Sao work in his early years. In the workout sessions with Taky Kimura, it was obvious that there was a combination of both Wing Chun and Praying Mantis.

Origin of Praying Mantis Boxing
Based on the historical record from The Praying Mantis Kung Fu Federation, "Three hundred and fifty years ago, Wong Long, the founder of the Praying Mantis Style, decided after learning the Shaolin fighting system that he needed to make improvements… It was Wong's custom to train and practice his Shaolin Kung Fu skills in a meadow near the temple. One day after practicing with his sword, he sat down to study his books on Buddhism. He was interrupted by a noise nearby the ground. Two insects were engaged in a duel, a praying mantis attacking a cicada. Within moments the praying mantis had killed the cicada and, holding it in its strong forearms, began eating. Wong was intrigued by the fierce attributes of the praying mantis insect. He was impressed by the way it had moved in and out and used it's forearms to trap and draw in its prey… He saw in the fierce insect's predatory ability a way to improve his own combat adeptness". Wong gradually created this kind of fighting arts called the Praying Mantis Boxing. However, it was divided into Northern and Southern Styles, mainly due to the practice by the people living in the Northern and Southern provinces.

Northern Praying Mantis Style
As stated above, it was created by Wong Long in the late Ming dynasty and was named after the praying mantis, the aggressiveness of which inspired the style. 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”: a hook made of one to three fingers directing force in a whip-like manner. The hook may be used to divert force (blocking), adhere to an opponent's limb, or attack critical spots (eyes or acupuncture points). These techniques 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. The "Praying Mantis’ Hook" is also part of some of the distinctive typical guarding positions of the style.

Northern Praying Mantis is especially known for its speed and continuous attacks. Wrist/arm techniques in particular are emphasized, as well as knee and elbow strikes. Another prominent feature of the style is its complex footwork, borrowed from Monkey Kung Fu. There are several styles of Northern Praying Mantis, the best known of which are:
1. Seven Star Praying Mantis Boxing,
2. Plum Blossom Praying Mantis Boxing,
3. Tai Chi Praying Mantis Boxing,
4. Tai Chi Plum Blossom Praying Mantis Boxing,
5. Six Harmony Praying Mantis Boxing,
6. Eight Step Praying Mantis Boxing
Other rate styles include “Shiny Board Praying Mantis Boxing,” “Long Fist Praying Mantis Boxing,” “Throwing Hand Praying Mantis Boxing,” “Secret Gate Praying Mantis Boxing” and “Ma (Horse) Family Praying Mantis Boxing.”

Bruce learnt Bung Bo Kune (aka Praying Mantis Leaping Fist)
According to Master Siu Hon San (1900 – 1994), Bruce studied with him the Jing Mo’s fundamental sets like “Gung Lik Kuen” (training power fist set), “Bung Bo Kuen” (praying mantis boxing), “Jeet Kuen” (Fast Fist), which all belong to the Northern Style sets. Master Siu said in an interview that, “I taught Bruce a set of jumping step boxing (Bung Bo Kuen). This kind of boxing is a basic boxing form of Northern Mantis Kung Fu. Its characteristics are jumps, skills, swift movements and the circular horizontal kicks. But Bruce was very smart. He learned it in six or seven lectures. So I taught him a set of Jeet Kune (aka Git Kune), the fourth set of the basic boxing forms of Jing Mo school. I also also taught him 2 sets of weapon forms. One of them was “Bak-Gwa-Do” (Eight Trigams Broad Sword), the other was “Five Tigers’ Spear”. However, he aimed not at weapons. Weapons can only be used in performing, and not in today’s society, so he concentrated on boxing.”

Created by Grandmaster Wong Long, Bung Bo Kune is also known as Mantis Leaping, Jumping or Fluttering Fist. The first routine of the Mantis boxing usually starts off with Bung Bo Kune. This skill could be found in many of the Mantis branches such as Seven Star, Plum Blossom, Secret Gate and even today’s Shaolin Mantis Boxing. It was transformed from Shandong Yantai Tung Lung Sect’s Bung Bo Kune. It was known as Leaping fist or Jumping Fist because there is a kind of footwork (i.e. leaping steps) which is very mysterious, vicious and sharp. The Leaping Fist could move in at a lightning speed and attack instanteously. In addition, it contains the secret kicks of the Mantis Sect. Bung Bo Kune utilises the seven long movements as it main advantages yet it comprises also the indigenous of the eight short movements. The Bung Bo Kune varies in style for instance Hao Family’s Tai Chi Blossom Plum Mantis Leaping, Choyyang’s Sung Tse Tat’s Leaping, Seven Star’s Leaping, Kamoon’s Hand Mantis Leaping etc. Bruce loved Bung Bo Kune because of its simliarity in the usage of strong forearms to attack in a simple, direct and practical way.

Southern Praying Mantis Style
Despite its name, Southern Praying Mantis Style, actually has no direct connection with the Northern Praying Mantis Style. It is a Chinese martial art originating with the Hakka people living in Kong Sai, the southern province of China. It is most closely associated with styles such as Southern Dragon Kung Fu and Bak Mei (White Brows).
Southern Praying Mantis places a heavy emphasis on close-range fighting. This system is known for its short power methods, and has aspects of both internal and external techniques. In application, the emphasis is on hand and arm techniques, and a limited use of low kicks. The application of close combat methods with an emphasis on hands and short kicking techniques makes the Southern Praying Mantis art somewhat akin to what many would call "street fighting." The hands are the most readily available for attack and defence of the upper body, and protect the stylist by employing ruthless techniques designed to inflict serious injury. The legs are moved quickly into range through footwork to protect and defend the body, and kicks are kept low, short and quick so as to never leave the Southern Mantis combatant off balance and vulnerable.
There are five main branches of Southern Praying Mantis:
1. Chow Gar (Chow family); 2. Chu Gar (Chu family); 3. Kong Sai Jook Lum (Bamboo Forest); 4. Iron Ox and 5. K.S. Hsiung Tung Lung Quet Tsot (Mantis Martial Arts)

Bruce learnt Jook Lum style (Bamboo Forest Temple Style)
According to oral traditions, the Kong Sai Jook Lum style traces its origins to the temple Jook Lum Gee (Bamboo Forest Temple), Wu Tai Shan in Shanxi province and on Mt. Longhu in Jiangxi province. The monk Som Dot, created this new martial art system in the 18th century. Later, the art spread southward and overseas.
In the 1920s Lum Sang, studied and traveled with Master Lee Siem See, a Jook Lum Style Preying Mantist expert, for seven years. In the 1930s, Lum returned to HK and opened a “Kong Sai Jook Lum Temple Tung Lung Pak” school in Kowloon. In 1942, Lum Sang emigrated to the United States and settled in the Chinatown of New York City. He started teaching in Chinatown's Hakka Association. His students such as Harry Sun, Wong Buk Lam, Henry Poo Yee and Louie Jack Man would establish themselves as teachers following the example and high esteemed reputation earned by Gin Foon Mark (1927 - ). All of these men have promoted this art in the United States and around the world. Gin Foon Mark became the most well known practitioner and master of the art passed to him by Lum Sang.
Master Gin Foon Mark grew up in China’s temples then fights for respect in the U.S., succumbing to aggression and pride. After he accidentally hurts a challenger with his developing dim mak (chi/ energy) abilities, he then realises the greater importance of helping and not hurting others when he remembered his Buddhist roots. Master Mark returned to China in 1979 and is still alive. He even traveled back to the U.S. in the 80s and 90s to visit his old friends and was interviewed about his martial arts as well as his connections with Bruce Lee by Kung Fu magazine in 1999.

Bruce’s learning of the Southern style Preying Mantis Boxing was documented in “Dragon and Tiger” by Greglon Lee and Sid Campbell. According to an interview with Master Gin Foon Mak, he said Bruce studied Praying Mantis Kung Fu with him for about a month when he flew from Seattle to visit his father, Mr. Lee Hoi Chuen who was performing opera in New York (circa June 1959). Master Mark said, “I changed his horse stance and footwork. The Praying Mantis horse stance is different than the Wing Chun horse stance. Bruce held his hands too close to his chest. I had him extend his hands out further, with his strongest hand leading, like a southpaw. I showed him how to use and generate short power. He became interested, because he noticed that it contained all of the Wing Chun techniques and ideas: economy, directness, control of the center, sticky hands, etc. He liked the way the techniques were executed- each technique flowed into the next turning the opponent’s strength against him. He also learned the 3-step arrow formula. Bruce was really impressed by my philosophy of fighting. Any good fighting system, like Praying Mantis, should have the following attacking methods: attack by combination, drawing, hand immobilization, foot immobilization, progressive indirect attack, simple direct and singular attacks. These were denoted: ABC, ABD, HIA, FIA, PIA, SDA, and SAA, respectively, later in Jeet Kune Do. I think JKD’s philosophy is closer to Praying Mantis than to Wing Chun. Look at my free-style movements and compare them with those of a Wing Chun Sifu. Then, judge for yourself which resembles JKD more.”

Besides, Praying Mantis boxing, Bruce also picked up Fu Jow (Tiger Claw), Ying Jow (Eagle Claw), Dim Mak (blocking of vital body’s pressure points) and Pak Ho Chuan (White Crane Fist) from Master Mark. The weapons which Bruce learnt from Master Mark include butterfly knives, long staff, 3-sectional staff, quan do, trident and swords. Bruce also learnt how to condition, toughen and strengthen his forearms using bamboos and other devices such as hanging bundles of chains over the forearms, using assorted iron rings to toughen the arms. Furthermore, Bruce also learnt the Yan Mook Jung (wooden dummy) techniques (different from Wing Chun) and he strengthened his fingers by isolating the muscle group and lifting a cut off section of iron rail-road track. Although it was only a month crash course but Bruce surely had widen his horizon and increase his martial arts knowledge and skills to a greater extent. Master Mark was very impressed with Bruce’s overall performance and thought he had learnt the theory and practical very fast due to his solid foundation in Kung Fu.

After completing a month crash course lesson with Master Gin Foon Mark in New York, Bruce Lee returned to Seattle and learnt “Southern Preying Mantis,” “Tai Chi Chuen” as well as Red Junk Wing Chun from Master Yueng Fook who was a Sil Lum Kuen Master. In addition, when he first came to America he also had a Southern Mantis Manual that he purchased from a Vancouver Chinatown bookstore. Jesse Glover said Bruce Lee trained with Master Yeung between 1959-1967 or so. Master Yeung showed him the systems and Bruce was an adept student and worked them to a very effective level. One of Bruce’s favorite forms to practice was the Tung Lung or Praying Mantis form. In addition, Bruce had a Southern Mantis Manual that he purchased from a Vancouver Chinatown bookstore. Through extensively study of this Preying Mantis style, Bruce Lee gained broader knowledge and attained greater height in martial arts skills both mentally and physically.

Enter Into The Mantis’ World
Bruce combined the Southern Style strong mantis forearms techniques with the Northern Style mantis’ agile leaping footwork, and incorporated them into his Jun Fan Kung Fu. Although Bruce had never used the Praying Mantis Kung Fu in his movie, yet in the “Preying Mantis” episode of “The Green Hornet,” Kato (Bruce as Japanese) versus Low Sing (Mako Iwamatsu as Chinese) who was a Praying Mantis boxing expert. Dan Inosanto doubled for Mako and displayed an excellent Mantis boxing which was choreographed by Bruce. Of course, the Praying Mantis’ expert was killed by Bruce Lee at the end. Bruce loved Preying Mantis so much that in ETD, he got director, Robert Clouse to insert a scene of the real praying mantis’ fight scene in the junk that was sailing towards Han’s island. It showed the small and weak praying mantis overcoming the bigger and stronger praying mantis with its determination and primitive force when facing danger. Bruce won the bet and had a big grin on his face, a rare smile in ETD. Furthermore, Bruce wanted to depict JKD versus Praying Mantis Kung Fu master (Taky Kimura was intended to cast as the second floor guardian) in G.O.D., unfortunately, Bruce passed away before filming this scene. In the world of the praying mantis, Bruce was like the small praying mantis who could overcome the bigger praying mantis without fear. His fighting spirit resembles that of the praying mantis and would always inspire us to overcome adversities and move on in our life with full confidence.

Bruce Lee & Master Mark photos:

Master Gin Foon Mark’s demo video:


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  • Master Gin Foon Mark On Bruce Lee - LJF on Aug 25, 2015, 7:18 AM
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