Kai Uwe Pel
In this piece I would like to provide clarification and insight, regarding some important misconceptions about Seven Star Praying Mantis. In particular there has been recent speculation regarding what does, and does not, constitute Seven Star Praying Mantis, arising from the following commentary on Luo Guang Yu’s Seven Star Praying Mantis.
"Master Luo Guang Yu, on the other hand, began to blend Mei Hua, Qi Xing and Guang Ban forming his own Tanglang. Hong Kong Tanglang is not Qi Xing or Mei Hua, it is a mixture. Today some HK styles call themselves Qi Xing but this is not either historically or technically accurate."
This article will highlight some very important concepts fundamental to Mantis kung fu, address some current misconceptions, and provide further clarification regarding a few points defining Seven Star Praying Mantis. The source of this information comes from my twenty-four years of experience with Seven Star Praying Mantis, encompassing the knowledge passed down to me from my teachers, and my teacher’s teachers, as well as evidenced from Luo Guang Yu’s boxing manual, which he received from his teacher Fan Xu Dong.
In good faith, and as a disclaimer, I would like to mention that my intentions are to neither attack nor discourage those individuals from continuing to conduct future academic research. Although I would hope that a more comprehensive and rigorous approach be considered. Furthermore I hope readers find this article both informative and helpful in their understanding of what Seven Star Praying Mantis is.
Common Misconceptions of Seven Star Praying Mantis
1) The description of Luo Guang Yu’s Seven Star Mantis as a composition of approximately 70% Seven Star, 20% Mei Hua and 10% Guang Ban is reference to the DIRECT COMPOSITION of forms and their ORIGINS in the system.
This is false.
It is not a literal interpretation. Luo Guang Yu, and Wong Hong Fun, not to mention many other masters understand that these represent conceptual LEVELS of training.
2) "Pure" Seven Star Praying Mantis and other "pure" branch systems such as Mei Hua and Guang Ban to name a few, are NOT MIXED SYSTEMS.
This is false.
The truth is that all of these family systems regardless, contain some degree of overlap in all LEVELS of training, making them all mixed in nature.
3) Origins of forms and their corresponding names represent the essence of a system, and therefore define it.
This is false and quite the opposite. It is the strategic and conceptual approach to fighting that comes first, then manifesting itself in techniques and finally forms.
4) The additions of forms and/or techniques into a system are viewed as absolutes, both automatically and fundamentally changing the essence of the system.
This is not necessarily true.
The system must be assessed on both holistic and relative terms. Only after which can an assessment be made (by a competent practitioner of course).
5) With the advent of China’s cultural-revolution and the government sponsored introduction of competition wushu, traditional Praying Mantis systems were altered, and are therefore no longer fundamentally "Mantis" as a result of mixing. This is not necessarily true.
Same as the misconception above, one must view the system in its entirety and assess whether or not the introduction of variations has fundamentally affected the essence of the system.
6) Most Important Misconception: The system defines the system.
This is false.
People define the system. It is the comprehensive theoretical and practical combative knowledge of the PRACTITIONER that defines the system. There are many "hua jia zi", or "paper tigers" out there who perform forms beautifully, but are unable to execute in an applied context.
Conceptual Background: Li, Jing, and Qi
In Seven Star Praying Mantis there exists three concepts; li, jing, and qi.
Li is power, Jing is the spirit or mind, and Qi is internal strength. In turn these three levels correspond to beginning, intermediate and advanced levels in training. Each of these concepts forms a building block for the next phase, and true mastery of the system requires that the practitioner possess an in-depth theoretical and applied understanding of all three levels. If you have not developed good fundamental power, then you cannot begin to develop jing. If you have not developed good jing, then you cannot begin to develop qi. If you have not developed good qi, then you cannot say you are a true master of the system.
Power: A Fundamental Base
Li in kung fu equates to power development of the physical body and the ability to deploy such (i.e. fa jing). This is the foundation of any system, and with out it you cannot properly advance into further stages of training. Various aspects of this level include development of proper foot work, body positioning, balance, coordination, explosion, speed, stamina, strength, and body conditioning. Any deficiencies in the ability to develop li, and the practitioner will be unable to properly advance their training to the next level.
Mind: Intermediate Level and Skill Development
Jing or essence, equates to the mind. This is the next phase of training and relates to the ability to both skilfully and effectively execute the wide arsenal of mantis techniques with focus and intent. Without skill and intent, the practitioner will be unable to further advance into the last conceptual level of training.
Qi: Advanced Level: Internal Strength and Iron Palm
Conceptually the most advanced stage of training is Qi, which as you all know equates to the mind’s ability to both generate and control energy. On a more applied level this training relates to the development of such skills as iron palm. If one has not attained mastery of this last and final level, then they are not a true master of the system. However on a more practical side note however, and in more applied terms, a practitioner without having fully achieved mastery in the last and final level, may still in fact posses a very high level of free fighting skills, but will not be proficient iron palm skill.
Literal Interpretations are Misleading: Seven Star, Mei Hua, Guang Ban
Now that you have a clear picture of the three levels of training and some of their corresponding skill sets as expressed in the physical body, I will now specifically address the very common, yet deeply flawed "literal interpretation" of what Seven Star Praying Mantis is and isn’t.
You will often hear Seven Star Praying Mantis, particularly from the quote in the introduction, being described as primarily "Seven Star", with a lesser weighting of "Mei Hua", and finally an even lesser weighting of "Guang Ban". This statement in its most elemental form is accurate; however the problem arises when individuals interpret this too literally and begin academically defining the essence of a system according to forms, the numbers of forms, the origins of forms, and the very system itself, after which they begin making generalized conclusions based on such.
Although an interesting academic exercise in its own right, it is quite limited in value, and will only lead one further away from understanding the bigger picture of Seven Star Praying Mantis. On a side note I would like to remind all practitioners alike that the true meaning of Mantis can only be absorbed through diligent and long term practice with a knowledgeable and skilled teacher.
Conceptual Meanings: Not Just Names
When we talk about Seven Star, Mei Hua, and Guang Ban in the context of Luo Guang Yu’s Seven Star Praying Mantis, we are not just talking about the names of branch systems of mantis, or the origins of forms in the system. On a deeper more conceptual level we are talking about li (power), jing (mind) and qi (human energy) respectively. This is fundamental to understanding everything else. Each system of mantis utilizes li, jing and qi, and trains them at various levels, however the degree and extent to which they are physically and strategically employed in the overall picture differs.
Same Insect, Different Approach - Expression of Li, Jing, and Qi
For example Seven Star Mantis systems in general tend to make RELATIVELY greater use of li, in strategic approach to combative fighting, thus resulting in a relatively greater outward expression of power, although it also employs both jing (a.k.a Mei Hua) and qi (a.k.a Guang Ban) as well. Tai Ji Mei Hua from Li Kun Shan’s lineage, as an example, tends to place RELATIVELY more emphasis on the strategic use of jing, although it also employs li and qi. Finally Guang Ban tends to place RELATIVELY more emphasis in the strategic use of qi, resulting in an obviously greater relative use of iron palm techniques. Take note that each concept also possesses a multitude of physical expressions.
At this point it should be very clear to the readers that Qi Xing, Mei Hua and Guang Ban represent concepts, strategies principles, and levels of li, jing and qi, and are not just the names of "pure" praying mantis systems. Therefore when we talk about Luo Guang Yu’s Seven Star system being a combination of primarily Seven Star (li), with lesser degrees of Mei Hua (jing) and Guang Ban (qi) respectively, we are not talking in absolutes, but rather the relative strategic approach and emphasis it takes to executing li, jing and qi in combat, as well as the levels at which they are trained.
Mixed Mantis and Misconceptions
Purity of system is a concept that never existed in Praying Mantis. Everyone knows that Praying Mantis in its most original state was an amalgamation and integration of "eighteen different" systems and/or techniques, give or take, thus making it one of the most innovative mixed martial arts of its time. In the past it also went by other names such as the Eighteen Family Luo Han Praying Mantis system ???????? . Over time and as a result of individual preferences and interpretations, Mantis witnessed add-ons and innovations in techniques and strategies eventually leading to the various branch systems like Qi Xing Pai, Mei Hua Pai, Guang Ban Pai, Ba Bu, etc…, all expressing the concepts of li, jing, and qi, to different and varying degrees, while maintaining the overall original Mantis concept.
All branch systems within the mantis family are mixed systems containing a largely relatively ****genous set of principles, techniques, and fighting strategies, while developing, expressing, and employing those aspects to varying degrees and levels (i.e. specialization). In the case of Luo Guang Yu’s lineage, and the issue of whether or not his interpretations and add-ons fundamentally changed the system to the extent that it is not Seven Star anymore, is in itself fundamentally flawed. Regardless of LGY’s adjustments to the strategic use of li, jing, and qi, in his teachings, the system as he taught was, and as it is today, is still distinctly, and predominately Qi Xing (i.e. li) in flavour.
If you examine any of the traditional Seven Star family styles you will find that they are all predominately li (i.e. Seven Star) in "flavour", while simultaneously utilizing other aspects of jing (Mei Hua) and qi (Guang Ban). It is a misconception that pure Seven Star does not utilize jing and qi and their physical manifestations in the system.
However one could theoretically argue is that if an individual were to restructure the Seven Star system in such a way that makes it predominately, or relatively more jing, or qi, in relation to overall Mantis strategy and expression. This in itself seems reasonable.
I sincerely hope all of you found this piece both informative and interesting. The ideas of li, jing, and qi, I discussed today are NOT all-encompassing, however they do represent some very key ideas to Seven Star Praying Mantis in both theory, training, and application. I would also like to reiterate once again, that everything comes down to the practitioner. If you train a family style of Seven Star Praying Mantis, but are a "paper tiger", then you are not really training Seven Star Praying Mantis.
Perhaps in the future I follow up with a brief introduction to some of the more technical and applied expressions of li, jing and qi, in Luo Guang Yu’s Seven Star Praying Mantis system.
Kai Uwe Pel
Shanghai - February 7, 2004