SEVEN STAR MANTIS, THE WING CHUN “ALTERNATIVE”?

Although I have been practicing wing chun since 2005, I have always been curious about other traditional Chinese martial arts that look somewhat similar. One of these is Northern Praying Mantis, a Chinese Kung fu style and martial arts system which has some similar movements (though it lacks the signature wing chun chain punch)

If wing chun doesn’t work for you or just doesn’t excite you, you may want to look into this very traditional martial art that tends to train pretty hard core.

The video above is a demo from the early 1980’s by Sifu Albright, where he demonstrates his amazing skills at Seven Stars Praying Mantis Kung Fu in free sparring against another Sifu who appears to be using Hung Gar. When I first looked at the video for a minute or so, I thought that the video was posed and that Sifu Albright couldn’t be that good because he always had his hands down. Then I figured out what was going on. If you know anything at all about Martial Arts, you will likely be as impressed as I was by this practitioner.

If, like me, you end up watching the video several times, I suggest you watch it once just looking at his masterful footwork. Another interesting aspect about the video is that it shows the Praying Mantis style can be used for self defense from a totally relaxed natural position, without posing any stance or even any guard.

Wing tsun promotion test
Wing Chun promotion test circa 2014

Northern Praying Mantis

Northern Praying Mantis is a style that dates back over 300 years when a monk named Wong Long, was so impressed by the fighting skill and ferocity of the insect that he captured one and tested its reactions with chopsticks, and added movements taken from the insect along with movements from 17 other kung fu styles.

Northern Mantis is completely different from and should not be confused with Southern Mantis. Sifu Albright explains in another video that Southern Mantis is actually not Mantis Kung Fu at all, but because at one time all Southern Kung Fu styles were outlawed by the government, the founders named a new style, which was somewhat similar to Wing Chun and White Eyebrow, “Mantis”.

Seven Stars Praying Mantis

Northern Mantis shares the characteristics of other Northern Kung Fu styles in that kicking, long range hands, and quick, mobile footwork are all emphasized. There are numerous sub variants of Northern Mantis, including Six Harmonies, Tai Chi Mantis, Eight Steps, but the most popular is probably Seven Stars Mantis, which emphasizes lightning fast hand strikes, bridging and seizing of the arms, joint locking, and throwing techniques, as well as a complete repertoire of kicks.

One of the biggest distinctions of Seven Stars Mantis is the fact that it uses footwork from Monkey Kung Fu. Supposedly, the founder of Seven Stars Mantis was eventually able to get his hand strikes to be so fast that the old footwork couldn’t keep up with the hands, so he had to borrow the quick agile steps from Monkey Kung Fu styles.

Interestingly, Eight Step Mantis was supposedly developed because the founder of that style was getting older and wanted to remain formidable but felt that Seven Star footwork, which includes athletic jumping and hopping, was no longer do-able for an older person.

Seven Stars Mantis is similar to Wing Chun in that sticking is emphasized and Mantis even has its own version of chi sao, or at least chi sao like drills. It also has its own version of the Wooden Dummy, but with two arms instead of three. However, Mantis practitioners do a lot more grabs,joint locks, arm breaks, and throws than any lineage of Wing Chun.

Also, the footwork, many of the hand techniques, the method of power generation, the use of Iron Palm training, and the large repertoire of kicks make Northern Mantis quite different from Wing Chun. When I was studying under Sifu Lee Moy Shan, many years ago, I was told by senior students that Mantis was the only Kung Fu style that gave Wing Chun fighters trouble, but they might have been talking about Southern Mantis.

Mantis does not actually copy the movements of the insect, but instead uses principles derived from the ferocious movements and speed of the insect in combat.

Seven Stars Mantis emphasizes forms practice, both solo forms and 2 man sets. The main form is called beng bu. Unlike Wing Chun, which has only 3 solo forms, Mantis has over a hundred forms, although according to Sifu Albright, few people learn more than 30 forms. The solo forms contain large numbers of lightning fast hand strikes and quick, intricate footwork and are practiced at top speed.

Paul Matthews

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