July 8, 2017
On July 8, 2017, Vincent Tseng was awarded his Black Belt in Mantis Boxing (Tángláng quán 螳螂拳). Vincent arrived at our wŭguān (martial hall) in 2006 at the age of 16. I still recall our first phone conversation.
Vincent was searching for a martial art, but he was extremely comprehensive in his quest. Asking detailed questions and thorough in his research. Many of his friends at the time studied martial arts, but Vincent was seeking something different, something more.
In his research, he found out about the Chinese Martial Art of Praying Mantis Boxing. He then called me with a clear determination that Mantis Boxing was the style he wanted to do.
When he arrived at the school to discuss his training, he was full of exuberance, and commitment. We talked for a while, and he came back soon after and began classes. He spent the next 2 years training diligently before leaving for college.
One of my favorite Vincent stories...
We were attending the annual Mantis Boxing Anniversary dinner in New York City in honor of Great Grandmaster Chiu Leun. We met up with our West Coast family - Sifu Tony Puyot, Sifu Mike Dasargo, Sifu Mark Melton, and our late Grand Master, Sigung Stephen Laurette.
At the dinner, people will get up on stage and perform a demonstration for the crowd. Vincent waits quietly at our table as the night unfolds. When the stage was empty for a while, he looked at me and asked if he could go up. I nodded.
He stood up and walked earnestly past 20 or so teachers, and 40+ other attendees made of practitioners of the art, family members, and friends. He arrives on stage, but the audience is too busy eating, drinking, and sharing stories to notice.
Vincent does the salutation, and steps out into his horse stance with thunder. Everyone looks up and stares as he begins his set; Gong Li Quan (Power Building Fist) if I recall. He lets loose with vigor through the first road of the form. As he gets further in, he has a momentary lapse and is suddenly lost as to what his next move is. When this happens, it feels like years are passing by, when in reality, it is barely a second to the audience, and if played right, they will never know you forgot.
Instead, Vincent erupts with a loud 'SHIT!!!!!" in front of the audience. There is silence for a moment, then you hear some laughter, or maybe I was the only one laughing, and then everyone resumes their meals and conversations while Vincent is humbled by his 'black out' and embarrassed by his words.
Vincent went off to college after High School, and although he was still in the State, it was far enough away that he could not regularly attend classes. Still, he would pop in on the occasional weekend, over the holidays, train in the summers, and practice on his own.
Vincent maintained a presence in the school even when he couldn't be here, returning to the fold a few years later to pick up where he left off. I'm not sure if my words here can express the significance of that last statement.
In the martial arts, you are training with the same group regularly for the period of time you are there. When life throws something in the way, you have to step aside while your peers continue to train and progress. This is often difficult for a student to overcome. They feel behind, left out, and there is a strong deterrent from returning even though they would be welcomed back with open arms.
The ego is powerful and unruly. Instead of continuing something we enjoy, we'll decide to quit for good and miss out on the joys, experiences, and team we had once been part of.
Vincent came back without issue. He stepped onto the mats, and quickly realized the people he knew before, even some that started after him, had surpassed his level. Instead of quitting, being bitter, or letting this be a problem, he smiled, chuckled (the same laugh we hear when we get a solid punch, or clean throw on him), and congratulated those that had advanced beyond him. He then set himself to the task of moving forward once more. A testament to his character.
It is an honor have Vincent join us as a Black Belt in Mantis Boxing, carrying the torch for future generations.
photos courtesy of Max Kotchouro
video by Holly Cyr