As a Mantis Boxer, you will use strikes, and kicks to close distance, then transition to hooking, grabbing, and clinch work to affect takedowns, and submissions. In my classes, I will train you in my repertoire of hand-to-hand combat skills, drills, and training methods for success. Be prepared to study my techniques through cooperative drills, partner work, and live sparring, once you are ready.
See below for more on Mantis Boxing…
What Is Mantis Boxing?
Mantis Boxing (Tángláng Quán - 螳螂拳) is a stand-up grappling, self-defense art originating in northern China, and dating back hundreds of years. As with most martial arts originating from this region of the world, Mantis Boxing’s arsenal includes 4 main pillars - Dǎ 打 - Strikes (fists, hands, knees, elbows), Tī 踢 - Kicks, Shuāi 摔 - Throws, and Qín Ná 擒拿 - Capture/Seize (joint locks/breaks/chokes/submission holds).
Mimicking the fighting strategy of the Praying Mantis, you control your opponent with hooks and grabs with the objective to trip, takedown, throw; rendering their attacks nil.
History of Mantis Boxing
Much of what has been handed down regarding the history of the style, has been through oral transmission, and claiming the original boxer witnessed a Mantis fighting a larger Cicada and defeating it. He stole the idea of the hooking, and grappling from the Mantis, and built his fighting around it.
While that is a pleasant story, in order to comprehend this art of Mantis Boxing, it is important to look at a more globalized view of the heavily combative region it originated from, as well as the preceding time periods, in order to understand it’s influences, roots, and heritage.
Pre-existing Mantis Boxing for thousands of years, there has existed a style of wrestling know as Bökh. This translates as 'durability', and is a folk wrestling art used by the Mongols as well as other regions in Asia. Ghenghis Khan (1162 - 1227), used this as a method of keeping his soldiers fit for battle. It was considered one of the 'three manly acts'. The Mongols, conquered many regions under the reign of Ghenghis Khan, and his descendants. As such, the influences of their culture spread, evidenced by the Qing Dynasty (1646–1911). Centuries later, the Qing held regular wrestling bouts. (wikipedia reference)
Fast forward to the late Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), and a style known as Mantis Boxing (螳螂拳) allegedly appears in the northern Chinese province known as Shandong.
[Note Shandong's relative geographical location to Inner Mongolia.]
Incidentally, around the same time, another famous style of stand-up grappling appeared next door Shandong in Henan Province. Sharing many of the principles of the Mantis style, and also based around a core of stand-up grappling, this Yang family art was called Cotton Boxing (like an iron needle inside cotton), and later (early 1900’s) became known under a wider umbrella of styles named Taiji Quan - (Supreme Ultimate Boxing 太極拳), or more commonly Tai Chi.
Scholar Douglas Wile points out in his book 'Lost T'ai-chi Classics from the Late Ch'ing Dynasty', this region near and around the Yellow River, was "China's most fertile breeding ground for martial arts." due to it's volatile nature and generations of combat.
After a few generations in Yantai, the mantis boxing style travelled south to Shanghai, and entered the Jingwu (Chin Woo) Athletic Association (like a modern day YMCA). Here we saw the shift in China from martial arts for combat, to martial arts for physical education. Luo Guang Yu was sent to Jingwu as one of the ‘5 Tigers of the North’. Five teachers from northern China that represented famous styles. These styles were - eagle claw, praying mantis boxing, Wu family grand ultimate boxing (taijiquan), 5 elements boxing (xingyiquan), and Shaolin long fist.
At Jingwu, mantis boxing was included as part of a martial arts (Wu Shu) students advanced specialization after completing the core 10 form (6 hand forms, 4 weapons) martial arts curriculum. Here mantis boxing was doled out mostly through a forms (tào lù 套路), or shadow boxing based curriculum. This was part of the mission of Jingwu in helping to combat China’s ‘weak men of Asia’ label given by the world powers. Jingwu later opened another location in Hong Kong, and Luo Guang Yu moved there to continue teaching mantis boxing.
Thanks to historians/martial artists such as Peter Lorge (check out his book on the history of Chinese Martial Arts), we now know that Chinese Martial Arts, for thousands of years, used boxing sets as a means of conditioning/calisthenics in addition to practical combat techniques. This practice was at the forefront in the effort to revitalize the populace late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Upon the rise of the People’s Republic of China, combative wǔ shù (martial arts 武術) were outlawed by the government, and many boxers/martial arts practitioners fled the country under threat of exile, imprisonment, or death. The style of Praying Mantis Boxing then spread throughout the world.
Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, all became hubs. On the east coast of the United States - New York City, and Boston became central breeding grounds for the style. The art barely survives today, and it is my goal to help change that.
I have dedicated 20 years to this art; travelling, studying, training, teaching, sparring, researching; anything I could find. I have spent a better part of that time reconstructing mantis boxing. Reverse engineering the applications locked away inside the tào lù.
So much damage has been done to the art over past generations, it is difficult, but not impossible to tell what Mantis Boxing was in it’s original form/manifestation. We have, thankfully to those who carried the torch over hundreds of years, the keywords of the style, as well as the original boxing sets to go by.
From this, we can do our best to not only reassemble the art, but ultimately to reshape, redefine, and revolutionize it for modern times. Of great import to me, is for the art to be relevant and effective. Thus ensuring it’s survival for future generations.
What will I be learning?
For more information on how you will train, class cycles, and more...
Mantis Boxing Videos
Check out my YouTube channel for a catalog of our Mantis Boxing videos. Training tips, and techniques to help you in and out of class.
The 12 Keywords of Mantis Boxing
The 12 Keywords of Mantis Boxing have been handed down from generation to generation, from teacher to student. These are the keystones of the art. They house the principles we are guided by in our art.
Below is a list of the keywords, along with links to more in-depth explanations/videos.
The Mantis Hook
The Mantis Hook is another example of hand shape (Xiàng (象)), and is a key indicator of this style. This seemingly innocuous shape is highly effective and ingenious in it’s design, and mimics the weapons and strategy of a Praying Mantis locked in combat.
Other martial arts styles also use hooks like Mantis Boxing: White Crane, Muay Thai, Wrestling (Mongolian and Western). The Mantis hook places emphasis on the curling of the fingers to strengthen the forearm and the holds.
When a Mantis Boxer latches onto an opponent, the hook has been trained to create a tight clinch. When a Mantis Boxer practices forms (tào lù 套路), or shadow boxing, they emphasize folding the fingers into the hook hand, engaging the muscles in the forearm. Training this focus, as well as other tools/drills, increases the hook strength in the arms of the Mantis Boxer, giving them more control over their opponent.
Belt Ranks of Mantis Boxing
Mantis Boxing Lineage
Li Bingxiao (1731 - 1813)
Zhao Zhu (1764 - 1847)
Liang Xuexiang (1810-95)
Jiang Hualong? (1855 - 1924)
Wang Rong Sheng - (1854 - 1926)
Fan Xu Dong - (1841 - 1936)
Luo Guang Yu - (1888 - 1944)
Zhao Zhi Min - (1901 - 2002)
Chui Chuen Luen - (1927 - 2006)
Stephen H. Laurette - (1954 - 2015)
Wai Hing Puih - (1962)
Randy Brown - (1972)
Note: Li Bingxiao is the first known practioner of praying mantis boxing. He may, or may not have called it that. He was known by reputation of his fighting methods as, ‘Old man with 2 Hooks’.
The lineage prior to Li becomes dependent upon oral transmission and is usually assigned to some travelling monk, or temple.
The original founder is fabled to be Wang Lang, who according to legend lived in an unknown time period in northern China, long before Li Binxiao.
Some claim he lived in the late Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) to early Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). Another source claims that Wang Lang first existed as far back as the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279).
The trace between Wang Lang and Li Bingxiao is non-existent. This indicates, if nothing else, how dodgy the oral transmission is, but culturally significant to appropriate credit to an ancestor, hero, or myth, rather than take credit one’s self.