History


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Praying Mantis Boxing (Tanglang Quan) is a style of Kung-Fu that traces its origins to around the 1600s, at the transition between the Ming (Han) and the Ching (Manchu) Dynasties. As legend has it, Wang Lang, a skilled martial artist of the time, who was intent on training Han revolutionaries to fight against the invading Manchurians, had been training diligently at the famous Shaolin Temple. Despite his perseverance, he was continually defeated in combat. Dejected, he wandered into the forest for a rest. There, he noticed a Praying Mantis fighting with a Cicada. Initially, it appeared that the much larger Cicada would surely win the battle. However, utilizing aggressive, lightning-fast attacks and traps, the mantis overcame it’s stronger opponent. Inspired, Wang Lang captured the insect and carefully observed it’s fighting strategies and techniques, prodding it with straw to entice it to attack. He applied what he learned, creating a new series of techniques and fighting strategies, and upon returning to the Shaolin Temple, defeated his older Kung Fu brother. Since that time, Praying Mantis Kung Fu was elevated to the highest levels within the Temple, being taught to only the most advanced students.

There are many legends surrounding the creation of Mantis Boxing in relation to its insect namesake, but it is not only the physical movements of the mantis that is being imitated. Among the Chinese, the mantis is known for its unwillingness to retreat from an opponent and for standing its ground and fighting fiercely against all odds. It is the insect’s indomitable fighting spirit that inspires Mantis Kung-Fu practitioners. As a Kung-Fu system, Mantis Boxing draws from many different styles of fighting found in and around Shandong Province, where it was created, and it is a very sophisticated style of combat that has been refined over generations in the fires of combat. In China’s past, Mantis Boxing was used by caravan guards, for whom being out numbered was the rule rather than the exception. Traveling from crowded city to mountain pass to plains, the caravan guard needed flexible tactics to adapt to the ever-changing environment. Mantis Boxing provided just such a resource.

Over the centuries, Northern Praying Mantis Boxing has evolved into a number of different branches, or styles, including:
  • Seven Star Mantis Boxing (Qixing Tanglang Quan)
  • Plum Flower Mantis Boxing (Meihua Tanglang Quan)
  • Grand Ultimate Mantis Boxing (Taiji Tanglang Quan)
  • Six Harmonies Mantis Boxing (Liu He Tanglang Quan)
  • Magnificent Forest Mantis Boxing (Wah Lum Tangling Quan)
  • Eight Step Mantis Boxing (Ba Bu Tangling Quan)
  • … and others.
Each branch has its own point of emphasis on an aspect of Tanglang Quan technique or tactics. The style of Mantis Boxing taught at Authentic Kung Fu of Florida is Seven Star Mantis Boxing, also more generally referred to as Northern Praying Mantis Boxing, as it incorporates aspects of several of these branches.

Fighting Method


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As a self-defense system, Tanglang Quan has a tremendous range of options. The Mantis boxer can begin at long range and move instantly to close-quarters fighting, striking in a devastating fashion with the hands, feet, elbows, knees, even shoulders and hips. Praying Mantis emphasizes bridging to close-range, and applying fast trapping while striking, in a barrage of attacks that overwhelms an opponent’s senses. He can throw an attacker with effortless takedowns, dropping them to the ground in jarring fashion, or immobilize a weapon-wielding opponent with restraining locks or holds that can quickly turn into disabling joint attacks, if the attacker persists. At the advanced levels, the Mantis boxer learns to deal with fighting opponents while on the ground, or in multiple simultaneous attacker situations. They also learn to effectively utilize and defend against weapons wielded in tight spaces, utilizing tactics and techniques that have stood the test of real-world life and death struggles.

The Mantis boxer generates power from the ground that travels up through the spine and into the limbs in a unique, relaxed fashion that contrasts dramatically with the type of power usually associated with Karate or Tae Kwon Do. This type of power takes less effort, conserving stamina, and generates greater force relative to the size of the practitioner. People of all sizes, shapes, speeds, and weights can be taught to fight effectively with Praying Mantis. The Mantis boxer, in attack and defense, executes techniques that propel the body and limbs in spirals and arcs. These curves and spirals, when joined to the unique method of power generation, give the Mantis boxer the ability to immediately change a movement midway to its target in response to an opponent’s actions. For example, should an opponent attempt to block a Mantis boxer’s attack, the attacking limb will simply spiral around the blocking arm and strike the opponent’s body anyway without having to be withdrawn first. The opponent finds the striking limbs of the Mantis boxer ever in his face, as kicks and hand strikes are executed simultaneously while moving into close range for finishing techniques. To the Mantis Boxer, blocks are simply bridges; new avenues for attack.

Curriculum & Teaching Method


At AKFF, our approach to teaching is much like learning a language. First, you learn the basic vocabulary. Next, you absorb a few phrases. Now, you can get around... call a taxi, order dinner, ask for directions, but you don’t have any real understanding of the language and you can’t really have a conversation. Improvisation is not practical yet, and a question you have never heard before can throw you into a panic. At this point, we begin teaching the “grammar” of Praying Mantis; it’s rules, structure, how to fit things together. Now, you can make simple sentences with your Kung Fu, a combination of techniques on the fly. Later, paragraphs. At the advanced levels, rather than searching your brain for which technique to use as if it were stored in a file cabinet, you begin to have “conversations” with your Kung Fu. This frees you up to think about strategy while you move. It is only after these careful steps, each one building upon the previous one, that you can attain true “fluency” in fighting.

Forms

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Chinese martial arts record tactics and techniques in solo routines that in English are referred to as forms or sets (Taolu). These are the “vocabulary of movement” for Kung Fu. They also catalogue various “grammatical rules” for the style and give clues to fighting strategy. As Mantis Boxing developed into its many branches, each branch developed its own forms to express their different approaches to the art. As a result, there are many sets and variations of sets in Mantis Boxing. In fact, across the many branches of Tanglang Quan, there are more sets than any person could learn in a lifetime. It is a testimony to the variation possible within the art and speaks of how the style can be adapted to anyone of any body type or temperament. At AKFF, we teach over 40 different traditional Praying Mantis empty hand and weapons forms from the Wong Hon Fun lineage.

Partner Drills

Forms must transition into fighting, and it doesn’t happen by osmosis. It is essential that the skilled Kung Fu practitioner understand the applications of form movements, and how to insert them into a combat situation. Without this basic understanding, techniques from forms can never be practical for self-defense. The Mantis Boxer must develop comfortability fighting at close-range, and sharp situational awareness. Partner drills train these aspects of combat and self-defense, in a structured attack-defend fashion. In offense, every technique gives rise to new avenues of attack, depending on the opponent’s response. In partner drills, the student learns to apply the techniques learned in their forms directly to fighting, by seamlessly blending them into an unrelenting barrage, tearing d
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own the opponent’s defenses. Through repeated drills, these techniques are assimilated into muscle memory, so they emerge as reflex, and the student begins to move in a Kung Fu way naturally, without thinking. In defense, the Mantis practitioner uses his peripheral vision and touch sensitivity to react quickly to attacks and changing combat situations. Cognitive thought and image-forming vision are simply too slow to react. In this way, partner drills train the reflex centers of the brain to do the majority of the sensory processing when on the defensive.

Multiple Partner Drills

Multiple partner drills are conducted at longer range and teach a different set of skills. First, the student is taught to deal with multiple opponents, utilizing distance, timing, and footwork to out maneuver their opponents. They are then taught to cope with varying attacks, including knives, sticks, holds, kicks, and empty hand strikes. We also train students to deal with practitioners of other martial styles, including western boxing, kickboxing, karate, grappling, and other styles of Kung Fu.

Sticking Hands

At the next level, partner drills evolve into a free-form combat framework known as “Sticking Hands”. Unlike conventional “point sparring”, sticking hands works from a bridged position (i.e. close range), and students begin blending techniques learned at all levels. This includes striking with the hands and feet in any fashion, as well as traps, locks, takedowns ... everything in the pratitioners’ arsenals is available. There are no points in sticking hands, and no attack-or-defend. The Mantis Boxer is free to attack and defend at any time, and the Kung Fu “conversation” proceeds continuously and fluidly until a checkmate position is reached.

Weapons

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In addition to the empty hand curriculum, the AKFF student will learn to utilize and defend against various types of weapons, including sticks, knives, guns, and traditional Chinese weapons. These weapons are as wide and varied as the empty-hand aspect of Praying Mantis, and much time is devoted to properly training technique and application, as well as adaptation to modern defense scenarios.

Conditioning

Because Mantis Boxing provides such a wide range of tactics and techniques, the accomplished Mantis boxer must condition his body sufficiently in order to perform them well. Conditioning cannot be rushed and the path to gain sufficient strength in the legs, core body strength and upper body development takes time. More than simple muscular development however, the Mantis boxer must develop tendon-strength. The unique striking methods of Tanglang Quan, require conditioning the tendons so that the striking limb may utilize full power and speed without fear of injury. It is this unique quality that forms part of the Kung-Fu (specialized ability) of Tanglang Quan. The legs also must receive similar conditioning so that the Mantis boxer achieves a high degree of agility and stability.


The Mantis Boxer is the consummate fighter skilled at all ranges, and to fight in all environments. The road to mastery of Tanglang Quan is a long one but one that fighters for centuries have found well worth traveling.

*A special thanks to Sifu Cottrell for his contribution to this material.