Praying Mantis History

Oral traditions outlining the origins and developments of ancient martial art systems are fascinating and fun topics. They have the potential to provide us with colorful insights and anecdotal stories into the lives of the individuals that shaped the art we train today. But legends are also prone to inaccuracies and can be difficult to verify. While we encourage readers to have fun, please keep in mind that all legends should be read with a grain of salt. The true value of Praying Mantis boxing lies in the physical experience of diligent training.

The Northern Praying Mantis system was developed approximately 350 to 400 years by a Shaolin monk named Wang Lang living in China’s Shandong province. Some accounts suggest he lived during the end of the Ming Dynasty around 1644, while others speculate he lived between 969-1126 AD during in the Song Dynasty. Some also say he was Daoist monk. Despite such discrepancies most branch families accredit him as being the founder of Praying Mantis boxing.

Wang Lang was said to be a highly famed and fierce boxer in the Shaolin fighting arts before creating the Praying Mantis system. Speculation suggests Wang Lang was already proficient in Tai Zu Quan, or Emperor Tai Long Fist boxing, an ancient Shaolin martial system. During his stay at the Shaolin temple located in Shandong provinces Mount Lao (Lao Shan), Wang Lang was cited as having three influential and profound experiences eventually leading to his creation and development of the Praying Mantis martial system.

Wang Lang’s first source of inspiration came when he encountered a Praying Mantis (Tanglang in Mandarin) in battle with a Cicada in the forest. Inspired by the movement of the little green bug, Wang Lang envisioned an innovative new boxing approach combining rapid attacking and retreating using distinct combinations of long distance striking and short range blows, with unique intermittent grasping, hooking, and releasing of the opponent.

Like any good creation it was most probably one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Through a lengthy process of trial and error Wang Lang built upon his pre-existing framework of boxing skills, eventually transforming his vision into a tangible set of combat techniques codified around a body of governing knowledge and training methodologies.

At the core of his creation existed twelve key principles known as the Shier Zijue. These principles included Gou (Hooking), Lou (Grasping), Cai (Pulling), Gua (Hanging), Diao (Hooking/Absorbing), Jin (Advancing), Beng (Smashing), Da (Striking), Tie (Adhering), Kao (Leaning), Zhan (Sticking), and Nian (Following). This was the beginning of Praying Mantis kung fu. Training together with his kung fu brothers Wang Lang was able to further refine his boxing skills. Having quite a bit of success Wang Lang defeated many of his kung fu brothers in tests of skill. However, the story goes Wang Lang continued to have problems defeating his older kung fu brothers.

Wang Lang’s second inspirational experience came when he witnessed a group of monkeys playing in the woods. Inspired by their swift, agile, and evasive movements, Wang Lang once again went about extracting the essence of these movements into his boxing repertoire. Through a lengthy, systematic, and tedious process of applied trial and error, Wang Lang arrived at a formalized system of footwork uniquely integrated with his praying mantis hand techniques. The results provided great synergies further enhancing the effectives of Wang Lang’s overall boxing skills. In practice with his kung fu brothers Wang Lang was eventually able to defeat all of them including his eldest and previously more skilled brother.

According to the legend, Wang Lang’s final experience involved a formal exchange with eighteen kung fu masters. The story is documented in a poem from the “Shaolin Authentics” entitled the “Eighteen Families Sonet” supposedly written in the 1700’s. While the document does lend credibility to the legend, admittedly it is still difficult to verify and does not provide conclusive evidence one way or the other. Regardless, the legend goes that Abbot Fu Ju of the Shaolin Monastery, invited eighteen highly respected and skilled martial arts masters to exchange their ideas and knowledge on the strategies, concepts, and techniques of the fighting arts – Wang Lang included. After completing their exchange Wang Lang integrated a number boxing strategies and techniques from the other masters rounding out his own Praying Mantis fighting system. Below is the list of boxing masters and the essential techniques extracted from their vast bodies of knowledge:

Over the next 350 years Tang Lang boxing underwent numerous developments branching into unique sub systems with distinct refinements and add-ons. Some masters added on new empty hand boxing sets and fighting techniques, some added new weapons sets, some refined and condensed movements, some added iron palm training methods, some added qi gong training methods, and some added new and innovative training methods.

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