September 18, 2009

Meihua Quan as played by Brendan Lai

Lai was born in Hong Kong and eventually became a disciple of the Seven Star Praying Mantis Gung Fu Grandmaster Wong Hon-Fun after studying that system for many years. Shifu Lai defined mantis hand speed and 'clean hands', and was one of the greatest ambassadors of Chinese Kung Fu to the West.

Brendan Lai's Students performing Ling Bung Bu

March 21, 2009

Elements of Training

Form / Talou: Like a poem to help you remember what couldn't be written down. Talou are a catalog of techniques expressed in their purest form. They represent an ideal of movement and shape. Without resistance your body learns to express its self to its fullest potential.

Function / Drills: Are the expression of those techniques within the confines of the corporeal. Each pure technique must adapt and modify its self to meet the demands of an unpredictable ever changing environment. You learn to take the idea and make it material.

Opportunity / Sparring: Is an introduction to chaos, a free form
environment that is controlled but not dictated. Sparring adds a random element that forces you to adapt to the demands of Time (Timing) and Space (Distance).

Trial / Fighting: Is the test of your training. From the pure Ideal to the Physical application in the Unknown, you now add Stress. You must deal with the Psychology of knowing another intends you harm. You must deal with the Physical pain that tests the will to fight. You must deal with the Emotional frustration of resistance to your actions, and the weakness of your own technique. Still there are limits, so that we are always reminded that there are consequences to our actions.

March 6, 2009

The Power of Myth in Chinese Martial Arts

In Praying Mantis Kung fu there is a Myth surrounding the creation of the art at the hands of Wang Lang. This is one such version of the story.

In a bid to test his martial skill, Wang Lang ventured to the Temple in the Lao Shan mountains to challenge the monks. When he arrived at the Temple he came across several monks in the main plaza practising their boxing skills. Wang Lang issued his first challenge to one of the monks but received no response. When Wang continued his challenge, the monk agreed to let him fight a lower level student. Wang fought hard against the student but was defeated.

He returned home knowing that he'd have to train a lot harder to match the might and skill of the monks. Two years later Wang returned to the Temple to once again test his skills. He was in far better physical shape than he had been during his previous trip and was once again matched against a student of the Temple. This time Wang won the bout and fought his way through the ranks of the Temple until he eventually stood toe-to-toe with the head abbot.

Wang fought at the height of his skill but was soundly beaten by the abbot. In pain from his fight with the abbot, Wang rested against a tree by the Lao Shan mountains. It was here that he spotted two insects fighting - a cicada and a much smaller praying mantis. He observed carefully as the mantis used its long arms and quick movements to defeat its much larger opponent.

In awe of the mantis, Wang took the insect home and built a cage for it. He studied the insect's every movement and used a pair of chopsticks to battle with the mantis to see how it would react to various strikes and thrusts. Wang took these techniques and incorporated them into his own training. With these new techniques he once again ventured to the Temple to test his newfound skills. He fought the head abbot again and was successful, stunning the monks with his newfound skills.

While these stories are not a literal account of actual events, they express ideas that are symbolic to the nature of kung fu. The way a thing was created establishes that thing's nature, the pattern to which it should conform.

First, there is Wang Langs perseverance and dedication to gain a high level of skill. His victories did not come easy, and he knew defeat many times before he could prevail. We too should strive to emulate his fortitude, practicing hard and long, challenging ourselves, and growing in defeat.

Second, these stories often describe the battle between the insects in such a way as to describe key principle of the style. Here the story only says that you should use skill to overcome strength.

Lastly, in Wang Langs quest he finds his answers in Nature. In doing so he is following the Tao, which seeks to emulate the harmony found in nature. We too sould seek understanding through the Tao as many of the pricipals of mantis are rooted in the Tao, such as overcome hard with soft, and much much more.

"We have not even to face the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time, have gone before us: the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god, and where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence, and where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the World." - Joseph Campbell

March 5, 2009

The devil in the details

A mother teaching her daughter how to cook a ham, cuts off both ends of the ham before placing it in the oven. The daughter ask the mother why she does that. The mother replies that she didn't know why, that's just the way her mother did it. So the daughter goes to the grandmother and asks her, why she cut off the ends of the ham. The grandmother replies, she had a small pan.

In Kung Fu in is important not to mimic movements mindlessly. Understanding the greater intention of the movements, the various ways it can be used, and the details in it's execution are necessary for achieving the full potential contained in the technique. Otherwise it is likely that you will not be able to apply the technique effectively. Those who only practice forms often fall into this trap when they neglect to practice the application of the techniques contained within.

This is why it is important to train with a teacher who knows why he practices the way he does. And to train with many different teachers who will give you various perspectives, and place emphasis on different areas. No teacher can know everything, and some are even unwilling to convey every detail.

"Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power." - Tao Te Ching

March 1, 2009

Good Quote

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” - Theodore Roosevelt 1910 Sorbonne

Wu De 武德 Martial Virtue

is the philosophy of conduct for the Martial artist.

Youxia literally translates to "wandering force" refers to a Martial artist who wanders the land and uses his abilities to do good and right wrongs.

Respect 尊敬 Zun Jing
Respect the many who have come before you. Respect those whose effort carried the arts through time to be handed down to you. Respect your teacher and the art he gives you. Respect your kung fu family for the aid they lend you. Respect the school for it brings you together. Respect other Sifu, schools, kung fu practitioners, and martial artist as if they were your own. Respect all people and treat them with dignity and humanity. Respect yourself so that others can admire you and follow your example.

"When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everybody will respect you." - Lao-Tzu

Humility 谦逊 Qian Xu
Understand your limitations, so that you may look to those who are better and learn from them. Recognize your own faults, so that you do not judge harshly others for failing you yet possess. Do not compare or compete with others, so that you do not try to prop up your ego on the backs of others you should be pulling up with you. Do not be afraid to admit your mistakes or that you do not know, acknowledge your failings and learn from them. Do not believe yourself more important than any other. Treat other people as equals and help them because it is the right thing to do. It's been said that when you can help others who cannot possibly help you in return, you have learned humility.

“The taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bows.” – Chinese Proverb

Honor 榮譽 Rong Yu
Learn the names, deeds, and contributions of those who have handed down your Art. Learn the history, culture, customs, and language of the nation that spawned your Art. Act with honesty, integrity, and fairness to reflect well upon yourself, your peers, your teachers, and your ancestors. Cultivate trust in yourself and with those you associate. Do not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do.

"Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater one." ~Chinese Proverb

Virtue 道德 Dao De

Seek clarity of self, so that you may understand others. In that understanding you will be able to achieve empathy. You will be able to see the world from their perspective and guide them to the Right view of the world. Empathy will make their pain, their suffering, their failings, and their life, personal. It will become your pain, your suffering, your failings, and your life. In doing so you will be unable to ignore them, and feel compelled to heal them, comfort them, and teach them.

Follow the golden rule, Treat other as you will to be treated.

Follow the golden mean, Do nothing to excess.

"The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful.” - Chapter 49, Tao Teh Ching

Self Defense Weapons

Real Weapons, Martial Arts, and Self Defense

You cannot effectively employ any mid/close range weapon without some "martial" training to back it up.

Being able to operate a weapon, and say put bullets on target is not the same thing as being able to use a weapon.

Most people who use a weapon like a stun gun, pepper spray, or a firearm for self defense neglect training that would allow them to hold on to their weapon in close quarters.

I can not find the static so I'll just say that "most" women who attempt to use pepper spray to defend themselves, end up having the weapon taken and turned against them. Or they get secondary exposure from close contact with their attacker.

That is not to say that classical martial arts training is necessary, but some form of on going training that blends the use of the body with the weapon is.

Also pet peeve, in a self defense situation you can not, "Go home and get my gun." If you don't have your weapon with you 24/7 you need some alternate backup self defense option.

So I don't see how a firearm or any weapon could ever 100% replace unarmed combat for self defense.

If on your way to a PTA meeting at your kids school and you had to leave you weapon in the car, because it's not allow on school property even with a conceal and carry license and some dude decides to "take your lunch money". You better have a back up plan.

Of course "most" of the time smart thinking will keep you out of dangerous situations.

February 28, 2009

Boxing vs. Mantis: a comparison

Boxing is a Fair contest. When one boxer throws a punch at another boxer, he has all his defenses to call upon. He has his foot work to evade, he has his body to slip, and he has his guard to shield. Each time he throws his punch it's just as hard as the last time to land. An oversimplification, but still true.

In Mantis, I'll lead with a punch and if, with all your defenses in place you let me hit you, I'll take it. But as I advance my attack I'll systematic remove each of your defense until a point when all you can do is flinch at my strike. I do this by stepping on or wrapping up your foot so you can't evade. I bridge to lead away and tie up your guard and then I pluck, push, pull, trip, etc to take your balance. Have done that my next strike should land with little resistance.

"It is like a knott that get's tighter the more you resist." - JiangHu


In a time when science was nothing more than the reasoned conclusions of men who could not yet directly observe what they studied, and imagination filled in the gaps between the observable and its cause.

Chinese philosophers imagined a single energy invigorating all things. Like the Greek philosophers who imagined the four elements composing all matter.

This energy which flowed through and sustained all things was called Chi.

In the Martial arts Chi is used as an abstract construct of the mind. This construct allows us to visualized a preternatural force to reinforce and lend strength to our bodies, creating a mind body connection. Though the Chi may not be real we are still able to produce real, observable, results from its use.

The brain controls all functions of the body, and just as we can consciously take control of our breath, it has been proven we can learn to take control over our other processes as well. In modern science this is called the Placebo effect. Chi is the Martial artists tool to gain that control.

One such effect of the mental movement of Chi is increased circulation to the desired areas, this means that more oxygen is carried to your muscles by the extra blood, which allows your muscles to function at elevated levels. Since Chi is often said to be connected to the breath, this connection to oxygenated blood seems fitting.

"The mind is the commander; the body is the army. Where the mind goes, the Chi flows." - Taoist proverb


In the Martial arts it is the practice of eliminating distractions.

You focus on a single action, breathing, and eliminate all other thoughts.

No past, no future, just that single breath as it happens.

So it should be when fighting.
Distractions are a hindrance. Any thoughts of what has happened or what you intend, will take seconds away from your ability to react to what is happening now.

The past can not be undone.
The future is determined by the now, so what is most important is acting in the present.

Meditate to focus on the present, to strip away distraction, to act more efficiently for the future.

"Stop thinking, and end your problems." - Lao Tzu

February 21, 2009

Kung Fu is a lifetime not a pastime

A life long journey...

It's never enough. Whatever the reason that brings you to the Martial arts, there is no point, no marker, no level of skill or ability that you can achieve then stop, and still enjoy the benefits that the Martial arts gave you.

If you studied martial arts for physical fitness, and reached the peak of physical health and stopped. You would loose the strength and flexibility that you had attained through practice, and you would become flabby and weak again.

If you studied martial arts for self defense, then it is impossible to reach a level of skill that could guaranty success and the safety of yourself and your loved ones in any situation. So you much ever strive to be better and get closer to that unattainable goal. Even if such a mythical level of skill where attainable it would take persistent effort to maintain that level of skill. As it does any level of skill.

If you studied martial arts for the honor and prestige of being a “black belt”, then you are nothing less than a fool, because once you have reached that point there is a even longer journey ahead of you. It is then that you have just attained enough basic skill to begin your REAL training.

“All human skills are perishable. Just like fruit. You leave 'em on the shelf too long, they rot, they decay, they stink.” - Sara Pezzini (Witchblade)

February 18, 2009

A Declaration of Intent

This Blog is for the purpose of expounding and illuminating those aspects of the Martial arts that are beyond and yet subject to its physical practice and application.