Brothers in Arms
Mantis Boxing vs Ultimate Boxing
Although these arts have very different purposes in today's world, they share so much in common, and I believe they are intertwined in history, by shared techniques, principles, and geographic location.
For the past few years I have been working intermittently on this project. I noticed similarities back in 2012 while researching texts on Mantis Boxing and Taijiquan (Supreme Ultimate Boxing - more on this below).
At the time, I was doing an article on the Kao (Lean) principle in Mantis Boxing (Tang Lang Quan), and I recalled the 13 characters of Taijiquan had the same keyword.
I decided to look up the Supreme Ultimate Boxing (Tai Ji Quan) character for 'Lean', found in their 13 characters/principles, and see if it was the same 'Lean' keyword found in Mantis Boxing's '12 Keyword' formula.
Sure enough, they were the same character. This lead to further research and comparisons, and soon I had a series of principles and sub-principles that drew a solid link between the two styles.
The English translations people used can vary, but the Chinese character is found to be the same for each style.
Below is a work in progress but it is far enough along that I can share it.
Note: when I refer to Taijiquan, I am referring to my background in Yang style. Also, the name was changed in the late 19th or early 20th century when the practice shifted to fitness/health, from practical fighting art.
The original names of Chen, and Yang family styles (see below), were very different than the common vernacular they are thrown together in nowadays.
Use the color coding to match up commonalities in the defining principles of each system as handed down from generation to generation:
肘 - Elbow (Zhou)
one of the core forms of Mantis Boxing is known as 8 Elbows, or Ba Zhou. The use of elbows is highly prevalent in Mantis Boxing. This correlates to the emphasis placed on the Elbow Strike in Tai Ji Quan and is listed as one of it’s primary principles.
勾 - Hook - (Gou)
Used in Taijiquan, but listed as a primary principle in Mantis Boxing. Similar usage in application of Single Whip versus Slant Chop.
The two styles share kicks in common, along with striking/blocking combinations. Some of the kicks found in both styles are the Heel Kick, Toe Kick, and Cross Kick.
Striking & Blocking
The two styles share striking attacks and counters.
Deflect, Parry, Punch from Ultimate Boxing, is found in Mantis forms as well.
Both styles depend on an upper block combined with a counter strike down the middle; known as Bend Bow Shoot Tiger in Tai Ji Quan, this move shows up in forms such as Tou Tao in Tang Lang Quan.
The use of the 'chopping fist' shows up in both styles.
The Beng Quan (Crushing Fist) is used predominantly in both Mantis Boxing and Yang family style. I suspect, based on the expression and representation in the original Chen style form, known as Cannon Fist, that they were referring to the same type of attack/principle as lies within Beng Bu.
White Snake Spits Tongue is also a shared attack in both systems.
The two styles took very different paths as time passed, yet emerged with a similar outcome. Yang Tai Ji Quan was very condensed; using one form to house the entire system of 35+ applications.
Mantis Boxing, on the other hand, had 2 or 3 original forms, and later became bloated as more and more forms were piled on. The system eventually split into multiple lines, each with varying forms and further dilution.
Tai Ji Quan, was transformed into a health practice in the early 1900’s for those who could not perform high impact exercise. It had already been split into different family lines, and split again post-transformation from fighting to fitness.
The original Chen family style (Cannon Boxing), and Yang family style (Cotton Boxing), were combative and extremely condensed. See my article on ‘The Dirty History of Tai Chi’ for more details, and a bibliography of sources.
Mantis Boxing, was also absorbed into the national movement for better health and fitness. Jin Woo, Nanqing Guo Shu Institute are examples, but with a different methodology. They added pre-qualifier forms known as fundamentals training, performed sets at a faster pace, and trained more for a generally athletic in purpose.
In the end, it saved neither from becoming obsolete and losing their teeth. Lucky for us, the forms, and the keywords/principles survived; making reassembling the arts still possible.
Below are a couple of maps included to show the provinces in China where these styles originate. Eastern Henan Province, Western Shandong, and Hebei province.
As Douglas Wile points out in his book - ‘Lost Tai-Chi Classics of the Late Ch'ing Dynasty’, “the Yellow River basin was a hotbed for martial arts training and fighting. Many famous boxers emerged from this region and went on to be accredited with founding of their own fighting systems.”
Crossover of techniques and principles that work, or the use of a technique that defeated another opponent, would surely be picked up and used among anyone in the know. The common use of Beng Quan in Xing Yi Quan, Tang Lang Quan, and multiple family styles of Tai Ji Quan being a clear example.
Research Bibliography and Character Sources:
Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan - Fu Zhongwen, translated by Louis Swaim 1999, North Atlantic Books
The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan, Yang Chengfu, translated by Louis Swaim, 2005, North Atlantic Books