My Mantis Story
Mantis Boxing, or Praying Mantis Boxing (Tángláng Quán - 螳螂拳) is a martial art based around striking, kicking, and grappling. Self-defense is at the forefront of this art which originated in northern China (Shandong Province); founded by security specialists, and Chinese boxers of the era. It dates back to the 1800’s in the latter part of the Qīng dynasty (1636-1911), where it was born out of necessity during times of extreme upheaval, rampant violence, and harrowing catastrophes.
I came across this art in New Hampshire back in the 1990’s as I was correcting course in my life. In search of empowering myself with martial arts training, and the desire to know how to handle myself if needed. Sadly, time has not been kind to this art; much damage has been done to it over past generations. When I started, it was difficult to tell what Mantis Boxing was in its original form/manifestation. You can read more about my early journey here if interested. 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’ (forms/kata) to go by.
However, due to this decayed state, my early journey with this art was difficult and fraught with challenges in finding answers, or effective use of it in sparring/combat. Instead of walking away, I dedicated over 20 years to mantis boxing, as well as other stand-up fighting arts. Travelling, studying with experts, training, competing, teaching, sparring, researching; anything I could find. I have spent a better part of that time reconstructing the art. Reverse engineering the applications locked away inside the tào lù (forms), and developing my own methods so that others, like you, can receive a fighting art that is versatile, effective, and well…quite frankly - RAD!!! (little 80’s slang for you).
My efforts to ultimately reshape, redefine, and revolutionize the art, have created a new version that is relevant for self-protection in modern times. Of great import to me, is for the art to be applicable and functional, thus ensuring not only its survival for future generations, but also its practitioners.
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 mantis boxing’s arsenal 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.
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
Qín Ná 擒拿 - Capture/Seize (joint locks/breaks/chokes/submission holds)
The style subsits around 12 keywords (principles) that embody the fighting strategy of the ‘praying mantis’. There are five key elements to an engagement: bridge the gap; strike; control your opponent with hooks, clinching; trip, takedown, throw; force them to submit.
Mantis Boxing Videos
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. If you use these principles, then you embody what it means to be a mantis boxer.
Belt Ranks of Mantis Boxing
History of Mantis Boxing
Much of what has been handed down regarding the history of the style, has been through oral transmission. Claiming the original boxer witnessed a mantis fighting a larger cicada and defeating it. He then borrowed the idea of the hooking, and grappling from the praying mantis, and built his fighting around it.
While that is a pleasant story, in order to comprehend the art of mantis boxing, it is important to look at a more globalized view of the heavily combative, and chaotic region it originated from. As well as the preceding time periods in order to understand the 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 far and wide. Evidenced by the Qing Dynasty (1646–1911) centuries later, holding regular wrestling bouts.
During the latter half of the Qing dynasty (1368–1644), a style known as Mantis Boxing (螳螂拳) appears in the northern Chinese province known as Shandong. More specifically in the Laiyang county region.
Incidentally, around the same time, another famous style of stand-up grappling appeared next door to 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). Later (early 1900’s) this family art became known under a wider umbrella of styles labeled 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, through droughts, mass famines, rebellions, and a collapsing empire, the mantis boxing style began to spread. In the early 1900’s it travelled south to Shanghai, entering 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’.
Five teachers from northern China, representing famous styles of Chinese boxing [eagle claw, praying mantis boxing, Wu family grand ultimate boxing (taijiquan), form-intent boxing (xingyiquan), and Shaolin long fist] were invited to teach at the new athletic association. Luo Guang Yu, charged with representing mantis boxing at Jingwu as one of the ‘5 Tigers of the North’, arrived there in 1913.
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 the style was doled out mostly through a forms (tào lù 套路), or shadow boxing based curriculum. This was part of the mission of Jingwu; helping 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, while another mantis teacher continued the program in Shanghai.
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 used at the onset of the 20th century in the effort to revitalize the populace.
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. Europe, Russia, Australia, and the USA. On the east coast of the United States - New York City, and Boston became central breeding grounds for the style, and during the 70’s and 80’s it flourished for a time. Today, the art barely survives, and it is my goal to help change that.
Mantis boxing offers a unique form of martial arts training in today’s world. It’s dominance in the clinch; aggressive striking/footwork, sneaky kicks, and an arsenal of escapes/takedowns, make it a perfect mix for a well-rounded, solid self-defense system. At its roots, the style was born within unfathomable chaotic times. Created by fighters who used the techniques for survival as security, bodyguards, and military.
Li Bingxiao is the first known practitioner of praying mantis boxing. He may, or may not have called it that. He was known by reputation for his fighting methods as, ‘old man with 2 Hooks, Li’.
The lineage prior to Li becomes dependent upon oral transmission and is usually assigned to some travelling monk, or temple, before going to the originator - Wang Lang. The original founder is fabled to be Wang Lang, who according to legend lived during an unknown time period in northern China, long before Li Bingxiao.
Some claim that Wang 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. It is however culturally significant to appropriate credit to an ancestor, hero, or myth, rather than take credit one’s self. Additionally, making up a mythical backstory was also a common practice by teachers in the martial arts during the early 1900’s China.