Theory and Technique of Seven Star Praying Mantis


Part 1


The basic theory of Seven Star Mantis is summed up in twelve keywords:

1. Ngau (hooking) 7. Bong (crush / smash)
2. Lau (hold, retain) 8. Da (strike)
3. Choy (pluck / pick) 9. Jim (contact/touch)
4. Gwa (hang / suspend) 10. Lim (stick / cling)
5. Diu (hook) 11. Tip (tag)
6. Jeun (advance) 12. Kau (lean)

The exact 12 vary from school but are pretty similar. There are, of course, advanced theories as well. These 12 serve as the fundamental principles of this system. Even though one may translate the names of the theory/techniques of the mantis style, only a practitioner of the system really understands what they mean. I always see many people who are NOT mantis stylists try to explain the main ideas of the style. That also holds true for other styles as well. Books and magazines only hold part of the information. There is not enough room in any book to adequately explain the theory of any style. Furthermore, only the top disciples of a given system truly understand the intricacies of their art. Next, I will explain in more detail, the 12 keyword theory

___________________________The First Six___________________

NGAU(hooking) – This refers to the ACTION of hooking. As the opponents punch comes toward you, your hand make a hooking action to intercept the attack. This can be done with any hand form but usually a simple open hand is used. The open hand can easily grab or go into another hand formation.

LAU(retain) – I prefer the term retain as opposed to hold. Hold is passive and retain implies that something is going to happen (active). Lau is usually applied after Nagu as the basic technique. Lau can be a simple grab or a complex pressure point lock.

CHOY(pluck/pick)- To pluck or pick up something. As the attack comes, you pluck it out of the air. This is a cross body technique. That means: if your left leg is forward, you pluck with the right hand. The cross body technique works on the same principle as the reverse punch. Although you can pluck anytime, if the pluck comes from the same side (left pluck with left leg forward) a stepping action is usually employed to make up for the power lost from the reverse action.

GWA(hang/suspend) – The technique used to represent the Gwa principle is the overhead block (usually accompanied by a punch). Although the overhead block is a way to express this principle, it limits the idea or scope of what Gwa really means. Gwa means to hang in the air period. This applies to striking as well as blocking.

DIU(hook) – This refers to the mantis “hook” hand formation. This hook is a noun as in a fishing hook. As opposed as the hook in Ngau a verb implying the action of hooking. The Diu can be used to strike as well as trap. Furthermore, the back of the Diu (wrist) is used to strike as well as the knuckles.

JEUN (advance) – This principle means that you attack as soon as you block/parry. Literally it means “to go forth”. One can advance after a block with the same hand (Diu Juen) or block with one hand while striking with the other (Diu Da / Bong Da). Advanced practitioners block and strike at the same time. “Lin siu bong da” (the block and attack happens together). This applies to hand / foot combinations as well.

__________________The Second Six_______________________

BONG(crush / smash) – This implies smashing down from above. In the system we have two forms of “backfist” strikes. The gwa choy and the bong choy. The gwa choy represents the same type of backfist strike as any other style. But the bong choy represents an overturned backfist that comes from high to middle / low. In Bong Bo (Bung Bo, Peng Pu) the kneeling stance (gwai ma, yup wan bo), is taken with a bong choy (overturning crush fist) this is commonly mistaken as a simple backfist. but the move is a power move. The stance collapses and the fist crushes. The term Bong Bo (crushing / collapsing step) has two meanings. First is the technique itself as just explained. Secondly, it means that if you master this form, your opponent will have his steps crushed ( be knocked down / defeated). Bong Bo is the first form created in the system by Wong Long. It was his desire to make it a comprehensive fighting form. Don’t be fooled into thinking it is a basic form. The complexities of Bong Bo are many. Buts that’s for another web page.

DA (strike) – To strike means that you strike with any and all of your body weapons. Hand, foot, knee, elbow, head, wrist, forearms, shoulders (the 8 obstacles). The Bong Da is commonly used in the system. That means that your strike should carry strength behind it. “The blows fall like rain” is an expression that implies striking with impunity. The idea of striking as prime objective is essential to the mantis style. The notion that the main technique is to strike and all other techniques (chin na na, tripping, trapping, pushing, etc.) are with this in mind.

JIM(contact) – The next few principles have to do with touching your opponent. Jim is to make contact to feel your opponents intention, strength, temperament and commitment. Contact can be made by grabbing, pulling, pushing, striking, kicking and slapping. For example: if you punch at your opponent and he blocks it you have made contact. Now, if the punch was not really your true attack (the unreal) you have made contact for the next movement. You should always be at least two moves ahead of your opponent (the real). We say the unreal to the real must go (looks like an attack but really is a set up).

LIM(cling) – The idea of clinging is meant to indicate that, after an attack the action continues. Jim and Lien are often used in conjunction with each other (contact, cling). Clinging can be inner gate or outer gate. Clinging can also be used for defense or lead into offensive strategy. The clinging or sticking action can be done advancing and retreating. If an opponent jabs at you quickly, you will not be able to grab his wrist 100% of the time. But with the Lim sao action as you block the jab, your hand sticks and follows the opponent’s wrist as it returns. Then when the jabbing hand has slowed down a bit, it can be grabbed easily. There is a special two person practice to develop the sticking process called Jim Lim Sao. This is what is known as the sticking hands of mantis.

TIP(tag) – Used in conjunction with Kau, Tip is an outer gate contacting action. Its scope is similar but not the same as Jim (contact). Tip is always fast and uses an open hand. When you Tip, you are usually smacking the back of the opponents wrist with your own. Just the name “tag” implies quick contact.

Kau(lean) – Unique to the mantis style, Kau is a leaning on to the opponent technique. It is mainly done in a twisted stance (unicorn, nau ma, scissors). But other stances can be used. The left elbow comes up from underneath the opponent’s arm as the right hand holds the same arm outstretched. It can be seen extensively in the “Joy Bo Tong Long Kuen” (drunken stepping mantis form).



Part 2


The Inner / Outer Gate theory



The Inner and outer gate theory is a basic concept of many style of Chinese Martial Arts. Simply put, if you are standing with your arms outstretched in front of you, the inside of your arms is the inside gate. The outside (back of your arms) is the outside gate. The inside gate is divided into 4 quadrants plus the legs.



1. High right gate
2. High left gate
3. Low right gate
4. Low left gate
5. Leg gate

This is the typical large cross drawn in front of a standing body. The saying “five gates to the body you must feel” is a standard Siu Lum (Shaolin) expression. Your attacks / defenses cannot be made helter skelter. They must be planned and executed in a decided fashion. Your defense of each of the five gates should be thought out while training. The mantis system has more techniques than you will ever need. The dictionary has more words than you will ever need. However, we learn a vocabulary and certain words are used most of the time. Other words can be looked up when needed. Some people have a wider range of words than others.

So it is with Gung Fu. Just because YOU may not use many of the words in a dictionary, it does not mean that other people are not taking advantage of a large vocabulary. Nor does it mean that the dictionary or most of the words in it should be discarded. In fact, in writing this goes double. You have to flavor your words to color your story. So you use many words that mean the same thing just to keep it interesting.

In Chinese Gung Fu you must pick out the techniques that you will use on a regular basis. Other techniques can be “looked up” by referring to your forms. Later, when you reach a certain stage, you will become one with your knowledge. Your techniques will become but an extension of yourself. If you think about all of the little things that you do everyday like turning on a light switch or tying your shoes there are hundreds of things that you do already without thinking about it. You have assimilated these things and they are a part of you.

Pick the techniques that you like best for each gate. Then, you will have an appropriate response when that gate is approached. Your Sifu can guide you but it is you who makes the final choice. You will excel in the techniques that you like best. It is simple logic. All of the techniques in the style are effective. But you will not fully grasp this for quite some time. So start off with a few techniques that you like the best. In time, this will expand to encompass more than you ever thought possible.

The outside gate (toward the back) is always the best place to be when fighting. Keep your opponent at your inside gate and keep at his outside gate. This lessens the chance of your being hit and at the same time affords you the best opportunity for a successful strike. You will notice that when your left leg / left hand is forward, your opponent tends to be in the same position. If you shift to your right side the opponent will do the same. This is the natural tendency of keeping the outside gate towards the danger area.

Most people are more comfortable fighting with the left side forward. So you must strive to comfortable with the right side forward. Why? Because you will be fighting from the “south paw” side. This has always been considered a difficult side to fight against in western boxing. If you recall, I mentioned that the opponent feels safer and more guarded with the outer gate towards you. This means that he will now turn his right side to you (mostly). Thus you make the opponent fight your fight. You put the opponent on unfamiliar ground and yet you are in a strong position for combat.

This does not mean that you can not fight from the left side position. But, you probably can already do that. Also, if your opponent does NOT change sides, you will be fighting from the inner gates. In your training, you should be accustomed to this as well. Any way you look at it the opponent will be in a disadvantageous position. Later I will discuss the power advantages of the right side position.

Next, your basic defensive structure must be attuned to the five gates. This simply means that your hands must not venture beyond the gate parameters. For example, if a punch is coming at you but is delivered three feet to your left, there is no need to block it because it is too far away. It will never hit you. You only block outward as far as it takes to protect the gate. Do not chase ghosts. If you see a punch coming at a gate defend the gate then withdraw to a defensive position.



The four principles of movement are used in conjunction with the previously mentioned 12 principles. There are many movements in our style. It is like a large puzzle. The principles of
movement turn it into a puzzle in which no matter how you put the pieces together, they fit. This is in part why the moves are done a certain way. The four principles of movement are:

1. Gow (reeling)
2. Pow (casting)
3. Faw (float)
4. Jum (sink)

The principles of movement are based on the principles of opposites. Every action has an equal, opposite reaction. Cause and effect. First let me explain the first two principles; reeling and casting.

To try to make it clear, if you stand up and pull your left fist back to your shoulder with force this is called REELING, you will feel the right side of your body start to move foward/turn automatically and naturally. Now, as you feel your right side start to move punch out with your right fist. Try this a few times and you will see the left hand movement gives impetus to the right hand. The right hand action is called CASTING. It it sort of like the pulley action in a simple karate / kung fu reverse punch but the use of the type of action with the arms away from the body is unique.

Since one action causes an equal opposite reaction, reeling and casting are the way we use less of our own physical power and more technique to generate power. The use of physical power slows you down. So we seek a balance between the use of physical power and technique. So, to
reiterate, the left hand diu sao pulled in and caused the body to move forward. This is the foundation of the way we move and gives our movement its unique wavy, swaying flavor when done properly.

Next is FLOATING and SINKING two more opposites. When punching from the seven star stance, the fist does not go directly from the hip to the target. The fist cocks up near the jaw and THEN punches. This gives the punch a half second lag. This is used to throw off the timing of the punch. When the hand cocks up, the opponent reacts to what appears to be a punch. Then when
the punch comes half a second late the opponent’s first reaction causes him to be out of sync with the punch and he is forced into an awkward retaliation. Furthermore, the cocking of the arm enables you to change to another technique such the blocking of an unexpected movement of the opponent.

As you cock the fist, you raise the rib cage. This combination of rib lifting with the cocking movement is called FLOATING. In advanced stages, floating is used in another interesting way by separating the top portion from the bottom portion of the body for a “splitting” action that gives
independent movement of top and bottom.

Now, after you cock the arm near the jaw, you are going to punch. The punch goes slightly upward then forward as it descends. As the punch descends, the ribcage collapses. This causes your punch to sink. The SINKING action causes the punch to be connected to the body not just the shoulder. So that you are not hitting with just the arm not the entire body. Without the floating and sinking being applied, the punch would be slower.

So when you put them together it goes like this: The diu sao pulls causing the energy and power to REEL from the left to the right, which causes the body to CAST forward. The forward momentum causes you to advance rapidly to the right seven star stance in which the right hand/arm cocks up causing the body to FLOAT and you finally punch pressing down the ribcage causing the punch to SINK into the opponent. The sinking action brings the weight of the entire body into play so that the punch cannot be easily blocked or brushed away. The sinking action tends
to ride on the opponents blocking arm and still strike him. We (the students) nicknamed this the SEVEN STAR RIDING PUNCH.

We call the diu sao action an INNER DIU SAO. When the diu sao is simply grabbing up and out to the left (left hand in this case) it is called an OUTER DIU SAO. We use the inner diu sao in the seven star stance not the outer diu sao. The outer diu sao is used in other stances (hill climbing,
tiger riding etc.) but not in the seven star. WHY? Because if you pull out to the left, the body LEANS BACK and now you have to change direction and reverse the momentum to step forward to the next seven star stance.

With the inner diu sao the body is driven forward instead of backward an blends with the next move (punch in this case). This makes for a smoother transition from one move to the next. In this example, a backward action will break up the two movements causing a discernible pause. Once the opponents hand is caught with the diu sao, immediate retaliation is essential. Additionally, the reeling and casting action give the forms a smooth, wavy appearance that is punctuated by abrupt stops.



Part 4




(Baat Gong Faat)

The eight hard (unyielding) techniques are a good example of taking a few techniques and applying them in different situations. The term “rigid” or “hard” implies that the techniques are powerful and straightforward. The eight hard techniques are:

1. Pek Choy
2. Tung choy
3. Sueng chuen jeung
4. Baat jang
5. Gwon Bong moon
6. Seung bong da
7. Saam huen choy
8. Jum da

PEK CHOY (Chopping strike) – The pek choy is an oft used technique in the mantis style. Although the technique itself is straight forward, the situations applicable to it are numerous. The Pek Choy can be used as a block or an attack. The Pek Choy can also be done straight downward or at an angle. It is commonly called a “hammer fist” strike in other styles.

TUNG CHOY (Straight punch) – This is a simple reverse punch as found in many martial arts systems.

SEUNG CHUEN JEUNG (double penetrating palms) – This is a thrusting movement with both palms.

BAAT JANG(domineering elbow) – using the elbow to force the opponent onto awkward positions.

GWON BONG MOON - (Crashing against a gate) – using the forearm to topple the opponent.

SEUNG BONG DA - (double crashing strike) – represented by the scissors action of the fist chopping down as the foot scoops under the opponent. Similar to the Sup Jee Toy.

SAAM HUEN CHOY (triple round punch) – three strikes in succession delivered with round actions.

JUM DA (jerk and strike)- unexpected grabbing of the opponents arm or arms with a quick jerk. Followed immediately with an attack.

(sup yee yau faat)
The twelve soft (yielding) techniques are another example of taking a few techniques and applying them in different situations. The term “soft” or “flexible” implies that the techniques are not power based. However they still can be strong. The 12 soft are more like principles than exact techniques as in the 8 hard methods. The twelve soft techniques are:

1. Test rigid and withdraw
2. Attacking the attack
3. Hooking around a defense
4. Searching through a revolving path to attack
5. Hooking hand dissolves force
6. Enter quickly attack after plucking
7. The free hand attacks
8. Engaging the inner gate and enter an attack
9. Pressing down defense with rising attack
10. Flicking outward to return an attack
11. Closing the hands after a separation
12. Wrapping hand disolves a grab
1. Test rigid and withdraw: After an attack is blocked, withdraw quickly to continue on. If the Defense is rigid, the withdrawing is used to launch a second attack. Too much stength in the arm slows down the next response. so instead of pressing on, you yield to the force by withdrawing the arm back halfway.

2. Attacking the attack: To time your attack so as to either beat your opponent to the punch, or side step /evade while returning a strike. As the saying goes, “a master never blocks”. The point being there is no defense contact at all. Just attacking with proper timing. (Best defense is a good offense).

3. Hooking around a defense: If your attack is blocked, use the energy of the strike to continue a circular action hooking the opponents arm downward. The circle is continued around to attack.

4: Searching through a revolving path to attack: This means that when your opponent uses circles to block, you have to time the revolving arms to attack the path that is left open between / through them. (Threading the eye of the needle).

5. Hooking hand disolves force: Using the hooking hand action to catch and carry the force. Parrying the force away from you.

6. In the Hook, Grapple, pluck sequence, you must attack swiftly after the pluck before the opponent can adjust to the break in timing that this technique causes.

7. The free hand attacks: If one hand is grabbed, use the other to attack rather than try to release the grab. This attack is directed to the same side as the grabbed hand as it is unprotected due to the grabbing.

8. Engaging the inner gate and enter with an attack: This means to use the diu sao (mantis hook hand) to open the opponents arms to get to the inside gate and attack once there.

9. Pressing down defense with rising attack: this means to push down an attack and as the opponents arms resist and try to rise, follow the arms up and attack foward.

10. Flicking outward to return an atack: When the opponent strikes, catch the attack and flick it outwards to open up a gate for attack.

11. Closing the hands after a separation: When ever you use both hands at the same time to open the opponents gates, bring them together quickly to attack.

12. Wrapping hand dissolves a grab: When your wist is grabbed, use the wrapping hand to lock the wrist down and control the opponent.

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