History of Praying Mantis Kung Fu
The history of Northern Praying Mantis Boxing has been handed down from master to student for over one thousand years through a long oral tradition. There are many versions of the story and very few written documents which corroborate these legends. The account below is a combination of several versions of the story, retaining facts where possible and taking into account the culture and geography of Shandong and Henan provinces.
The Northern Praying Mantis system was developed by a famous martial artist called Wang Lang of Long Bao village in Ji Mo county of Shan Dong province during the Northern Song period (AD 960-1126). He was the only son of Wang Man Tang, a respected landlord in the village. Wang Lang was a talented child and in the Confucian tradition, was given the best possible education. This included the study of martial arts for many years at the nearby Temple of the Supreme Purity (Shang Qing Gong), a Taoist monastery in the Lao Shan mountains. There he learned the Taoist boxing style Tai Gong Quan.
After the completion of his studies, following his teacher's advice, Wang Lang travelled through China to visit other great masters of martial arts in order to perfect his own skills. His journey brought him to the Shaolin monastery in the Long Shan mountains of neighbouring Henan province. There he learned several styles of Shaolin temple boxing.
After seven years of study he was able to defeat all of the Shaolin monks except for the head monk of the monastery. In sorrow, Wang Lang left the monastery. He was walking through the woods when he decided to take a short rest under a willow tree. Suddenly, Wang Lang heard a strange noise, lifted his head and saw a praying mantis catching a large cicada. Astonished by the skills of the insect, Wang Lang caught the praying mantis and returned back to Lao Shan mountain where over a period of a few years he watched praying mantis movements-- fighting and teasing it with a small stick.
Inspired by the movements and tactics of the insect, Wang Lang together with Yu Hua Zhen Ren, the Abbot of the Taoist monastery, developed a fighting system which they called "The Gates of Praying Mantis" (Tang Lang Men). The system was based on twelve guiding principles: zhan (contacting), nian (sticking), bang (linking), tie (pressing), lai (intruding), jiao (provoking), shun (moving along), song (sending), ti (lifting), na (grabbing), feng (blocking), bi (locking). eight hard and twelve soft techniques. Also Wang Lang borrowed the best techniques from seventeen styles of boxing and incorporated them into Praying Mantis Boxing including the footwork of the monkey style. Using this new system he returned to the Shaolin temple and was able to defeat the head monk.
Years later, the Abbot of the Shaolin monastery was the great monk Fu Ju. His virtue was high and his reputation significant, he perceived Buddha, martial arts, medicine and literary culture, his name was known everywhere between the borders of the Heaven and the Seas. In order to improve the martial skills of the monks' brotherhood, he invited great masters of eighteen martial art schools to visit the monastery. His goal was to improve the martial arts of the Shaolin monks and to learn from each others styles strong points in order to offset each others weaknesses. Wang Lang was one of the eighteen masters invited to the Shaolin temple during the Song Period, and this is recorded in ancient documents that survived the destruction of the Shaolin temple in 1928.
Wang Lang retired to the Taoist monastery in Lao Shan and transmitted its techniques and theories to his best disciples, Yu Zhou Dao Ren and Shen Xiao Dao Ren. It is said that later Wang Lang took part in the rebellion of secret societies against the Manchurian invasion. However, all Wang Lang's troops were killed and only he escaped. When Wang Lang returned to the Lao Shan mountains, Manchurian soldiers had already been there. Wang Lang and his Taoist teacher Yu Hua Zhen Ren left Lao Shan and went to Kun Lun Shan mountain were Wang Lang continued self-cultivation and lived as a hermit until the end of his days.
A monument to Wang Lang near Laoshan Mountains, Shandong Province.