Dynamics of Chiu Chuk Kai Tai Chi Praying Mantis
by Robert HUI
(Jan 16, 2005)
About 350 years ago, in Shandong province, China, a person named Wang Lang found the Praying Mantis Kung Fu style during his quest for excellence in his combat skill. Through his observations of nature, he combined the predatory skills of the Praying Mantis and the agile footwork of the monkeys with his extensive experience in martial arts to create a style that is known as Praying Mantis (Tanglang). It is believed that Master Wang prior to the creation of his own style was proficient in 17 various northern styles.
Since Shandong is a northern province, Praying Mantis Kung Fu is often categorized as a northern style. There are as many versions of the birth of various Mantis styles as there are the numbers of the Mantis branches. Four major Praying Mantis branches, which are Grand Ultimate (Taiji/Tai Chi in Cantonese), Plum Blossom (Meihwa), Seven Stars (Qixing), and Six Harmonies (Liuhe) still remain in Shandong, China today. Besides these four major branches, there are also many other hybrids of Praying Mantis styles that are practiced worldwide.
Documentation from Chiu Chuk Kai Tai Chi Praying Mantis (CCK TCPM) shows that 5th generation Master Sun Yuan Chang called his branch Taiji Praying Mantis which can be traced back to the classical praying mantis style of 4th generation Master Liang Xuexiang (CE 1810 - ?) that was originated in Laiyang County, Shandong. At that time, Taiji Praying Mantis had no affiliation at all with Taijiquan that is now famous and practiced around the globe. It was until Master Chiu Chuk Kai (7th Generation, CE 1900 - 1991), who was deeply impressed by the ability of the Taijiquan practitioners, whose six internal disciplines allow them to manipulate energy to defeat their opponent with much ease, that he sought after Chen style Taijiquan (small circles) as well as a Daoist monastery Taiji system. Master Chiu Chuk Kai, whose name is also romanized also as Zhao Zhu Xi, created a Taijiquan corpus consisted of 4 forms and incorporated them into the Taiji Praying Mantis curriculum. Tens of thousands of people nowadays enjoy the grand vision and effort of Master Zhao Zhu Xi which is now more commonly known as CCK TCPM.
Chiu Chuk Kai Tai Chi Praying Mantis or CCK TCPM as a style that is evolved from the Taiji Praying Mantis is a unique blend of Grandmaster Chiu’s remarkable experience and exceptional career. Grandmaster Chiu began his training at 8 years old in a temple on Mount Da Se, Shandong, China. He learned Taizu Men (Grand Emperor System) until he left the temple at age 18. His first employment was guarding carven from the notorious mounted bandits of Shandong. He acquired the Daoist system based Taiji forms during this time. Having a brush with death fighting a Praying Mantis fighter during one assignment, GM Chiu decided to learn Praying Mantis Kung Fu. He found 2 teachers Ren Fengrui and Chi Shoujin of Taiji Tanglang (Taiji Praying Mantis) and spent 7 years of diligent training under them. He then traveled to Guangdong province where he and one of his best students Jiang Milin were tricked into became hired bouncers of a gang. They quickly quitted Guangdong upon realizing the situation and relocated to Macao. During this time, Grandmaster Chiu met Grandmaster Chu Chong Man, a Weng Chun stylist who inspired Grandmaster Chiu to create the wooden dummy form. He also found work as martial arts instructor in the Jing Wu Athletic Associations’ Macao branch. At outbreak of the Pacific war, Grandmaster Chiu moved to Vietnam and continued teaching at the Vietnam branch of Jing Wu. In Vietnam, Grandmaster Chiu taught at six schools and he had thousands of students until finally the civil war broke out. He and his family did the final move to Hong Kong where he established a school until he passed away in 1991.
The dynamics of CCK TCPM focus on the practical applications while offering aesthetically pleasing forms for spectators. It is not only an agile long-range style, but also one that is comfortable with close-range combat. It is imperative to remember that CCK TCPM is primarily a striking art with a highly developed progressive indirect attack approach. There is also a ground fighting aspect that is lesser known. In actual applications, the power of hand strikes is generated from the balls of the feet, through the lower limbs to the spine, and delivered through the upper limbs. Most hand strikes in this style have “crack of the whip” type of power not unlike those found in Taijiquan. Kicks are delivered low to medium height as part of the offence or defense rather than an independent act taking into account balance and mobility. They are often blended with footwork as an obstructive or destructive measure to deny the opponent of an operational base of support. Takedowns, which require extensive knowledge of balance and leverage, are usually the third act of combat. They are executed with decisive actions that are designed to maim and inflict damage. Acupoints and leverage are utilized to maximize the effects of joint manipulations and other grappling moves, collectively known as Chin Na in Chinese martial arts. Although the elements mentioned are quite powerful individually, combining them as Shou Fa (combinations) in different sequences really made them most formidable. Despite of the myriad combinations, they all adhere to the Twelve Characters Principles and utilize the Eight Basic Stances that are core elements found in any northern Praying Mantis styles. Just as every problem has a solution, it is also true that every combination can either be neutralized or even capitalized by a counter. The Shou Fa platform in CCK TCPM is as significant as Chi Sao (sticky hand) in Wing Chun system to transmit the essence of the CCK TCPM combat skills. However, the main objective in CCK TCPM Shou Fa is to train the free flow of combat elements with lightening speed and fluid grace. “Combinations are pronged to be countered, only combinations with tremendous velocity can not be countered,” is a significant CCK TCPM adage. This style recognizes that attribute development (qualities) such as speed is paramount to the appreciation of its highly refined techniques; therefore, conditioning is of utmost importance, and is always at the core of very practice session.
Taijiquan forms of CCK TCPM help the practitioners to listen, to follow, to adhere, to neutralize, and to seize opponent’s energy in conjunction with the Mantis techniques. This helps the stylist better capitalize any rigidity found in opponent at which point he will use the sixth discipline found in Taijiquan - Fajing (issuing power). It is therefore ideal for smaller physique exponent. Although Mantis has its unique internal training aspect, it is quite physically demanding as it is truly intended for fight training. The Taiji curriculum in CCK TCPM on the other hand is suitable for general health exercise and it is ideal for all ages to train. The harmonious balance of lightening power and fluid grace in techniques is the reason for CCK TCPM to be recognized as both a hard and soft style.