Throughout Chinas turbulent history there have been many styles of Martial Arts that owe their development to the Shaolin Temple in Henan province. The Temple has acted as a catalyst for the development of the Chinese Martial Arts for generations.
According to tradition the founder of the Seven Star Praying Mantis style was Master Wong Long, an unshaven monk of the Henan Shaolin Temple. Wong Long was a native of Shandong province; he came from a wealthy family and studied the martial arts in his youth. Wong Long entered the Shaolin Monastery around 350-400 years ago in the period between the Ming (1368- 1644) and the Ching (1644-1911) Dynasties, it was a time of chaos for China with the Manchu’s committing many atrocities. The Manchu’s were Mongoloid people of Manchuria who conquered China in the 17th century establishing an imperial dynasty that lasted until 1912.At Shaolin, Wong Long would train with his Kung Fu brothers, but no matter how hard he trained, he could never reach their standard and was always defeated by them. Wong would often travel to other areas of China seeking out famous Kung Fu masters to help improve his skills. When he returned to Shaolin he would again train with his Kung fu brothers, although he had obtained the techniques of seventeen different Kung Fu styles he could still not defeat the other monks. While he was away his martial skills had grown to a higher level, but his Kung Fu brothers were also training hard and so their skills had kept pace with his.
One day while out walking, Wong Long witnessed a fight between a Praying Mantis and a Cicada (a large broad winged insect of the homopterous family). Although at first glance it would appear that the small Mantis had a distinct disadvantage against such a large insect, it fought with great courage. Wong was fascinated by the aggressiveness, speed and strength of the apparently overmatched Mantis. When the Cicada attacked, the Mantis would angle its body to the side, and with lightning speed and strength it would pin the Cicada with its powerful forearms. Wong Long took the Mantis back to his living quarters for further study,he used a reed to prod the Mantis and carefully studied its movements, examining how it reacted to various situations,. Wong would then imitate these actions and over time the system slowly evolved. Wong Long compiled these movements into what is known today as the 12 Key Words Verbal Formula, the 8 Rigid hand Patterns, the 12 Flexible Hand Patterns, the Eight Vulnerable and 8 lethal points of attack.This led to the development of the Praying Mantis style of Kung Fu with its characteristic strong and rapid movements.
When Wong Long was satisfied he added to the new style the best techniques from the other seventeen styles which he had previously studied. The more he practised, the more he realised that although the structure of the style was very fast, depicting the power and speed of the Mantis, the footwork was inadequate to deliver these speedy blows. Wong later observed monkeys playing and fighting, the solution was very clear.If he could blend the clever footwork of the monkey with the hand movements of the Mantis, both speed of hands and feet would be assured. After a further period of training Wong Long tried his newly created style while practising with his fellow Monks.Much to their surprise he was able to defeat them, so much so they continued to train and research together to further improve the skills of this new style. On leaving the Shaolin Monastery Wong returned to Shandong and helped to establish a Temple at Laoshan.
The Seven Star Praying Mantis style takes its name from the star constellation the Big Dipper, the inside meaning being ‘the disciples of this style should spread all over the world ’.Some historians link this with the Secret Societies whose aim was to ‘overthrow the Ching and restore the Ming ’. Others say that the Mantis which Wong Long caught had Seven Stars on its body.Of course, with the passing of time it’s very difficult to verify these stories, the oral tradition of our school however leans in favour of the first explanation
The first generation successor was a TaoistSing Sil, who was a Chinese herbalist and surgeon.Little is known about his life, except that he entered the Laoshan Temple to consult with other herbalists there, on seeing the monks practising their Praying Mantis Kung Fu he asked to be taught this art.After many years of diligent practise he finally mastered the complete system. On leaving he relocated to the Taoist Temple of the Green Dragon.
Sing Sil became friendly with a security guard named Lee San Chine ( second generation ) after helping him defeat a number of bandits. As their friendship grew and seeing that Lee San Chine was a sincere man,Abbot Sing Sil taught him the complete system of Seven Star Praying Mantis.Returning to his security work, Lee San Chine became famous for his “Lightning Fists ’’. At the age of 60 he returned home to Shandong Province where he met Wong Wing San (third generation) who was a national Kung Fu champion. It’s said that Wong was giving a demonstration of his skills when Lee San Chine made some offhand remarks about his Kung Fu abilities. This enraged Wong, so he left no time in challenging the old man. In the ensuing contest Wong couldn’t dent the old man’s defence, seeing that his Kung fu was of such a high level, Wong begged to be accepted as a disciple. Wong came from a wealthy family so he never taught the art openly, he took the civil service examination and was awarded the title of“ third degree graduate of martial arts ’’.
In later life Wong accepted a disciple by the name of Fang Yuk Toung fourth generation). Fang was a giant of a man weighing some 280lbs, his skill with the “iron sand palms ’’ was known over a large area. It’s said he used this technique to kill two charging bulls and in 1870 he defeated a Russian strongman in a contest which took place in Siberia.This made him a national hero with the nickname “the giant with the broadsword ’’.Fang Yuk Toung taught openly and had many students.Notable amongst these was Low Kwan Yu (fifth generation).
In 1909 Master Hou Yuan Jia helped to establish the Chin Woo Athletic Association in Shanghai.A request was sent to Master Fang Yuk Toung to teach there, this was turned down partly due to the fact that he was now by this time in his eighties. Instead he sent his student Master Low Kwan Yu, who taught for ten years within the Chin Woo Association. This was the first time that the style of Seven Star Praying Mantis was taught openly outside of Shandong Province.In 1919, Low’s reputation grew even further when he won the Grand Championship in a fighting competition held in Shanghai.Master Low Kwan Yu became one of the “Four Super Lords ’’ of the Chin Woo Association.In 1929 one of Master Low’s students, Ma Shing Kam, won first place in a national Kung fu tournament in Nanjing. In 1930, at the request of the Hong Kong Chin Woo Association, Master Low moved south to further spread the Seven Star Praying Mantis style. The martial arts fraternity in Hong Kong was buzzing with anticipation at the news of Master Low’s arrival.
One young man who eagerly awaited the opportunity to train with him was Chu Chi Man (sixth generation ). Chu Chi Man had a strong interest in the Chinese Martial Arts from an early age and was introduced to the Chin Woo Association by close friends in 1924.Chu Chi Man first began the study of Shaolin Tam Tui style under Master Cheung Shu Ching, he later followed two other Tam Tui Masters,Miu Yuk Kei and Chui Lin Wor. Chu Chi Man also studied under Master Chui Lin Wor’s top student Master Bak Lin Sai.Great effort and dedication was put in for six years, but not being contented he went on to further study the Eagle Claw style and Taijiquan within the Chin Woo Association It was through an introduction from Taiji Master Ng Po Cheng, that Chu Chi Man began to follow Low Kwan Yu. Under Master Low’s personal instruction and through laborious practise Chu Chi Man achieved remarkable results. In 1933 Chu was appointed as Master Low’s assistant instructor and took full responsibility for the classes in Master Low’s absence.In the same year, he was also nominated as the Department Head Manager of the Chinese Martial Arts division of the Chin Woo Association. Chu occupied this position for six years and during this time Chu Chi Man travelled with Master Low to Guangzhou, China and other neighbouring countries to give kung fu demonstrations.
Later, due to an economic crisis in the colony, the Chin Woo Association was forced to close down. Not to be discouraged, in 1938 Master Chu and his Kung Fu brothers set up the Man Keung Athletic Association in Hong Kong. Master Chu was elected as the first chairman while grandmaster Low was appointed as the Chief martial arts instructor.Master Chu gave frequent demonstrations throughout Hong Kong and the New Territories at theatres and open air fund raising events for charity.Some time later the Pacific war broke out, the Man Keung Athletic association was forced to close down.Grandmaster Low returned to his home town of Fung Loy in Shandong Province where he died shortly after the war.At the end of the war things were very difficult in Hong Kong and as the inhabitants struggled for survival the majority of Grand Mater Low’s studentswent into the commercial field. Those who remained to teach were few and far between.
Chu Chi Man has been an outstanding promoter of the Seven Star Praying Mantis Style,he was the foremost student of Grandmaster Low in Hong Kong, having studied under him longer than any of Master Low’s other students.In April 1956 Master Chu, and representatives of other Kung fu styles, formed a visiting demonstration troupe and went to Taiwan where they performed for Chinese troops stationed at Peng Hu Islands. They alsovisited Ping Tung, Kaohsung, Tainan, Mt Phoenix and the Fisherman Islands.Master Chu never forgot his gratitude to his Master, and his Master’s lifelong endeavour to promote the Seven Star Praying Mantis Style.Master Chu has acted as the Chief Instructor of the Low Clansmen Martial Arts Club, Chairman of the Chu Chi Man Physical Training Club, member of the Development Committee of the Hong Kong Martial Arts Association, permanent superintendent of both the Hong Kong and Kowloon Northern Seven Star Alumni Association and the Lee Kam Wing Martial Arts Gymnasium.