Northern Shaolin Seven Star Praying Mantis is considered one of the most comprehensive styles of Chinese martial arts. There are different legends telling how this style came to be, common among them that Wang Lang created Praying Mantis Kung Fu. The following is in part how my late teacher, Ming Loy (Raymong Ly), explained its history to me as well as what I have learned through my years of studying Seven Star Praying Mantis.
Wang Lang was a native of Shandong province in China and lived during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). The Ming was the last Han led dynasty in China, supplanting the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty and ultimately falling to the Manchu-led Qing dynasty. Wang Lang took part in the movement to overthrow the Manchu government, and to this end entered the Shaolin Temple to learn and master their legendary kung fu skills.
The renowned Shaolin fighting skills brought the watchful eye of the Manchu government onto the monastery, in particular for those entering as unshaven disciples like Wang Lang. Wang Lang left the temple and traveled about the country searching for Masters who could improve his skill, but ultimately returned to Shandong, settling down in a monastery at Mt. Laoshan. The abbot of the monastery was Wang Lang’s former kung fu brother and they would frequently practice together, though Wang Lang would be defeated over and over again.
One hot summer day Wang Lang was practicing when he came across a cicada caught by in the powerful forelegs of a praying mantis- helpless in it’s grip despite the fact that the cicada was several times greater in size then the mantis.
Wang Lang captured the mantis, teasing it with twigs to study how the mantis moved in attack and defense- and systematized these movements into techniques that he could incorporate with the Seventeen Systems of Techniques he had previously learned. Although his new Eighteen Systems of Techniques raised his level of skill, he still felt there was weakness.
Once again, Wang Lang was enlightened while walking through the forest. There he observed the incredible speed of the monkeys as they climbed and jumped through the trees- Wang Lang realized the monkey’s strength lay in the free movement of their hind limbs. He took these observations and incorporated the foreleg movement of the mantis with the steps of the monkey, and thus the Praying Mantis fighting-system was born.