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Southern Mantis

History of Bamboo Forest Temple Mantis

A young Master Wong
with Grandmaster Yang Yin
Bamboo Forest Temple Southern Mantis Kung Fu was founded by Red Eyebrow Taoist during the Ming Dynasty, around the year 1523 AD, and was first practised in the Kong Sai Bamboo Forest Temple. The history of the style is as follows : during that time, 2 kung fu brothers known as Red Eyebrow and Pakmei (White Eyebrow), both Taoists, were both known to reside at the temple. It should be said that during this time, both Taoists and Buddhists trained together, and it was for this reason that Taoists were found practising in a Buddhist temple. Pakmei was the senior of the two kung fu brothers, and in martial arts contests between the monks in the temple, Pakmei would always be victorious and Red Eyebrow would always be defeated. Because of this, Red Eyebrow was always searching for new techniques with which to defeat Pakmei, but all were unsuccessful. Red Eyebrow was in charge of looking after the temple and maintaining it, and Pakmei was given the task of preaching outside the temple.

It was during one such time when Pakmei was on one of his preaching missions, that Red Eyebrow founded his system of Southern Mantis Kung Fu. Red Eyebrow had gone into the surrounding Kwong Sai bamboo forest which engulfed the temple, in order to achieve a state of serene peace which would allow him to deal with the temple's many problems. While lying down in the shade of bamboo tree, he was struck on the arm by a mantis whose claw had made a small gash in his flesh, which then began to bleed. Naturally, by instinct, he pushed the mantis away with his other hand, and attended to his minor wound. He was surprised at such an attack by an insect just 3 inches in length, but even more so by the way in which the mantis had assumed a defensive posture after being pushed aside. It did not run away and hide but was prepared to fight. Red Eyebrow then returned to the temple, much intrigued by the courage and power of the mantis.

The Founding of a Style

During one of his subsequent outings in the forest, Red Eyebrow again saw a mantis. This time he watched as the mantis fought and killed another insect, known to the Chinese as a cicada. It then proceeded to consume it limb by limb. Red Eyebrow was much impressed by the skill and strength with which the mantis had defeated its opponent, and by the power of the mantis claw, which in one strike had cracked the cicada's protective armour. Red Eyebrow then proceeded to trap and capture the mantis, and then returned to the temple with the insect in his possession. Then he played with it, prodding it with a stick and studying its reactions, taking careful note of them. From these, he developed new techniques and the making of a new system. Pakmei returned after 1 year of preaching, and a new martial arts contest was arranged. This time, using his new techniques, Red Eyebrow defeated his older Kung Fu brother and was at last victorious. Pakmei, seeing the merits of this new style, proceeded to help his brother to build up his skill and power, and over the years Red Eyebrow refined and improved his system. However, it was decided not to teach the system outside the temple, as it was too dangerous, aggressive and lethal. It was adopted by the temple for its own defence and that of its monks. That's why, nowadays in the Pakmei kung fu system, a lot of the techniques, e.g. the Phoenix Fist are similar to the Mantis style. In that time the Bamboo Forest Temple Southern Mantis style was only taught to the temple, and nowadays it is only taught to people who speak the Hak Ga dialect. This means that the style is not being taught openly to all the public. Even the fact that you are Chinese, doesn't mean that you can learn. Master Wong experienced this, that's why he feels really honoured. If something is too easy to obtain, people will not treasure it. Just as when you go to a karate or tai kwon do club, and there are 50 or 60 people in the class, how can the instructor look after them more individually?

The Sharing of Knowledge

Long after the death of both Pakmei and Red Eyebrow, once the system had been completely developed, a man called Chung Yui Ghung entered the temple as a monk and learned the Bamboo Forest Temple style from another monk known as Buddha Lee. After many years training, he finally mastered the system and left the temple to teach the new style to those who became his students. Among them was a man named Wong Yu Gong, who later taught and promoted the style in Hong Kong. After his death, one of his top students, to whom he had taught all the secrets of his mantis system, Master Yang Yin, moved to Great Britain, bringing his great knowledge and vast experience with him. It was here that he taught Master Kim Law who in turn taught Sifu Simon Wong the style of Bamboo Forest Temple Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu. This system can also be found in America where one of Cheung Yui Ghung's students known as Grandmaster Lum Sang settled and founded his own branch of the system.


All images ©Master Simon Wong

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