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Luo Guang Yu: Mantis Footwork

Footwork Under Luo Guang Yu’s Lineage - Overview and Analysis

1. Introduction
2. Misconceptions
3. Stances
4. Transitions
5. Application
6. Conclusion

1. Introduction

The importance of developing good footwork is fundamental in all good MA schools, as it eventually provides us with a combative platform (jiazi) for mobility and positioning, rooting and stability, and explosive power in application. Characteristics of good combative movement are generally universal, and should be low, stable, rooted, precise, fast, fluid, explosive, coordinated, controlled, and above all purposeful. Traditional CMA teachers know the importance of moving, and are relentless in developing good attributes of footwork in their students, because poor footwork equates to poor kung fu. Ironically today however, some practitioners both beginner and so called teachers alike, neglect footwork for the simple reason that training is mentally and physically enduring, requiring diligent training day and in day out.

In this essay I will highlight some of the key attributes and characteristics of good footwork within Luo Guang Yu’s (LGY) Praying Mantis (PM) system, as relating to stances, transitions, and applications. More importantly after reading this essay it should become clear that system of footwork as taught and passed on by LGY was and continues to be a strictly LOW framed system.

2. Simple Misconceptions
For most students studying under a quality traditional PM teacher, the education they receive is fundamentally solid. However the quality of PM teachers throughout the world is unfortunately not 100% consistent; therefore I feel it is important to re-address some commonly overlooked and/or forgotten aspects of footwork.

i. Footwork as taught by LGY is a high framed, narrow based system. False – footwork as originally taught and passed on by LGY without a doubt was a LOW framed and relatively wide framed system. Furthermore the myth making speculation attempting to validate such an erroneous misconception, in my opinion, is short sighted for two reasons. First it neglects the obvious and purposeful logic of not only training low stances, but also in real combat (see misconception number two), and secondly, it ignorantly fails to identify those branch family systems who do in fact continue to teach a low framed system - case in point, Lin Bo Yan – Koh Kim Kok.

ii. Combatively mobile transitional footwork is a function of HIGHER framed stances. False – training preparation for combat requires a strict and demanding regimen using low framed footwork, as this more effectively develops key attributes of balance, strength, flexibility, speed, power, and mental fortitude, thereby enhancing overall mobility and in the end a better equipped pugilist. Secondly many of the leg techniques employing bridging and destabilizing principles of the opponent’s base are ONLY effective using lower framed stances as this maximizes the leveraging effects. There is a colloquial saying in Chinese stating, “standing tall is lazy mans kung fu and a dead mans’ game”.

iii. Footwork in LGY’s PM system does not employ principles of lower body bridging. False – the utilization of aggressive lower body bridging, immobilization, and destabilization strategies and techniques are prevalent in the PM system, yet often overlooked, as the skill requirement to simultaneously and effectively apply both upper and lower body techniques is demanding, and/or the knowledge was simply not passed on. It is not uncommon to see students actively engaging in controlled ‘sparring’ activities while completely neglecting and aggressive and extremely effective lower body bridging and destabilization tactics.

iv. Mobile footwork and powerful rooting are mutually exclusive principles. False – Although mantis footwork is often recognized for its highly dynamic and transitional footwork, it is sometimes mistakenly perceived as lacking rooting power, probably most likely due to the nature and appearance of Mantis forms themselves, in which limited time is actually spent in any one static position. However this is an erroneous conclusion because applied mobility and applied rooting are naturally inseparable components. Both aspects, regardless of system, are naturally drilled simultaneously thousands and thousands of times over in fighting application drills. As mentioned in a previous piece outlining the meaning and purpose of forms, I stated that they function primarily as an individual and rather intermediary training tool, designed to develop a mechanical understanding of movement before proceeding into obviously more practical two man applications which further develop applied transitions and rooting.

v. ‘Southern Fists Northern Legs’ - this is without a doubt one of the most outrageous, overly simplified, bastardizing misconceptions I have ever come across in CMA. Although not specifically related to PM, it does have some bearing. In one line of logical reasoning, it is used to label systems according to their general geographic region of origin and/or where the system flourished. Those systems generally originating between the Huang He river and Chang Jiang river were designated northern systems, while those originating south of the Chang Jiang river were obviously labeled as southern systems.

This is reasonable in itself, however the term ‘southern fists northern legs’, also implicitly and erroneously perpetuates the myth that ‘southern’ systems emphasize lower framed, broader based stances, with more intricate upper body bridging, and less transitional footwork, as opposed to “northern systems”, placing more emphasis on mobile transitions, intricate leg and kicking techniques, and less upper body bridging. Furthermore, individuals ignorantly attempt to relate geographical climates as being the primary factor in shaping and developing these complex CMA systems.

On a macro level, the majority of all traditional CMA systems are without a doubt comprehensive, employing all of the above mentioned components very extensively. Conversely, if we were to engage in the detailed nomenclature of systems on a micro level, based on accurate, specifically finite, unbiased, distinguishing technical and strategic merits of such, it would become strikingly apparent that while some systems from the same region are in fact homogenous, many others are not, being totally distinct and individual animals unto their own right. For example, take Choy Lay Fut versus Yong Chun Quan (Wing Chun), or Ying Zhu Fan Zi Men versus Mi Zong Yi just to name a few simple examples.

Not too far back last year, I remember reading a seemingly sincere piece, supported by a group in our own mantis community, perpetuating the entire ‘northern-southern’ cliché, making reference to one particular seven star mantis system trained in Hong Kong and it’s seemingly ‘southern influence’ (‘Searching for the Meaning of Mantis’ - September 2003 Edition, Inside Kung-Fu Magazine), written as if it were some communicating something both meaningful and insightful. It is this type of narrow discourse, where individuals simply take what they read or hear at face value, without indulging the rigors of their own individual analytical capacities, and in turn perpetuate those ideas or even myths as if it somehow accurately reflected the realities of the actual situation. Buyers beware!

In the next section I will introduce some of the key attributes and characteristics of good stances in LGY’s PM system.

3. Stances – Stability, Rooting, Power and Transitions
In the PM system there are eight fundamental stances commonly used, including the horse stance (ma bu), tiger stance (kua hu bu), hill climbing stance (deng shan bu), collapsing stance (tun bu bu), seven star stance (qi xing bu), circle entering stance (ru huan bu), single leg horse stance (du li ma bu), and the middle stance (zhong bu). Although unique combative function and physical structure, all stances regardless of such, must be optimally balanced and rooted, providing a stable framework for generating and receiving bone jarring power, as well as a rapidly exploding into transition and technique. Generally speaking, stronger stances function as a result of a lower center of gravity with an optimal base, a properly aligned center of gravity, superior dynamic balance, muscular skeletal strength and flexibility, as well as timing, and of course an intuitive working knowledge of how to combatively apply the stance.

Depth of Stance
First and foremost stance training must be LOW, LOW, and LOW. Maintaining a low center of gravity (generally located at about three inches below the navel, or 55% of your height) in stance training is a difficult task, as it challenges our faculties of balance, strength, flexibility, and of course mental determination. But via relentless determination and dedicated training the long term benefits are enormous, as it builds and develops fundamental attributes of balance, dynamic strength, flexibility, power, and overall bodily control and stability, necessary for enhanced fighting performance. Additionally, the mechanics of deeper stances will further increase the leveraging effects as we bridge and collapse the opponent’s leg in a real fight application.

Below is a simple chart outlining the general depth of the eight basic stances used in LGY’s PM system.

How Low is Low - General Guidelines to Depth of Stances
Stance ---------- Degree of Knee Bend
Horse stance: ----- 90 – 70 degrees
Hill Climbing stance:----- 90 – 70 degrees
Circle Entering stance:----- 90 – 70 degrees
Tiger stance:----- 90 - 70 degrees
Seven star stance:----- 70 – 45 degrees
Collapsing stance:----- 90 – 70 degrees
Middle stance:----- slight bend in knees
Single leg horse stance:----- slight bend in knee

As you can see from the above chart, LGY’s PM system as passed onto Lin Bo Yan and Koh Kim Kok, is in fact a low framed system. Moreover, the majority of combative applications found in the forms, with specific reference to the extensive use of bridging legs used to contact, hook, and collapse the opponents base (refer to the Beng Bu bible) would be ineffective without low stances. Practitioners and teachers of LGY’s system claiming higher framed stances provide increased combative stability, are dangerously propagating concepts of lazy kung fu, blindly ignoring the long term combative benefits of training low stances, while neglecting the combative leveraging effects of lower body bridging and application.

Breadth of Stance – A Narrow Stance is Less Stable
The breadth of the stance refers the width of the base. Although there is no easily quantifiable standard measure for the breadth of a good stance, it is in fact closely related to the degree of knee bend. Generally speaking, the deeper your stance, the wider the base will have to be taking into the consideration the combative meaning and application of the stance. Although each stance is uniquely different, we can generally say that a wider base of support will provide increased stability. Of course we should note that something excessively too wide will in fact eventually limit our ability to control the body’s power, as well as interfere with the combat effectiveness of the stance. Conversely, something that is too narrow will also stability, mobility, and combat effectiveness.

Mechanical Alignment
A strong stance is one in which mechanical alignment is optimized, as relating to the position of our center of gravity and where it falls in relation to our base. A properly aligned stance provides maximum stability and mobility when our center of gravity falls within our base area of support. Poor mechanical alignment occurs when your CoG extends beyond base of support, upon which you will find yourself struggling to retain balance, and in the presence of a skilled fighter, they will surely capitalize on this scenario and finish you off.

One very important aspect of Mantis stance-work is the principle of maximizing bodily mass, leverage, and stability in the execution of power. Generically, this results in the use of stances in which the center of gravity, as well as the body’s segmented line of gravity, favor one side of the stance (i.e. a disproportionate amount of weight is placed on one side of the stance). Not only does this enhance stability and power in the execution of techniques, but also aids in mobility as our body weight is already properly gathered and ready to explode. Below is a very general and rough outline for the type of weight distributions used in LGY’s system footwork. It should be noted as a disclaimer however that during transitions, the body’s weight does continuously change and shift over a wide range, thereby making the below chart a simple theoretical snap shot.

Stance ---- Weight Distribution
Horse stance ----- 50/50 and 70/30 (squared up and off set)
Hill Climbing stance ----- 70/30
Circle Entering stance ----- 70/30
Tiger stance ----- 90/10
Seven star stance ----- 90/10
Collapsing stance ----- 90/10
Neutral stance ----- 50/50
Single leg horse stance ----- 100

Dynamic Balance and Applied Rooting
A strong, stable, and mobile stance is one in which the practitioner has superior Dynamic Balance. This is defined as ones ability to control their body and balance while maintaining a desired position in the presence of a resistant opponent. As everyone knows there is a world of difference between performing a tang lang bu chan out of a tiger stance in mid air, while using it to actually intercept and latch onto an incoming and committed opponent. We must adjust, incorporate, and command an entire new system of stabilizer muscles in the legs, core, and upper body peripherals to stabilize our body under the resistant force of the opponent. A good stance is therefore one in which the practitioner has good dynamic balance. Training this to a high degree requires years and years of high intensity applied training in two man combinations and drills, applications, and of course heavy bag and wooden dummy training.

Applied Strength and Flexibility
A good stance is supported by a strong and flexible muscular skeletal system. Not much needs to be said here as the performance enhancing benefits of increased applied strength and dynamic flexibility are obvious. If you are a dedicated mantis practitioner, then a regimented strength conditioning program will definitely add value to your mantis.

Summary of Stances and Traits
Although there are many other concepts and characteristics we could discuss, I feel the above are some of the more important factors with regards to good stances and the components that make up such. Furthermore it can not be stressed enough that training higher framed stances in the long-run will rob you of the potential benefits of increased speed, balance, power, leverage, flexibility, and of course, effective application, that can be gained from such.

4. Transitions – The Art of Moving
Praying Mantis, as do many other systems, employs a very dynamic, very transitional, very explosive, and very combative system of footwork and strategy. It gives us tools that if trained properly enable us to purposefully and combatively move in relation to the opponent, enabling us to deliver fast and powerful techniques, leveraging the body’s explosive muscular skeletal structure and its moving inertia. Learning how to control our body, and its core power is a time consuming and enduring process, requiring approximately two to three years of dedicated training before we can finally begin to achieve satisfactory levels of fundamental control and fluidity of power given the mechanical features of the system. Below is a breakdown of just a few the key attributes to good transitions. Of course it should be understood that each and every one of these concepts are closely related to each other, and cannot physically be separated in applied practice.

a)Low, Level and Stable
When moving from one stance to another we must keep our center of gravity low, and directly over our base of support at all times, in order to ensure stability. Another important characteristic is that we must move our CoG on one level plane, or in other keep our head level, as this will further contribute to the process of enhanced stability and efficient movement. Practitioners should look like a moving mountain when they move through transition. Standing tall between stances is a common occurrence for beginner students, as leg strength, and balance are not adequately developed.

b)Explosive Speed
If you can move faster than the other opponent then you are already one up. The Mantis practitioner therefore must move quickly and explosively as speed is one of the three primary assets of a good fighter. The only way to get fast is to train fast. The process is progressive, but over time students should be capable moving with 100% speed and explosiveness, while of course maintaining 100% control and skill. Teachers who neglect training forms and drills at 100% speed and intensity will never achieve higher standards of combat proficiency, and are only cheating their students.

c)Controlled, Purposeful, and Precise
Transitions should always be executed with 100% bodily control, precision, and intent. Not only must we ensure that our center of gravity is always directly above our feet for proper stability and instantaneous directional changes, but also that we move our feet with precision accuracy to get our bodies into proper mechanical position in relation to our opponent. Related to this is the innate strategic and applied understanding of how to move skillfully, requiring thousands and thousands of hours of progressively applied two man applications and flow drills, not to mention the best teacher of all called ‘real fight experience’. Regardless of how fast or strong you are, if you don’t’ have skillfully controlled precise footwork then you will never be able to get into position to properly dominate the opponent, and thereby follow up with that rapid succession of powerful blows. Conversely being able to defensively evade the fast and powerful onslaught from a skilled opponent is also a key component to staying alive.

Next time you have a chance to watch someone train, just watch them from the waist down, paying attention to the above characteristics, and you will immediately get a feel for the level of proficiency of their kung fu, as well as an indictor for the quality of instruction they are receiving. Poor movement is an indicator of inadequate training and/or instruction. Next I am going to discuss a very specific and very important example of transitional footwork in our praying mantis system.

Shuffle Step – An Important Transition
One of the most common yet often overlooked transitions in the mantis system is the simple shuffle step, in which the practitioner, from virtually any stance, assuming a hill climbing stance in this case, simply lifts the lead foot and shuffles/places it forward approximately fifteen centimeters (roughly), after which we slide the back foot up into place. Commonly found in all of LGY’s mantis forms, it is a simple yet critical transition, enabling the practitioner to shift their weight forward and further press the opponent as they follow-up with a technique. The logic in this is that it effectively leverages and increases the power of the attack, as well as building good habits of aggressively moving the body forward to attack the opponent. All too often I see students working applications where they shuffle backwards in a defensive manner while executing an offensive technique. Doing so diminishes the power and intent of the technique.

As a specific example by yourself, think of launching three different consecutive attacks such as round house punch, beng da, and gou lou cai, all from one single right lead hill climbing stance. Many seven star family systems will launch each individual attack with a pre-emptive shuffle step forward, simulating the re-leveraging effects and forward pressing action necessary control a resistant opponent. These movements are also incorporated into many, if not all of the Mantis forms we train and stances used.

Some schools however remain content on launching consecutive attacks from a flat footed stationary position without re-adjusting and shuffling forward to take advantage of body dynamics and power. Simply relying on pure arm strength and neglecting the power of the entire body is in striking contrast to the power principles that our mantis forefathers purported. There are a few online videos from some seven star schools nicely highlighting this phenomenon.

5. Applications of Stances
Combative applications involving footwork are obviously an important component of the mantis fighting system, which at times, is unfortunately overlooked as practitioners tend to be pre-occupied with upper body peripherals, or even more simply just do not know. Besides obvious kicking and sweeping techniques, the mantis system employs extensive lower body bridging, immobilization and destabilization techniques which can at times be very nasty, very painful, and potentially debilitating for the opponent. Anyone who has been both fully and properly educated in the combative application and strategy of Seven Star system footwork, should be very familiar with extensive use these leg bridging and uprooting principles found in our footwork and stances. Just look inside the applications of Beng Bu, not to mention the name itself, and it should become strikingly apparent.

Bridging the gap is a principle commonly used in the mantis system in which the practitioner aggressively meets, intercepts, and latches onto an incoming attack, thereby immediately brining them into a desirable in-fighting range, as well as momentarily disrupting the opponents flow before following up with their own attack. It is most often assumed that bridging the gap is executed using the bridge arm, with the legs simply used to get us into position. While this is one aspect, the mantis system, amongst many others, also employs extensive lower body bridging, strategy and uprooting techniques.

One very common method of the bridge leg, is the simple hill climbing stance. From a simple stationary middle stance, we can aggressively step into a forward attacking opponent, quickly penetrating and bridging the gap, before planting our foot and effectively establishing contact with the opponents lead foot. At this moment the point of contact between your foot and the opponent’s should be tight, as well as having effectively hooked your lead foot just behind theirs, thereby immobilizing it momentarily. As a side note, this is one of the meanings of an inwardly turned 45 degree front foot. The next motion entails immediately pushing forward and driving through into a deep solid hill climbing stance. The massive amount of torque and leveraging effects from your shin and knee powerfully slamming into and driving through the opponent’s shin will effectively collapse and uproot their base, thereby further enhancing the effectiveness of the simultaneously arm techniques taking place. This is an aggressively abrupt, shocking, and powerful technique, with potentially debilitating effects as it can break the opponent’s tibia and fibula. Next I will follow up with a brief overview of some of the very fundamental yet often overlooked applications of stances in the seven star system.

Horse stance
Bridging the gap and hooking the outside of the opponents lead leg, will effectively collapse the base of the stance as we forcefully turn into a low horse stance. The hooking action of our foot will immobilize their leg, and the forward driving action our shin and knee into the back of the opponent’s leg will fold the leg in on itself thereby resulting in a destabilizing effect. This can be executed in tandem with an unlimited number of techniques, however one common example, occurs when we simultaneously intercept the incoming punch using a similar ‘gua’ block type motion, after which grabbing the underside of the opponent’s wrist and lifting the arm creating an opening in the rib area, from which we simultaneously bridge, hook, and explode into the horse stance while delivering a simple yet powerful straight punch to the short ribs. Follow ups are numerous and limitless.

Tiger stance
Due to the physical structure of this stance it is not an overwhelmingly stable, however it is very deceptive and highly mobile. It can aggressively explode forward, deeply penetrating and bridging the gap of the opponent’s territory, leading into various lower and upper body bridging and follow up techniques. The hanging leg in the stance can also launch fast deceptive kicks smashing into the opponent’s shin, knee and/or groin.

Circle Entering Stance
This is a very interesting and unique stance in that it is capable once again of deep forward penetrating bridges, with immobilizing features as the front leg hooks the opponents leg, setting up for further possible strikes, qi na, and/or take downs, as seen in many of the forms. In LGY’s system, the Circle Entering stance uses a relatively narrow base of support, with the back leg tightly tucked directly behind the front leg at an off-set angle of about 45 degrees. This aids in both finite forward transitions as well as larger explosive forward driving transitions requiring deeper penetration, as it maximizes use of the legs entire spring loaded lever and explosive energy stored within it. The narrow base ensures that the groin is more efficiently protected allowing us to immediately pull into a single leg horse stance thereby covering the groin area. Furthermore the tight position of the back leg simulates the follow up action of driving and smashing the back leg, and knee more specifically, into the lower leg of the opponent, and/or ribs if they happen to be on the ground.

Seven Star stance
This is a very versatile and evasive stance capable of various transitional jamming, stomping, hooking, and follow-up destabilizing features. In this stance the back supporting leg is at the same off set 45 degree angle as found in the tiger stance, as this better ensures that the groin is more adequately protected.

Single Leg Horse stance
Although not used to in a bridging fashion, it is effective defensively for cutting off and deflecting low to mid level kicks. Offensively the hanging leg position can be used effectively deliver a wide range of deceptive kicks including low driving kicks to the shin and knee areas (cha tui), as well as mid level front snapping/driving and/or round house kicks to the groin and mid section. Every time we see this stance in a form, know that there is always the option to deliver a kick.

Middle Stance
Although each stance is rather limitless in transitional follow-ups, the middle (monkey stance) is even more seemingly limitless due its simplicity and of course non-committed well balanced features. From this stance we can virtually explode any direction.

5. Concluding Remarks
The importance of developing good footwork cannot be emphasized enough. The existence of schools claiming to be proponents of traditional training while teaching lazy footwork is not only a shame, but also irresponsible, as traditional teachers should adhere to a higher level of training standards, within their own school as well as the entire MA community. It is the knowledge of application that defines the nature of our stances, transitions and applications. The obvious neglect of such, as demonstrated nicely in a few of the online video’s, is indicative of limited Mantis knowledge, and strikes disturbing parallels with the de-evolution of modern ‘wushu’ and its non-combative stances and footwork.

In today’s piece I have intentionally left out discussions regarding the detailed strategy the mantis footwork, however perhaps in a later piece I might address such in detail. In closing I would like remind those individuals training under Luo Guang Yu's family system that it was intentionally designed as a combatively low framed system, and as such, stances, transitions, and applications must be trained deeply, in order to reap the combative benefits of the system. Moreover I hope this piece is able inspire some better quality discussions and threads related to praying mantis, and specifically footwork, as the majority of content on the forum continues to remain sub-standard, although I should give credit to the ‘Northern Mantis’ and ‘Southern Styles’ forums as they are definitely one step above the wushu rubbish that gets passed off as traditional kung fu.

Train hard and train low!

Kai Uwe Pel
Shanghai, August 18, 2004


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