Is 8 Step Mantis a good beginning Kung Fu?
September 8, 2004 3:00 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to study Kung Fu, mainly to get in shape. There is a place near me that teaches 8 Step Mantis. Is that an OK style for me to start with? Is there anything important I should know going into this?
posted by badstone to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
odd, my brother was taking kung fu in a mantis dojo.
from what i understand it's a rather different theory of movement from the animal styles, and the people there were all quite dedicated to be in it, but i think that's because it's always most effective with immersion in the spirituality and theory of any discipline, and the head was rather strict.
from what he said, it's probably better if you don't know anything to unlearn if you plan on dedicating yourself to this style, otherwise find what suits you best mentally/physically like capeiora (?) for a more jumping, active communal thing compared to something like the mindfulness of tai chi. some are more social, some more interior, and in the bay area i think you have your pick.
posted by ethylene at 3:17 PM on September 8, 2004

One big thing to consider when deciding upon which kung-fu to practice is What is my body type? Some forms are simply better for larger people, like Hung Gar, while Bruce Lee's starter, Wing-Chun, is excellent for small, lanky, fast-twitch muscle people.

The style of fighting should also be taken into consideration, but many times this goes back to body type. For instance, Wing-Chun is excellent close-quarter combat training, but requires fast reflexes (which to some extent can be developed over years of practice, though a lot of that is just becoming familiar with different blows and recognizing them when they're being thrown). But Wing-Chun uses your arms much, much more than your legs -- the only kicks in the forms are straight, short blows. If you have long limbs, you would probably be wise to take advantage of the distance you'd have over opponents by choosing a style that emphasizes larger kicks.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the Xiangxing Quan (animal imitation styles). Animals have methods of fighting that suit them precisely because they're a (monkey/tiger/mantis/etc.), but you'll find that you're spending a lot of time trying to master the imitation, and not necessarily learning self-defense. Don't get me wrong, any kung fu is better than none, and it'll put your body through some great exercise, but if you're looking to actually use any of this stuff, you might want to look elsewhere. And if you just want to do lots of flying kicks, you're going to need to pick a different country's martial arts.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:03 PM on September 8, 2004

Tae Kwan Do is great for the flying kicks, speaking of flying kicks :) I'd imagine TKD is about as focused on legs as Wing Chun is about the arms.

C_D, is Wing Chun your preferred art or are you just familiar with it? (and if the latter, what IS your preferred? Just curious =))
posted by cyrusdogstar at 4:56 PM on September 8, 2004

i'm curious too.
i think that the discipline of kung fu is a great way for someone to get in shape and practice because the dynamic makes it less easy to blow off and empty-headedly just do, even though i'm not a fan of classes or animal styles so much.
i've always thought about akido but never been where it's available, but because i'm more interested in things i can do on my own, i was thinking more towards sticks and weapons for myself for a more form and cardio training. (if only me running around with a sword wasn't so odd to the natives...)

(i went to korean school for a year as a kid and the boys got to tae kwan do and the girls marched off to dancing with fans of knives and drums, etc. i had no idea what was going on, just did it mindlessly and didn't realize bringiing you to the front wasn't just humiliation, apparently it meant you were good. so that last day when i knew, i didn't "win" the room. amazing what you learn when you're not looking and the power of zen, or boredom)
posted by ethylene at 5:14 PM on September 8, 2004

Aikido is interesting; I'm told that it takes a very long time to master, but once you've gotten good at it, it's generally able to "beat" anything that's thrown at you. The whole philosophy of taking the enemy's movement and momentum and using that against him isn't exactly something that can be blocked.

I took it for a semester's worth in college (taught by a real instructor, however, not some PE hack) and found that while it was interesting, it had far too much rolling for my inner ears to handle. I have no doubt that for someone small and weak like myself, it would be 'the' art to learn...but I'd prefer something where I stay on my feet and aren't constantly tumbling :/

Also, one reason I took it was because I was interested in the very pacifistic philosophy the art is known for...sadly, the instructor apparently felt that because it was a college PE class and not a class at his dojo, he didn't have to go into it. I understand his decision, to some degree, but still feel slightly cheated (and was too turned off by the dizziness of attempted tumbling...and the cost of doing it outside of school... to pursue it further).
posted by cyrusdogstar at 6:56 PM on September 8, 2004

I highly recommend the mantis style and this school seems to belong to a living tradition, that is a school that teaches applications and forms, internal and external techniques. Northern Kung Fu systems like this one focus more on leg techniques than do southern systems like Hong Gar and Wing Chun. It is often said that Northern Styles are meant to be used while fighting on the backs of horses, while Southern styles could be used either on the deck of a boat or even in a phone booth. A well rounded system is never completely emphasizes one or the other of any of the traditional dichotomies of kung fu movements (short/long, hard/soft, external/internal, hands/feet), but teaches you to use them all at the appropriate time. You should ask more about the history of grandmaster and what generation of the 8 step mantis system he belongs to. You should also ask if on the altar of the school the peacock feathers are "open". This means the school accepts challenges (although there are almost no challenges anymore) and its techniques are of a fighting (meaning real and practical) nature.
posted by Metametadata at 7:49 PM on September 8, 2004

I am a student of a different school of Northern Mantis. The School is called Wah Lum after the temple in China where it was learned by my grandmasters master. There now exists a Wah Lum temple in the United States. The US Wah Lum system is the Jut Sow Tong Long or Wrestling Hands Preying Mantis Style. There are 12 Mantis styles (8 step is one). Mantis and other systems named after animals do not try to mimic animal movements, but adapt the successful combat strategies of these animals to human movements. Most Mantis systems incorporate monkey footwork (lots of shuffling and quick feet) with grasping, breaking and striking movements simliar to those with which the Mantis defeats its prey. Mantis was invented approximately 350 years ago. One story goes that it was invented by a monk who wanted to develop a style to defeat all other styles and found what he was looking for after watching a Preying Mantis fight and defeat another insect.
posted by Metametadata at 8:01 PM on September 8, 2004

i'm pretty sure that's it, in orlando.
and almost exactly what my brother told me but more explaining the grasping and breaking.
too weird.
sure sign i gots to stop working and get offline.
posted by ethylene at 8:15 PM on September 8, 2004

thanks for the info!
posted by badstone at 9:07 PM on September 8, 2004

Anything short of full-on Ninja training academy is just wasting your time. I thought about undertaking the rigors of Ninja Training Academy, but then came to a sudden realization that all I wanted to do was do backflips. I saved myself a lot of pain and heartache by just going to backflip school instead.

Yes... ninja or samurai school is where it's at... you don't want to do any of this other stuff.

Also... firefighter school is good for conditioning. (but not so good for silent deadliness)... so weigh your options.

(also... cullinary school [cooking] )
posted by cadastral at 9:25 PM on September 8, 2004

"C_D, is Wing Chun your preferred art or are you just familiar with it? (and if the latter, what IS your preferred? Just curious"

Both -- mainly because it suits my body type and my perceived application. I'm not a big guy, so in any confrontational situation, I'm usually at a disadvantage. When I was looking into different styles, what I appreciated most about Wing-Chun was that one of the primary aims is to reduce the distance between you and your attacker. It's the most anti-instinctual behavior you can imagine -- someone throws a punch, you step towards them -- yet it works extremely well because: 1. Most people just don't expect it; and 2. By reducing the distance, you eliminate the advantage of reach and momentum.

Thing is, I have never used it in actual practice, because I've always been a proponent of path of least resistance, which is to say, avoid the fight if possible. But I also feel that kung-fu as a martial art is not very effective unless you've been training for years, hardening your body against hits and keeping your mental state in a constant state of attack-awareness. It's great exercise, great for focusing your mind, but a couple of years of kung-fu is not going to help you much in a bar fight against someone who's twice your size and full of alcohol.

For example, there's one block where you effectively intercept a punch that's coming towards you by punching forward -- this causes the blow to be deflected off your forearms, while attacking at the same time. That's great, except the bones in my arms haven't been compacted by years of hardening exercises, which means my block/attack is going to suck. Bruce Lee could pull it off because he'd been conditioning since he was 6 (and because he was just a lunatic rabid beast when on attack).

My point is, really know the reason you are doing this. If you just want to pick up some good street-fighting skills for self-protection, there are a number of ex-Navy Seals who run classes of various repute that will teach you what you need to know. If, as the initial post says, the reason is to get into shape, you can't go wrong with any form, and the question shifts to the teacher, as Metametadata explained (very well, I might add).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:41 PM on September 8, 2004

But Wing-Chun uses your arms much, much more than your legs -- the only kicks in the forms are straight, short blows. If you have long limbs, you would probably be wise to take advantage of the distance you'd have over opponents by choosing a style that emphasizes larger kicks.

Guys with long arms in Wing-Chun will destroy you if they are good enough to keep you where they can punch you but you can't land anything.
posted by Pockets at 10:21 PM on September 8, 2004

What's a good martial art for a 5'7" guy with a large frame who is a gym freak and packs a lot of power but is short on the slow-twitch muscle fibres? Anything that requires lots of gymnastics is out. I can throw people around using my patented "military press" and "deadlift" styles, however. ;)
posted by madman at 11:32 PM on September 8, 2004

sorry, spazzy comp and a bad case of typoitis today
posted by ethylene at 2:54 PM on September 9, 2004

that's my thing with Wing-Chun, you have to be intent on fighting, initate it and maintain the upperhand and dispatch them, which is antithetical to my bent toward using them against themselves if only to gain time to gage what best to do.
practically, i try to avoid conflicts where i want to jump in and kill the guy. everything else usually starts out with the attacker at a loss. (drunkenness/psychosis, etc)
i'm pretty ecletic about most everything i do so i almost never stick to a single doctrine on anything.
i do default to a more freestyle tai chi/SA cat movement thing that evolves into whatever tool or situation at hand.
an unplanned fight is almost always in my experience is clipped by any short burst of a blow after a dogde to show you will fight back if u don't trip em up right off.

cyrusdogstar: i didn't know akido was so much tumbling, but then the only practitioners i knew also had a distasteful penchant for stretching all the damn time, and seemed to be rather smug if at any level. (i think it's the whole registering as a weapon esp. if they aren't really into the philosophy) i can understand needing tumbling, but i'm not a big tumbler either. nor a talk drink of water.

madman, i can't think of the style but something with more measured disabling force blows. focused chi stuff doesn't even need muscle power so much but it would probably give you a better constitution spreading out your general muscle strength.
posted by ethylene at 2:55 PM on September 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

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