Two Paths, One Road

Praying Mantis Fist (TangLang Quan) is a famous style with a distinctive hand position known as a “Hook.” Although I shouldn’t write “a distinctive,” when, actually, this famous style has TWO versions of the key hand style, each to represent the same special hook shape for the hand.

The first and most iconic version starts with all the fingers—including the thumb—pointing down, aiming to the ground, with a downward fold at the wrist. This famous hook ends with the palm drooping, until it is time to strike; a great shape for Chin Na practice. 

Praying Mantis Fist

Edge Hand

The other rendition also points to the floor but is based on a different model. The difference lies in anatomy. This formation removes the downward droop at the wrist, leaving the palm of the hand facing your own centerline. This simple difference in shape results in a modified approach to usage. For instance, the side drop aims the fingers down, into the opponent himself. When it comes in contact with another wrist shape, the outside of the pinkie cuts like the edge of a saw (which, come to think of it, is also serrated.) The wrist lock can create more holding strength but also, possibly, makes the second method more susceptible to Chin Na attacks, in the correct hands. The first way is easier to form, the second feels more secure.

Slapping Hand

Which of these shapes altered to the other? Who knows? The idea is that both hooks require a noticeable but subtle grip change that is not just physical, but functional; more importantly, they employ a difference in concentration. The preferred change, when used, should fit the “mechanical” or technical improvement seen by the teacher, and felt by the student. Having two Mantis Hooks suggests two different ways of dealing with reality, each developing a different focus of intent.

What does it mean to have two legitimate mantis hands differ from one another? Well, a less experienced practitioner—or, more to the point—a youtube martial artist, might understand these different hooks as being somehow in competition with each other. “Which one would win in an MMA match?” But I can tell you, as a teacher, that the existence of both is highly educational, and speaks to the heart of the usage matter. That is, understanding that the first mantis hook is something commonly practiced in forms, and the second mantis hook, something commonly used in applications.

Kung Fu is a style of technique and sensitivity, but not weakness. Its strength is rooted in attention to details, a form of precision that challenges while it builds. Encouraged throughout Kung Fu, these essentials reference exact details. Moves must make sense, forms must be well-structured; even a single action can refer to something as simple as the centuries-old distinctive Praying Mantis Hook. Overall, this is good practice. The precision we learn in forms enables us to understand concepts that can be applied in the field, whether in sparring or in actual self-defense practice.

Balancing movement with stillness, intent with focus, speed with angle, and timing with deception, the Mantis Hook’s most obvious usage lies in Chin Na; but even there, precision—approach—and technique matters.

How many different hand positions reside in a typical martial routine? Many, to be sure, like some customized weapon or unique grip (known as a “Ba”)? Each of these might demonstrate some inventive idea or grip, solutions to problems met in the real world. Here is where the martial arts lives its Yin/Yang of intense grip and intentional visualization.

Two hand Mantis exercise

This kind if inquiry, even at the extreme-closeup level of two similar but distinct hands, is essential for the full fruition of the Kung Fu style. We can easily admit that the turning of the Mantis hook hand, and similar actions, can be a method for focusing intent as specifically as a guide with a flashlight pointing out the otherwise devious side paths, while searching for the practitioner playing jut a little further into the forest


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3 Responses to “Two Paths, One Road”

  1. Walter Schwarz says:

    Thank you very much Ted
    this fills a gap in my understanding.
    It also helps to bridge different styles.

  2. Daniel Vallejo says:

    I found your analysis of Mantis hand structures very interesting. I am assuming that your content refers to Northern Mantis technique; my learning experience doesn’t include Southern Mantis methods so I can’t really speak to their hand techniques. The Mantis Hook Hand (I learned this as “dil sou”) as taught to me in the 1970s by Northern 7 Star teacher Brendan Lai of San Francisco was structurally different; when executed as a grab, upon completion the inner edge of the proximal phalange of the thumb pressed against the outer ridge of the proximal and middle phalange of the index finger at the joint. The gap between the finger and thumb you presented in the “slapping hand” phot0 is in fact a real-world representation of the 7-Star grab in application as the pad of the thumb presses against the captured limb.
    the Edge Hand shape displayed in the article is very reminiscent of a 7-Star finger spear movement that I was shown which could precede the actual grab movement as the hand extends. It was explained to me that starting the grab with this movement was supplementary as a potential eye attack, and could induce an automatic response of the recipient turning their head away from the finger strike, thereby “hiding” the response from the field of view, momentarily relaxing tension along the limb (thereby making the joints more vulnerable), and also creating a window of opportunity to attack the side of the neck with the head turned to the side.

    Decades later I was to meet and briefly trained with teacher James Sun of Northern 8-Step Praying Mantis, and although the Mantis Grab applications were similar, the point of contact between the thumb and index finger occurred farther down at the base of the distal joint and the movement overall was less compressed.

    In 8-Step the “Edge Hand” you portray had a similar hand form loosely called “snake hand”, but the only application I learned was in a throw where the fingers slip between the gap of the opponent’s arm and ribs to grasp the shoulder from behind.

    As with all your KaiMen entries, I really enjoyed the article (as all things Plum Pub). Your perspective definitely widened my own perspective of Mantis Hand techniques and applications. The well of knowledge to be found in the various schools is so deep.

  3. Jonathan Mitchell says:

    Mantis fist fascinates me. I’ve never been able to find a local school (though I did briefly attend classes under a Choy Li Fut instructor who, unfortunately, insulted the Mantis style and encouraged his students to joke about it), but I’ve tried to learn some of the techniques via books and videos.