Q &A 4/30/17

Q: Does Mantis have  iron shirt/fist type conditioning exercises?

A: Absolutely.
Southern Mantis is, by design, a combative art, and the skill of turning the body into a weapon is a fundamental focus for  practitioners.  There are several stages to the martial conditioning, taking one from their base level to iron  and then to cotton. The more you train, the more advanced your conditioning will become.   Along side the standard surfaces, there are many specialty skills as well that can be conditioned, such as the various claw hands, finger strikes, etc.  However, contact conditioning is trained systematically  with each progression regardless of skill level so as to not cause unnecessary damage to our joints,muscles, or bones.

First and foremost, I should note that the majority of the striking and contact skills are  reliant on having a partner to work with.  Live power is always best for real time feed back in martial application and will also greatly reduce your chances of long term injury. Training should always be done with contact in mind–even when training soft hand. As you are working on your technique, your partner is working on effectively receiving the output of energy,  all while  using the least amount of force to do so. Least amount of force does not mean weak force. Instead you should use relaxed force so that you do not waste energy.   With correct technique, you will cancel each other out or redirect and loop the sequence. If your technique is not correct, you will  immediately receive feedback.   That is to say you get a physical reminder. This is why we  increase the power of the strikes over time rather then using brute force on every exchange.  To regulate like this is for safety as well as comprehension. The harder you hit the harder you get hit.

hammer fist / palm conditioning

When there is no partner,  we do have tools to use so that we may continue training and gaining.  Bags of mung beans, stones and iron shot are used in various ways as are the standard heavy bags and other common striking mediums. We also have in house  tools to help specialized skills.   Here you also learn to understand the expression of power.  As a note:  I use bricks more for grip training then I do for striking.

The conditioning skills of Bamboo Mantis must allow for proper nerve function as well as the full articulation of the limbs and joints. The process is NOT designed to kill nerves or build up skin or bone callouses. These are considered less than desirable for long term use. We must not cause damage to ourselves in training if we expect to have the weapon at the ready afterwards.   My point here is that conditioning is more than slamming your hands, fists, elbows, shins  into hard things. Although this is a part of the process, it is only a part.
There are  numerous “gungs,” or skills, that use self regulatory breathing  and anatomical activation of the muscular system. The principles here are applied  to the lo-han conditioning process to facilitate striking power and for absorbing a blow. This aspect of conditioning would include martial yoga based principles as well as weight training and calisthenics. These are all part of  our martial fitness exercises.

 Q: Is Chi-Sau the Mantis equivalent of sparring or does it also have a different type of sparring that involves contact?
 A: Chi sau is  more of an advanced skill  that can be applied in sparring. There are several aspects to sparring in mantis fist.
Chi sau or Sticking hands can be used in close range while standing or while involved in grappling or wrestling to lock,trap and control. Chi sau is not a set pattern or singular exercise like many think although, there are many pattern drills to learn. It is the principle of redirection, control, trapping, etc.  These skills are decoded through systematic training of  the various angles, shapes, and pressures.  Chi sau is the art of  occupying the empty space. In that, it rides the space between you and your opponent.  It operates in the middle of  give and take and is in some ways the catalyst to the strike.

Chi Sau is the art of occupying  the empty space

Saan Sau would be the more common broken bridge expression of contact sparring that many envision.  This is trained to highlight fisticuffs from the broken bridge point of view.  First you learn to respond to an attack with a basic bridge hand and then to follow up with consecutive strikes in a set direction or combination exercise—usually 3 or 4 moves at a go. Each drill will highlight a tactic for entry worth recognizing.

kick defense

Over time, you learn to entwine these two principle skills together. These, along with the soft and hard hand technologies, are introduced to free hand rough housing or sparring.

Q: Mantis seems to be heavily focused on attacking, but does it also have blocks and defensive maneuvers?

 A: Mantis is an aggressive fighting art. Self protection is the driving force behind the training.  To properly protect yourself requires you to understand pressure…So we train with this intent.   As we work with our partner to strike vital targets  using saan sau, chi sau, or both we also learn how to respond by cutting angles, striking, intercepting, absorbing or evading the attack all together. Each hand shape has the ability to defend and/ or attack. Each hand shape has the Jeet ( interception) application built in.

With this thinking, we generally do not focus on defense as an individual skill but rather a consequence of engagement. While we may deflect or absorb a strike on our way to the center,  the block is never hard-line but rather a side-effect of the initial attack being intercepted.  Remember, the idea is to attack the nearest point of contact while moving through to the mother-line (dead center) of your opponent.

facing off

Over a short time, this concept will translate into the aggressive play common in a training hall. But in order to do so with real time strikes we must be consistent in our basic shapes and structures.

 With the comprehension of this basic methodology, the mantis boxer will not spend time “chasing hands” but maintain the ability to absorb and redirect the bridge.  It could be said that the most defensive aspect of mantis is found in the foot work.

Q: Can you explain what Daoist yoga is?

A: The empty space.
It might amaze you to know that traditional gung fu is ripe with self regulating exercises including many common “yoga” type skills.

 For example:  If you look at the basic press up progressions and the get up exercises that  I teach;  these are all coded “yoga” exercises…slow them down and you can see clearly the methodology for this.  Martial art training is meant to strengthen the body and sharpen the mind for all aspect of life, not just self defense. This is why we say self protection. We protect ourselves  by sitting, standing, and moving from various anatomical positions with intent and focus. There just tends to be a strong martial influence seeded with in the practice.  Add to this focused breath and concentrated mind and you will have the yoga you seek.

This template is not seen by those who are in a hurry. All they see is straight line punching !!

I tell my students that they should train the system of mantis fist as a moving meditation– to seriously slow down each position and, more importantly, each transition.  Greater skill is achieved by focusing on the HOW of mantis as opposed to the WHEN of mantis.  You may be surprised at how sophisticated the training sequences are beyond just kicking and punching.

 Just as you can alter your breath for energy and outward power delivery, you can also re-calibrate breathing rhythms to  facilitate a calm, relaxed  mind. You learn to  focus on recognizing the exact structural alignments of your body  and then efficient mobility in conjunction to specific breathing exercises. These are proven methods  used to self regulate your nervous systems fight and flight responses. just take the martial mind out of the equation and see how the pieces fit.

There are specific forms or patterns to memorize as you learn the principles they offer. We have healing sounds and massage techniques as well.

Personally, I  value  mobility over flexibility when it comes to strength training, so my yoga has this as a focus. In this regard, these skills are also referred to as Martial Yoga, Buddhist Yoga, or simply  Dau Yan Hei Gung…the Art of Mind- Body- Spirit.

If you have questions on martial art or otherwise
send  an email with Q&A in the title to simplygungfu@gmail.com