South Mantis : Iron wrapped in cotton

One of the more difficult and confusing concepts for students of Juk Lam Southern Praying Mantis to actualize is the principle of soft and hard .  After all, how does one remain soft while fighting and still come out ahead?  Despite the difficulty of  initial comprehension, students must not settle for anything less when they are cultivating themselves. This why I repeat over and over again…”Slow the fuck down. ” “Practice harder.”  “Relax.”

I will try and oversimplify a few points to keep in mind.

First, let’s quickly outline what it certainly does  not mean.

To use soft power is not:

  • the use of no muscle.
  • the use of magic chi.

Ok so with that out of the way, let me move on.

What it does mean is that we are not going to quickly exhaust ourselves by relying on our muscular force when transitioning between techniques, by maintaining a position, or by executing an attack.  Instead we will learn to rely on our structural integrity for the absorption, redirection, and expression  of a truer power.

Fighting like this relies on timing, technique, patience, and most of all personal discipline in our training habits. While you develop the required sensitivity and connectivity, your habits mean everything.     This soft over hard concept is manifested  by  the prescribed exercises found in the mantis system for training the CNS.  A great deal of practice is required to understand this, no doubt but with these skills the benefits of  soft power  produce  powerful redirecting and  hitting effect.  I know it sounds complicated, but the beauty really does rest in the sophisticated simplicity.

Nothing in life is full yin or full yang–this must be recognized.  Just because we are a soft over hard system don’t think for a second that this means its OK to be lazy or weak. We must be unyielding in strength if we expect martial application to be fruitful, but the way that we express this is what makes all the difference.

There are many drills and individual exercises that are practiced with specific muscle engagement and resistance methods designed to build this internal energy. Over time we may use weighted weapons and iron rings among many other specialty tools to help further build this inner strength.

We spend a considerable amount of time hitting ourselves and each other–skin on skin. These are multifaceted and will teach proper absorption through physical confrontation and pressure.  However, there are just as many, if not more, drills that require you to release  muscle tension in order to gain benefit from feeling and response.  All of these are martially engineered strength training  practices that must be trained with full attention.  You can not utilize  one aspect and neglect the other if you wish to understand how these complementary opposite principles work to make the whole.

Very few techniques in Mantis use hard collision tactics, although through the dense bones that we develop for the absorption of force , we might appear to be colliding..although they rarely are.  To train soft power means you should stop hitting  dead objects!  You do not want to damage your nerves nor do you want to bruise your bones. That is horrible practice for the long term and counter intuitive to our process. If you are hasty in training, you will damage the bones and joints beyond reason, and,in turn, you will slow your progress down even more.

We must  look closely at the development of the tendons and the ligaments which should be like a coiled spring when primed.

These tendons will do the work prior to or in unison with the specific muscles firing for a strike.  Unfortunately, there is no quick and safe way to condition your  tendons, you have to be systematic. This is why almost everyone starts very muscle heavy  or conversely far too weak and limp like a drowned snake–balance is a hard thing to actualize right out the gate.  People in general tend to overcompensate for their lack of internal power with hard  muscular power…but this tactic rarely outlasts those initiated into the deeper aspects of South Mantis. Often time, the harder they strike the harder they get hit.

To really understand Bamboo Mantis, you must realize that to relax does not mean  to go limp  and to be strong does not mean  to be rigid.

Brute force will not last your lifetime and is seen as the crude method to martial develop.

Yes, we like to be very physically fit and do a lot of strength training, but  bulk muscle growth is not necessarily our end goal. We want strength for function.

Plenty of body builders out there have no functional control of the build they acquired….legs on a snake.   We must realize that if we focus only on muscle building to support our boxing then there will be a day when it fails us and perhaps prematurely to the situation at hand.  All hard body and no soft  body will not transfer  well into old age either.  So many of our exercises are done to counteract this strict  bulk muscle growth.  To slow down and train  our  bones, tendons, ligaments and muscle is setting ourselves up for longevity in both martial art and otherwise.

Remember, if your muscle grows so fast and powerful that the tendon/ligament cannot support the load then you will rip apart the tissues and  perhaps even separate bones and joints. This is the danger of unbalanced hard training, poor nutrition, and a general lack of awareness,mobility,relaxation and control.

Tendons/ligaments can take years to heal– this should also tell you they are slow to develop. Many believe big chest and biceps are a sign of strength, but truly this is not a good bench mark. Any meat-head can go bench press for a month or two and notice gains in their pecs.  This does not impress me if it can’t be used in some real world functions.

Just  as smashing down on bricks is less than desirable for increasing actual bone density,  lifting to just bulk up is not a good method for long term mantis fist development.  You must make your training more substantial, more sophisticated.  Learn to move weight, but do it with a broader sense of usefulness.    You must study the science of  martial gung fu which means structural integrity.

When I say, “Stand , twist, and shake the body for an hour and while you breath deep,” I mean it.  This is a traditional warm up neijia exercise and will greatly influence your mantis training.  When you are standing in zen, regardless of the position you adopt, you must first stand correctly, and then you can relax into the breath. Let the meat hang from the bones.  Do this and  your mind will calm as well.  These are some of the most basic foundation practices. Yet, it would seem to me that most skip them.

Flexibility is  often confused with mobility. Due to this misconception over all mobility is neglected as flexibility is often viewed as a commodity. I am not extremely flexible; yet, I am rather mobile. Mobility without coordination is next to impossible regardless of how flexible you are.

You cannot have fully functional soft power gung fu if you are not able to articulate your body’s natural mechanics.  Good training should maximize efficiency of your natural movement.  Again, this means:  Slow the fuck down and truly focus on the how of movement before looking to the why,  when, and where  of each.
Realize this well before thinking you have Gung Fu skill.

 bones, tendons,ligaments get stronger allowing the muscles to stay relaxed until you a need to fire the nervous system.

Bones, Tendons,Ligaments get stronger over time, allowing the muscles to stay more relaxed and soft like cotton until needed. This allows for more efficient movement and a sharper  nervous system response to stimuli. This translates into a highly functional power source and greater longevity.

If you are able to tap into this iron wrapped in cotton principle then you will use less energy doing mundane things like holding your hands up like a beggar or standing with your knees bent for 5 minutes.  You will no longer dread methodic sticky bridge drills, and you will be able to correctly train push hands for more then a few minutes . Learn these things and you have a chance at learning Mantis Gung Fu. Neglect it, and your gung fu will always remain on the surface.

Understand this: The true nature of mantis boxing is to seamlessly move between soft and hard power–to occupy the empty space around these techniques.

The vase is only a container.

The expression of explosive power is a sophisticated blend of these two very critical energies, soft and hard. Sacred Power is generated in response to oncoming pressure and by using the correct kinetic chain of events in a natural way.  Take your five senses and awaken a sixth.  Timing is critical for absorbing  force.  Without using brute force and in order to have the proper reflexes to respond  you must…relax as you train. To learn this is to put in the required time it takes to confront and correct your own structural dysfunctions, nervous energy, and lack of self awareness… even if this means just standing still. These stregths and weeknesses are  seen, or in fact felt, easily by an advanced mantis practitioner.

This development of soft power  over hard power is  why sparring seems to be so controlled in the early onset of  development. Be patient,  and you will see how it comes together in real time application. I say often that to train mantis requires touch but it is  counter productive to allow for repeated power hits to the head, heart, shins etc.  So sparring is not done as one would first expect and physical conditioning is a skill set that takes more then average dedication and knowledge. start slow, be precise and over time you will gain efficiency.

As you are playing hands with your  training partners you must be like a mother and her cub. That is to say firm and very direct, yet well reserved and without malice.

As you are developing these skills, you learn  your partners well enough to know their level of comfort and comprehension so that you can correctly express the required momentum that allows for their growth as the grow in skill so do you.   You must learn to control and not pull your strikes. If you pull your power, that is what you are training your nervous system to do. However, if you control your power then you can still safely touch targets and  then gradually increase output and, in turn, endurance/ resistance.

The strikes themselves will then become more powerful upon impact as you both gain the needed conditioning to withstand the exercises. You should never give your partner false security, and you should also seek to provide growth rather then simple dominance.

A thing to consider is even some of the most veteran MMA fighters are  now saying that hard sparring is inferior to technical drills. SLow down and work technical skill.

Control don’t pull your power.

This requires you to go slow at first in order to be confident and correct in your principle techniques before trying to generate additional power.    The long term result of training in these ways is a more tempered, yet aggressive and competent fighter.

Become a self regulated individual well versed and fully in charge of your energy–confident and, more importantly, capable of conjuring up what is necessary to work with other peoples energy.

Train properly and you will have a chance at retaining mobility and greater strength well into old age and perhaps you will surpass even your own expectations…once again.

Just remember as it says in the Tao Te Ching:

The soft and the supple are above. The stiff and ridged are below.

If you take the time to train with mindfulness, you will not only experience a change in your fighting style, but you will also find many benefits  in day to day life. Then you will awaken a very real energy–one that will be with you for the rest of your days on earth.

L-R Master Gin Foon Mark. Riley J Boyer, Sifu

L-R Master Gin Foon Mark. Riley J Boyer, Sifu