Mantis: Form and Function
There are several different styles of praying mantis kung fu each with there own logic and theory of fighting. Many practitioners like to take a little from each style and combine them. This does not work with Jook Lum because it is a complete style with its own structure and refined body mechanics. You can’t do high kicks and short power together, they are conflicting principles. I often say it is like building an airplane, that you cannot mix and match parts. The aerodynamics of one plane does not suit another; each has its own identity.
Kwong Sai Jook Lum mantis is a soft, short-fist, in-fighting style that uses the opponents own power against them. Short fist means that we generate power from a very close distance to the opponent’s body to hit deeply and effectively. Long fist styles generate a great deal of power with speed and mass but it takes a longer distance and more time to do this. Being a soft style does not in any way mean it is limp or wimpy. Soft turns to hard at the right moment and hard to soft; just like the yin-yang symbol. You might intercept the attack with a soft motion but then redirect and strike hard into the body. Jook Lum seeks to generate a great deal of power just inches from the body and then deliver the energy into the body and not through the body. This classic ‘inch power’ was demonstrated by Bruce Lee many times. Lee had a great respect for Sifu Mark Foon and his contemporaries featured Sifu in the book “The Dragon and the Tiger” because of his innovative training techniques. The ability to develop short power is attributed to fa-ging or a quick twitch power. It is often classically described as startle power or scared power; in other words the total body power that is generate when you are shocked and how it is generated immediately and with tiny motion. We can generate the power while right next to the opponent, we do not need a ‘wind up’ to do so. Being close to the body our attacks are hard to see and therefore hard to defend against. I like the analogy of having a bee in your shirt. You can’t see it and it keeps stinging you over and over again. Although this is central to mantis practice it is also very important that you develop good strong punches that employ correct body mechanics to deliver. A well rounded artist will have both short power and heavy striking hands that can deliver the full force of the body in its execution.
Jook Lum also does not block in a conventional manner. Although it seems to make sense to chop an arm to block it, this to, is time consuming and does not give you an advantage. You do not see karate style blocking in the ring because it is happening too fast and takes too long to recover from. Jook Lum seeks to redirect the attack with a tiny motion that does not jam the attacker’s energy but actually amplifies it in a direction away from you. This way the punch is still moving under the attacker’s own force but no longer on the trajectory they intended. Think of it this way; if your arm is chopped or slammed don’t you know this instinctively? You need not think about this to react to it, your body knows it has happened and will respond immediately and accordingly. If, however, you are redirected, you do not feel blocked and so there is no intrinsic reaction. Here as your punch is diverted the defender is now hitting you and your punch has not ended yet. This redirection happens in a nano second and immediately becomes a strike; there is not back and forth block/punch motion, it is one motion.
Other principles in Jook Lum are: swallowing, spitting, cutting, floating, sticking, sinking, hooking and torquing (rotational power, from torquing your horse to deliver power from your root). Sifu Mark Foon has stressed over the years that feeling, timing, speed and power are the root of learning this art. He said over and over again, “master feeling, master feeling”. This is what makes Jook Lum essentially different from other arts. Once there is contact, once you feel the other person you can redirect their power. You are not trying to swipe at them in the air; you are trying to touch them and plug into them and feel everything about their body. In this sense you can now move with them to control their movement as you are structurally attacking them. An exercise I often employ to demonstrate that is this: take a cloth and wrap it around a puncher’s wrist and then hold that cloth with your hand, like a very short leash. If you hold your arm in front of you, elbow down, and let them punch at you, you find that you can very easily and with very short motion, redirect the punch. As they throw the punch forward you just lightly redirect it and it will lose its trajectory. This is what the extended arms are doing in mantis; they want to feel the strike coming in and with the slightest motion redirect it. So you feel the punch, time the motion, use great speed and then great short power.
It can be said that Jook Lum is a very complex style and in a sense, it is, however as you integrate the principles of this style it becomes more and more direct and simple. Sifu has said there are many techniques when you start at the bottom of the pyramid but very few are needed at the top. So long as the base is built correctly you can deliver great power and effectiveness with tiny motion. If their base is faulty then the entire structure collapses.