SPM Abridged History - Personal Note from Roger D. Hagood
This is to correct and amend errors previously published in Martial Arts of China magazine and Wushu Kungfu magazine, about the style and history of Southern Praying Mantis Kungfu. I, RDH, am the Founder and Publisher of those magazines.
As publisher of both magazines and student and teacher of the Southern Mantis style, I have continuously searched for its roots and origin since circa 1977, when as a black belt in Hawaiian Kenpo (who lived and studied in Hawaii) and Northern Plum Flower Praying Mantis (who had studied in South Korea), I made my way into a small Chinese restaurant in Bowlingreen, Kentucky and found Master Louie Jack Man, head chef. Stationed at Ft. Campbell, 160 miles away, there were very few martial arts schools and no Kungfu. Sampling all the Chinese restaurants within one day's drive of the Army Post, I remember asking the owner of the only Chinese restaurant in Bowlingreen, if there was any Chinese Kungfu nearby. He stated his head cook was excellent in kungfu and if I cared to wait until 10:30 that evening, he would introduce me. As a young martial artist, I was always willing to try my hand at something new, and so, over several pots of oolong tea and a few dozen fortune cookies, I waited. It was then my first teacher of Southern Praying Mantis appeared, Master Louie, smoking a cigarette, with a slightly arched back, sliding his feet as he walked across the floor. Looking rather distant, he asked, "so, you want to learn kungfu?" To which I replied, “I am a black belt”. He laughed, waved me away with the back of his hand and said, “I don’t know any kungfu, sorry.” It was very humbling to a young martial artist raised on TV and movies and a good lesson in etiquette. Now, some decades later, I am glad to say that the deepest roots of this system in the USA are still alive and well, having been active, but silent, for nearly some six decades!
For the last forty years I have dedicated my life to wu tao, traditional martial arts, making the study of it, my business and more so, my way of life. I am not sure if my given name, Roger, a Germanic name meaning warrior or spearman, shaped me, or, if I was simply influenced at an early age by Carradine and Lee. I could have chosen any style, I guess, but it seems that one style, Jook Lum Temple Praying Mantis, chose me.
Today, any single style has a host of masters one can learn from. And thanks to martial arts video productions, one may pick and choose what style, which master and what time you want to learn. Unless, that style is Southern Praying Mantis.
Perhaps secrecy, tradition or the collective Chinese culture is the reason. Perhaps, it is nothing more than the fact that this style belonged to a select, sub-minority of the Chinese populace, known as the Hakka, or guest people. After all, it was only within the last few decades that even the non-Hakka Chinese were taught this kungfu and there were no non-Chinese accepted as students or disciples by the late Lum Sang Sifu (although a caucasian taxi-driver who showed exceeding kindness to Lum Sang Sifu received basic instruction from a disciple).
The origin of the style is said to have begun as late as the mid Qing Dynasty and passed hands only three or four times before the Late Lum Sang Sifu. Hence, we can say the style is not yet diluted too far from its original content.
Located in Hong Kong during the 1930's, the Late Master Lao Sui, began teaching the south Mantis style although he called it Chu Gar Gao, or Chu Family Creed. (Chu is a famous surname and is reocurring throughtout the history of China). Although, he had many students, he accepted only five excellent disciples (Chu Kwong Hwa, Chu Yu Hing, Lum Hwa, Wong Go Chang, Yip Sui) who propogated his teaching. Among them, Master Yip Sui later renamed the Chu Gar style to Chow Gar Tong Long or Chow family mantis kungfu. (Often, those accepted as disciples adopt the surname of the Sifu or Style, ie. Tien Zan Men Hay Kung students all call themselves by the family name "Pong"). (The older generation Chu Gar masters privately acknowledge that Bamboo Temple is the original south Mantis style as descended from the monk Som Dot.)
However, as early as 1989, I had inquired with the Zhejiang and Guangdong Provincial Departments of Martial Art in China and discovered that Southern Praying Mantis was more widespread than publicly known. Quietly in the interior of south China, others were practicing southern Praying Mantis and gaining strength from the roots of the Bamboo Temple too!
Still in his mid thirties, it was during the last years of WW2, that the Late Lum Sang Sifu left his teacher and found his way to NYC Chinatown. There, he began quietly teaching the Bamboo Temple Kungfu at the Hakka Chinese Association. Later, at the request of another Chinese American Association interpretor, Lum Sang Sifu began teaching their youth. Lion Dance and Kungfu instruction was the method used to recruit new members and hundreds of Chinatown's populace became students of Lum Sang Sifu during the 1950’s and 60's.
It was during this time that the Late Lum Sang Sifu chose from among the hundreds of Chinese students, his first disciple, Wong Bak Lim. Seven others were then chosen and accepted as disciples (Ah Leung, Ah Hing, Ah Eng, Ah Wong, Ah Lee, Ah Kai, Ah Sun). These first eight disciples became the family of Lum Sang Sifu and the whole group would stand before the Ancestors and the Shun Toi (altar of the art) and make lifelong promises (creating their future). They would all occupy together the third floor of #3 Pearl Street, NYC Chinatown for years to follow.
Such power the Chinese Associations yielded in Boston, Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco Chinatowns, that they sponsored the Late Lum Sang Sifu and his family of disciples and students during the late 1950’s for Lion Dancing and Kungfu Demonstrations. The American economy was well enough that local Chinese Organizations could support each guest member up to $700 per week during such celebrations!
Although, at the time, ordinary circumstances of survival were more difficult than the yearly travel and celebrations, each of the Late Lum Sang Sifu’s disciples supported their father/teacher and each other with daily jobs, often at menial wages. Each individual’s money was laid on the kitchen (bread) table for the teacher’s (and each others) disposal.
Today, traditional kungfu schools are the opposite. Sifus support and pay their students to learn and teach in order to support themselves. And although, the operandi may have changed the modus has not. It is still the recruiting of America’s young children that propogates martial art for the future, regardless of the style.
And the times, they were a changing! With another war (Vietnam), the Late Sifu Lum Sang saw his first family change and adapt to survive. As the remaining disciples went to war or followed the fate prepared for them, he may have felt homeless? Circumstances, determination or fate left the Dai Sihing (senior elder brother) Wong Bak Lim to follow the tradition given him and he introduced the Late Sifu Lum Sang to the NYC Chinese Freemason Association in 1963. Although, begun some 199 years before with the razing of the Kao Lin Fukien Shaolin Temple, it was Taiwan’s Republican Hero, Sun Yat Sen (1911) who fomented this "society with secrets" worldwide.
From the NYC Chinese Freemasons, the Late Lum Sang Sifu accepted a second family among his many kungfu students; (Ah Chen, Ah Mark, Ah Lee, Ah Chen, Ah Bing, Ah Louie, Ah Kin), and they too stood before the Ancestors and the Shun Toi (altar of the art) and made lifelong promises (creating their future).
A few years later (1968), the Late Lum Sang Sifu, after closing his hands (retirement), left the USA for Taiwan, where he lived until his return to NYC Chinatown in the early 1980’s. Most of his first and second family of disciples and many of his students and friends would see him regularly in the years before his death in 1991. Particularly, a disciple, Ah Lee, kindly assisted him in his last years.
2 man fighting skills are the foundation of Southern Praying Mantis Kungfu. Stomping with the feet, hooking and deflecting with the forearms and hands and striking the vital points with the knuckles and fingertips are its basics. "Within three steps contact, control and strike the enemy until he is red" is the fighting motto.
Southern Praying Mantis is a martial art which can only be learned with a partner, as self defense is the primary emphasis. This partner training creates a very alive, feeling and changing power based on the opponent’s movement and intent.
One starts training the system by learning to walk the mantis steps. The special mantis “horse” stance is upright and mobile allowing quick stepping with offensive and defensive action of the hips, knees, legs and feet. Traditionally, Lum Sang Sifu taught the system as follows: Som Bo Gin is the first form and the foundation of the system. This form is often mistranslated “Three Step Arrow”, although the actual meaning is three steps forward. Stepping, gathering and releasing power in short explosive strikes and borrowing force are the important points of this form. During the training of this single man form, one should train “fic shu” and mantis chi sao. Fic shu is a series of continuous hand motions to increase fluidity, relaxation and flexibility in the hand and arms. Mantis chi sao (sticky hand) exercises develop feeling, timing and sensitivity and are different than the Wing Chun sticky hand exercises.
Once the single man Som Bo Gin form has become skillful, one next learns the two man “breakdown” of Som Bo Gin. This is a two man form stressing basic skills of stepping, borrowing force, and striking in unison with a partner. It differs from most other style’s two man forms in that it is very sticky and contact oriented. The two practitioners hands, arms and legs are hardly separated once the form is begun.
Because of the realistic nature of the two man forms, free sparring in the system is limited and greatly differs from other styles. Rather than advancing and retreating with a flurry of kicks and punches in a tag style, the moment mantis realizes intent, it closes the gap forcing contact, controlling the opponent by borrowing force or applying explosive force and strikes the vital points in rapid succession until the opponent is downed. And this is exactly what the two man forms accomplish.
Next one learns the single man form called Sup Bot Dim, (18 Points). It includes, stepping, kicking, covering left, right, and center gates and striking low below the waist, all while attacking the nerves with short continuous explosive strikes.
18 points two man form follows and the partners develop greater feeling, timing and sensitivity while learning where and how to strike the vital points with intent. Staff, broadsword, sword and sai may also be taught.
Chut Dim Siem Kuen (7 Point Monk Lee's Fist) was then sometimes taught privately to those who had kungfu potential but weren't deemed acceptable by the Master to graduate the system. Unless one was asked and became an inner disciple by ceremony, traditionally his training would stop here. Only those who became personal disciples of the Master would continue their training further.
Yup Bot Ling Bot(108) is the master’s form. It is a two man form teaching 36-72 vital (108) point striking. Medicine is taught at this stage along with a spiritual kungfu (Shun Kung). This kungfu clearly influenced several of the southern styles of kungfu as well as the Okinawan and Japanese martial arts as reflected in their forms. Kungfu examples are Tai Tsu Chuan which begins with the form,”3 Battles Forward” and the five styles of Fukien Crane whose first “vibration form” is also named “Som Bo Gin”. Most Okinawan and Japanese forms follow the same numerology, such as, San Chin Kata (3 steps), Seipa Kata (18), Sanseiru kata (36) and Pechurin Kata (108).
Master Louie Jack Man was my first teacher of this rare style. He remains open, friendly, honest and kind. I often go to see him in Philadelphia Chinatown. In the late 1970's and early 1980's I accompanied him to demonstrate Jook Lum during the Chinese New Year Celebrations in Atlanta. I also travelled with him to NYC and Atlantic City, NJ at that time. I am happy that after some thirty three years his door is still open to me and we remain in contact.
With recommendation, Master Louie introduced me to his Sihing (older brother) Master Gin Foon Mark and on June 6, 1980, I entered Mark Sifu’s school. He (Mark Sifu) was everything I expected and more out of a traditional kungfu teacher. In 1987, we travelled south of Mexico City, Mexico, together, where we introduced Jook Lum Temple Praying Mantis Kungfu on Mexican National Television during a 10 day seminar with 120 participants.
I have always respected and supported Mark Sifu. It is primarily due to his effort that the non-Chinese public has become aware of Southern Praying Mantis. His film Kungfu Master: Gin Foon Mark is available in libraries throughout the world and was even shown on HBO during the 1980's. I keep contact with him today.
Master Gene Chen of San Francisco and one of his teachers, the late Choy Kam Man Sifu, were instrumental to my understanding of Chu Gar Praying Mantis. Master Gene Chen accepted me as Chu Gar disciple by ceremony, in 1990.
Although, from the same family, Chu Gar Praying Mantis expanded it’s forms to include Jik Bo, Som Bo, Say Mun Gao Choy, Ying Chum Sao, Som Gin Yu Sao, Say Mun Bao Zhang, Som Yu Som Fung, Gan Ton Ging, Chut Bo Tui, Som Gong Bo, Sup Bot Mo Jung, Fut Sao and Duk Sheu Gun (Poison Snake Staff).
Master Gene Chen could easily have been a Grandmaster of Chu Gar Mantis, although he is now recognized as a Chen Style Taijiquan Grandmaster, with others who have mastered the Taiji, such as, Master Ken Yasamoto, under him. Norman Lee is the only Chu Gar inheritor under Chen Sifu, to my knowledge.
I met with Grandmaster Yip Sui on several occasions in Hong Kong. Not long ago, I called his flat in Kowloon City, but received no answer. As Lao Sui’s inheritor, he originally taught four basic forms: Som Bo Gin, Som Gin Yu Kiu, Som Bond Ging Tan and Fut Sao (Buddha Hand).
Here I would like to correct a mistake. In my Wushu Kungfu magazine, Henry Poo Yee was introduced as a traditional teacher of Jook Lum Temple Southern Praying Mantis. This was a mistake on the part of the publication. I can confidently say that Mr. Yee's teaching is eclectic and not traditional Southern Praying Mantis as evidenced by the senior disciples of the Late Lum Sang Sifu. Nor does Mr. Yee's teaching resemble any of the traditional Jook Lum taught in Hong Kong or China. I cannot recommend his teaching as traditional Jook Lum.
A second mistake was published in the February 1991 issue of Martial Arts of China. An article stated the Jook Lum style was an offshoot of one of the Late Lao Sui's disciples. However, the late Lum Sang Sifu was already teaching the Jook Lum Temple Kungfu at the NYC Hakka Association in the 1940's, some 10 years before the incident supposedly occurred. This was also an error on the part of the publication.
By design, in 1991, I sought out Sishuk Henry Wong of San Francisco who was an Association disciple of Lum Sifu at the NYC Freemasons. After nearly 30 years he was still enthusiastic about the late Lum Sifu.
By chance, at my California offices, I met Mr. Richard Ong, who was a student of Dai Sihing Wong Baklim in NYC during the late 60’s. It was he, who introduced me to Master Harry Sun, the last of the first family of disciples.
Master Sun perfectly emulates the movements of a praying mantis and his body feels like a coiled strand of copper wire! His claw like fingers and quick explosive actions exemplify this system. He has one student, Rocky, (since 1975) although he prefers to say Rocky is just a friend with whom he exchanges knowledge (as Rocky had studied Hung Gar with Mr. Bill Chung who had studied South Mantis with Master Gin Foon Mark). Master Sun is truly a gentleman and my benefactor. I thank him for his friendship and opening the doors of the Late Lum Sang Sifu’s first family to me. It was he, who introduced me to two of his older brothers, Mr. Wong Bak Lim and Mr. Jesse Eng.
At 60, Master Eng could pass for half his age. He jogs several miles daily and has two students he calls friends, avoiding too much tradition. Although, he is a member of the first family of the Bamboo Temple kungfu, he also spent many years studying Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis. His open, friendly and warm personality are a reflection of the true meaning of family (pai).
I am thankful to Dai Sihing (Senior Brother) Wong Bak Lim for his dedication to the Late Lum Sang Sifu. As the first disciple, he has maintained impeccable records of dates and times of the Late Lum Sang Sifu’s teaching, including 100’s of photos and (8mm) films to attest to the system of Jook Lum (Bamboo Forest) Gee (Temple) Hong Long (Praying Mantis) Pai (Family) Chinese Kungfu in the USA. In the 1960's he opened a school in NYC Chinatown teaching the Chinese youth for free and even feeding them to keep them off the streets! Thanks to his effort to preserve this rare art, one can see 40 years of Jook Lum history in just a few hours. He is the DaSihing(Oldest Brother) and the first of Lum Sang Sifu’s Family of Disciples. He is a living encyclopedia of the Jook Lum Kungfu as passed from Lam Sifu.
In his latter years, the late Master Lam accepted a third family of disciples (Ah Wong, Ah Lee, Ah Soo, Ah Ng and Ah Moy). These gentlemen also carry privately the Late Lam Sifu's legacy today.
With the cooperation of the senior and elder disciples of the Bamboo Temple Family, perhaps this rare kungfu style will blossom even further. We must be careful to preserve the tradition in its original form.
We cannot escape the shadow of our teachers. The mirror of the inner self must be polished until truth is above money, need and life. Then, we will find the teaching to sustain tomorrow’s children. Search and prove all things! --- RDH
UPDATE 2008: The above was written more than a decade ago. Harry Sun, Gene Chen, Yip Sui, Choy Kam Man and others have all passed on now. I'm reminded of some things they said, "Only those who do nothing make no mistakes. An ounce of action and first hand experience is worth a ton of talk and theory. Time is the wisest teacher. "
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