Kung-fu is the oldest and most advanced system of martial arts. Its origins can be conceivably traced back as far as 2,500 years. However, around 500 A.D., the monks* of the Shaolin Monastery in the Hunan Province of China were prompted by the influence of a Ch'an Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma ("Da-Mo" in Chinese) to develop
kung-fu for the purpose of mental and physical improvement.
Believing in the individuality of mind and body, their training methods were intended to develop strength, flexibility, relaxation, coordination and agility.
Bodhidharma helped them to create a set of 108 exercises for them to practice. The movements contained in these exercises were patterned after various animals that Bodhidharma was said to have observed during the extent of his journey from India to China.
These exercises were later consolidated into 18 exercises and became known as the "Eighteen Hand Movements Of The Enlightened One" or the "18 Buddha Exercises". Our system refers to them as "Shaolin Lohan", "Northern Shaolin Lohan" or the "18 Law Horn". These 18 exercises became the foundation upon which the Northern Shaolin system was to expand.
The Shaolin monks practiced the natural principles of stretching, effortless and flowing body movements, consumption of natural foods, vegetarianism and periodic fasting. They utilized herbs, massage and Acupressure for the purposes of rejuvenation, maintaining health, vitality and healing.
* (Technically, a priest is one who has "graduated" from the Temple and is no longer in residence; a monk is one who usually resides within the Temple.
We will refer to them all as monks here)
The Shaolin Temple system of philosophy spread throughout the Far East. So widespread was the Temple's influence, that the word Shaolin ("Siu-Lum" or "Sil-Lum" in some Cantonese dialects) became synonymous with expertise in martial arts.
The Northern Praying Mantis system, also known as Seven-Star Praying Mantis (Chut-Sing Tang Lang), is called such because of its peculiar pattern of footwork. The pattern takes its name from the stellar arrangement of the constellation Ursa Major, suggested in the angular stances and positions performed during movement. There are many legends surrounding the origins of this style, but many of its exponents agree that it was founded approximately 400 years ago by Wang Lang, a brilliant swordsman from the Shantung Province. Its foundation is from the older Northern Shaolin system, from which its founder was proficient. This system incorporates the movements of the praying mantis, which Wang had carefully studied. To provide quick steps and strong stances, he also incorporated the footwork of the monkey (perhaps due to the fact that it was difficult to adapt foot patterns of a six-legged insect). The monkey footwork proved to be a significant characteristic of the style.
The Tai Chi Praying Mantis system (Tai Chi Tang Lang) is a Northern style of Praying Mantis kung-fu developed from the Seven-Star system.
Tai Chi Chuan ("Grand Ultimate Fist") is the most popular of the three main Internal systems (the others being: Hsing-I Chuan and Pa-Kua Chang) that developed as a later outgrowth of Northern-style kung-fu sometime in the middle part of the Yuan Dynasty (around the early-1300s), and flourishing towards the end of the Ming Dynasty (mid-1600s).
The origins of Tai Chi are disputed by many historians. What is certain, however, is that it can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty period (around the mid-1600s), to the Chen family in the Hunan Province of China.
Many stories say that it was first developed by Chang San-Feng, a Taoist monk who observed a struggle between a snake and a crane in the wilderness. Impressed by their movements, he noticed that neither the snake nor the crane could penetrate each other's defenses. Chang felt that the snake embodied the elements of softness and yielding (Yin), and the crane embodied the elements of hardness and strength (Yang): two opposing forces that together represent balance and harmony. Chang patterned their movements into a set of exercises later to be called Tai Chi Chuan.
Essentially, Chen is the original style, with other major schools appearing later as offshoots. Some of the other traditional Tai Chi styles are: the Yang, Wu, Sun, Fu, Wu (Hao) and Wong. Tai Chi and kung-fu influenced the later emergence of Hsing-I Chuan ("Mind Form Fist") and
Pa-Kua Chang ("Eight Trigram Palm").
Chief Instructor Michael Dawson belongs to a very long line of legendary kung-fu and Tai Chi masters. The Northern Shaolin/Praying Mantis Kung-Fu Association's curriculum is a direct product from this ancient line of masters. The Association was formed to preserve and perpetuate their teachings and these ageless arts for anyone who wishes to learn.