PLUM BLOSSOM HANDS
by Huang Hanxun [Wong Honfan] of Shunde
as taught by Luo Guangyu of Penglai, Shandong
photographed by Huang Ziying
text proofread by Huang Xiang
[published in Hong Kong, 35th year of the cycle, 9th month, 1st day (Oct 13, 1958)]
[translation by Paul Brennan, Oct, 2019]
Plum Blossom Hands
– calligraphy by Long Bingtang
 FOUR-LEVEL POSTURE, BOTH FISTS STORING POWER
 BIG-DIPPER STANCE, RIGHT FILLING PUNCH
 MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING STANCE, RIGHT BACKHANDED STRIKE
 THREADING HAND, SLIPPING & FLINGING PALM
 DRAWING THE NEEDLE, RIGHT SLICING THROUGH THE WAIST
 DRAWING THE NEEDLE, LEFT SLICING THROUGH THE WAIST
 MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING STANCE, RIGHT SWINGING PUNCH
 MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING STANCE, RIGHT SUBDUING PUNCH
 KNEELING STANCE, RIGHT SLICING THROUGH THE WAIST
 DOUBLE SEALING HANDS, SCOOPING KICK
 STEALTH STEP, REVERSE SEALING HANDS
 DOUBLE SEALING HANDS, REACHING LEG
 GULP & SINK STANCE, DOWNWARD DRAGGING
 ADVANCING WITH LARGE WHEELING
 RIGHT SLIPPING HAND, CRUSHING KICK
 WITHDRAWING STEP, LEFT THRUST PUNCH
 GULP & SINK STANCE, RIGHT FILLING PUNCH
 MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING STANCE, RIGHT AVALANCHE PUNCH
 RIGHT DOOR-CLOSING KICK
 SITTING-TIGER STANCE, RIGHT CARRYING PALMS
 TURN AROUND, HOOK & KICK
 SWINGING PUNCH, CONTINUOUS KICK
 KNEELING STANCE, RIGHT PRESSING FOREARM
 BIG-DIPPER STANCE, LEFT HOOKING HAND
 BIG-DIPPER STANCE, RIGHT FILLING PUNCH
 MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING STANCE, RIGHT SUBDUING PUNCH
 THREADING HAND, RIGHT CRUSHING CHOP
 KNEELING STANCE, RIGHT ROLLING HANDS
 ADVANCE, RIGHT SLIPPING HANDS
 WITHDRAWING, LEFT THRUST PUNCH
 HORSE-RIDING STANCE, FILLING PUNCH
 SITTING-TIGER STANCE, CATCHING A CICADA
“Practicing these arts will enable the smooth flow of essence, energy, and spirit.”
– inscription by Lu Weichang for my colleague Hanxun, Apr 4, 1939
ON THE PLUM BLOSSOM HANDS BOXING SET
Plum Blossom Hands is one of the “three flowers” sets in Mantis Boxing, these three sets being Plum Blossom Fists, Plum Blossoms Falling, and Plum Blossom Hands, the first two of which have already been published in book form. In his preface to Plum Blossoms Falling, Master Huang expressed his firm intention to also write a book about Plum Blossom Hands in order to share this material with the martial arts community, “so that those are interested in learning these sets will have a means of cross-referencing them,” a noble sentiment indeed.
Plum Blossom Hands is one of the shorter boxing sets in the Mantis curriculum [consisting of only thirty-two postures]. White Ape Steals a Peach is the shortest [only twenty-four postures] and is entirely comprised of techniques involving hardness. In the Soft & Nimble boxing set, there are ironically more techniques with hardness than techniques with softness. For a set that is roughly half hard, half soft, I present Plum Blossom Hands.
If we wish to categorize this quality, all techniques fit into these distinctions: those that involve hardness within softness, those that involve softness within hardness, or those that involve hardness and softness complementing each other.
In the case of Plum Blossom Hands, there are techniques that look weak but feel unstoppably strong upon contact, such as LEFT & RIGHT DRAWING THE NEEDLE, SLICING THROUGH THE WAIST [Postures 5 and 6], which is an example of softness containing hardness.
There are also moments in which there seems to be a shift from a state of raging waves tearing away rocks and chaotic winds hurling rocks through the air to a state of smooth seas and calm breeze, such as DOUBLE SEALING HANDS, SCOOPING KICK being followed by REVERSE SEALING HANDS [Postures 10 and 11] which is an example of hardness containing softness.
And as for hardness and softness complementing each other, there is SLIPPING HAND, CRUSHING KICK [Posture 15], in which the upper body and lower body work in concert, and the left and right coordinate with each other, free from the error of emphasizing one part over another.
The rest of the postures all contain ingenious methods for which words cannot do justice. Although this boxing set is short, practitioners should be able to understand this principle and spot which techniques use hardness, which ones use softness, and which ones use both. After training for a long time, it will one day all be clear to you, and then you will not only perform the postures as a seamless flow from start to finish, but also [from Zhuangzi, chapter 2:] “obtain the center of the circle [i.e. the core principle (in this case the ability to switch between hard/soft/both)] and from there be able to respond limitlessly”.
Now that Master Huang has completed this book, he has told me to write an introduction for it. I consider my knowledge on the subject to still be superficial at best. My martial skills are very unrefined and my literary skill is lousy too. So how can I presume to put myself forward in matters either martial or literary? All I can do is offer my own vague opinions, and after all, [from Lun Yu, 19.22:] “great men know great things and lesser men know lesser things”. Since my understanding is so incomplete, I await the correction of more knowledgeable scholars.
- respectfully written by your student Huang Hanchao on the sixth day after the Qixi Festival [which takes place on the 7th day of 7th month], 35th year of the cycle [i.e. Aug 27, 1958]
In Mantis Boxing, there are the “three flowers” sets: Plum Blossom Fists, Plum Blossoms Falling, and Plum Blossom Hands. The order they should be learned in is: Falling, then Fists, and finally Hands. Over the generations that these sets have been passed down, this order has never been changed. Falling uses hardness and long-range attacks, Fists involves more softness and its postures are beautiful, and Hands is brief and fast, nimble and lively.
They are more comprehensive than other boxing sets, for if the three Plum Blossom sets can be treated as a single continuum, this will have the marvelous effect of “each being improved by association with the others”. [This idiom is a condensed version of this line from Historical Records, chapter 61: “Boyi and Shuqi were already virtuous, but they were even more dazzling when in the company of Confucius.”] As long as practitioners do not dismiss or neglect these sets, skill will steadily develop without your even noticing it.
The postures of Plum Blossom Fists had already been published in serialized form in Chinese Boxing Magazine, and Plum Blossoms Falling had been serialized in the fitness column of the Hong Kong edition of Overseas Chinese Daily News. Now both have been published in book form as Volume 16 and Volume 20 of the Mantis Boxing Series. Motivated by the continued interest of readers, I am specially publishing Plum Blossom Hands as Volume 21, following close upon the heels of Plum Blossoms Falling.
When I first made Secrets of the Mantis Boxing Art , my goal was only to make ten volumes, but as I am now at more than twenty volumes in this series, I guess I might as well aim at a hundred. I have truly given no thought to my own glory or disgrace, success or failure, for my only ambition is to ensure that Mantis Boxing lasts forever, and I hope that my fellow practitioners, both within China and abroad, all share my sentiment.
Posture 1: FOUR-LEVEL POSTURE, BOTH FISTS STORING POWER
Stand in the eastern part of the practice space to begin this boxing set, with the east behind you, west in front of you, north to your left, south to your right. Your fists are pulled back at your waist and your gaze is forward. This is the prelude to moving forward to begin this boxing set. Your body should be steady and your mind should be focused, and then you will be able to exhibit true martial spirit. See photo 1:
Grasping my fists tightly at my waist gives me a chance to develop my chest area. Although I am not yet actually dealing with an opponent in this moment, my body is receiving limitless benefit. My mind is being calmed, my energy harmonized, and my power is being stored away rather than revealed. This will enable my body to express itself at the highest level throughout the entire set, and thus the art requires that attention be given to the opening posture.
Posture 2: BIG-DIPPER STANCE, RIGHT FILLING PUNCH
Your right foot goes out forward to the west to make a big-dipper stance as your right fist strikes out with a filling punch, same as in the opening posture of the Dodging Hardness boxing set. Once your fist reaches its final position, your right palm is covering the inside of your right shoulder. Your gaze is toward the tip [i.e. forefinger knuckle] of your right fist. Your body is leaned into your stance, causing your fist to be able to have greater reach, thus fulfilling this maxim of boxing masters: “Longer by an inch means stronger by an inch”. See photo 2:
An opponent attacks directly to my center, aiming for my solar plexus, so I quickly step out to meet him while first using my left hand to deflect away his incoming hand and then sending out my right fist to counterattack to his chest, a situation of tit for tat. The filling punch is habitually used in Mantis style and is different from the hand methods of other styles. It looks easy, but actually if you do not go through diligent training, it will not be effective. Practitioners should give attention to this point.
Posture 3: MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING STANCE, RIGHT BACKHANDED STRIKE
Continuing from the previous posture, your right foot comes down forward to make a right mountain-climbing stance as your left hand goes forward, sealing downward, and your right fist arcs to the rear, becoming a palm, and rolls over forward to cover downward with a backhanded strike. When the posture is finished, your left palm has been placed sideways below your right elbow and your right palm is extended straight ahead. See photo 3:
The opponent dodges my filling punch and sends out a hand to strike me, so I first send my left palm forward to cover it, then change my right fist to a palm and strike downward to his head. This technique is smooth and fast, always causing an opponent to be too late to defend against it. However, an untrained palm delivers very little power, and so your palms first need to be trained in order for this technique to be effective. Furthermore, for this technique to successfully dominate, you first have to get into the best position. The way of boxing arts is that you must use your strengths to attack the opponent’s weaknesses, and thereby you will get twice the result for half the effort.
Posture 4: THREADING HAND, SLIPPING & FLINGING PALM
Continuing from the previous posture, your right foot pulls back to almost make a sitting-tiger stance as your left palm threads out from below, your right palm withdrawing. See photo 4a:
Then you dart forward to make a right mountain-climbing stance as your right palm, having pulled back all the way, now chops down forward to where your left palm just was, the arm extending [as your left palm pulls back]. See photo 4b:
The opponent sends out a hand to seal off my right palm, so I send my left palm threading out to occupy his hand while pulling back my right palm, then take advantage of the new opening that has consequently appeared by sending my right palm flinging across to his neck.
Posture 5: DRAWING THE NEEDLE, RIGHT SLICING THROUGH THE WAIST
Continuing from the previous posture, your right palm, staying where it is, turns downward to become a sealing hand. See photo 5a:
Then your right hand slightly pulls back as your left hand goes forward to seal off. See photo 5b:
Then your left foot advances to make a left big-dipper stance as your left sealing hand pulls to the left rear and your right sealing hand becomes a palm and flings out diagonally. See photo 5c:
The opponent sends out a hand to connect with my flinging palm, so I immediately change it to a sealing hand to seal off his hand, then use my left hand to seal off as I pull back with my right hand, then exchange the position of my hands again as I use my right palm to slice across to his waist.
Posture 6: DRAWING THE NEEDLE, LEFT SLICING THROUGH THE WAIST
Continuing from the previous posture, first your left foot steps forward [and your right hand slightly pulls back] as your left hand goes forward to seal off. See photo 6a:
Then [your left hand slightly pulls back as] your right hand goes forward with a sealing action. See photo 6b:
Then your right foot advances to make a right big-dipper stance as [your right sealing hand pulls to the right rear] and your left sealing hand becomes a palm and flings out diagonally. See photo 6c:
Same as in the previous posture, except with lefts and rights reversed.
Posture 7: MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING STANCE, RIGHT SWINGING PUNCH
Continuing from the previous posture, your right foot comes down forward to make a right mountain-climbing stance as your right fist strikes out, your left palm colliding with the forearm at the centerline, making an audible crack. (This is one of the signature techniques in Mantis Boxing. Practicing it a lot and with power can increase strength and can also ensure that you are performing the final position correctly.) See photo 7:
The opponent does a withdrawing step to evade my slice to the waist, then thrusts out a punch toward my solar plexus, so I use my left palm to deflect it and send a right swinging punch to his temple. This technique is hard and fierce. The left hand can also be used to first seal off the opponent’s incoming hand and then the swinging punch is sent to attack. If you can do it this way, your skill is becoming more subtle.
Posture 8: MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING STANCE, RIGHT SUBDUING PUNCH
Continuing from the previous posture, dart forward while maintaining your position to again be in a right mountain-climbing stance as your left hand goes forward, sealing downward from above, and your right fist first sinks down and then thrusts upward. (The key to this technique is your stance darting forward. Once you practiced darting stances to the point of mastery, you will be able to cover even more ground than with an ordinary advancing step and to move so fast that no one can catch you.) See photo 8:
The opponent drops into a horse-riding stance, ducking his head out of the way of my swinging punch so that my hand misses. He then attacks with a straight strike, so I quickly use my left hand to seal it off, then send my right fist thrusting from below to strike to his chin. In Mantis Boxing, a swinging punch often transitions to either an avalanche punch or a subduing punch, which are excellent combinations for delivering speed and power.
Posture 9: KNEELING STANCE, RIGHT SLICING THROUGH THE WAIST
Continuing from the previous posture, your left hand first threads out from below and then props up sideways above your head as your left foot advances and your right foot follows, the leg bending downward to make a left kneeling stance, and your right fist becomes a palm and flings out diagonally with the palm sideways. (Doing this technique in a big-dipper stance would merely hook around the opponent’s front leg, but using a kneeling stance instead fully traps his front leg.) See photo 9:
The opponent sends out a hand to seal off my subduing punch, so I send my left hand threading out to dispel his sealing, then advance to crowd him and send my right palm flinging to his waist with the palm sideways, thereby putting his middle area and lower area under my control and causing him to lean forward. This is a technique of softness which contains great strength. The only way to achieve this quality is to have the fearless spirit of [from Books of Later Han, volume 47:] “entering the tiger’s den to take the tiger cub”.
Posture 12 : DOUBLE SEALING HANDS, SCOOPING KICK
Continuing from the previous posture, your hands go forward to seal off, the center of your right hand facing downward, the center of your left hand facing upward. See photo 10a:
Then your right foot does a scooping kick to the left with the foot sideways. (The hands and foot must express power in unison in order to prevent you from leaning in any direction. Being able to apply this technique depends on not allowing any part to be over-emphasized.) See photo 10b:
The opponent does a small hop to evade, causing my slice to the waist to land on nothing. He then seizes the moment to counterattack with a punch, so I use double sealing hands to seal off his incoming hand, then send a scooping kick to attack his front leg. My sealing hands pull back forcefully, causing him to lean forward and lose his balance, and he thus has no way to defend against the scooping kick.
Posture 11: STEALTH STEP, REVERSE SEALING HANDS
Continuing from the previous posture, you will switch from moving to the east to moving to the west as your right foot comes down to the rear, passing in front of you. See photo 11a:
Then your left foot retreats a step. See photo 11b:
Then your right foot does a stealth step behind your left foot as your sealing hands become palms, your left palm reaching out toward the west with the arm straight, your right palm placed above your head with the arm bent, both palms facing upward. See photo 11c:
The opponent dodges my attack and moves around behind me, so I continuously retreat toward him, getting positioned to launch a surprise attack as I spread my palms to defend my middle area and upper area.
Posture 12: DOUBLE SEALING HANDS, REACHING LEG
Continuing from the previous posture, your hands become fists and drop straight down in front of you as your left foot reaches out forward to make a reaching-leg stance, the leg digging out straight forward, staying in contact with the ground as it goes out. (The reaching-leg technique sends out the leg with an emphasis on the outer edge of the foot as your whole body drops downs to dodge an attack above, your double sealing hands going to the inside. It is a technique of using the leg to attack the opponent’s leg, and so it is a great mistake to think of it as being only a kind of stance.) See photo 12:
Once my palms have both sealed off and propped up, I can then grab the opponent’s arm and seize the opportunity by pulling it down and using a reaching-leg technique to shovel out his front leg, thereby gaining the effect of using my hands and foot at the same time. The hands and foot have to act in unison in order to keep the opponent from being able to do anything. If these two actions are done separately, it would instead give him a gap to take advantage of. There is but a thin line between advantage and disadvantage, but if you practice mindfully every day, that line will thicken.
Posture 13: GULP & SINK STANCE, DOWNWARD DRAGGING
Continuing from the previous posture, first your right foot steps forward. See photo 13a:
Then your right fist arcs from low to high and then high to low, sweeping across and sealing off (the same as in [Posture 9 of] the Eighteen Elders boxing set). See photo 13b:
The opponent escapes the threat of my reaching leg and quickly turns to give my leg a kick, so I get into a gulp & sink stance to obstruct it, then use the technique of downward dragging to chop it away, giving his incoming leg quite a whack. Using a hand technique to defeat a kick is often considered to be awkward, but sometimes it is exactly the right thing to do, and thus there is no sense in becoming dogmatic about these things.
Posture 14: ADVANCING WITH LARGE WHEELING
Continuing from the previous posture, switch to a right mountain-climbing stance as your right fist first chops forward. See photo 14a:
Your right fist then arcs to the rear as your left fist chops out. See photo 14b:
Then your right fist chops out again [as your left foot drags forward to make a kneeling stance. (Throughout this technique, your stance and hand actions go forward without pausing.) See photo 14c:
This is a concentrated series of attacks upon the opponent, causing him to have too much to handle at once and thereby giving me an opportunity to take advantage of.
Posture 15: RIGHT SLIPPING HAND, CRUSHING KICK
Continuing from the previous posture, first your right fist becomes a palm and deflects from right to left as your left foot goes out with a crushing kick, your left palm going near the inside of your right shoulder. (The previous posture is a technique entirely involving hardness, smashing through with strength, but then suddenly you come to a halt and switch to a technique of softness. The most difficult thing about this posture is making it stable, and this is what makes it the most difficult technique in the whole set. I hope practitioners will give great attention to this point.) See photo 15:
The opponent dodges my attack and tries to attack my left side, so I change my fist to a palm and use it to deflect his incoming hand while doing a crushing kick to his lower area. The previous technique was entirely a matter of hardness, using strength to smash through the opponent, but once he dodges and counterattacks, I suddenly have to change to another tactic, therefore I deflect his incoming hand and use one of the most common kicks in Mantis Boxing, the crushing kick, to attack his shin, an effective method of stopping him in his tracks.
Posture 16: WITHDRAWING STEP, LEFT THRUST PUNCH
Continuing from the previous posture, first your left foots withdraws to the rear to make a right mountain-climbing stance, then your right palm withdraws to your waist as your left fist thrusts out. See photo 16:
The opponent lowers his stance and sends out a hand to try to block my crushing kick, which causes his upper area to be open, but he is about to gain control over my leg, therefore I withdraw a step to evade this danger and then send out a thrust punch to attack his upper area. This is an example of “attacking below to strike above” or “threatening to the east but then striking to the west”. When fighting, there is a fine line between victory and defeat. Success can often be seized within the space of a thought. We practitioners of martial arts cannot afford to ignore this point.
Posture 17: GULP & SINK STANCE, RIGHT FILLING PUNCH
Continuing from the previous posture, first your right leg straightens [and your left leg bends] to make a gulp & sink stance, then your right fist thrusts out from your waist with a right filling punch. See photo 17:
The opponent sends out a hand to try to block my left thrust punch, so I quickly switch to a gulp & sink stance as I change my left fist to a palm and use it to deflect his incoming hand, then thrust out my right fist with a filling punch, and in this way, I can completely disrupt his goal. A filling punch is often performed in a big-dipper stance, sitting-tiger stance, mountain-climbing stance, or horse-riding stance, but it is rarely done in a gulp & sink stance, which is used for feigning defeat. Beyond the single occasion in the Plum Blossoms Falling set, this is the only other time that this technique appears.
Posture 18: MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING STANCE, RIGHT AVALANCHE PUNCH
Continuing from the previous posture, your right knee [bends and your left leg] presses straight to make a right mountain-climbing stance as your right [left] palm goes forward to seal off and your right forearm rolls over outward from inside, sending your right fist chopping downward. See photo 18:
The opponent deflects my fist and sends out his other hand to attack, so I use my left hand to seal off his attacking hand, then switch my stance and use my right fist to do an avalanche punch to his head. By sealing off and then doing an avalanche punch, victory should surely be within my grasp. However, the problem with an avalanche punch lies in its springiness. If I send out an avalanche punch but do not immediately snap it back, I will find myself in great danger. Therefore I must use a means of withdrawing the fist that is not too slow, the best way being to let it recoil naturally once it has reached its farthest point.
Posture 19: RIGHT DOOR-CLOSING KICK
Continuing from the previous posture, first sit back onto your left foot, then build on this momentum by sending out your right foot with a door-closing kick. See photo 19:
The avalanche punch followed by the door-closing kick is a signature combo in Mantis Boxing. This kind of kicking technique is an ingenious way of kicking out to the opponent while retreating your body away from him. If you are good at applying it, you will grasp the true meaning of it, but if you treat it like an ordinary kick, you will never get it. This is because although the door-closing kick appears to go out straight ahead, it actually attacks the opponent’s crotch at an angle, and thus contains a sense of literally closing a door. To just casually throw out a kick and think of it as a door-closing kick [i.e. to apply a very specific name to a generic technique] would be nonsense.
Posture 20: SITTING-TIGER STANCE, RIGHT CARRYING PALMS
Continuing from the previous posture, first your right foot comes down to the rear, passing in front of you, then your left foot retreats [as you turn all the way around leftward] to make a right sitting-tiger stance, and then your palms carry upward in a continuous triple action of right palm, left palm, right palm. See photo 20:
The opponent sends out a hand to block my foot and sends out his other hand to attack my upper area, so I immediately do a small hop, turning around, and use carrying palms to deflect his hand. If this dissuades him from going any farther, then I only need to use soft hands to deflect his incoming hand. But if he continues forward to try to strike me, I can send my palms threading out, one over his elbow, one under his elbow, and then forcefully apply pressure to each side. This can not only break his arm, it can also draw the fight to a close altogether. When finding yourself in this kind of situation, never dismiss the potential for two seemingly strengthless palms to lure the opponent into a trap.
Posture 21: TURN AROUND, HOOK & KICK
Continuing from the previous posture, first your right hand withdraws to your waist, then your left hand hooks away to the west behind you as your left foot kicks out. (Turning your body around is never enough on it its own. It also requires actions of hand and foot to accompany it because it is difficult to be sure what is there. If you wish to make this posture precise and get the strength of it to be even, you will have to practice it a lot.) See photo 21:
The opponent suddenly rushes around behind me, or another opponent attacks from behind with a punch to my upper area, so I use my left hand to hook it away while I also use my left foot to do a raising kick to his groin. It is a standard feature of human beings that the arm is shorter than the leg. If you need to hook onto the opponent in order to kick him, it is not necessary to keep holding on after you have done so, for the function of the hooking hand only lasts for an instant. Once you have kicked out, you should release your hooking hand, otherwise it will only slow you down.
Posture 22: SWINGING PUNCH, CONTINUOUS KICK
Continuing from the previous posture, before your left foot comes down, your right foot jumps up and kicks out as your right fist swings across forward. See photo 22:
Regardless of whether or not the opponent blocks my left foot, I continue right into kicking out with my right foot. At the same time, I also send a swinging punch to attack his upper area, causing him to have difficulty defending against simultaneous attacks above and below. The difficulty of this posture occurs while in mid-air. People tend to be confused about how to express power when they are not even touching the ground. Furthermore, it is easy for the posture to become sluggish and thereby lose all beauty. I hope you will practice more in order to overcome these difficulties.
Posture 23: KNEELING STANCE, RIGHT PRESSING FOREARM
Continuing from the previous posture, first your right foot comes straight down and then your left foot follows it forward to make a right kneeling stance as your right fist sinks down and turns over to perform the pressing-forearm technique, your left fist against the inside of your right forearm. See photo 23:
The opponent lowers his stance to dodge my kick, so I lower my own stance and use a pressing-forearm technique to push him away. The previous two techniques involve continuous high attacks. According to boxing principles of attack and defense, it is difficult to sustain attacking at the same height for very long, therefore this technique suddenly switches to a low posture. Both the “rolling forearm” and “pressing forearm” are techniques involving hardness and are done with the hands placed at a shorter range. Ordinary practitioners often neglect to express power, or do not understand how to express this kind of short-range power, which requires the more confusing element of using the combined strength of both arms.
Posture 24: BIG-DIPPER STANCE, LEFT HOOKING HAND
Continuing from the previous posture, turn around [leftward] toward the east, your feet staying in their location and pivoting along with the turning of your body, switching from a right kneeling stance to a left big-dipper stance, as your right fist withdraws to your waist and your left hand hooks toward the east behind you. See photo 24:
The opponent quickly goes around behind me to try to attack my middle area, so I turn around where I am, switching to a big-dipper stance, as I use my left hand to hook onto his attack and keep him from getting to me. The hooking hand is the most common technique in Mantis Boxing, and yet it is difficult to make it beautiful, even more so to address the myriad possibilities that can emerge from this small movement. Unless you thoroughly understand how this movement works, you will stray far from its original purpose and fail to live up to its true meaning.
Posture 25: BIG-DIPPER STANCE, RIGHT FILLING PUNCH
Continuing from the previous posture, your right foot advances to make a right big-dipper stance as your right fist thrusts out from your waist, performing a filling punch. See photo 25:
Once I have hooked aside the opponent’s hand, I then advance and fiercely thrust out, not failing to capitalize on the opportunity that the hooking hand has given me. The filling punch is not only the most common kind of punch in Mantis Boxing, it also has a unique way of being performed that practitioners often get wrong. The fist and palm strike against each other, producing an audible crack. But focusing all of your attention on the skin surrounding the knuckles [instead of on striking out at an opponent] can be counterproductive toward the actual function of the technique. Due to this feature, I noticed even twenty years ago that my fellow students were making the error of not sending the punch from their waist [instead bringing the fist up and then punching out from the chest in order to make it easier to emphasize striking against the palm]. If it is done in this way, then this characteristic technique is not really being learned.
Posture 26: MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING STANCE, RIGHT SUBDUING PUNCH
Continuing from the previous posture, your right foot comes down forward to make a right mountain-climbing stance as your left hand goes forward to seal downward from above and your right fist withdraws and then thrusts upward from below with the elbow staying bent, performing a subduing punch. See photo 26:
The opponent sends out a hand to block my filling punch, so I advance to crowd him as I use my left hand to seal off his incoming hand and send out my right fist thrusting upward from below to strike to his chin.
Posture 27: THREADING HAND, RIGHT CRUSHING CHOP
Continuing from the previous posture, first your right foot pulls back to almost make a sitting-tiger stance as your left hand threads out from below. See photo 27a:
Then your right foot steps forward to make a right mountain-climbing stance as your left hand threads out to its limit and your right fist pulls back, and then your right fist chops down forward from above, your left hand striking against it, making an audible crack. See photo 27b:
The opponent sends out a hand to seal off my subduing punch, so I thread out to send away his incoming hand, then use my right fist to chop down forward from the rear.
Posture 28: KNEELING STANCE, RIGHT ROLLING HANDS
Continuing from the previous posture, with your feet maintaining their placement relative to each other, advance to make a right kneeling stance as your hands become palms and deflect in unison to the right, your right palm in front at long range, your left palm behind at short range. See photo 28:
This technique is similar to Posture 2 of Plum Blossom Fists: KNEELING STANCE, SWATTING WINGS. The main difference is that this technique flows right into the following technique, and thus is imbued with a quality of flow. My left palm at short range can deflect the opponent’s incoming hand and my right palm at long range can then attack his face.
Posture 29: ADVANCE, RIGHT SLIPPING PALMS
Continuing from the previous posture (which looks identical to this one in the final position), first your right foot pulls forward and then your whole body darts forward, still making a right kneeling stance, as your palms lower to the left, circle around [counterclockwise] upward and deflect to the left, the opposite of the previous posture’s deflection to the right. See photo 29:
The opponent dodges my rolling-hands technique, but I do not give him a chance to get away, instead I immediately advance to attack him with the slipping-hands technique. Rolling & slipping is a famous combo in Mantis Boxing. Rolling switches to slipping by drawing a circle in the reverse direction and is the fastest of the techniques that involve softness. Rolling is like the surging of a strong river, a ceaseless flow, and slipping has the intention of filling a gap. Rolling and then slipping [reversing to a counterclockwise circle], slipping and then rolling again [reversing back to a clockwise circle], they can follow each other endlessly.
Posture 30: WITHDRAWING, LEFT THRUST PUNCH
Continuing from the previous posture, your left foot shifts back [making a right mountain-climbing stance] so that you are retreating without moving from your position, your right hand doing a sealing action, and then your right hand withdraws to your waist as your left fist thrusts out. See photo 30:
The opponent sends out a hand to block my slipping hand, so I go along with it by using the same hand to seal off his hand as I withdraw a step, then send my left fist thrusting out. After two continuous actions of darting forward, I suddenly switch to doing this small retreat. This is actually one of the cleverest techniques in Mantis Boxing. Unfortunately there are some practitioners who have been training hard at the art for many years and yet are indifferent to its contents, having no appreciation for these beautiful compositions of movement created by our predecessors, and do not comprehend why such techniques ought to be celebrated.
Posture 31: HORSE-RIDING STANCE, RIGHT FILLING PUNCH
Continuing from the previous posture, with your feet maintaining their position, dart forward into a horse-riding stance as your right fist goes straight out from your waist with a filling punch. See photo 31:
The opponent uses a hand to carry away my thrust punch, so I advance with a horse-riding stance, sending a filling punch to attack his chest.
Posture 32: SITTING-TIGER STANCE, CATCHING A CICADA
Continuing from the previous posture, turn around to the left, your left foot pulling back to make a left sitting-tiger stance, as your hands arc to make the “catching a cicada” gesture. See photo 32:
As a Mantis Boxing practitioner, you surely already know what this signature posture is for. (This completes the set.)
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[As a bonus, included below is a chapter from Huang’s Notes on the Mantis Boxing Art (1951) that is relevant to the themes of the three Plum Blossom sets.]
STRENGTH & POWER
Animals all have their own special abilities. Although insects are small, they can carry many times their own weight. But if indeed [from Book of Documents, document 27:] “human beings are the highest of all creatures”, how than can we be so inferior in this regard?
I have a distant relative, from an aristocratic family in the Xiguan District of Guangzhou, who had no means of exercise and gradually fell into such a decline that if he continued in that way, he would not have survived. Arrogant and lacking common sense, he had no idea what he should do, and then on the recommendation of an uncle, he took a job in a granary. Initially feeling fatigued from lifting just twenty or thirty pounds, after only a year he was able to lift sacks of over a hundred and seventy pounds of grain at a time, and no one knew where his strength had come from. For those of us who practice boxing arts, if we can build on the strength that we have and persevere, then we will easily surpass the strength of ordinary people within a few years.
What is difference between strength and power? When strength is used, there is shape, such as in the case of “strength can lift a cauldron” or “strength can carry a heavy weight”, which are both phrases that describe strength. However, power is empty and formless. Although both have the capacity to break through walls, this cannot be tested based on an average level of performance. It is necessary to build up the body to a certain point to understand their subtleties. Methods of training power are simple, but developing whole-body power is difficult.
Apart from power for attack, there is also defensive power. If my chest area receives an attack, my chest hollows and then sticks out, expressing a centered power, sending it outward from within. Even though I have been struck, I can nevertheless withstand the incoming force. When you have trained so that your entire body can behave in this way, the result is internal power. There are three kinds of power in boxing arts: “long-range power”, “foot-length power”, “inch-length power”.
Long-range power is also called “large power”, as well as “active power”. This kind of power first requires the fist to be chambered by the ribs. Then there is a transfer of strength from the rear foot to the waist, from the waist to the shoulder, and with the rotation of the large muscles of the shoulder, the knuckles shoot out, thereby fulfilling the long-range power. Once this has been trained, you can usually do as you please and thus do not really need to go to the trouble of differentiating between the ranges [since this one passes through all of them].
Foot-length power goes from the elbow to the wrist and reaches to the fist. Although not as powerful as long-range force, it is quicker. Compared to long-range power and inch-length power, the effect may be somewhat less dramatic, but there are more opportunities to use it.
Inch-length power is also called “passive power”. It travels merely from the wrist to the fingers and involves the slightest rotation. To apply boxing techniques requires some distance, but inch force can be applied even if you are already touching the opponent’s body, meaning that long-range power and foot-length power would not be able to catch up with it.
Power also divides into hard and soft. Most styles tend to emphasize one or the other, but Mantis Boxing uses both hardness and softness in equal measure, combining them to greater effect. Unless they are practiced equally, I fear it will be difficult to achieve the best results. I hope that my fellow practitioners will deeply study the mysteries within the art so that they can ascend to a level of elegance that much sooner.
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[View an original Chinese edition of Plum Blossom Hands, provided by the Ravenswood Academy.]