SHAOLIN LONGFIST


The Shaolin system is often described as being like water.  The system is fluid and flexible with a consistent, relentless power that will often follow a path of least resistance along its course.  This is a system with a “live and let live” type of philosophy.  It has an incredibly broad range of techniques and, therefore, a broad range of options with regard to handling conflict.


Technically speaking, the Shaolin Longfist system is comprised of not only striking techniques using the hands, feet, knees, and elbows, but also the locking and submission techniques referred to as chin na and the throwing and grappling techniques referred to as shuai jiao.  Several weapons are also taught in conjunction with Shaolin training, although of the weapons taught at Tustin Shaolin Martial Arts, only the staff would have been carried by Shaolin monks.  All other weapons needed to be understood but because of their philosophical preference to avoid killing, monks would not carry offensive or cutting weapons such as the spear or sword.


Shaolin Kung Fu tends to take a minimalist approach to conflict.  Avoiding violent conflict is certainly ideal.  Evading an attack would be preferred over needing to block or deflect a strike.  If blocking or deflecting an attack should prove to be insufficient, a Shaolin practitioner might move to redirecting or pushing the attacker in a new direction to send a message or change the attacker’s focus.  If the attacker continues to persist, a locking or throwing technique may have the desired effect.  Damaging counterstrikes are an option in the event that an aggressor insists on pursuing the conflict. 


Of course, all of this escalation of force is an ideal.  The ideal outcome exists as a hypothetical and the actual process of any confrontation will depend on many variables that enter into the equation.  The number of attackers, their size, strength, and experience level relative to the defender and the threat to the safety of others in the scenario will all factor into the options chosen by the Shaolin practitioner.  With greater experience comes a wider array of options.

From its 6th Century origins at Shaolin Temple, throughout centuries of evolution, and into modern times, the Shaolin system has been one of the most comprehensive martial arts systems ever designed.  Many of today’s popular styles can trace their roots and their philosophies back to Shaolin.


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PRAYING MANTIS


Initially, one of the things people find curious about this system is its name.  Tang Lang Chuan, or Praying Mantis Fist, is a martial arts system that is styled after the physical appearance, movements, and seemingly even the attitude of the insect by the same name.  With its distinctive body postures, intricate hand techniques, and footwork reminiscent of the Monkey Style, Praying Mantis Kung Fu has an unmistakable appearance. 


This style evolved as a response to the Shaolin Longfist system approximately 400 years ago.  Martial arts history is usually one part myth and one part actual history, but it appears that a certain challenger to the Shaolin system, after having been beaten several times, went into retreat to refine his technique and eventually observed a fight between a praying mantis and a much larger cicada.  As the defeated challenger watched this unlikely match-up, he was impressed with the way the praying mantis would shift its balance and use its “hands” to redirect the larger insect to maneuver itself into a more advantageous position to deliver a counter-strike.  The mantis seemed to take a direct approach and preferred to fight its opponent from frontal or slightly oblique angles, chewing through incoming attacks to get to its own targets.  With each attempt, the cicada seemed to pay a heavy price until it was eventually broken. 


Inspired by the agile little bug, a new system of martial arts was born and the challenger was eventually able to defeat his opponent from the Shaolin system.  Eventually, he taught others his methods and the Praying Mantis system has survived well to this day.  Depending on which history one reads, this system was either developed as a sub-specialty of the Shaolin system or separately as a method to rival Shaolin.  In either case, the effectiveness of the Praying Mantis system is undeniable.


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TAI CHI CHUAN


Tai Chi Chuan – the Grand Ultimate Fist system – is considered to be the most highly evolved system of internal martial arts.  Where the external styles (Shaolin and Praying Mantis, for example) focus on athleticism, muscular and cardiovascular development from the beginning of their training, the internal systems focus more on the internal development of the practitioner.  Emphasis is placed on proper breathing and visualization coordinated with physical movement in order to cultivate chi – energy.  All of this is practiced in the form of fighting technique, though the approach to practicing the techniques for fighting is a slower, longer path when compared to a system like Shaolin or Praying Mantis.  That should not be interpreted to mean that Tai Chi is not as effective as a fighting system; only that it takes a slower approach to teaching fighting technique and pays more attention to breathing, balance, and building energy at the earlier stages of training. 


The Tai Chi symbol, also referred to as the Yin/Yang or Taiji symbol is closely associated with this system.  The concepts of Yin and Yang and their relationships to each other are relevant to all martial arts systems but Tai Chi Chuan makes a special point of observing them in practice from the outset of training. 


In the West and indeed throughout much of Asia now, Tai Chi is often being practiced purely as an exercise for health and wellness.  It is perceived strictly as a form of moving meditation.  The martial techniques are being lost or simply never learned by many practitioners around the world.  At Tustin Shaolin Martial Arts, Tai Chi Chuan is being practiced as a martial system with all of the health, wellness, and meditative aspects being natural byproducts of functional training.  When the emphasis is kept on functional fighting technique in the long run, proper body alignments and breathing techniques are retained and the wellness and meditative aspects flow as a natural part of the process.  Without attention to functional technique, the reason for proper body alignment and breathing is quickly forgotten and over the course of a single generation the art can quickly evolve into something very different from its original content.