Praying Mantis Master Qu Hai
Master Qu Hai is a native of Yantai, birthplace of Praying Mantis kung fu. He is a 9th generation master of Taiji-Meihua Mantis, and a disciple of Li Kun Shan’s grandson, Zhang Bing Dou. He has practiced mantis since his early teens and is also a qualified Tui Na massage therapist and acupuncturist. He has recently opened his own schoolShengjing Shan Academy, in the beautiful mountains between the coastal cities of Yantai and Weihai.
Shifu, could you please talk about your experience learning kung fu:
Well, when I was young, I was always interested in kung fu, and Shandong being the home of mantis, it was only natural that I chose it. I began training in basics and forms with a local master, but he was very busy and so recommended I follow a master in Qingdao, Zhang Bing Dou.
We would train in the evenings in Masters house, training was very slow and repetitive, we would get one move and just work that until Master was happy, then he would give us another one. Sometimes he would just send us home to work on one move and tell us to come back next month, then he would look at it and say its not good enough, go back and practice! Also, my master wanted to test you, to see what kind of person you are. You have to have a good character, and strong resolve. He won’ tell you anything for a long time, just make you repeat. Maybe after a period of time he will tell you what you’re doing wrong. You see, in kung fu, you must think for yourself, its not just about asking your master all the time.
For the first year, I just worked on basics, then forms. Later, I learnt paired practice, weapons and qigong. Forms are very important; they must be done with intent. It’s this intent that separates kung fu from mere wu shu. We would take single moves from forms and repeat them over and over again. If we didn’t understand an application, Master would make us spar, just using this one move. We never had mats on the ground or gloves like you guys. You can’t be afraid of being hit. Forms and sparring are interconnected, there is a saying: “spar like you’re doing a form, do a form like you’re sparring.” This is very important.
Shifu, how did you come to learn Ba Gua*?
After studying mantis for a long time and having a high level, I felt like I wanted to broaden my horizons. I began to meet with people from other styles to exchange ideas with them. I took an interest in Wuxing Tongbei* and Da Cheng Quan (Yi Quan)*. Later, I began to read about Ba Gua Zhang. After contacting a master named Wang Shang Zhi on the internet, I travelled to Beijing to meet him. We met in a park and discussed kung fu. I felt that he had a very high level and deep understanding, and I really liked his kung fu. So I spent three years living in his home studying Yin style Ba Gua. Master Wang made and sold redwood furniture, sometimes I would help him with his work. When we trained, I was often paired up with a huge guy, who was very strong. I had to use my brain to be clever. I couldn’t defeat him with brute force. Our master focused a lot on paried practice, and feeling the opponent. We learnt through doing and feeling, rather than explanations. The point was that if you got hit, you learnt something. Maybe your guard was down, maybe you left yourself open. So you wouldn’t do that again. Slowly you would learn and improve.
There is much talk about the differences between internal (soft) and external (hard) kung fu, what are your thoughts?
Actually there is no difference really. The names “internal” and “external” came about after the twentieth century. You must have internal and external together, internal power comes from correct body mechanics, and from intent. When you practice forms, you must have the intent of fighting. Don’t just do the movements, imagine there is an opponent, make your movements fast and flow together. In a fight you don’t stop after each punch, the same in forms. You can do three or four movements within one body movement. This is real kung fu, its not step 1, step 2, step 3 like you see in a magazine. That is just a beginner’s level. Also, you must use muscular power together with intent; you need to train power. Take Taiji for instance, most people think its all soft and powerless, in fact real Taiji training is tough and has high demands for power training. All kung fu is the same, you need a strong body to generate power, and you need intent to use your power.
Shifu, I find it difficult to explain mantis to people, it’s quite an eclectic style:
Well, basically, mantis takes the principles of how a praying mantis will catch it’s pray as a foundation. As mantis was created quite late, it was able to further absorb the strong points of other styles to add to this foundation. It is heavily influenced by Chang Quan (long fist), Tongbei Quan, Taiji Quan as well as others. The body must move as a whole unit, using circular movements, half circles and spirals, as well as the unity of opposites, such as forward and backwards, opening and closing etc.
And what about the differences between the different branches:
In fact, in the beginning, there was no separation of different branches. Liu He (6 harmonies) mantis was created fairly early, it has a different syllabus and principles to the other branches. Qi Xing (7 stars) and Taiji separated much later, and in fact the similarities are greater than the differences. Taiji and Meihua is pretty much the same thing, its only personal preferences as to the name used. Qi Xing uses the principle of body parts relating the 7 stars (the big dipper), and that these 7 parts should move in union. Taiji uses the principles of Yin and Yang, or opposites, like left and right, forward and backward, so that the body moves harmoniously and generates the most power. Meihua refers the footwork and hand methods; that they move in a plum blossom shape, attacking the opponent from different sides. All the styles have long and short, hard and soft, the principles are the same. It’s just like if I teach 5 of you, you will have Will mantis, Eric mantis, etc, you all have your own characteristics.
Shifu, how did you come to learn Chinese medicine?
In fact, my first master suffered from a bad lower back, so I wanted to learn massage to help him. Later, my interest grew and I saw how deep it is. I went to Jinan and later to Beijing, to gain my qualifications in Chinese medicine.
Finally, Shifu, can you tell me what you think the benefits of Mantis are:
Well, it can harmonise your body, kung fu exercises your body as a whole. Not only that but it is good for self defence, health preservation and making yourself stronger in body and mind. It can help you to become a better person, improve your heart and mind. You will be able to face whatever challenges life throws at you with a very peaceful and calm mind. You won’t be so stressed and worried, and will have more confidence in yourself.
Shifu, thank you for your time and sharing your knowledge with us!
*Yin Style Ba Gua Zhang – ba gua is one of the three big internal styles (taiji and xingyi being the others), its main concept is using spirals and twisting motions to develop power and its most obvious feature is the training method of walking in a circle to develop footwork and body torque. There are two main branches, Yin style and Cheng style, named after the two main disciples of the founder, Dong Hai Chuan. Cheng style using more wrestling and grappling moves, Yin style is moe known for its strikes and kicks.
* Wuxing Tongbei Quan – tongbei quan is a system of kung fu where the main feature is using the the upper back to fling the arms out in a whiplike fashion, generating great speed and power. Wuxing in the particular branch, meaning five elements, it takes the theory of Chinese metaphysics – water, fire, earth, metal and wood and their interaction.
*Da Cheng Quan (Yiquan) is a modern system of kung fu which evolved out of Xing Yi, Da Cheng Quan takes training the intent as the most important aspect, spending long periods in standing meditation.