Seven Stars Praying Mantis was created by Grandmaster Wang Yunsheng during the Qing dynasty. In the 14th year of the Guangxu reign (1888), Pingdu’s ‘Fast Hand Li’ (Li Zhijian) arrived in Yantai visiting friends. At first he visited Li Yichun, the 17th generation keeper of the Mount Hua Taoist lineage. Afterwards he called on Wang Yunsheng. Where he accepted Grandmaster Wang as disciple, and taught him Praying Mantis for three years. During the day ‘Fast Hand Li’ taught at Grandmaster Wang’s home, whilst in the evening, he went to stay at the home of Wang’s good friend Hao Shunchang. During this time Hao also studied martial arts. Because Hao’s physique was unlike Grandmaster Wang’s, Li taught him short forms that go back and fourth just once like; ‘Dan Chahua’, ‘Shuang Chahua’, ‘Zhuo Gang’, ‘Shiba Shou’ and ‘Gua tui’ or Hanging kick. At that time Hao’s hanging kick was well known through out Yantai village.
Many of the short sets are practiced ambidextrously, thus, Hao founded and handed down ‘Mandarin Duck Praying Mantis’ where the techniques are performed on both left and right sides. In contrast Wang was tall and strong, therefore Li imparted all long forms composing of many lines such as; Zhaiyao (Abstraction), Ba zhou (Eight elbows), Ba kuaishou (Eight fast hands), Qi bu tang lang shou (Seven sections of praying mantis hands) all to Grandmaster Wang.
Grandmaster Li taught them for three years, after which he went to visit friends in Northeastern China. After Grandmaster Li passed away, Grandmasters Wang and Hao mutually exchanged an abundant amount of their own forms. Whilst at home Grandmaster Wang studied with great concentration, and came to a thorough understanding of all the deep and profound theories. He used the name of his own household ‘Kui De Tang’ (the character ‘Kui’ is associated with the Seven Stars of the plough). The seven parts of the body: the head, shoulders, elbows, hands, buttocks, knees and feet are the Seven Stars, thus creating the style ‘Seven Stars Praying Mantis’. At the time of its creation the style caused deep astonishment and enjoyed great repute. The aforementioned anatomical Seven Stars plus the chin together are called the ‘eight elbows’. Additionally the arms, forearms, thighs, and lower legs etc, can be used to attack. These became the 14 strikes of Seven Stars Praying Mantis. Thus, every part of the body can be used to strike with in actual combat. Grandmaster Wang also created the Seven Star hook, Seven Star punch, different hand shapes, hand techniques and so on. Within Seven Stars Praying Mantis’ ‘Explanation of the hands and arms’, it is recorded that the fist and the punch of Seven Stars Praying Mantis are two different hand shapes. The punch is distinguished when the thumb presses down on the eye of the fist. The fist is inherited from the period Wang Lang spent studying Leopard fist hand techniques, also referred to as cat fist. The first two joints of the fingers curl; the shape it forms is neither a palm nor a punch. This cat fist technique has been retained, and can be recognized in the form ‘Beng Bu’.
Wang Yunsheng originally studied Mount Hua Sect Long-fist boxing; afterwards he studied Praying Mantis Boxing, and created Seven Stars Praying Mantis. Some claim that Li Zhijian created Seven Stars Praying Mantis. In truth, Grandmaster Li propagated Praying Mantis Boxing. Amongst the boxing manuals, one can make out that he did not deviate away from Shaolin Praying Mantis, (as recorded in manuals such as; ‘Shaolin Dichuan Duanda Miyao’). All that Grandmaster Li taught was ‘Praying Mantis Hands’, not Seven Stars Praying Mantis. Grandmaster Wang Yunsheng’s Seven Stars Praying Mantis had its own complete theoretical foundation.
Not only did Grandmaster Wang Yunsheng have his own complete set of Seven Stars Praying Mantis theories, but also his own distinct forms. For example, originally there were hand forms such as ‘Qianqi Houjiu’, ‘Pogu Da’, ‘Fanche Da’, ‘Zhai Yao’, ‘Mi Shou’, ‘Ba zhou’ and so on but, Grandmaster Wang Yunsheng only kept ‘Fanche’, ‘Lu Lu’, ‘Zhai Yao’, ‘Ba Zhou’ etc.
Grandmaster Wang created his own specialty, the ‘Bai Yuan’ (White Ape) series of forms. Namely; Bai Yuan Toutao, Bai Yuan Chudong, Bai Yuan Xiantao, Bai Yuan Rudong, Bai Yuan Xianshu, Bai Yuan Benzhi and Bai Yuan Zhilu.
Seven Stars Praying Mantis was created by Grandmaster Wang Yunsheng and he incorporated the best techniques from various schools of Kung-fu. It was however, not perfected until a period in the 1920’s by Grandmasters’ Yang Weixin, Luo Guangyu and Wang Chuanyi, when they spent time together in Shanghai. Among the three teachers it was Grandmaster Wang Yunshengs grandson, Wang Chuanyi that played the most vital role. This is because the complete sets of manuscripts, from the creator Grandmaster Wang Yunsheng, were in the hands of Grandmaster Wang Chuanyi. Part of the reason for this is that Grandmasters’ Yang and Luo were illiterate and only possessed sections of the manuscripts.
In books published in Hong Kong and Taiwan etc, it is professed that forms such as: ‘Hei hu Jiao cha’, ‘Si lu ben da’, ‘Hei hu Chui’, ‘Liu jiao shi’ and so on are of Seven Stars Praying Mantis in origin, these books are inaccurate. In reality, according to Grandmaster Wang Chuanyi’s instruction, these forms were transmitted by Grandmaster Li Rongde. Grandmaster Wang Chuanyi explained that he too had learnt these forms from Grandmaster Li Rongde from whom he started to follow at the age of six or seven years old. Grandmaster Wang Yunsheng, Li Rongde and the teacher of Mizong boxing Su Mingyuan, exchanged a number of sets amongst themselves. For this reason, practitioners of Seven Stars Praying Mantis have learnt sets from the style known as Mizong, such as ‘Da hu yan’ and ‘Xiao hu yan’ etc. Similarly, practitioners of Mizong also study Praying Mantis forms like ‘Beng bu’, ‘Luan jie’, ‘Ba kuai shou’ and so on, as well as forms that were taught by Li Rongde.
The styles of the above forms and those of Praying Mantis differ enormously. In the 1960’s Grandmaster Wang Chuanyi reorganized all of the manuscripts, sorting them out all very precisely, along with who had transmitted what. He even recorded his communications with Bagua’s Gong Baotian from Yantai, Mizong practitioner Li Shufeng as well as Sun Risheng, Li Yufu etc. All these practitioners exchanged knowledge between themselves and learnt from one another. These manuscripts also contain Grandmaster Wang Chuanyi’s exchange with sworn brother Wang Liangchen in Shanghai. All of which are clearly recorded. Using these accurate recordings as evidence, we can say practitioners of Seven Stars Praying Mantis also practice Mizong forms, and the Mizong style also contains Praying Mantis forms.
Note: Grandmaster Wang Yunsheng’s grandson Wang Chuanyi, was born in 1900 and was taught personally by his grandfather. At the age of 23 he went to Shanghai to teach at the Jingwu Association. Later in life (from 1952-1969), he taught in Dalian, Liaoning Province.