Limb of the Mantis

Robert Barton 

The most commonly asked question about the training exercise known as Limb of the Mantis is to ask if it is a weapons form. The simple answer is no that it isn’t, even though it uses a really big stick. What it actually is used as is a training exercise for Shorin Goju and anyone else who wants to use it. But our school makes it a requirement rating up there with our Goju Kata.

I wish that I could say that I knew for a fact that it has a long and famous history in China or even better that it is an ancient and almost forgotten training method passed down in secret and that we are reviving. All that I can say is that I was taught this exercise by my Shaolin Kenpo instructor when I was a teenager in West Columbia Texas. His name was Scott Stewart and he told me that his teacher had taught it to him. That is really all that I know. Though I have been told that there are several masters out there who each originally taught it to me, and I thank them every one.

What I can tell you is that for the nearly three decades that I have used this exercise myself it has been invaluable for my training. I have taught it to many students first as a Shaolin Kenpo instructor then as a Shaolin Goju instructor and now as a Shorin Goju instructor. I also have used it with weapons training though my focus on Asian weapons has always been somewhat subdued so I imagine that some of my students will more fully explore this direction and I look forward to seeing the results.

I can’t claim to own it or to have created it and I know that some other schools and styles now use it because I showed it to them and maybe because they learned it somewhere else. I’m sure that we will hear stories about it, in the future, having been passed down through many generations in various styles.

I have my suspicions about it in an historical context. First let me make clear that I don’t really care if Scott made it up on the day that he showed it to me and that it is a completely modern exercise since the value of the method is more in the result.  That having been said I suspect that it is an exercise of some antiquity, mainly because it seems so well suited to mantis training. I also think that it is most likely of Southern Style origin but that could very well simply be because I view it through the filter of someone who specializes in Southern Style and who learned it from a Southern Stylist so it always looks Southern to me. Next I think that it is related to wooden dummy training, BTW there are lots of wooden man designs preserved in Shaolin arts well beyond the one popularized by Wing Chun.

I would be most likely to believe that it is an exercise originating in either Seven Star Mantis School or the Black Mantis School with Seven Star being my best bet.  If it is a secret exercise from a Mantis system and I am letting the cat out of the bag by teaching it publicly, ooops, I guess that it isn’t a secret anymore, same for Black Mantis. Stop keeping secrets anyway. It is the mantis exercise that we use in our style now.

I can’t really begin to describe the exercise in text so I’m not going to try. If you see me somewhere get me to show it to you. Same if you see one of my students. For those who have learned it, show it to people. For those who have videoed it from time to time show it to people, post it, especially of you have a video from 30 or 40 pounds ago.

As an exercise It has been of great value in my training and in my teaching and I hope that others find it just as valuable in their training and teaching. 

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