History & Lineage
The history of the Preying Mantis Style of Kung-Fu (T’ang L’ang Ch’uan) began in Gimore County in the Shantung Province, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). From the oral tradition and the writings of later Mantis masters, we know that the founder and patriarch of the style was Wang Lang. Wang Lang was the smartest and most talented child of his family, and from an early age had developed a great interest in the martial arts. He had travelled widely through China to learn the various arts, and soon became well known for his skills. Despite his mastery, Wang Lang felt that something was missing from his technique and decided to test himself.
As it is well know, there were no better martial artists than those that were to be found in the temples of Shaolin. So, during the mid-Autumn festival, Wang Lang set out for the Lao Shan mountains to challenge the monks of the Shaolin Temple. Upon his arrival, the first thing he saw were taoist monks practicing the art of boxing in the main plaza of the temple. Wang Lang counted some sixty positions and styles that he had never seen before. Sensing that this was the perfect place to test his abilities, he challenged the monks but was ignored. Time and again he issued his challenge, but the silent monks would have no part of it. It took much time and patience for Wang Lang to persuade the monks at the temple to test him, but eventually they decided that he would fight a lower level student. Wang Lang had trained hard for many years and was confident in his abilities. This was the moment he had been waiting for.
The fight was set. Wang Lang and his opponent of the famous Shaolin Temple were face to face. Wang Lang fought hard and with great swiftness but was defeated, for the abilities of the monk were far superior. There was much for him to learn.
Wang Lang returned home. Determined and dedicated, he practiced very hard. After two years of continuous training, Wang Lang was in the best shape of his life. The time had come to test himself once again at the temple.
Wang Lang returned to Shaolin, much more powerful and fierce than before. Once again he faced a student of the temple. This time Wang Lang was victorious. His rigorous training had paid off and his improvement became more and more evident as he moved higher through the ranks of monks. Wang Lang fought one monk after another until he was face to face with the head abbot of the monastery. Wang Lang had fought many fierce opponents and had proven himself a courageous fighter, but this was the true test. Wang Lang fought his best but was easily beaten by the abbot.
Humiliated and aching, Wang Lang realized the depth of the abbot’s martial skills and immediately left the temple. He had trained hard, but having tested himself he realized he would have to have much better technique as well. As Taoist masters have recognized, the answers to many questions can be found in nature by those who observe. It was in just this way that fate stepped in and changed the life of Wang Lang and the future of the martial arts.
Resting his tired body, Wang Lang sat for a moment near a willow tree on the wooded slopes of the Lao Shan mountains. As he pondered on his unsuccessful fight and the reasons he lost it, his mind came to focus on his surroundings. He heard some curious sounds which grabbed his attention. Finding the source of these sounds, Wang Lang was amazed at the sight of two insects battling for their lives—a cicada and a much smaller praying mantis. The movements of this praying mantis were astonishing. With its strong legs and amazingly strong arms the mantis waited, ready. Drawing its opponent in, then striking with devastating power and fast, instinctive movements, the mantis was able to defeat its much larger and fiercer opponent. Wang Lang had discovered the key to what he had been missing.
Astonished by the skills of the insect, Wang Lang captured the praying mantis and carried it with him on his return home. Having built a cage for his new friend, Wang Lang had decided to keep the mantis and study it’s movements. Using chop sticks, Wang Lang spent much of his time battling with his tiny opponent, and very carefully watched to see which actions the mantis would take in order to defend itself. Wang Lang took these techniques and incorporated them into his training. Having learned the techniques of the Preying Mantis and having trained much harder, Wang Lang felt the time had come to test himself once again.
Wang Lang could not forget the beating he had received last time, but he was dedicated to truly perfecting his skills. His defeat was all the more reason to return, and it was further evidence he had indeed chosen a worthy test. Wang Lang returned once more to the Shaolin Temple.
The monks recognized Wang Lang and agreed that he should be able to test his skills. Once again he stood face to face with the head abbot of Shaolin Temple, but this time Wang Lang was victorious. Everyone was perplexed by this strange new form of fighting. How did he learn such skills, where had they come from, they asked.
Wang Lang had defeated some of the Shaolin Temple’s most fierce monks but now he had faced the fiercest and most skillful of all and had beaten him. The monks could hardly believe what they had seen. They could not let Wang Lang leave until they too learned these techniques. Wang Lang did not want to stay with the Shaolin monks so he left quietly in the night. The monks were left only with the memories of what they had seen Wang Lang use.
Back home again, Wang Lang continued his training. He had discovered a very effective style but wasn’t about to leave it at that. Wang Lang had fought many opponents in his lifetime and now he had faced the best in the world. Wang Lang now had the experience needed to develop and refine a fighting style that would be effective over any style or level of fighter. Wang Lang then dedicated himself to further develop the Preying Mantis system of fighting throughout his lifetime.
Although his Preying Mantis techniques were very effective, Wang Lang realized a large part of his failure in his first fight with the head abbot of the Shaolin Temple was due to a lack of footwork. Once again an answer was to be found in nature. Carefully looking for the for the stepping techniques needed to complete his system, Wang Lang discovered the fast and deceptive footwork of the monkey. Their movements were swift and agile, skillful and tricky. The stepping and jumping techniques of the monkey were a very effective addition to what Wang Lang had developed, so he decided that he would incorporate them. During the rest of his life, Wang Lang further refined his Preying Mantis techniques until it was easily considered one of the most effective and fierce martial arts styles that had ever been seen.
The art of Preying Mantis had become very famous, everyone had heard of its incredible effectiveness and many sought to learn, but despite all this the Preying Mantis system was kept very secret. Almost no one saw the techniques performed and little was heard other than the legendary stories and accounts of great men performing this elusive and secret style of fighting. Many years passed before in Tai City, during the 1800’s, “Ghost Hands” appeared.
Jiang Hua Long was the 7th generation master of the Preying Mantis system. Before him, much of this art form was shrouded in mystery. With his appearance people would again marvel at skills that had only been dreamt of. Famous for his lightning fast hands, “Ghost Hands” became a very prominent figure in Chinese history. Not only did Jiang Hua Long posses great skills as a martial artist, but he proved to be a person with the highest of morals as well. Taking from the rich to distribute to the poor, it is easy to see similarities between Jiang Hua Long and Robin Hood. Jiang Hua Long’s courageous and selfless acts won him the love and admiration of the Chinese people. His mastery of the Preying Mantis system won him the respect of martial artist everywhere, and the fear of his enemies.
To uphold his responsibility as Grandmaster of the style, Jiang Hua Long could never be short sighted. The very energetic jumping style of the monkey footwork was very effective but it required a great deal of energy. Jiang Hua Long realized that if he were to live up to his obligations he would have to maintain his fighting abilities well into his old age. He would have to create a new system of footwork that would use energy efficiently but also maintain the Mantis’s devastating effectiveness. Changing the Mantis system was not to be taken lightly, but as Grandmaster he was responsible for strengthening any weaknesses.
Being well respected by the masters of the martial arts throughout China, Jiang Hua Long was in an advantageous position. Traveling throughout China, Jiang Hua Long met with masters of many styles. To have such a man as Jiang Hua Long ask about their techniques was a great honor. The masters of martial art’s most effective systems openly shared their techniques and secrets with him. Jiang Hua Long studied the footwork of many styles such as Bagua and Tom Pei. He spent a great deal of time studying and experimenting with each movement. Having an incredible amount of experience applying his skills, Jiang Hua Long knew what would be an improvement and what would simply be change. Very carefully he considered each technique until, after ten years, he had narrowed down the most effective to eight short and eight long steps. Jiang Hua Long had taken one of the very most effective fighting systems in the world and was able to improve it. The Eight Step Preying Mantis system had been born.
Although the Preying Mantis system was very famous, nothing was yet to be known about Jiang Hua Long’s innovations. The techniques of the Preying Mantis had been kept secret for centuries. Jiang Hua Long had a great many, dedicated students. If this new system were to be passed on, Jiang Hua Long would have to find a disciple that was worthy and able.
The city of Yan Tai in the province of Shantung was the home to Fong Hua Yi. He had studied Shuai Chiao and Eagle Claw and had become well known as a powerful fighter. Fong Hua Yi was a confident young man; he trained hard and had won many fights. It was a real shock for him when a friend of his was able to defeat him. This friend studied Preying Mantis under a student of Jiang Hua Long.
Fong Hua Yi begged his friend to share his techniques but he refused. If he were to learn the techniques he would have to go to the source. Fong Hua Yi went straight away to the school of Jiang Hua Long. If there was a student that could beat him, he would have to learn the techniques.
At that time, joining a school was more than registering and paying tuition. It was necessary to prove your dedication before being accepted. Fong Hua Yi went through a lot of trouble to join. Once he was allowed into Jiang Hua Long’s school it was still necessary for him to prove that he was a dedicated student. He spent six years working at the school, cleaning and cooking and was only allowed to participate in the basic physical drills. Then finally, Jiang Hua Long took special notice of Fong Hua Yi. Fong Hua Yi had trained hard and was dedicated; it had become evident that he was worthy to begin learning under Jiang Hua Long’s tutelage. Jiang Hua Long had something very special in mind for his young student. He was to be the first to learn the new Eight Step Preying Mantis. Fong Hua Yi eventually mastered the new footwork so well that those that witnessed his agile movements named him “Ghost Shadow.” Jiang Hua Long continued to teach everything he know to Fong Hua Yi until his death at the age of 106.
Fong Hua Yi was now the 2nd generation Grandmaster of Eight Step Preying Mantis. He had learned the entire system of fighting, which included incredible hands techniques, long and short range techniques, as well as pressure points and devastating ground techniques. All that really could be added were throwing techniques and joint locks. This was just where Fong Hua Yi could make his contribution; this is what he learned during his childhood training. Fong Hua Yi went through all of his throwing techniques and, because of his education under Jiang Hua Long, was able to refine and perfect each technique until it was truly worthy of becoming part of the system.
Fong Hua Yi was already famous because of his association with Jiang Hua Long. As Jiang Hua Long’s student, Fong Hua Yi had a lot to live up to. Fame can cause a lot of jealousy and this in turn seems to always lead to foolish acts. Many people had come to the conclusion that if they were able to defeat Fong Hua Yi that they too would become very famous. Although this could very well be true, it would very likely be a deadly chance to take. Some men were willing to take this chance.
Fong Hua Yi was having tea one day in a local teahouse when a fight broke out. One man, seeing this as an opportunity, kicked over the table were Fong Hua Yi sat. As he jumped out of the way the attacker quickly stabbed him with a knife. The group of men at the teahouse immediately saw that they might have a chance to defeat this famous master and gain instant fame. They then chased after Fong Hua Yi who fled, not wishing to get involved in such a foolish situation.
Running out of the village, Fong Hua Yi came across a small hut. Seeing that this man was badly hurt, the owner of the house hid him inside. As the villagers caught up they demanded to know if he had seen anyone run past. The man said that he had just seen a man go by, and that he had continued running down the path and out of view.
Fong Hua Yi had spent a few days recuperating when one morning he went outside to see the man who had helped him participating in some activity with his son. He asked what it was that he was teaching his son. The man replied that he was teaching him Kung Fu. Amused, Fong Hua Long said that his son was likely to be killed if he were to attempt to use such techniques. Becoming quite angry with this seemingly ungrateful man, he demanded to know who he was to be qualified to make such a statement. Having no pictures during this day and age, the man had no way to recognize his face; but upon hearing his name, Fong Hua Yi, the man was completely dumfounded. Falling to his knees, he begged that his attitude be forgiven and that he please teach his son.
It seems as though fate had stepped in. There could have been no better teacher nor could there have been any better pupil. Fong Hua Yi’s new pupil was Wei Hsiao Tang. This young boy would spend his life studying Eight Step Preying Mantis and was destined to become the 3rd generation Grandmaster. Wei Hsiao Tang practiced very hard and was a very dedicated student. He managed to develop phenomenal strength and incredible speed. So much so that he come to be known as “Thunder Hands”.
Wei Hsiao Tang was chief instructor in the Chinese Military. He was in charge of instructing the 25th Regiment in fighting techniques. After serving in China, Wei Hsiao Tang went to Korea where he was an instructor to their military. It was here that a famous incident occurred.
It happened that one day while Wei Hsiao Tang was walking through town he came across a fellow Chinese, who was working as a merchant, involved in a dispute. As Wei Hsiao Tang came upon the scene a great many Koreans had begun beating the Chinese merchant. The situation was out of hand and Wei Hsiao Tang immediately intervened and asked for everyone to stop. Attacking with sticks and different manner of weapons, the mob would not quiet down. They soon turned on Wei Hsiao Tang, angered by his interference. The next day all of the of the papers told of the mob scene in which Wei Hsiao Tang drove off 50 men, injuring most and killing 4. The Korean government immediately set out to capture Wei Hsiao Tang. If it were not for friends in the Chinese underground, he might not of been able to escape.
Back in China, hiding under an assumed name, Wei Hsiao Tang eventually made his way to Shanghai. Here in 1930, he met and became friends with Grandmaster Wu Ching To, master of Wu style Tai Chi Chuan. They were both the highest of masters who had come from an incredible lineage. Their respective styles were complete, with little else that could be added and nothing to change. The only thing they could do was to exchange their systems, so that is what they decided. They taught their respective systems in their entirety, holding back no secrets. Soon after, Master Wu died, taking with him what he had learned. Fortunately he had left Wei Hsiao Tang with his knowledge.
In 1949 the communists took over China. Chairman Mao Tse-Tung gathered huge military support from among China’s poor peasants, and began a Cultural Revolution which attacked everything from China’s “feudal and superstitious” days. The ancient martial arts were outlawed, many masters were killed, and schools were closed down until the new government could decide whether they were in line with their political ends. As many did, Wei Hsiao Tang left China for Taiwan.
In 1949, the Shyun family moved to Taiwan from China. The youngest of the Shyun Family, a young Shyun Guang Long, become very ill. A successful family, with resources that they could call upon, they spread the news everywhere that they desperately needed someone that might be able to save their son. Searching among doctors, both Chinese and Western, there seemed to be no one that could save their son. They were told to prepare for their son’s death.
One day a friend of Mr. Shyun said that he had heard of someone that might be able to help. This friend went off in search of the friend who had told him of this healer. His friend did not know where to find this healer but he had a friend that surely knew where to find him, so they both set off to find the other friend. This man knew where to find the man they sought and together they set off to meet him. This troublesome search led them to Wei Hsiao Tang. All on bicycle these four men went to the Shyun home.
Wei Hsiao Tang examined the young boy carefully. The boy was indeed very ill and Master Wei was unsure if he could save him. He did, however, make a promise. If the parents would agree, he would take their son to his home. If he were able to heal the boy he would return with him in one year. If he was unable, he would bury this young child and they would not hear anything further. Very fortunate for the kindness of Wei Hsiao Tang, it was agreed upon that this was what had to be done.
Wei Hsiao Tang took the young child with him to his home in the South of Tai Pei. There, around his home near the mountains, Wei Hsiao Tang busied himself gathering herbs and preparing medicines. Taking one full year Wei Hsiao Tang was able to completely cure the boy.
At the age of six, James Shyun was returned to his overjoyed parents. It was a miracle! The Shyun family could not have guessed if they would ever see their son again but now after one long, painful year, he was alive and well. Wei Hsiao Tang had done them a favor that they would never forget. Wei Hsiao Tang returned home and the Shyun family, with their son with them once again, went back to living their life happily, as a family should.
Having experienced some training under Master Wei during his rehabilitation, Shyun Kwong Long now began his formal training in martial arts under Wei Hsiao Tang. Beginning early in the mornings, the young Shyun would wake and start his days with two hours of stretching and chi kung exercises. Then after a normal day of school and homework he would finish his day with several more hours of training in two-man forms and new techniques.
This continued day to day, year after year, making the young James Shyun stronger and faster. It was during this period that Wei Hsiao Tang came to live with the Shyun family. Wei had become involved with a business venture, investing all of his money. When his business partners absconded with his investment, he was left with nothing. Hearing of this, the Shyun family was anxious to help. Being able to be of assistance, they invited Wei Hsiao Tang to stay in their home.
Living with the Shyun family for several years, it was during this stay in the Shyun’s home that Grandmaster Wei made the decision to pass the true heart of the Eight Step Preying Mantis system to his young disciple. Taking advantage of their private setting, Wei proceeded to pass on the details of the Eight Step system, sometimes even using street-fighters for training partners for the developing Shyun.
Twelve years later he was a strong, young man ready to compete in Taiwan’s premier martial arts competition. Wei Hsiao Tang had taught young Shyun a great deal and was confident in him. James Shyun entered himself into the International Full Contact Martial Arts Championships. The competition was very intense and at times even proved to be fatal. This would be a genuine test of James Shyun’s abilities.
Before his first match Wei Hsiao Tang told James Shyun that he would give him a signal in order to let him know which techniques to use. His first match of the competition was underway, James Shyun looked to his master for a signal. As he turned to look, his opponent struck him. Looking to his master once again the same thing happened. This continued until James Shyun was knocked to the ground, losing his first match. In the traditional competitions losing your match did not take you out of the running. If you chose to continue you were put into a line up which required that you fight others who had lost their matches. If you managed to beat everyone you would then continue on to fight with those who had won. This is what James Shyun did. Fighting as many as 12 matches, in three days of full contact competition, James Shyun climbed his way to the top and won first place! James Shyun continued his success and remained champion through five consecutive years. He then retired from tournament fighting to pursue other opportunities. As a result of his notoriety in the ring, he was offered starring roles in several movies.
Once he had completed his training under Wei Hsiao Tang, inheriting the Eight Step Preying Mantis system at the age of 26, James Shyun traveled to Singapore, Japan, West Germany, France and Australia. Everyone had heard of James Shyun and they all sought after him to teach their military and law enforcement agencies. Considering many offers, James Shyun made his way to the United States where he worked instructing law enforcement agencies on both coasts. He had seen that many styles of authentic Kung Fu had been lost. Grandmaster James Shyun realized that in this modern day the same could happen to the Eight Step Preying Mantis system. He had to take steps to prevent this from happening. This is when he decided to open his school in San Francisco, California. The year was 1984.
The Disciple Group:
It was in the new San Francisco school, in 1986, that Dean Economos met Grandmaster James Shyun. After several years of training under Master Shyun’s tutelage, Mr. Economos was granted the distinction of Sifu or “Teacher” by the grandmaster. With the objective in hand to increase the American public’s knowledge of Eight Step Preying Mantis, he returned to Buffalo, New York to start his own school of kung fu. As a result of Sifu Economos’ dedication to the promotion of Eight Step Preying Mantis and his unwavering devotion to Grandmaster Shyun, Sifu Economos was accepted as one of the disciples of Grandmaster Shyun and eventually attained the rank of 3rd Duan as Sifu.
Kevin Loftus arrived in Buffalo, NY in 1990 where he became a student of Sifu Economos. After two years of training under Sifu Dean Economos in Buffalo, Kevin Loftus returned to his home in the Midwest. With a similar directive as that given to Sifu Economos years earlier, Mr. Loftus began teaching students what he had learned. Under the direct scrutiny and training of the Grandmaster himself, Mr. Loftus was himself granted the title of “Sifu” by James Shyun in 1993. Sifu Loftus now set himself to the task of increasing his skills while educating new potential sifus in the art of Eight Step Preying Mantis. Sifu Loftus was fortunate to have talented and motivated students and the reputation of Eight Step Mantis increased still. In 1996 Sifu Kevin Loftus was chosen by Grandmaster Shyun to be one of the disciples of the Eight Step Preying Mantis system.
Jack Skutnik began his study of Eight Step Preying Mantis in 1992. A long-time friend of Sifu Dean Economos, Mr. Skutnik was himself a high ranking teacher of Tae Kwon Do. Seeing the depth of the Eight Step system, Jack Skutnik busied himself with learning this rare system. Granted his sifu certification in 1994, Sifu Skutnik made himself and integral part of his New Jersey neighborhood garnering honors from his community for his public service. Sifu Skutnik was chosen by Grandmaster Shyun to be one of the disciples of the Eight Step Preying Mantis System.
Immediately on Sifu Loftus’ return to the Midwest, Richard Mesmer began his education in Eight Step Mantis. Eager to learn this treasured system he devoted himself to learning all he could. Accompanying Sifu Loftus to visits with Grandmaster Shyun and Sifu Economos, Mr. Mesmer achieved the distinction of Sifu after a several years of training. As a Sifu, Mr. Mesmer opened the first school of Eight Step Preying Mantis in the state of Iowa. Years of additional training in the system and earnest devotion to the spread of Eight Step garnered the favor of the grandmaster and Sifu Mesmer was granted a discipleship in the Eight Step system in 1999.
Peter Ray became a student under Sifu Ecomomos while attending medical school in Buffalo, NY in 1991. Juggling the full schedule of a medical student with the physical demands of studying Preying Mantis Kung Fu, Mr. Ray completed his medical training at the university and moved to Birmingham, Alabama to begin his surgical residency. Granted the title of “Sifu” by Grandmaster Shyun, soon after his arrival, Sifu Ray quickly set about gathering a group of students to begin their training in Eight Step. Sifu Ray made the arduous, but rewarding, efforts required of a Sifu, while becoming the chief surgical resident of the University of Alabama Medical Center. As a result of his commitment to the promotion of the grandmaster’s system, Sifu Ray was bestowed discipleship by Grandmaster Shyun in 2002.
Thanh Van enjoyed old Kung Fu movies and tried various martial art styles when he was a teenager. Mr. Van also played high school tennis in school and thus naturally quick on his legs. After graduating with an engineering degree and moved to South Florida in 1987, Mr. Van started training with a fellow co-worker, a Vietnamese master of Taekwondo. But soon Mr. Van realized that kicks are not effective by itself. Not until 1993, Mr. Van had an awakening experience when he was introduced to Eight Step Preying Mantis Kung Fu by Sifu Jerry Ziffer in West Palm Beach, Florida. Eight Step Preying Mantis is not just a style; it is a system; it’s a way life; and unlike other sports, it’s designed so that one can get stronger and better with age. Eight Step Preying Mantis an integrated system where there’s a purpose for every move and one move flows to the next without hesitation. Mr. Van dedicated the next four years to learn this unique and traditional system. In 1997, Mr. Van met up with Grandmaster James Shyun and soon after that earned title of “Sifu”. Sifu Thanh Van opened his first martial art school in Lake Park, Florida in April 1998. In April 2000 Sifu Van moved to Texas and opened his second school in Fort Worth, Texas. In March 2006, Sifu Van was chosen to be one of the disciples of the Shyun Eight Step Preying System. In April 2010, Sifu Van earned the title of Master. Today South Florida and Texas are flourished with Eight Step Preying Mantis Kung Fu practitioners, all are due to the influence of Master Thanh Van.
The Eight Step Preying Mantis System has been passed down from generation to generation—master to disciple, for over 350 years. Consisting of the famous fighting techniques as well as the healing arts. The Eight Step Preying Mantis System is one of the last pure and authentic Chinese Martial Arts existing today.