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My Trip to Shandong

Master Zhou Zhendong adjusts my posture

The sun had long since set and I stood in a large dark field catching my breath as I gazed up at the stars. Yantai is a city of millions of people, yet at night it seems to turn itself off and go to sleep leaving the sky clear with all the stars on display. Nearby was the eerie sound of singing as a chorus of ladies sang traditional Chinese songs.

As Master Zhou and I stood there enjoying the night view he told me that he preferred to train late at night when it was so dark you could hardly see your hand in front of your face. "It is the custom that I grew up with," He explained. I asked him about his days of training and why he had trained in the dark.

"Originally there were many kung fu schools in Yantai, schools all over the place." He was referring to before the 1966 cultural revolution. In 1966 China underwent a cultural revolution that lasted until 1976. During that time, "... all kung fu schools were closed down and the teachers, and in many cases, students, were paraded with a 'dunce cap' on their head," He continued, "They were made to confess their sins against China in public for all to hear. The masters were then shipped off..." It was to the countryside to re-education camps working menial farm or other hard labor. "Martial arts instructors had it particularly bad as they were part of the old culture, and the cultural revolution sought to completely destroy that."


 Kung Fu Family Overcomes the Revolution


The culture of kung fu had a rough time during this period, but the revolution could never overcome the vitality accumulated through countless generations that bonded the kung fu family unit. Kung fu families have a saying to describe this sentiment;

Generations of Martial Artists Wu Yi Shi Jia

Make a Family of Kung Fu Gung Fu Men Di

 

Sadly, the cultural revolution erased some families of kung fu. But some, such as the teachings of Zhou Zhendong's teacher, Zhang Kaitang, were passed on to a very small group. With such heavy penalties for teaching kung fu those who could be accepted as students became very limited. Zhang Kaitang taught a select group in secret from the back of his house. When training took place it happened in the dark of night at the house or outside in a field.

 

A young Zhang Kaitang stands with his shifu, one of the three 'Mountains of Laiyang,' Cui Shoushan

Meeting Niki

I took a photo of Niki while we walked through a Buddhist temple talking about Mantis Boxing

Several years ago I made the online acquaintance of Niki Diestler. After communicating back and forth I came to know more and more of his Taiji Mantis Boxing teacher Zhou Zhendong. In the summer of 2010 Zhou Zhendong was traveling to Vienna to see Niki and his students so I planned to fly to Vienna and meet master Zhou. Sadly for us, all Master Zhou was refused the visa and would not be able to visit Niki's school. Of course, by that time I could not change my ticket so I went to Vienna to have a good time with Niki and his family and students. Niki and family played an excellent host and we became close kung fu brothers vowing that we would meet up again in Shandong during the summer of 2011.

Since the 1980's I have longed to travel to Shandong and learn more about Mantis Boxing. This summer I fulfilled the dream of 25 years and went to meet Zhou Zhendong. He and I immediately hit it off and had a great time practicing kung fu. Zhou Zhendong told me that he was deeply moved that I had flown to Vienna last year to meet him, and more so, that I used this chance to fly to Shandong to finally see him in person. I found him to be very open in his teaching, sharing and explaining for as long as I could absorb his knowledge. I took detailed notes of his stories and history as well as writing down details of movement and application. Here are several pictures from our morning training sessions.

Morning Class

Students train the 'plucking hand'

The youngest student trains 'one step three punches'

All sections of the park are covered with students training martial arts or other traditional Chinese exercise. Here a group of students train Tai Chi. They have trained together so long I found it hard to differentiate between master and student.

Zhou Lei, daughter of Zhou Zhendong, does the technique 'overturn the sky topple the earth'

I practice the technique 'yin yang hooking'

The 36 Mother Techniques of Praying Mantis Fist

After I had spent several days training with the teacher and students I went over to Zhou Zhendong's house for some serious conversation. I had planned to request his blessing and help for a book on the Mother Fist of Praying Mantis. I explained my point of view, "Zhou Laoshi, I believe that the Praying Mantis Fist that has been passed down over the previous generations is an important treasure that should be shared with all that care to travel this path." This was his view point also. "Recently, many masters of Praying Mantis have taken to mixing up the different moves of the forms to make them appear fresh or more exciting or for whatever reason changed the old forms around. As new moves are added some other moves are subtracted, I fear that in the end the Praying Mantis aspect could one day vanish from the Praying Mantis forms. For this reason, I wish to document the methods of Mantis as close to the traditional way as is presently possible."

He sat their watching me as we drank tea. He didn't say a word, nor make a facial expression, he merely looked into my eyes waiting for me to continue. I didn't know if he would agree to my request to ask him to help me with the endeavor of preserving Praying Mantis for future generations in written form or not.

"If I document Praying Mantis to the best of my ability that would include the oldest manuscripts of Mantis Boxing and their explanations of the applications as written by your Shiye (teacher's teacher) Cui Shoushan. Furthermore, I would like to include pictures of you performing all the techniques. I would like to start with the 'mother fist-mu quan' of Praying Mantis Fist, the form called 'Luan Jie."

He looked at me in silence and for a moment I had nothing to say. "Zhou Laoshi, would you help me with this project?" Suddenly, his expression changed and he replied gravely, "Yes." At which point we drank more tea.

Before finishing the training in Yantai we took pictures of the form 'Luanjie.'

The last technique of the 'mother fist' of Mantis Boxing

We share a happy moment in 'Mantis Shaking Step'

After our photo shoot

The Sunday morning practice group

My two week stay in Shandong was an intense workout and an educational experience that I hope to pass on to future generations. Over the upcoming months you can look forward to articles resulting from this latest research

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