Questions for Shifu Roger D. Hagood
By Dale Dugas, Eric Lewis, and Sean W. Robinson
DALE: With the different teachers you've had in the SPM world, what do you see as the best course of training the foundational skills of Jook Lum or other branches you have trained?
RDH: I’m 61 this year, training martial art 50 years, Hakka Mantis 40 years. Early on, I became a Kwongsai Mantis and Chu Gar Boxer by ceremony. And I’ve been friendly with Iron Ox, in China. I could tell you some stories you would enjoy, but might not believe!
I was living in China more than 30 years ago and haven’t left China, in the last 15 years. If that sounds like a good experience it is more than that, it has been a rich experience with a sole purpose - Hakka Mantis. This answers the first part of your question.
As to the foundational skills, the three branches of Hakka Mantis: Kwongsai, Chu Gar, Iron Ox, are the same. The three branches come from one root. And the essence of the boxing is summed in three: Rooted Horse, Feeling Hand, and Target Practice.
If you have these three essential skills then it doesn’t matter what form or which Branch, they will all be functional. Those three are the foundational skills of Hakka Mantis and other Hakka Boxing styles.
Without the three essentials, your boxing is just beating the air...shadowboxing.
DALE: What are the first hands that a student should learn and why?
RDH: A maxim is, “the whole body is a hand”. The meaning is that one should be as skillful with the feet as the hands, the knees as the elbows, the ankles as the wrists, etc.”
If you ask the ‘first hands to learn’ then you must follow the creed of Hakka Mantis and learn the NINE DEFENSIVE hands first. And the Mother of those nine hands is “MOR SAO” Feeling - Grinding Hand. Mor Sao covers upper, lower, middle, left, right, and center gates and develops the short, angular deflections used in the other FEELING and HOOKING HANDS.
DEFENSIVE first because our motto is, “you don’t come, I won’t start.”
DALE: How do you develop the Mantis Structure?
RDH: If by Structure, then you mean BODY POSTURE, it also follows the motto, “Ding Bot Ding, Bot Bu Bot.” It is quite common here, in South China, to hear even other stylist speak of “Ding and Bot.”
Structure starts in an exacting, proper, stance. Even the slightest variation can lead to failure in rooting. That is why you can see so many who play fast hands or slow, but can’t stand up on their own shoes without tipping, falling forward or back when running a form. Anyone who has trained a while can see who is floating and sinking. Best is test the root, hand to hand, then there isn’t a doubt.
With exacting, proper stance, in the lower body, one must next develop the upper body by sinking the chest and shoulders and rounding the back slightly concave. It has a little hunch back appearance, at first. This gradually disappears like refining the breath from audible to inaudible, over time.
Third, in Structure and Body Posture, is “Three hands in One Arm.” That is, fingertips to wrists (first hand), wrists to elbows (second hand), and elbows to shoulders (third).
This is ‘segmented power’ - any part of the arm can contact, control, and strike independently of the other two. It also applies to the whole body as one hand. Any foot, ankle, knee, hip, waist, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand can contact and control independently of all other segments or joints.
Most important in structure, is relaxation and breathing below the navel. Too stiff and hard and you will be top heavy and easily controlled and uprooted.
DALE: Can you explain in detail how the Tong Long Ma is trained and used in application?
RDH: The Praying Mantis Horse (Tong Long Ma) is unique but there are some South China and other Hakka Styles that are similar. It is a short, high horse stance, generally. Useful for Mantis hands boxing. It looks like the standing Mantis insect, a bit. One leg bent, one leg straight.
As stated it looks like a “T” Ding Stance and a “Ba” outward-toes horse riding stance, but it isn’t either. Without a correct understanding of the Mantis Horse, if you run into a rooted horse, then you’ll fall over all by yourself.
Application of the Mantis Horse is based on mobility in the various footwork patterns. First learn to use the ankles, knees, and waist as you do the wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
The Horse defends and attacks the lower body. Learn to walk a rooted Horse, before you run a form. Otherwise your form is empty.
I’ve outlined the details in my books and DVDs.
DALE: What is the first form learned and why?
RDH: All three Branches of Hakka Mantis are different. In general, the old China Southern Styles may start with a 3 form or 1 form. They use numerology. And they didn’t have many forms.
Kwongsai USA: First Form is Som Bo Gin (Three Steps Forward or Arrow) but the original teaching of Lam Sang’s Som Bo Gin has never been seen publicly.
China Kwongsai: First Form is “Dan Zhuang” Single Bridge form. It is followed by “Shuang Zhuang” Double Bridge form. There is no Som Bo Gin form in China Kwongsai Hakka Mantis, but “Shuang Zhuang” is essentialy Som Bo Gin form.
Chu Gar Mantis: Generally, the first form is Som Bo Gin (Arrow). However, some older versions have a “Jik Bo” Straight Form on a four corner pattern. In contrast to China Kwongsai, Chu Gar teaches Double Bridge form first followed by Single Bridge form.
Iron Ox: Second Door Form is followed by Third Door Form. I haven’t sought this extensively out but the Hakka Iron Ox I’ve exchanged with has been quite sophisticated in target practice skills, using middle fingers and various fists in offense.
Why you need to train the ‘first form’ is because one must walk the horse before he runs the horse. Skills are progressive and have a long teaching based on 150 years of South China history and now six or seven generations of Hakka Mantis practitioners, from its beginning.
Train step by step over a long time and your Mantis boxing will prove fruitful. Follow the tradition handed down, as closely as possible. Generally the old tradition of constant basics and a few forms doesn’t need improving upon, it just needs constant training.
DALE: When should the student start training and conditioning the body and the hands? ie. Iron Palm, Iron Claw, Iron Shin etc.
RDH: Avoid these today. We don’t need to look back 150 years ago. Just in the last two World Wars hand to hand combat was critical. Such skills might be useful in combat but not in daily life now.
If you are lucky you will go through life without ever encountering a life-death combat today. Iron Body skills take many years to develop properly. If you don’t develop them properly they will destroy your soft tissue and bones, especially with aging.
I’ve known some Iron Hand teachers, dating back to 1976, while living in South Korea, that could not hold a tea cup, in the winter time. They could beat an iron bar 1,000 times daily and if they could hit your head, it might split open.
I say IF, because IF you spend your time learning the boxing of root, feeling hand, and target practice they will not be able to use their iron skills upon you. Don’t spend your time conditioning when you could be boxing.
However, as a general practice, among students who come and go in a traditional Hakka Mantis School, you might find buckets of beans, sand, river rocks, and iron pellets to thrust fingers into, along with bamboo and iron bars to roll the forearms along and car tires filled with concrete to kick along the floor, etc.
Those trainings are dangerous in the long term. They are remnants of Hong Kong kungfu movies - purely entertainment. Better to learn ‘live’ hand to hand Hakka Mantis boxing, breathing, relaxation, tenderness in the heart, than spend cumulative time trying to harden flesh and bones, which turn to dust and then disappear. How many seasons does a man endure?
DALE: When should the student begin touching hands with a partner in the curriculum, and what drills should be introduced and worked on first?
RDH: Divide your students into three: Novice, Apprentice, and Disciples or Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced. If they all train together, separate them into three areas. They should not look forward to the next skill, instead they should concentrate on the tasks at hand.
Novice students train the Hakka Mantis Body Posture and Stepping Patterns. Let them do that until they gain some skill, in the horse and footwork. The hand chambered at the heart or waist doesn’t move. It may take three months or 100 days as a general rule. In an old traditional school it might take three years to walk and run the horse. I’ve known some who were very close to doing that, in the old days.
Intermediate Students move to a different area of the school and train the 18 defensive and offensive boxing hands. This may also include Chi Sao Sticky Hands. It should take a year to one year and a half to teach them two man boxing drills based on the 18 Buddha Hands. This is followed by single man form training. Each form may take a minimum of six months to one year before the next is taught.
Advanced students who stay longer train the two man advanced forms in progression. It usually takes three to six months, at minimum, for each two man form, before moving onward. The longer the time spent training each skill the better. Time is the deciding factor on how much control you gain over your body and in boxing with others.
Those are old School rules. In my RDH teaching, I teach the student to stand and walk the Horse and immediately to start boxing. It is because the Root can only be understood by two person exchange.
Each person is different. A good teacher recognizes each person’s need.
Single Man forms are only functional when two man training is skillful. Otherwise, students beat the empty air without resistance or function. Single Form training, although essential, will not teach you root, feeling hand, and target practice. Single form training can only teach you the structure.
DALE: How can you train and inculcate the Warrior's Intention / Willpower?
RDH: A Warrior’s Spirit may be inherent - some say you are born with it or you are not. In Hakka Mantis boxing train it by not blinking when being struck in the eyes. Learn to take a blow and to issue blows with indifference and without fear.
Willpower is an exercise of discipline. Do what is uncomfortable until it becomes comfortable and you will develop willpower.
DALE: Have you ever trained in Shen Gong? If so, what is it and what does it really entail compared to all the Fairy Tales we are exposed to.
RDH: I don’t know what you were exposed to, but fantasy is more prevalent than fact, in Hakka Mantis today. It is only a genuine and good transmission of boxing and a long time of hard training that separates the reality from today’s fiction. People hear what they want to hear regardless of the facts, or the transmission. Much online today is far removed from tradition. Much online today is chop suey Mantis.
Not every Hakka Mantis Clan has a “Shen Gong” tradition of Spirit Power. Shen Gong is using one’s thoughts, words, and actions to control all else, by delving into the world of spirits, beyond the grave and beyond what can be seen with the naked eye.
I was invited but never trained Shen Gong. It is a tradition that in the last 100 years, has its deepest roots in Malaysia, Singapore, and East Asia. And in Lam Sang’s teaching in the USA.
Although Lam Sang taught this tradition, he said it would cause negative karma. He said he lost his left eye sight because he once promised never to teach non-Hakka Chinese our boxing. He did teach Cantonese Chinese folks, in New York, USA, and as a result he lost his left eye sight.
Louie Jack Man, my first Hakka Mantis teacher, was a double-ceremony student of Lam Sang. He made ceremony once for Mantis boxing and once for the Shen Gong spirit work. And all of Lam Sang’s personal disciples from three generations were initiated into this Shen Gong work. And most received a new name, after being initiated into that tradition.
Harry Sun Sibok, was another from Lam Sang's first generation disciples. He kept his Shen Gong tradition from Lam Sang very private. For many years we spoke of the tradition and he spoke openly.
It was Wong Baklim Sibok, Lam Sang’s first disciple, who was said to who have initially written Lam Sang’s Sun Toi, or Spirit Shrine, at Lam’s request.
Today in China, the Sun Toi is much the same as Lam Sang’s, in the USA. It relates to Malaysia, Singapore, East Asia, and there are extant temples there dedicated to the tradition of Som Dot, Gum Ying, and Maoshan Magic.
I always declined this aspect of Hakka Mantis culture. I am a simple man who just enjoys the hand to hand boxing tradition.
DALE: What concepts do you feel are overlooked by other SPM students/teachers? What are these concepts and how does one train them?
RDH: That is a three part question:
1) I have been friendly over decades with the standard-bearers of Hakka Mantis, in the USA, China, and Hong Kong. And continue to be. There isn’t one thing that everyone does right or wrong. Everyone usually does the best they can with what they have received, from their teacher. But, receiving is not refining the boxing. And Hakka Mantis has teaching you cannot conceive alone. The transmission is 150 years old, over six or seven generations now.
Lam Sang was once asked, “which of your disciples is correct, as they all appear to be somewhat different”?
His answer was, “they are all correct, they all learned the same teaching from me, but they all have their own mental, emotional, spiritual disposition, body size, and circumstances.”
However, generally the student will mirror the teacher. And the teacher will represent his “transmission”, the ‘what and the how’ of what he learned from his teacher. Contrary to today’s fiction, Hakka Mantis is only some 150 years old and today’s practitioners are only six or seven generations removed from the origin. This is easily seen in China and Hong Kong.
Boxing Masters, in China, were known to seek out many teachers and not limit themselves in study. Take Lam Sang as an example - he not only trained with his primary teacher but also with his teacher’s teacher. So to answer your first question, one overlooked factor today is not to limit oneself in learning or training, whether you are a student or a teacher.
Practically, that means don’t take anyone’s word for anything, even your teacher. We know that Lam Sang’s disciples, including Jesse Sibok, said to him, “if I can pass your hand why should I learn from you”? That is to say practitioners commonly overlook the big Hakka Mantis picture and just follow blindly whatever tradition they are doing.
The most overlooked Principle I see students and teachers today overlook is the concept of Hard Power. It is thought that strength alone, in Mantis, can overcome. If that were so, you could train weight-lifting alone, you wouldn’t need to train kungfu. If genuine kungfu is no use against hard strength then why train kungfu, just train to gain strength!
Strength and hard power, in Hakka Mantis, is overcome by Soft Power. There is a widespread lack of this Soft Power-Feeling Hand teaching today. It seems to be a lost part of the transmission.
Banging arms and force against force, crushing bridge, is not Feeling Hand. No Feeling hand equals no Chi Sao-Sticky Hands. This soft power is considered the highest skill in old style Hakka Mantis.
At first thought, those are two factors often overlooked today: Limiting oneself in learning, and not seeking out the higher skills.
Don’t hold your hands out and wait for someone to apply their skills. Be dynamic in combat. No one will wait for you to apply your techniques. This is also a common fault today.
2) So to answer your part two and three, of this question, at once, then I can say get back to the essence of Hakka Mantis Boxing: Immovable Rooted Horse, Feeling Hand, and Target Practice. This old tradition of Hakka Mantis is overlooked today. Don’t limit yourself in understanding and ability. Seek and prove.
DALE: How do you root? How do you train the root?
RDH: Rooting is a function of relaxation and breathing below the navel. You cannot be stiff with hard power, head to toe, and be able to root. You may fool yourself by training all Hard Power, but when you feel rooting there is no question. Without relaxation and breathing below the navel you cannot root. And without root it is difficult to develop a genuine feeling hand.
To train the root, the strength of a Mountain in the feet, pay attention to the following:
Raise the Warrior Spirit and
a) Relax, Sink (let the flesh hang off the bones), and deep breath with the lower abdomen
b) Make the sound “BING - BONG” when stepping - stomp your feet
c) Train the Dip Guat Gong Rib Cage Power Exercises (in the DVDs) pushing power into the ground
Stomping the feet heavily builds bone strength. Expanding and contracting the rib cage simultaneously with deep breathing and stomps adds power to the feet. The feet are the father of power.
You won’t know root while shadowboxing. It is only by crossing hands with another that you may feel rooting. But, you can see it in shadowboxing, if there, and you have kungfu eyes.
You must relax, contact, (raise the Warrior Spirit) be willing to take a blow, and engage the opponent with borrowing and turning force in order to eat and neutralize his power. Otherwise, you are like two buffaloes wrestling with force.
What need is kungfu if you only use strength? You must develop root, feeling, and the three hands of the arm with slight angles and deflections to overcome the stronger.
There is a step by step transmission. It only needs constant training and the genuine transmission to achieve.
DALE: How do you Sink, Swallow, Float, and Spit?
RDH: This is called the “Four Word Secret” of Hakka Mantis. Other Hakka and Southern Styles speak of this, just as they do, “Ding bot Ding, Bot bu Bot” stance, etc.
Very simply this means: Sink and Swallow means defend. Float and Spit means to attack.
But each of these four functions can be seen in the various 18 Buddha Hand Skills. In breathing, inhale when defending, exhale when attacking. Catch the opponent between the two or when he is inhaling when attacking.
I’ve also outlined this in my book, “18 BUDDHA HANDS”.
DALE: What is / are the most fundamental skill(s) that all Mantis students should work on in the beginning?
RDH: Early on, all my teachers emphasized “BING-BONG” stomping the horse, rounding the back, elbows touching forward, and walking the various horse steps. This had one purpose - gain a root. Without a root there is no Feeling Hand. Without a Feeling Hand there will be little ability to apply Target Practice. You don’t need 36-72-108 vital points - the obvious targets if you have strength and skill are enough. In the beginning and the end, train Hakka Mantis for three reasons: self-defense, health, and promulgation of the Hakka Art and Culture.
DALE: How do you train the strength in Mantis? What are some of the old school methods for producing power?
RDH: In Hakka Mantis we speak of “Lik” natural strength and “Ging” refined strength. I’ve written about this on our various online sites and my books.
Simply said, Hakka Mantis should train “live power” not “dead power”. That is to say, one should train by various methods the 18 Hands. Strength is refined by two people in methods of offense and defense. And various methods of two man resistance. Hard Power is useless, you must learn to follow the opponent’s force.
The methods are numerous and varied and include hand and footwork. It short, develop "live power" by two person resistance using the Mantis Hands and methods.
DALE: How do you Sung / Relax?
RDH: Just do exactly how it sounds: Relax, relax, and completely relax. A first method is meditative progressive relaxation. Start at the feet and simply relax each joint up to the head. Incorporate breathing. Try all postures: lying, sitting, standing.
In Mantis Boxing, it comes back to warrior intent, understanding, and ability. You must be able to relax and root, feel, and strike with ability the opponent’s vital points. This is “sung” in boxing.
Train the breath to rise up the spine with inhalation and down the anterior of the body with exhalation. The body cannot achieve this without complete relaxation. The breath feels like a warm stream of water up and down, around the torso. This is not BS. It can be done, but is difficult today. It depends on the health of your body, at the time you begin. And it is a protracted practice.
DALE: After working on the foundational skills, what should a Mantis student work on for Taolu (Form)?
RDH: “Taolu” is form training. It could literally be any shape or form: a single posture or a complete routine of boxing. Let us first identify the foundational skills: Hakka Mantis Body Posture, Footwork, 18 Hand Skills, and Supplemental Skills, both in single man and two man practice.
“Taolu” or form training requires those foundational skills or else your forms will fail when crossing hands with an opponent or partner. Even if they are traditionally proper and standard-bearer forms.
Training single man forms and shadowboxing is to know one’s self. Sticky hand and two man training is to know others.
To work on “Taolu” Form training, you must learn the form by rote, by memory. And train it until it is unconscious, instinctual, in the memory of your muscles. Next you must breakdown the “Taolu” Form step by step with a partner to make it functional.
FORM TRAINING IS NOT FUNCTION. Form training is to develop intent, structure and body posture, and ingrain individual skills into your body’s muscle memory.
FUNCTION is not FORM training. Many FORMS today have FUNKY FUNCTION. The new Hakka Mantis forms are not directly functional.
You only need to make one movement to defend and one movement to attack. You should eliminate excess movements in function. This is why the TWO MAN ADVANCED TRAINING is head and shoulders above single man form training.
DALE: How do you train the breath? How should one breath in training versus application, if there is any difference?
RDH: There are three aspects of respiration: inhale, exhale, or hold the breath. There are a number of methods to train these.
In training form it is best to follow the natural method of breathing: Inhale and defend as the hands come in, exhale and attack as the hands go out. Avoid oxygen debt and keep the movement and the breath harmonized.
Some old style Hakka Mantis advocated training form while completely holding the breath - no inhaling or exhaling. Avoid this.
Exhale or hold the breath when striking the opponent. Attack the opponent when he is inhaling.
Xiao Zhou Tian, circulation of the breath up the back and down the front of the body is key to developing a deep rooted horse and posture.
DALE: How do you block in Mantis and strike with a Fung Ngan Kuen / Phoenix Eye Fist?
RDH: Blocking force against force should be avoided. Advanced Hakka Mantis seeks to feel the opponent and borrow his force using small angles and deflections. The saying is, “cheat his power.”
Make a solid Phoenix Eye fist buttressed by the thumb tightly placed on the middle finger. Attack with the middle knuckle of the index finger formed into a solid tight fist. Do not place your thumb on top of the index finger, as this provides no fist support and will cause injury to yourself.
One method to condition the Phoenix Eye Fist is take a Chinese wall calendar, about 2 inches thick and strike it daily 108 times with the Phoenix fist. Each day remove one sheet of the paper and continue striking the pad 108 times daily. Over 365 days the pad will thin to one sheet of paper and the Phoenix Fist will harden. However, such may cause aches and pains, in old age.
Questions by Eric Lewis
ERIC: How did you come up with the idea of the Mantis Correspondence Course?
RDH: Well, I had created the www.bambootemple.com site in 1997, and there were folks the world over who were seeking Hakka Mantis instruction. It started on VHS video tapes.
And also, by fate, Mike, Matt, and the other students had trained five or six years daily to become skillful, and I wanted to record their training. I’ll never forget too, Kerry Brooks, the videographer. He also trained skillfully and had a great sense of humor. Now he is happily married with children and a successful photography studio. I miss them all. Unfortunately, Matt Anderson who appears on the DVDs, passed this (2016) year at age 44. As well as Ken Terry, also in his 40s.
ERIC: Do your hands on, face to face students accept your correspondence students, as true students of yours? Are your correspondence students respected by your face to face students?
RDH: Ha! The DVD video program is exactly what one must train! Local students who have greeted the Correspondence students are sometimes less skilled than the correspondence students. It depends on the amount of effort and time one trains and Correspondence students sometimes exert themselves more than the locals. You do need a skilled hand to borrow to become advanced in Mantis boxing though.
ERIC: How many correspondence students would you estimate to have had through the years?
RDH: Well, if you count my published International magazines, my Tien Tao Chi Kung program, the Southern Mantis Press books, and the Hakka Mantis DVD program, then hundreds of thousands. The Tien Tao Chi Kung Program alone, in the mid-late 80s, reached 47 countries and tens of thousands of students!
My magazines distributed upwards of 80,000 copies some issues too, in 15 Countries. Of course, we didn’t sell that many per month. Today, I have had people study the Hakka Mantis DVDs from more than two dozen Countries. People train according to their interest and time. Some have come here to China to train with me and some plan to come next year also.
ERIC: What has been the most challenging aspect of starting the correspondence program? Maintaining it?
RDH: Starting was easy. We were all like-minded. It took a year or more, once or twice a week to film it all.
Well, I let the Correspondence Program fall in disrepair when I came back to China, in 2002. For several years I left it in the hands of a self-minded student.
It turns out he didn’t care about the program, the Correspondence students, or the transmission. When I recovered the Program, circa 2006, I sat on it a while before deciding what to do. Around 2012, I think, I put it on DVDs and released it for distribution on Amazon and our websites.
ERIC: If you had to pick one or two things that most students fall short in, what would that be? Would this be the reason some give up training, or wanting to advance in their learning?
RDH: Time. Time is the deciding factor whether anyone becomes a novice or a Sifu. Interest next. But interest also depends on how much time you have.
Root, feeling hand, target practice are the three principles of Hakka Mantis. Hakka Mantis is hard and soft. Soft trumps hard.
People can train anytime. It is never too old to move around - until you can’t.
ERIC: Was it difficult for you to be accepted by the older masters? Did they see you as a master also?
RDH: Ha! I think it was you some years ago said, "perhaps you, RDH, are the most knowledgeable and experienced Mantis man in the world"! Perhaps, that is true. For some 40 years now, I have had one sole purpose - Hakka Mantis. And I've spared no expense or experience and left no stone unturned. I've been there and done that wherever Hakka Mantis exists and in some places where it no longer exists! That is not braggadocio, that is a fact. Many today never gain anything more than what their teacher tells them. Don't limit yourself in understanding or ability.
Yes, in the 70s and 80s, in the USA, Hong Kong, and China, many Sifu wouldn’t open their door to a white ghost, black ghost, or a foreigner of any sort. But, just because you can beat them doesn't mean you should. The Hakka Mantis culture and Art is more important than knocking others down. You will never receive a teacher's transmission without showing respect. I have not only been treated equally but elevated in position. Having said that, I still abide by the maxim, "put yourself in the back, others will put you forward. Put yourself in the front, others will put you in the back."
Sincerity in your heart is the threshold to enter a teacher's door, but time is still the deciding factor. Once they have taught you all they know and they cannot pass your hand, their hope is you will pass the transmission on to others. A good teacher hopes his students will surpass him and not forget his name.
ERIC: Was there ever any dispute from the older masters regarding your mantis lineage?
RDH: No. I exerted the utmost. I sacrificed all else. It was my intention to become pedigreed in Hakka Mantis. I did so with sincerity. I did so by placing all others first. Ask them.
I am sixth generation, on all fronts, Kwongsai and Chu Gar Mantis. I say that humbly but without reservation. Others call me Sifu or Sigong. I'm addressed as Roger Sifu by the Hakka Mantis Sifu, in Hong Kong and China today. I don’t mind, but I don’t use those titles myself.
I never refer to myself as Sifu. I’ve never liked using the term ‘Master’ either. I haven’t found a 'Master' who embodies the word's meaning. And I’ve looked. I doubt anyone in the world has looked more than I, regarding Southern Mantis boxing. Who in the world is fully master of himself: his senses, thoughts, and emotions? Mastering a physical skill like boxing is the least of the qualities necessary. Wouldn’t you agree?
ERIC: All students bring their own individual strengths and weaknesses to any art, but what would you say is the strength and weakness of each branch of SPM?
RDH: One should not change or distort the facts for personal gain. There is no Chow Gar. Chow Gar is only Yip Sui’s second generation teaching of Lao Sui’s Huizhou - Huiyang Chu Gar. No Chow Gar exists in China, then or now.
Iron Ox and later his student’s Chung Gar Gao is said to be based on extreme force. Hard bridge. However, here in China, I’ve found Iron Ox to be as versatile as Chu Gar, including soft bridge, and detailed target practice with fists and individual finger strikes.
Chu Gar originally seems to have been as varied as the number of people practicing. I have experience with those before Lao Sui, Lao Sui’s first and second generation disciples, and my own Chu Gar teachers. It should be half hard, half soft power.
Kwongsai (Jook Lum) Mantis is divided into two: China and USA, although these two are intimately linked. The USA is from Lam Sang. Lam was from Pingshan Town, the home of China Kwongsai Mantis.
Lam’s Kwongsai Mantis includes elements not seen in other China Mantis, not in Kwongsai Mantis or Chu Gar. Particularly, the two man 108 and feeling hand. China’s Kwongsai Mantis leader, Wong Yuk Kong, stated he added the soft bridge to his art in the 60s.
All Hakka Mantis is based on root, feeling and borrowing force, striking the vital points. But today, few seem to practice this old way. Hard power - force against force is mistakenly taken for good Mantis today.
ERIC: Would you say that the strength in one branch compensates for the weakness in another?
RDH: Not really. I’ve boxed (crossed hands) with Ox, Chu, Kwongsai. Unless you have spent the time to acquire root, feeling, and targets then it is all the same. Function should rule form. Box like you train. Face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart. Mantis hand.
Don’t revert to kick boxing and sport boxing.
ERIC: Has there been to your knowledge anyone who tried to make “their own” system combining the three branches? Would this be a bad or a good idea? Why?
RDH: Well, it seems around the 2008 mark that “South Mantis” came out of the woodwork. Now there are many eclectic branches all claiming pedigree and doing their new thing.
Now you can find flying, black, circular, red, etc. Temple Mantis. All kinds of eclectic teachings today. This will lead to a degraded transmission, failure of the Hakka Mantis Art. Usually, the original doesn’t need addendums or changing, only continued daily training. This is one of the main principles of the Ancestral Shrine - "Chuan Miao Shou" - to keep the transmission of the art genuine and traditional.
Questions by Sean W. Robinson
SEAN: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions of Hakka Mantis that practitioners make today?
RDH: The first that comes to mind is ignoring the essence in favor of form training. Rooting is something almost forgotten in Mantis, but it is the first thing one should develop. Power in the feet is the source of power in the hands. A sinking posture not floating is correct.
Second is the misconception that Hard Power is high level skill. Hard Power is NOT high level skill. Hard Strength or Force, Crushing Bridge is just basic level skill, in any martial art. You must develop the ability to feel and borrow the opponent’s power using short angle and deflections, in the various Mantis hand skills.
Today you see nearly everyone is static. A teacher has a student strike once and hold out his hand while the teacher then applies a rapid succession of strikes, as if this is realistic. This kind of static play is a flaw. No one will stand still while you attack them. Genuine Hakka Mantis must be ‘dynamic’ and fluid based on the other’s move. No one will hold still in combat.
Third is the idea of ‘light-touch knockout’ or ‘dim mak’. What you mostly see today, in Mantis, is poppycock - complete nonsense that will lead the practitioner into a false sense of security and danger. The idea that you can slap or touch someone lightly and knock them out will get you seriously injured or worse during real combat. Imagine a soldier going to war with such an idea!
Ha! Like the late boxer, Joe Lewis, said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. These 3 are the essence of Hakka Mantis and should be thoroughly understood: Root, Feeling Hand, Target Practice.
SEAN: Why does Lam Sang, USA Kwongsai Mantis, still have such a stellar reputation today?
RDH: Lam Sang avoided fame, disregarded money, and came from the last generation of old Masters, in China. After the 1940s, Chinese martial arts became “wu shu” oriented instead of “wu gong”. Most of Lam’s disciples followed his example and still do today. You have never even heard of, much less seen, the majority of them. Those disciples who remain mostly follow Lam’s example and remain very private. This adds mystery to the man’s reputation.
Moreover, Lam Sang had a transmission of two man Hakka Mantis form training that cannot be found anywhere else today, even in Hong Kong or China.
SEAN: How do you view the eclectic nature of some of the Hakka Mantis practiced today?
RDH: Ha! Today, you can find purple, black, red, pink Mantis and more! Sometimes it doesn’t even resemble genuine Hakka Mantis. People have created these new fangled names and eclectic styles because they don’t have enough genuine Hakka Mantis to teach or because they want to create a big (ego) name for themselves, as founder of a new kind of Hakka Mantis! Sometimes they cannot be a senior disciple of their teacher and so they break away and create their own eclectic name and style.
That is like those Mantis schools who require you to train Hung Gar, or another style, for the first year before training Mantis - because they don’t have enough Mantis to teach! Why not go to a Hung Gar (or other) school and train Hakka Mantis the first year and then go back to the Mantis School?
Mixing other styles with Hakka Mantis, for whatever purpose, will lead to Chop Suey Mantis.
A genuine teaching of Hakka Mantis doesn’t need to be renamed, changed, or mixed with other styles, it just needs to be trained constantly. The further downstream from the source you drink, the murkier and muddier the water and the more polluted the taste. This is why the essence of Hakka Mantis is almost lost today.
SEAN: Why is breathing important in rooting?
RDH: You may abstain from food and water for a few weeks, but without breathing in just a few minutes you cease to exist. Breathing is the link between the mind and the body. The easiest refinement is the body posture. The breath is harder to still and control. But the mind (thoughts) are the most difficult to control. Thoughts flitter and float like clouds on the wind. You must tether the thoughts by controlling the breath.
In rooting, breathing controls both body and mind. One should assume a correct posture, relax fully and let the flesh hang off the bones, controlled by the warrior spirit. Raise the breath up the spine and down the front of the body with inhale and exhalation.
The importance of breathing in rooting is to train the body to completely relax while cultivating the vital energy found in the breath. It can be done and the breath feels like a warm current of water circulating throughout. A hard and stiff Mantis player cannot root and will always be controlled by a rooted, softer feeling hand.
SEAN: What is meant by segmented power?
RDH: If a player uses Hard Force and his whole body is stiff from head to toe, then he can be easily toppled. If you deflect his hands his feet must also move, because his whole body is tense. If you move his wrist, elbow, or shoulder then his ankles, knees, and hips must also move. And so with a little force you can move his whole body.
Segmented power is just the opposite. Segmented power means, from a strong rooted horse, each joint of the body can dissolve, neutralize, borrow or ‘eat’ the opponent’s incoming force independently of all the others.
Using segmented power, if you press the wrist, then the elbow alone turns and dissolves the force. If you press the elbow, then the shoulder dissolves the force. If you press the shoulder, then the waist dissolves the force. In other words, the whole body is lively and pliable instead of hard and stiff.
The mantis arm is composed of three “hands”: from the shoulder to the elbow, from the elbow to the wrist and from the wrist to the fingertips. A good mantis will use his “second hand” to control by pressing the forearm into the centerline of his opponent, at the same time striking a vital area with his “first” hand or fingers.
Hard and tense is dead power. Soft and pliable is live power. Segmented power comes from being soft and pliable, in all the joints of the body.
SEAN: What are the most important principles or qualities trained when practicing the Som Bo Gin form?
RDH: Written in Chinese as “Three Steps Forward, Three Steps Scissors, or Three Step Arrow”, Som Bo Gin shadowboxing is form training.
Form training is to mold your shape into the Mantis footwork and body posture and teach you spring power. Forms do not always translate into application. Some Form training is simply to mold your shape into the Mantis frame.
The important points one trains in Som Bo Gin shadowboxing are:
a) Body Posture, Stepping, moving with Whole Body Power
b) Principles of Float, Sink, Swallow, Spit
c) Some Som Bo Gin forms teach additional basic hand skills with “Ging” spring force
There are three variations of Som Bo Gin shadowboxing: Chu Gar, China Kwongsai, and USA Kwongsai Mantis from basic to advanced.
SEAN: What is the best way to make a successful transition from form to function?
RDH: It is best to train function first, then any form you train will be useful. If you only train form then you may never be able to use your Mantis.
That is because basics - fundamentals are the most important. Forms are just linked postures of the basic individual skills. First train the two man fundamental skills then you will understand the meaning of your forms.
There are many two man fundamental, intermediate Chi Sao, and advanced two man forms that will teach you function. Shadowboxing is primarily to teach you posture, stepping, and ging. Training your forms alone, without a lively, resistant opponent, cannot teach you the essence of Hakka Mantis: rooting, feeling hand, and target practice. Hakka Mantis is not a martial dance but a method of fisticuffs. It is pugilism - boxing between two or more people.
SEAN: How can Wing Chun and Mantis be compared?
RDH: They both originated and developed, in the same proximal locations. They are both Southern boxing styles. They both use some of the same terms to describe techniques.
They differ greatly in body posture and stepping even though one can certainly similarities in these too.
Some Wing Chun sits to the rear leg while Hakka Mantis always has forward driving momentum. The Mantis hooking hands are not readily seen in Wing Chun. And the flat fist is usually employed in Wing Chun compared to the Mantis Phoenix Eye knuckle.
SEAN: What is the difference between a Chong (Zhuang) and Chi Sao?
RDH: Commonly seen as “Chong” the actual word is ‘Zhuang’ in common language and simply means a wooden stake. The most prevalent use is “Muk Chong” or wooden stake, usually called a ‘dummy’.
In Hakka Mantis, it is often said any training exercise is a “Chong”. In Kwongsai Mantis and in Chu Gar we have single arm and double arm “Chongs”.
In China Kwongsai Mantis, the first single man form is “Dan Zhuang” or single stake. It is a single arm form. The second form is “Shuang Zhuang” or double stakes. It is a double arm form.
Chi Sao is just another Chong, another practice in Hakka Mantis, although it is rare to find anyone with an understanding or ability of Hakka Mantis Chi Sao.
Think of “Chong” as any practice that offers you resistance. Even single man shadowboxing.