By Homer Gee Greene Jr.
As gardeners, we design and landscape our gardens. Our goal is to create an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere for our enjoyment and for the enjoyment of others. In doing so, we become artists and we become martial artists as we seasonally defend our gardens from weeds, insects and the weather. Let me now share with you an old martial arts tale that might help you in the yearly defense of your garden.
In certain sectors of human conceptual existence, there are those who are thankful for the yearly emergence of the cicada or the 17-year locust. If it were not for an unlucky cicada and a frustrated Chinese monk, the Praying Mantis Wu Shu (Kung Fu) System would not have been created.
Historically, according to legend, this system had its beginning in the Shaolin Temple in the northern province of Honan by Master Wong Long. The system grew out of Wong Long’s desire to compete more effectively with his classmate at the Shaolin Temple where he was a practitioner.
The abbot of the temple spoke to Wong Long and told him that he needed much work and that he (the abbot) would return to the temple after a three-year tour of other monasteries. By that time, the abbot would expect Wong Long to have progressed considerably.
One day, as Wong Long was sitting in the temple’s garden, he noticed a praying mantis fighting with a cicada and that the praying mantis was using his front arms, lashing out and bringing them back quickly, which seemed to be quite effective.
After studying the praying mantis thoroughly, translating the movements into human actions, and adding the footwork of the monkey, Wong Long invented the basics for what is now known as the Praying Mantis Style of Wu Shu. Incidentally, many of the other Shaolin Wu Shu systems of today were likewise first envisioned by watching the movements of animals in combat.
When the abbot returned, he tested Wong Long. The latter proceeded to throw his senior every time.
The practitioners of the temple then perfected the method and then offered it only to the most advanced students. Consequently, the Praying Mantis System soon rose to a distinctive position in the array of skills taught and practiced by the monks.
Master Wong Long was already a capable master before he invented the Praying Mantis System. He also combined the essences of 17 other Chinese martial art systems and grouped them into the Praying Mantis System. The 17 systems are comparable to the 17-year life cycle of the cicada in number and are representative of an evolutionary synthesis of previous traditional Chinese martial art systems: Tai Chi Chuan, Snake, Dragon, Leopard, Tiger, Crane, Eagle and others.
So respected was this system of Wu Shu in the Shaolin Temple that it had its own section in the temple called the Praying Mantis Section. This section was so advanced that both the monks and the other practitioners had to study in another section first, step by step, until they were qualified to enter the Praying Mantis Section.
As a result of Master Wong Long’s drive for perfection of his Wu Shu skills at the Shaolin Temple, the arrival of an unfortunate cicada, his observation of a fighting praying mantis and his transforming those movements into human combative techniques, the Wu Shu System of Praying Mantis was invented.
These two insects also represent a beneficial dialectic for gardeners. The praying mantis is a natural pest control for gardeners, although the praying mantis views the cicada as food for nourishment.
The cicada burrows into the soil at its larval stage and stays there for 17 years ameliorating the soil, bringing oxygen and nutrients to the roots of our landscaping, then borrows back to the surface to procreate.
As gardeners, we must remember that both of these insects are beneficial to our gardens: The praying mantis protecting our gardens from cicadas above ground and the cicada helping to enrich our gardens underground.
As you work toward perfection in your own garden and you see a cicada or a praying mantis, and, if you are fortunate enough to see them fighting, reflect upon the above historical story and your own seasonal battle with your garden and the techniques that you have developed to combat your adversaries.
Homer Gee Greene Jr. is a freelance writer and a ninth-generation practitioner of Seven Star Praying Mantis Wu Shu (kung fu).