|Master Mark and Jook Lum Praying Mantis|
|Saturday, 10 March 2007|
Written by Martin Eisen
Gin Foon Mark is the fifth generation master of the Kwong Sai Jook Lum Praying Mantis system. Master Mark was born in Toyson, a village near Canton, China in 1927. He comes from a family of four generations of high ranking, Kung Fu experts. His instruction in Kung Fu began at the age of five, under the supervision of his uncles and grandfather. He is one of the few people alive today who has directly experienced Kung Fu as it was taught in the monasteries when they were still fountains of knowledge. At the age of nine he was admitted to the Shaolin Temple at Chun San and studied with the monk Moot Ki Fut Sai as well as other outstanding Masters. He received instruction in Si Lum, White Crane, Eagle, Leopard, Tiger and various internal Kung Fu systems.
In these temples, Master Mark studied:
During World War 11 Master Mark was a bodyguard for his uncle, who was a general in the Chinese army. He was already a Kung Fu expert; no one would suspect that a 15 year old had such devastating skills.
Sifu Mark's teaching career began in 1947 when the trade associations of Chinatown, New York, sent for him to instruct their younger members. In New York, Master Mark met Sifu Lum Wing Fai, the fourth generation Master of Kwong Sai Jook Lum Praying Mantis. Master Mark continued his study of Praying Mantis with Lum for nearly 10 years.
Why did Master Mark give up the other forms of Kung Fu to concentrate on Praying Mantis? He thought that it contained most of the techniques of other styles; one could theoretically improve forever, since this style was not based on muscular strength and fast reflexes. Moreover, it was one of the deadliest forms of self defense that Master Mark had run across. Incidently, this is why Bruce Lee was attracted to this system. One reason for its effectiveness was that it was invented for fighting by a puny monk to defend himself against a bullying, gigantic Kung Fu expert, as the following brief history indicates.
This Praying Mantis (Tang Lang Pai) system is about one hundred and eighty years old. it was created by Sam Dart, a monk of the Jook Lum (Bamboo Forest) Buddhist Monastery in the province of Kwong Sai, China. Sam Dart was so small and frail-looking that the monks didn't allow him to practice Kung Fu. He was given all of the dirty tasks. One of his chief duties was to carry water from the river to the monastery. If he became tired and rested, the abbot's chief assistant hollered at him and frequently beat and kicked him. Sam Dart endured this abuse because his tormenter was a huge, powerful white eyebrow style Kung Fu expert.
One day Sam Dart was sitting outside the monastery. He saw a praying mantis battling a huge bird at least ten times its size. The bird retreated and finally flew away. Sam thought that if the small insect could vanquish the large bird, perhaps he could defeat his gigantic tormenter. He captured some praying mantises and studied their fighting methods. Sam copied the insect's fighting techniques and combined them with the inner power training methods he had learned from his former teacher. This Sifu was a hermit called Hai Shem, who lived on Wor Meh Mountain. Hai Shem was a very deep and mysterious person with great internal power. It is not known whether he knew any Kung Fu.
After Sam had been studying for about four years, the abbot left to visit another monastery. When he returned he saw that his assistant was bandaged and limping. He asked the White Eyebrow what had happened. The White Eyebrow explained that he had an accident. The other monks feared the White Eyebrow and didn't contradict him. Finally, Sam Dart said that he would tell the truth. He had fought and trounced the White Eyebrow. He was very sorry for what he had done but he couldn't restrain himself - a beaten dog eventually turns on his tormenter. The abbot commanded, "Don't do it again," and struck Sam lightly on the head three times. He repeated the warning and once again lightly tapped Sam's head three times.
Sam reasoned that since the blows were so light that they were not meant as a punishment, but as a code. Perhaps the abbot wanted to meet him outside the monastery at 3 A.M.. That night Sam went outside the monastery's walls at 3 A.M.. The abbot was already there. The abbot thought that Sam Dart was clever not only because he figured out the code, but also invented an outstanding system. He decided to help Sam. The abbot saw some weaknesses in the system and pointed them out. They continued to meet and further develop the system.
Today it might seem strange that many monks who lived and worked in monasteries practiced some form of martial art (Kung Fu). There were two reasons for this tradition. Long hours of meditation and religious practices weakened the body and exhausted the mind. The monks realized that Kung Fu is a good discipline for both the body and the mind, being conducive to good health and relaxation. Moreover, Kung Fu provided an excellent defence against robbers who occasionally tried to plunder monasteries.
Each major monastery had its own style of Kung Fu. Naturally, rivalries developed among the many styles, so exhibitions and tournaments were held periodically. A council composed of the elders of the various monasteries presided over these gatherings. It was not unusual that a contestant suffered fatal injuries. Under such stiff competition the less effective systems were gradually eliminated; the better ones survived and propagated.
At that point in history, most of the major classical Kung Fu systems were well-developed. The abbot instructed Sam Dart in many practical techniques from other systems. That is why the Praying Mantis system contains many techniques from other systems. Sam was interested in creating an extremely effective and deadly fighting system to use in tournaments between monasteries.
Sam Dart taught his system to Lee Siem, a fellow monk of unusual intelligence and physical stamina. Under Sam Dart's skillful instruction, Lee mastered the intricate and subtle techniques of the system. Lee Siem won the King Fu championship in 1850. After that he never participated in a fight to the death and became a high priest.
For centuries martial arts were taught mainly within the monasteries. Near the end of the Ching dynasty many changes in customs occurred. Chung Yu Chang was one of the first laymen to learn the Praying Mantis system from Abbot Lee Siem at the Jook Lum Temple. Master Chang passed the system on to Lum Wing Fay, Master Mark's teacher. Since none of the teachers died before passing on the whole system, this is one of the few systems that has survived intact.
This system is alive today largely through the efforts of Master Mark alone. None of the other disciples of Master Lum taught Praying Mantis openly. In fact, in the 1940's Kung Fu was reserved for the Chinese. Master Mark believed that all people were the same and taught all interested students of good character. He was one of the first Chinese Kung Fu teachers to open his Kwoon to the general public. He also gave many demonstrations in Madison Square Gardens during Karate tournaments. His students participated in the first Karate versus Kung Fu competitions held in California.
Promoting Praying Mantis in those days was not easy. Master Mark was challenged many times by Chinese Kung Fu practitioners. They thought he was too young to be a Sifu. Many Karateka's also challenged him because they had never seen Kung Fu and doubted its effectiveness. Master Mark soon gained the reputation of a formidable fighter in the 1950s. At that time Bruce Lee was visiting his father, who was an actor and appearing in a Chinese theater in New York. An acquaintance of the actor brought Bruce Lee to Master Mark's school to study there. Bruce Lee was so impressed with Master Mark's skill and knowledge that he wanted Master Mark to move to California in order to continue his studies and use Master Mark as a technical adviser for his films. However, Master Mark could not leave New York at that time because of family obligations.
In 1968, Master Lum Wing Fay closed his hands (retired). He encouraged his five disciples to carry on the traditions of the system and appointed Mark to be the fifth generation Master. To honor and formalize this event, a huge banquet was held at the Atlantic Ocean restaurant in New York. The retirement of Master Lum and the inauguration of Master Mark was witnessed by over 200 prominent members of Chinese Associations. To commemorate this event a photo of the 5 disciples was taken with Master Lum. Sifu Mark received Grandmaster Lum's Spri (altar) with its cups, bowls, fans, stamps and other artifacts from the Temple. Shortly after his retirement, Master Lum moved to Taipai, Taiwan.
During the next 23 years, Master Mark and Grandmaster Lum actively corresponded. Lum continually encouraged Mark and revealed new facets of the system. During this same time, according to tradition, Master Mark and the four other inner disciples helped to support their Sifu with monthly donations.
Since Master Mark was one of best known Kung Fu teachers in those days, he was selected to appear on the popular television program "You Asked For It". The producers provided Master Mark and his family with an all expenses paid trip to Taiwan for a surprise visit with Grandmaster Lum. After more than 12 years of separation, the reunion in the temple between Mark and his old Sifu was very emotional. The producers filmed and televised these Masters practicing their art together once again.
In 1970, Master Mark was invited to visit Minneapolis, Minnesota by a number of martial artists. He liked the area so much that he settled there in 1971 and opened a Kung Fu school. However, just as before, Sifu Mark's primary source of income came from the restaurant business, since he is also a master chef. Minnesota considered him to be a noteworthy historical figure and elected him to the Living History Museum. In 1979 a biographical film was produced and archived.
Master Mark was selected by the Physical Education Department at Temple University to appear in their World Masters' Symposium, held in Philadelphia in 1982.
Sifu Lum taught Master Mark the following formulas of the system: 3-step arrows, Um Han, Um Moy Fat, the 18, 36, 72 and 108 point formulas. He also taught Mark classical Chinese weapons, such as the butterfly knives, the staff, the 3-section staffs, the kwando, the trident and swords. However, most importantly he transmitted the secret fighting strategies and inner power (Chi Kung) exercises to him. Mark also learned Lum's methods of treating injuries along with the secret herbal formulas. Some of these formulas will increase the flow of Chi to certain areas of the body and strengthen these parts, for example, the bones. Thus, it is not necessary to toughen the hands by hitting hard objects like in external styles. In addition to the healing aspects of the art, Master Lum taught Mark the deadly art of striking acupuncture points, Dim Mak, and gave him the chart of the secret acupoints.
Master Mark learned that a theoretical knowledge of Dim Mak is not enough to apply it successfully in actual combat. The fighting system must have certain characteristics imposed by the requirements that the acupuncture point must be struck accurately and with sufficient force. The difficulty is that the target is small, moving, not rigid and often protected. For example, suppose the acupuncture point is located on the arm. If you lunge at the arm from a long distance, the arm will have moved slightly. Even if you hit the target, the arm will be moved by the force of the punch and so the strike's power will be reduced.
Insight into an effective technique for the application of Dim Mak can be obtained by considering the analogy of pushing an elevator button. Most people keep their hand close to the button and push it with one finger, instead of their whole hand. Thus, for accuracy, the ability to strike forcefully from a short distance (short power) must be developed. Furthermore, the striking surface must be small, like the second joint of the index finger of a phoenix-eye fist used in Praying Mantis. To compensate for the loss of external power of a blow, due to the give in the target, the ability to inject Chi must be developed. Finally, since the opponent is trying to block your punch, you must be able to spin around his block and perhaps attack another acupuncture point. This ability depends on feeling rather than eyesight. All of these abilities are found in the Praying Mantis System, since it was especially developed for Dim Mak.
All of the formulas that Master Mark learned from Lum and in the Jook Lum Temple were one-person formulas. From seeing many famous Masters fight and from his own fighting experience, Sifu Mark realized that the formulas alone were not sufficient for self defense. Real fighting is continuous, you attack, your opponent counters, you counter his counter and so on. You must not only learn distancing and timing, but feeling as well so that you can turn your opponent's strength and aggression against him. You must also learn how to handle different sized opponents, varied attacks, etc. Thus, in order to clearly understand how to use the techniques in a formula, Master Mark devised realistic and practical two-person fighting versions of each formula. In addition, he invented many new two-person formulas depending on the level of skill of the students, like loose hands. He also designed many new sticky hands formulas like Toyshu, Saishu Patterns, 5-Star, etc. These are outstanding contributions to the evolution and fighting prowess of Jook Lum Praying Mantis.
The Praying Mantis System is very subtle. Powerfull and practical techniques are hidden in the relaxed, circular movements of a practitioners hands and feet. It is difficult to explain these techniques until they are practiced and experienced. However, the following features of the system distinguish it from other systems.
1. Praying Mantis is an internal system. It concentrates on developing internal power rather than external muscle strength.
The world headquarters for Kwong Sai Jook Lum Praying Mantis Kung Fu is in Maplewood Minnesota, a suburb of St. Paul. Here Master Mark teaches the self defense part of the system, which includes all possible types of armed and unarmed attacks. Since Praying Mantis is not a sport all possible ranges of fighting are taught, for example, close quarters and Chin Na. All classical Chinese weapons are taught. Chinese painting and lion dancing are also taught. In addition Sifu Mark emphasizes the health aspects of the system and has special classes oriented solely to health, for example, the Six Healing Sounds' class. Master Mark's Six Healing Sounds teacher was simply known as "Old Master" in China. Even when around 100 years old, he was in good physical condition and appeared half his age. He had a government job and travelled from province to province teaching Chi Kung until his death at around 105. He cured many diseased people with Chi Kung. Master Mark also teaches an internal version of the Iron Palm, called the Cotton Palm, which he learned in the Hoi Jung Temple. This version is much safer to learn than the regular Iron Palm, which can have many adverse effects on a practitioner's health.
Master Mark's training partner, Ho Dun, died in September, 1991. Grandmaster Lum died in November, 1991. Documents recording the funeral of Grandmaster Lum indicate that only the living disciples, Lee Boa, Chuck Chin, Eng Shew and Gin Foon Mark contributed towards the burial of their Sifu.
This leaves only 5th generation Master Mark as the ultimate authority on the Jook Lum System. Fortunately, in this modern age there is still a complete system and a living Master. To preserve this system requires dedicated students who realize that Kung Fu is a lifetime study and are willing to search for genuine teachers.
Unfortunately, it is not easy for neophytes to find genuine teachers. History shows that in some martial arts, after the Master had died, students who were not inner disciples, and did not learn the whole system, claim to be Masters. The same thing is happening in Kwong Sai Jook lum Praying Mantis. People, who were not inner disciples of Master Lum or even his student but taught by Master Mark or his students, claim to be Masters. They hoodwink the public by forming benevolent societies or with flowery dedications to Master Lum. Some offer a picture taken with Master Lum as proof. Any experienced martial artist can see that some of the so-called self defense photos are unrealistic and are just poses and clowning for the camera. There are also Sifus and their students who didn't have the patience to learn the whole system or even to correctly learn the small part of the system that they pretend to teach. These pretenders expose themselves by their ludicrous movements which do not resemble the movementsof Masters Mark or Lum. Fortunately, a prospective student can draw his own conclusions by seeing Master Mark in person, videotapes of Masters Mark and Lum, or Master Mark's web site.
Adequate self defense skills can be learned in a few years, much easier than in many other systems. The reason is that in this style of Praying Mantis the techniques are applied exactly the way they are practiced. One can learn how to improve one's health in about 6 months by learning the rudiments of the Six Healing Sounds.
At 73, fifth generation Master Mark's skill is still improving. His inner power is very effective in warding off the attacks of any sized opponent.