The Taiji Praying Mantis Wooden Dummy Training

By Robert Hui

Last updated April 15, 2002



Background Story to the Taiji Praying Mantis (TJPM) Wooden Dummy Form

Dynamics of TJPM and the Wooden Dummy training

Anatomy of the Wooden Dummy

Cross Training With the Wooden Dummy

Fundamentals of the Training

Power Generation

Beyond Training

Appendix: The TJPM Wooden Dummy Book


The Taiji Praying Mantis Wooden Dummy Training


Out of all the Shaolin attribute development tools, only two have achieved legendary status - the Plum Flower Poles and the Wooden Dummy.

 Plum flower poles are stumps that are planned on the ground in the formation of the five plum blossom pedals. A simple version can be set up with only five poles; whereas, an elaborate version can be built with hundreds of poles. Enormous space is needed for the practice of the plum flower poles, which objective is to enhance the balance, footwork, agility, etc. Due to the space limitation, the plum flower poles as a training tool are becoming less and less viable.

 Wooden dummy is a contraption that is made of wood and has slots for placing wooden arms and legs. It is primitive robotic technology used to train martial arts. In certain designs, there would be different attachments such as sand bags. A martial artist can practice techniques on it as though he or she is facing a real opponent. The benefit of using wooden dummy is that techniques that are considered dangerous even lethal can be practiced without the fear of miming practice partner.

            According to legend, there were 108 wooden dummies in the Fujian Shaolin temple. These wooden dummies have different designs to enhance the martial prowess of the warrior monks. During the early Qing dynasty, Japanese pirates invaded the coastal regions of China. The Shaolin monks volunteered to help the Qing army in a military campaign, which successfully defeated the pirates. The ability of the monks was evidently so great that they posed a military threat to the Manchurians ruling class, which lobbied the Qing emperor to destroy the temple. The temple was promptly destroyed.  The destruction of Fujian Shaolin temple prompted the wooden dummy training to spread throughout southern China as the Shaolin monks took their training with them as they ironically seek refuge in the secular world.

Many of the wooden dummy designs didnít survived. It is believed that the Abbot Gi Chin was traveling with the Cantonese opera known as the Red Boats in order to avoid capture. He passed down one of the wooden dummy designs to the Wing Chun style (Forever Spring). In order to adapt to the limited available space on the boats, the dummy design became wall mounted instead of planted into the ground. The wooden dummy training was able to continue even through the toughest time in this fashion. The wall-mounted suspension was an ingenious space saving measure, which is also perfect for installing the dummy in modern apartment buildings. The Taiji Praying Mantis Wooden Dummy form, which is one of the many legacies of the late Taiji Praying Mantis Grandmaster Chiu Chuk Kai (CE 1900 - 1991), is also perform on a Wooden Dummy with the wall mounted suspension.

Background Story to the Taiji Praying Mantis (TJPM) Wooden Dummy Form

Wooden dummy was not found in the greater Praying Mantis Kung Fu community. It was solely Grandmaster Chiuís innovation to bring in the Wooden Dummy as an attribute cross training tool for his lineage.

Grandmaster Chiu was born in Yi County, Shandong province, China. The Abbot of a Buddhist Temple in the near mountain took him in as a young disciple when he was about 8 years old. There were 2 monks, who taught him Taizu Men (Grand Emperor division), which is a famous northern style martial art. He practiced random techniques with a rudimentary wooden dummy during his training. These techniques were not strung together in a set routine. This period of training that lasted about 10 years left a profound impression on Grandmaster Chiu. After the monk teachers passed away, he returned to his hometown and then move to Yantai County where he furthered his martial arts training with 2 Taiji Praying Mantis masters.  Grandmaster Chiu became proficient in both Taizu Men and Taiji Praying Mantis Kung Fu.

In early 1940s, he relocated to Macao, where he joined a brotherhood with 12 other people in a special ceremony. One of his 12 sworn brothers was Sifu Chu Chun Man, who was a Wing Chun (Forever Spring) style master. It is believed that Abbot Gi Chin used to teach a fluid, agile and short ranged style called the Hwaquan (flower fist) at the Forever Spring Hall in the Fujian Shaolin temple; hence, the name Wing Chun to commemorate the teaching.  Sifu Chu was teaching this style at his Kwoon (training hall), which also had a Wooden Dummy. Having the opportunity to exchange martial knowledge with Sifu Chu, Grandmaster Chiu combined the Taizu Men and Taiji Praying Mantis Techniques to create the TJPM Wooden Dummy form that was inspired by his sworn brotherís Kung Fu. The form consists of 108 moves, which signifies cosmic balance in Chinese Buddhism as well as the history connection to the Shaolin tradition. Grandmaster Chiu named the form ďShaolin Buddhist Wooden Dummy formĒ to commemorate his first masters, who were Buddhist monks. Through the Wing Chun inspiration, TJPM stylists now enjoy this unique legacy of a Grandmaster.

Dynamics of TJPM and the Wooden Dummy training

The wooden dummy form reflects Grandmaster Chiuís view that Kung Fu should be practiced on opponent. Training with a live partner would be the best; yet using wooden dummy would be an ideal substitute for Kung Fu to remain realistic and practical. He created not a solo open hand form but a form that maintains contact and impact with an object as partner. It is technically a partnered form. This form also shed light on the depth of his understanding of long fist (forms) teaching format. In Mantis Kung Fu, open hand forms techniques can be drilled with a series of drills known as Ying Ching Pao Sao (Ying Chingís countering techniques) besides each solo form has it own partnered form. These mechanisms are essential to long Fist teaching format to ensure no tempering of the formsí structures and/or techniques. Integrity of forms is absolutely vital to the integrity of a Kung Fu system. A stylist can divide the moves in the form into small sequences of drills to test the fluidity of the flow. Since Taizu Men techniques are major component of the form. Individual moves can be extracted from the form and practice with the short strikes method of Taizu Men otherwise known as Taizu Duanda. The 108 moves long Wooden Dummy Form was created as a summary of Grandmaster Chiu knowledge of both Taizu Men and Taiji Tanglangquan (TJPM). Techniques from both systems are intellectually recognizable. Furthermore this form is considered an advanced level material. One of the requirements of becoming an instructor of Grandmaster Chiuís TJPM lineage is to learn this form at which point physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the art are fully disclosed. This great intellectual property of Grandmaster Chiu, who truly was a Grandmaster of Praying Mantis Kung Fu not just in his fighting ability but also his deep understanding of transmitting his Kung Fu, left behind a precious legacy. Praying Mantis stylists now enjoy a unique opportunity to further their attributes development with the legendary tool of the Shaolin tradition.

Anatomy of the Wooden Dummy

The traditional Wing Chun dummy is made from the finest solid oak. The length is 54". The avg. trunk diameter is 9". The avg. weight is 110 lbs. The arms are 12" long with a 1-3/8" shank. The two upper arms are offset and beveled inside to prevent contact. The armholes are 1-1/2" square. The leg hole is 2"x 2" square. The standard leg for all dummies is 2-3/8" round 12-gauge steel with a 65 degrees bend from the horizontal plane. Natural legs are available. Each dummy bole is debarked, turned round, kiln dried, filled, sanded smooth, and sealed with three coats of high-grade gloss sealer. The stands are constructed from Western Red Cedar 4 x 4's. The portable stand is 4-ft. deep, 5 ft. wide and almost 6 ft. tall. There is a full 180 degrees working radius in front, including kicking range. The dummies can be adjusted to three different heights on both the permanent stand and the portable stand.


TJPM uses similar design with couple different requirements. The guard, which is the distance between the two upper arms, is wider than the Wing Chun dummy. The guard is open at about 40 - 45 degrees on the horizontal plane in TJPM dummy design. This is for ensuring better practice of the footwork and body method in TJPM. The leg is with a 90 degrees bend instead of the 65 degrees. The right angle bend of the leg allows training for takedown moves that are essential combat skill in praying mantis kung fu.  


The wood dummy installed in the HK School.

Note the metal suspension leave springs that are inserted into the walls and the metal lower leg.

Cross Training With the Wooden Dummy

Attribute Cross Training (ACT) means that a stylist may not necessarily take up an entire different discipline but may adopt certain training methodology of another discipline, i.e. Taiji push hand drills and Wing Chun sticky hand drills are popular ACT tools for a lot of Chinese martial arts (CMA). The goal is to enhance a particular attribute such as speed (economy of motions), sensitivities, etc. This is the middle road, where a compromise of the styles Vs stylists argument can be found. ACT is common to a lot of the established styles in CMA today. Styles in ACT maintain integrity, yet the drills might be modified to suit the stylesí need. The style and range specificities of the martial art system in general remain in ACT. That is the reason that ACT is favor by most traditional styles.

Wooden Dummy is ideal ACT equipment for the long-range oriented Praying Mantis Kung Fu (mantis for short) to sharpen close quarter combat capabilities. The significant body weapons in Mantis, known as Ba Duan (8 Shorts, i.e. shoulder, elbow, etc.), can be thoroughly trained with the dummy. Not to mention the form is designed with enhancing the economy of motion of the mantis stylist in mind. This is done with the help of constantly negotiating the gates (sides) of the wooden dummy and striking at odd angles.  

Fundamentals of the Training

Praying mantis system has worked the complicated affair of fighting into a science. The paramount attribute of a mantis stylist is speed. To achieve great speed through the economy of motion is the prime objective of praying mantis kung fu. From Taiji Praying Mantis perspective, motion came from five faculties of action, which are like the five petals of the plum flower. They are identified as:

Heart (mental faculty)




Feet  (footwork)

They work together like the 5 Elements (water, wood, fire, earth and metal). Wooden dummy is a great tool used in conjunction with other methods to maximize them in combat situation. To develop speed (quickness of timing) out of these five faculties, we have to understand that action can be broken down into 5 phases:

Perceiving phase,

Mental processing phase,

Physical initiation phase,

Performance phase,

Alteration phase (or returning phase)

Perceptual, Mental, Initial, Performance, and Alteration phases are most of the time progress in that order. Furthermore, they are the variables that we can gain control through practice.

 For example, better mental focus or quickness of the heart will shorten the perceptual and mental timing. That shortens the other three physical timing to a large degree. Speed is often a determining factor in combat. It can be acquired through economy of motion, which is one of the training objectives of the wooden dummy form. When training with the wooden dummy, we must also think of engaging the five faculties of action so that the mind keep computing, eyes keep observing, hands keep interacting, body remain animated, and feet keep maneuvering. Once we have acquired great speed of the five faculties, we can instantly exploit opponentís weakness, confiscate emptiness immediately. When we can be opportunistic and unpredictable, thatís attainment.

Ponder on the following translated excerpts of Grandmaster Chiuís kung fu manuscript; it will help the wooden dummy training.

The five sanctions of the faculties of action:

Mind must be bright, eyes must be clear, hands must be speedy, body must be committed, and footing must be precise.

Mind without brightness, the perception will be dull.

Eyes without clearness, the intent will be confusing.

Hands without speed, it will be futile to savage (disadvantage).  

Body without commitment, there will be no orientation of power.

Footing without precision, there will be no cohesion in maneuverings.

For the entire manuscript in Chinese, please visit:

Power Generation

Another important attribute of a martial artist is power. Power generation, Fa Jing in Chinese term, is one of the most important aspects of kung fu training.  We can find ample of examples of 6more types of Fa Jing in the wooden dummy form in addition to the TJPM general power generation, which is a crack of the whip type of power similar to the Taijiquanís silk reeling power.  The general points to remember in the power generation process are 1) Chi Kua (lift the pelvic) 2) Dung Tui (pop the calves) 3) Jwan Yao (whirl the waist) 4) Diow Jian (extend the shoulder).

The following are six examples of power generation given by a fellow martial artist Kevin Brazier, who has extensive knowledge in praying mantis kung fu:

Twisting to a straight line. After turning the hips (Jwan Yao), the punch and back shoulder are in a straight line.

Twisting to a right angle. After turning the hips, the punching arm and shoulder are at 90 degrees.

Wave (two types) - energy travels from the root upwards. No twist to the hips, instead a wave travels through the body ending in either of the above finished postures.

Forward drop. The bodyweight drops down. Is done in a way so that all the dropping body weight is on the punch. In practice the front foot makes a stomp to the ground.

Backward drop. The weight drops onto the back foot putting all the dropping energy onto the punch as it moves up. Back foot makes a stomping sound. The two drops are common in Mimen praying mantis kung fu. They are for punching in the one-inch range.

With the exception of the first two, the four other types of power generation are not commonly found in TJPM. This is due to the long-range orientation of TJPM.  Wooden dummy training offers a superb opportunity for TJPM stylists to master these short-range oriented power generation skills.  A good exponent of Fa Jing skill can jag the trunk of the wooden dummy with every strike. That is the result of true power generation penetrated deep in to the dummy.

Beyond Training

Martial arts are for educating a person. It is a mean to cultivate a good and strong character with the martial code and moral standard. It is to build a person not to break a person. There are risks associated with training; therefore, it is of utmost importance that a student pays attention to detail and follow instructions. Only through careful instruction and learning that a student will enjoy safe training environment and good result. Wooden Dummy is a high impact-training tool. It can cause injury easily if the trainee fails to observe instructions. The instructor should prepare to administer herbal treatment and massage therapy to help the student when necessary. Many masters have their own recipes of herbal lotion known as Tit Da Jow.  Home made one usually are the best but there are many brand name formula sold in the herbal store nowadays will do the job just fine. Ideally, the student should practice warm up routine such as the 18 Lohan Gong. This will help reduce the chance of injury and enhance performance. Apply Tit Da Jow to the impact area of the body, i.e. the forearms, after each practice is also a prudent measure.

There are many drills associated with the wooden dummy form training, i.e. Tanglang Pu Chan (mantis catches cicada, and Ying Ching Pao Sao (Ying Chingís counter hands). These drills help further understand the dynamics of the training. There are other techniques and drills such as the ground kicking techniques not included in the form but can benefit from training with the wooden dummy. These would be covered as soon as the student has completed the form and has deeper understanding of the training. Another extraordinary feature of the wooden dummy form is that certain drills developed from the form can be converted to use on the ground and/or with weapon such as dagger or club, i.e. elbow drill. This makes the form one of the most versatile forms among TJPM forms. Again this would be covered as the student becomes proficient with the training.  This would be beyond the scope of this article; thus, will not be further discussed here.

Finally, the wooden dummy form is a medium to gain a deeper appreciation of classical Chinese martial arts training. It must be carefully and thoroughly studied. Whether through the Changquan format (long fist) or Duanda format (short strikes), one should be able to feel and appreciate the wisdom, effort and time, which pass masters especially those of Taizu Men and Taiji Praying Mantis system had devoted so that the future generations can enjoy their remarkable legacy that is known as Praying Mantis Kung Fu.

 Appendix: The TJPM Wooden Dummy Book


Front and back covers of the book.

TJMP Wooden Dummy Book, authored by Grandmaster Chiuís student Wong Chi Shing, is now available. This is by far the only book featuring Grandmaster Chiu Chuk Kai performing the entire TJPM Wood Dummy form. There are articles including the biography of Grandmaster Chiu, and over hundred of pictures in this 113 pages book. Unfortunately, there is only Chinese version available at this time. This form is unique to our system. It is not taught until the advanced level and not all the TJPM schools are currently teaching it in their curriculums. As a collector and preserver, this legacy of a Grandmaster is not to be missed. The price, all funds are in US dollars, is set at $40.00 plus $10.00 shipping. Please add $5.00 dollars for locations outside North America. Multiple quantity orders are welcomed. Price wise it may not be accessible for some people; however, this book being the intellectual property of a Grandmaster and the effort of many people involved, I am sure most people would understand. For further question regarding purchasing the book, please send your inquiry to Robert Hui at the following email address: