Here is the introduction of the book I wrote on 分 身 八 肘 last year. Enjoy!

Introduction to the Form, 分 身 八 肘 – fēn shēn bā zhǒu - Dividing Body Eight Elbows

The art of Short Strikes (短 打), is very ancient and is shared by many traditional Kung Fu styles. Tradition tells us that the founder of Praying Mantis Boxing (螳 螂 拳), Wang Lang, blended the ancient short strike methods with his praying mantis teachings to form his new art. The product of this blending of techniques and theories is found in the form, “Dividing the Body into Eight Elbows” (分 身 八 肘).

Putting legends aside, the first historical reference to Fen Shen Ba Zhou is found in the manuscript “Boxing, Staff, and Spear Fencing Manual” (拳 棍 槍 譜) written by the famous Shandong mantis boxer Liang Xuexiang. Master Liang is known to have written his manual at the latter end of the Qing dynasty in 1842 C.E.. Therefore, we know that this fist form can be verifiably traced back to a time at least one hundred and seventy-five years ago.

This form is usually referred to within mantis families by the shortened name, “Eight Elbows”. However, the term “elbows” refers to the sixty-four short striking methods found in the form, rather than, a literal use of the word as an anatomical term. In fact, within the four sections of the form the elbow is used as a striking weapon about twenty-six times.

The application of the short striking methods is considered one of the highest skill sets of Praying Mantis Fist. Thus, the form is usually reserved for the most advanced practitioners. An old proverb from Shandong province, the birthplace of Praying Mantis Boxing, states “From Crash & Fill to Eight Elbows even the Immortals have difficulty in escaping”. Which describes the forms place among the three Mother sets of Praying Mantis Fist: Crash & Fill, Chaotically Connected and Eight Elbows.

The phrase “Dividing the Body” (分 身) refers to the many throwing methods found within the form. The legs are tripped in one direction, while the upper body is pushed in the opposite direction. Thus, the upper and lower regions are “divided”.

The main method of power generation in Eight Elbows is known as, Cun Li (寸 力). It is an explosive, short range striking force that is generated by the whole body through a single point (e.g. the shoulder, hip, elbow, or knee). This is demonstrated by the way the form is played. Unlike the smooth flow of combinations found within the other mantis forms (套 路), Eight Elbows punctuates its combination of techniques with fast, jerking movements to dislocate the enemy’s joints, shatter his bones, or uproot him. Thus, the form has more in common with the arts of Baqiquan and Chen Taijiquan, than most traditional mantis forms. It can only be accomplished if: 1. Every move begins with complete relaxation with an emphasis of speed (moving like a lightning bolt). 2. Every movement must end with Then the movement must end with every muscle tensed to its maximum (firm like a mountain). This is where the soft and hard come into perfect balance in mantis.

Eight Elbows stands apart from the other Mother forms not only in its emphasis on short strikes, the multitude of throwing techniques encased within and the unique method of power generation, but also in the standard mantis techniques not found in the form. The traditional methods of “waist chop”, “closing hands” and “mandarin duck kick” are absent in the form. Also, unlike the normal shuffling steps of mantis boxing, Eight Elbows usually relies on the “running step” footwork. Finally, Eight Elbows is the only Mother form to include hair grabbing. Which will become a major theme in the six section Essentials form (摘要), the first of the Son forms to be created.

The main method of power generation in Eight Elbows is known as, Cun Li (寸 力). It is an explosive, short range striking force that is generated by the whole body through a single point (e.g. the shoulder, hip, elbow, or knee).

The secondary emphases of the form are the eight keys: 陰 陽 - yin yang (passive-active), 虛 實 - xu shi (false-real), 剛 柔 - gang rou (hard-soft) and 進 退 - jin tui (advance-retreat).

The term, "eight" (八), has significance in Chinese numerology: the eight keys mentioned above times the eight trigrams equal the sixty-four methods of short striking.

Eight Elbows is typically divided into four sections and has been passed down through the Plum Blossom families of Mantis: Meihua Tanglangquan, Taiji Tanglangquan and Taiji Meihua Tanglangquan. Recently, the Shandong and Hong Kong Qixing Tanglangquan family have adopted parts of the set, with many changes, into their system.

In this book, I will explain the traditional fighting applications from all four sections of the form, as practiced by the Plum Blossom families.