Praying Mantis Class (1963) | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Praying Mantis Class (1963)

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Praying Mantis Class (1963)

Standing on the left and smiling is my friend Mr. Ho Yin Guai who worked at a European bank.  Ho introduced me to the Praying Mantis school taught by shifu (Cantonese for Master) Wong Hon Fan.   Counting Ho as part of the second row, yours truly is fifth from the left.  This photo was taken on August 13, 1963 at a restaurant at which time diplomas for various levels were handed out, and skills presented by students.
Shifu Wong operated his training centre on the roof top above his home on 196 Tai Nan Street next to Nam Cheong Street.  My class was once a week in the evening for one hour.  Students my era will remember the sand bags used to train our front and back palm slaps.  The hard clay roof ground wore out the shoe soles fast, as when one foot advances, the other foot drags along still touching the ground.

Because the students entered training at different time, shifu gave each of us a one-on-one instruction.   He would show me several sequential body movements - feet plantarflexion (pointing/resting toes down as if prepared to kick), feet dorsiflexion (pointing toes up as if prepared to trip your opponent), waist, head, and equally important, elbows and fingers.   For physical appearance of the wrists and fingers are part of the Praying Mantis trade-mark.

I would then repeat the sequence, which typically lasted about 6~8 seconds, and tried to do it to perfection.  The following week, when shifu was satisified with my playback, he would teach me another sequence.  After a few weeks, the entire squence lasting about one-half minute was taught and learned.   The whole lesson consists of different offensive and defensive movements connected by artistic movements for smooth playback hence we also called it a dance.  You would not want to duplicate them exactly in real fighting situation.  For some lessons, there is also a mirror lesson whereby another student uses his routine on you to enable you to practise yours.

After several months, shifu would teach me long stick and big (blade) knife to expand my repertoire.
Interesting and happy time 55 years ago, not yet running into, or looking for a fight.

Related photo:
Regards,  Peter     

Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Tuesday, August 13, 1963


Greetings. as per the interest expressed by the Ravenswood Academy - , I have decided to provide the following write-up instead of editing the main page.  Please excuse me when you notice the duplicates.

Given that I attended the short once-a-week evening class during the period 1962-63, the scope of my memories and skills are limited, certainly nowhere close to being an expert.   The two photos I posted at Gwulo here were gifted to me by Sifu my only photo collection.

At that time, Sifu Wong's studio was on the roof top of a typical pre-war shop house, him and his family living one level below at 196 Tai Nan Street.   The training-practice studio was on the roof top  number 200-202, in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong.  My class photo here has 18 students who were at different levels of training.  I do not know whether Sifu Wong taught other day/evening classes, he likely did.

Each class lasted up to two hours, more accurately to say that I spent 1~2 hours there watching, learning, and practicing what I had just learned and other lessons learned weeks and months earlier.  Not every student showed up at 7 some adults could show up only after work.

Sifu Wong's training followed his practical pattern.  He went to each student, tapped him (or me) on the shoulder, and taught a portion of a lesson containing a series of body movements from head to the feet (my toe nails to be more precise).  I would try to remember and repeat the movements, and he corrected me until I got it right.  Then he moved on to another student.  Obviously, a new student would have very little to remember and practice.

The following week, he would teach me the next series, and the next week, and so on.  I was  impressed how he could remember the resuming spots for all his students.   After several weeks, I would have learned the whole lesson, and I practiced all my lessons there until I quit in 1963.  I think I paid $6 HK each month.

The first lesson was very basic, it taught you how to stand firm and make other poses, how to bend your knees while keeping straight your back, basic and slow movements.  The second lesson was a bit more interesting (definitely #8 in your uploaded works list - its sequence of photos are exactly how I learned), several months later he added long stick/rod, after that large saber (likely #10 in your list).

The roof top studio area was not large.  Only two students could practice at the same time because each took up 6-foot wide and 25-foot long space to practice.  So we took turns.  The rest of us spent time talking in another open area.  When it rained, we spent time in the staircase and under the staircase cover.

Sifu loved playing with kicking rooster feather.  A few of us including me usually showed up before class, and after forming a circle, we passed the toy from one to another using our feet, knee, thigh, head, chest, to keep it in the air.  His favourite move was to kick it with the side and bottom of his shoe.  Occasionally, the toy travelled too far and fell onto the back lane.

I believe Sifu taught for another 8 years after I left his school.  The two photos here are my tribute to the teacher who taught me with patience and kindness in a happy environment.

One last piece of memory.  I joined the class for exercise and making new friends.  The skills learned were for personal satisfaction, confidence and self-discipline, and thanks to luck and fate, never needed to this day.  Regards,  Peter

Mr. Peter,

Thank you so much for sharing in detail your own unique experience with this teacher; it was a delight to read. 1960's Hong Kong is getting further away! If we may ask one more favor, would you consider e-mailing these two images you have posted of Wong Hon Fan to our address:  With your permission we would like to include them along with your story for others to view and enjoy. 

All the Best


Hi Alexander, as requested, I have just e-mailed you the two photos.  Let me know if you encounter problem.  Thank you for your interest.  Regards,  Peter