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DVD Review: Bai Yuan Tou Tao (MartialSkill 7 Star Praying Mantis Series)

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According to MartialSkill's Facebook page, "MartialSkill.com is a team of martial arts practitioners dedicated to furthering the development of traditional martial arts by fusing them with modern-day techniques and applications, as well as the fusion of traditional and MMA techniques." Bai Yuan Tou Tao (“White Ape Steal Peach” hand form) features Mr. Sean Daily, who has 10 years of experience in Seven Star Praying Mantis kung fu. Mr. Daily trains under Mr. Wes Hardy who is an 18-year Praying Mantis practitioner with experience in Chiu Chi Man and Wong Hun Fun lineages of Praying Mantis kung fu.

Purpose

I was expecting this to be a martial arts instructional DVD similar to Sang H. Kim’s Taekwondo Taeguek Poomse #1-8. Kim’s DVD focuses mostly on the first eight World Taekwondo Federation forms and only briefly covers some practical applications from each of the eight. This is not to say that Mr. Kim’s DVD is without merit; in fact, I practically wore it out in preparation for my black belt examine. My only issue with his DVD was that by covering so many forms in a single DVD he did not have much time to delve deeper into each form’s individual martial applications.

Not so with MartialSkill’s Bai Yuan Tou Tao DVD. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with the purpose, content, and general educational approach to this training DVD. In fact, before you even get into the lessons, Mr. Daily explains that this DVD is intended to be the video equivalent of a kung fu instructor. Whether he succeeds in this regard I’ll save for the end of my review. Moreover he’s careful to acknowledge that there are different styles of Praying Mantis kung fu, and that some who purchase the DVD may see variations of techniques that are different from what their instructor may teach. The bottom line: If you are using the DVD as a substitute for a kung fu instructor the stylistic differences will not matter and if you are using it as a supplement then it becomes a tool with which to broaden your martial knowledge; but, ultimately, you should defer to how your teacher is teaching his or her style of Praying Mantis kung fu.

The Form

Bai Yuan Tou Tao or “White Ape Steals Peach” is often taught as an intermediate Praying Mantis hand form. White Ape is one of the shorter Praying Mantis forms and gets its name from one of the form’s main techniques: the groin strike. Historically, in Chinese culture the ability to reproduce and have offspring is very important. Ergo “the peach” becomes a metaphor for male genitalia and the reference to “stealing” means you are attempting to take away your opponent’s ability to reproduce by striking his or her genital region.

Educational Approach

The DVD is formatted in a very logical and useful manner. First, you can preview the form at demonstration speed or a much slower training speed. Moreover the form itself is broken into sections: An introduction that explains the form’s history and intent, an applications section that illustrates the core martial techniques of this particular form, and finally sections that illustrate continuous movements and individual movements – these last two sections become very important if you are using this DVD to learn the form or refine your knowledge of how to perform it.

Applications

Some martial artists love the performance aspects of martial arts and if you are that type of martial artist then this DVD will not disappoint you. However, aside from having to perform a given form at school or at a tournament I like to always ask the question: How can I use this stuff to defend myself? Well, I’m pleased to say that this DVD answers that question, too. What the teachers do is extract some of the core martial arts techniques from the White Ape form and show you how to apply them in a martial setting.

Concluding Thoughts

The authors of this DVD set out to create a video equivalent of a kung fu instructor. Did they achieve this lofty goal? Yes, without a doubt. As an educator who happens to be a martial arts enthusiast I can attest to the fact that much planning and organization must have gone into this DVD. The DVD’s sections are laid out in a logical manner and the lessons therein are broken out into smaller mini-lessons. The end result is that you can use these DVD to look at White Ape in total; then you can go into the sections containing lessons and learn segments of the form or segments of the applications in smaller steps.

This leads us to a second question: Do I think you can learn kung fu from a DVD? To a point, yes, but it would probably not be the best kung fu. For example, my current kung fu instructor learned Chin Na primarily through books and videos. Even with a background in other martial arts, experience in kung fu, and attending as many Chin Na seminars as he could, it took him twice as long to achieve instructor rank in Chin Na than it would have if he had learned in person from an instructor.

So I’d be very hesitant to recommend that any novice with no experience in martial arts try to use books and DVDs to learn a particular martial art. This caution aside, I do think that a series of well-made DVDs like MartialSkill’s White Ape could be used by someone with experience in another style of kung fu to learn portions of Praying Mantis kung fu. I also think that any martial artist with at least two years of solid martial arts experience could use this DVD to enhance their overall martial knowledge and probably pick up a few new techniques.

Overall this is an excellent instructional DVD that I recommend to any Praying Mantis kung fu practitioner or martial arts enthusiast.

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