Ving Tsun Punch
The Ving Tsun straight punch is the main weapon of the system. Unlike many other systems of unarmed combat the VT punch is quite different in nature. With the fist held vertical the punch is guided by the elbow and driven forward using the momentum of the whole body structure. The mechanics and alignment of the punch are very important. It is supported by the ground via a link from the fist – elbow – hip – knee – and the heel. The punch is also supported by the body via the elbow/arm being inside the parameters of the torso. Using the idea of Newton’s Third Law it means that when the punch lands there is a recoil force that goes straight down to the ground. This support system of the punch means that punching power will be increased as the force generated forward will be greater than the one returning. This is vital as the punch is driven from point to point across very short distances. Our usual behaviour is to retract the arm before punching or by adding some sort of wind up to it. The VT punch is constantly being cycled and recycled without pulling back first which makes it very difficult for the opponent to defend against. It also gives the impression that the punch is extremely fast due to the utilization these short distances from a their start positions (man sau/wu sau).
As well as the striking part of the arm (the fist) the elbow is also used to displace any obstacles that may be present, usually the opponents own attacking limbs. There are very subtle concepts within the punch that are developed and improved right from that start. Because of the unnatural behaviour of the VT punch the first form actually breaks all aspects of the movement down into pieces and slows it down so that the student can make unnatural actions become natural. Predominantly this can be seen in the Tan/Fook section of Siu Lim Tau but is everywhere in all the forms.
One will notice that in the forms many actions are repeated three times. The number three is not so important but it is paying specific attention to the more important actions that need developing for Ving Tsun. In solo practice three should become what the student needs to improve. In my own training these important actions are repeated many times. The need for the elbow to be used correctly when using the concept of Fook Sau needs more attention than the Tan Sau concept. Individually these two concepts use either the inside or the outside of the elbow to displace any obstacles when the punch is being thrown (if they should be present). The Fook Sau concept uses the inside of the elbow which means that during the punch the elbow must come inside and across the body. This very unnatural action also adds an element of defence to the punch because its position protects the central axis of the body. The Tan Sau concept uses the outside of the elbow meaning that the punch spreads outwards from the center/body. In this action the covering aspect of bringing the elbow in is not so important. Conceptually this is why we only perform one Tan Sau in Siu Lim Tau and three Fook Sau’s during the learning stage. Why and how these two punching concepts are used comes from a clear understanding of the forms and via the correct practice of drills/and Chi Sau without which these ideas will not be understood.
We can see in today’s Ving Tsun that these ideas have been replaced by many other less sensible ideas such as the need to make contact and somehow manipulate the attacker’s limbs for our own gain. Due to the speed and ferocity of striking limbs in a fight this idea lacks common sense. Why stick and chase arms when we can develop a sound skill in precise, controlled and continual point to point striking? The term “sticky arms” in Ving Tsun only adds to this problem. In fact the term “sticky” is in the context of what one is seeing not what one is doing. What we are really trying to achieve is to NOT stick and get tied up to the opponent’s arms but rather navigate them and find a clear path to make immediate contact with the intended target.
As well as the constant practice and development of these punching concepts special attention has to be given to punching power. There are many tools within the system that develop a “shock force” in the punch without which the short range punch will not contain enough force to upset the opponent. The sand bag, heavy bag, wooden puppet, long pole and knives all improve punching power but one neglected drill in many lineages in the exchange of force that occurs during Poon Sau between training partners. This contact drill allows us to use each other’s forward pressure to increase our own strength in the punch and body structure. Perhaps the misinterpretation of this drill over the years has led to the idea that we must always stick to the opponent’s arms using Fook sau’s and tan sau’s or indeed use them for blocking and controlling.
During this drill we can also pay special attention to how the elbow is working and how the link to the hip and the ground is maintained. With no immediate relation to fighting this drill is completely abstract in nature and should only be used as a development tool.
As part of the next stage process Seung Ma/Toi Ma (forward stepping/backward stepping) drill is used to develop bringing the whole body into the punch via the step and also how we must maintain a square on tactical position to our opponents. This drill also contains some strategic elements of what movements to make based on the type of opponent one is facing.
One could loosely translate Ving Tsun into “the way of straight punch”. It is an intelligent way to use the body for fighting using sound scientific actions but it doesn’t take much for the system to become completely useless if ones thinking is wrong. Fundamentally human beings are all made the same and how we use our arms, legs and brains for fighting is limited. In that context Ving Tsun becomes a method of skill aqquisition not an art form and the effectiveness of it falls solely on the practitioner as long as the concepts and principles remain simple, efficient and direct.