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to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Grandmaster Yip Man

The main characteristics of what became known as the Ving Tsun system are its economy of movement, directness of action, its vertical straight fist, its sticking hands and its use of centre-line theory. This theory is based on the fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so techniques move from the centreline of the body. Ving Tsun uses no wide, flowing or circular techniques so each attack involves the minimum of movement. Therefore energy is conserved and distances are shortened. Ving Tsun also combines blocking with striking and has refined this skill to a high level. Ving Tsun practitioners consider it initially more important to develop skill with hand techniques because they are immediately useful for self-defense.

There are only three forms in Ving Tsun. The first is Siu Nim Tao, which means 'little idea'. The second is called Chun Kiu ('searching arms') and the third is Bill Tze ('thrusting fingers'). Siu Nim Tao is an important form because it contains most of Ving Tsun's hand techniques. It also trains students in stance work and helps them develop their chi. Students should spent at least 15 minutes practising Siu Nim Tao.

The value of Siu Nim Tao in developing internal energy is illustrated by the following example. When I was 45 years of age, I decided to practise the form while on holiday in the ski resort of Val d'Isere. Despite a temperature of -15 degrees, I stripped off my jacket and prepared to practise. At first my toes went numb, so I couldn't feel them. Then an icicle formed on the end of my nose! Gathering my concentration I began the form and within minutes I could feel warm blood circulating through my body as my chi began flowing. The icicle melted, I could feel my toes again and I was wreathed in steam! It was a tremendous feeling! I felt so invigorated that afterwards I was able to ski over three mountains.

After practising Sil Nim Tao, the student should move on to sticking hands or chi sao. First the student uses just one hand ('dan chi'), then he goes on to use both hands ('sern chi'). Embodied within this unique form of training is the core Ving Tsun principle of using the opponent's strength against them. Unlike many other styles, Ving Tsun does not oppose the opponent's force with force because in that case the stronger person will nearly always win. Instead through sticking hands practise, students learn to develop sensitivity in their arms and wrists. This allows them to predict what an opponent is going to do, so thay can respond at a very early stage. Sticking hands practise develops timing as well as reflexes.

Once the student has become proficient with sern chi, he should next learn how to use sticking hands to both attack and defend against the partner. This is known as 'qor sao' and it eventually develops into a full-blown fighting format. In class all techniques are used with restraint. However it is no problem to to use them at peak force when circumstances require it.

After qor sao, the student moves on to learn Chum Kiu. This is basically a defensive form, teaching students how to turn and simultaneously block in response to attacks and then immediately counter them. Two blocks that are used extensively with this form are 'bong sao' and 'woo sao'.

Kicking techniques are next to be practised. Ving Tsun's two basic foot techniques are a front kick and a side kick. Both are delivered through the centreline of the body and strike home with the heel. Neither kick is delivered above waist level because low kicks are the quickest to perform and the most practical in a true fighting situation. Typical targets are the groin, shin and knee. Ving Tsun's kicks are mainly used in addition to the hand techniques.

The wooden dummy is intended to resemble a human opponent. It is used by more advanced students to develop their ability to fight with control. Proper use of the dummy involves an understanding of and skill in the Ving Tsun principles mentioned earlier. Novices do not know enough about Ving Tsun theory, footwork and stance to be able to use the dummy and must wait until they have more skill. Techniques used against the dummy are taken from Ving Tsun's forms. They were selected because they are highly effective and practical techniques.

The final Ving Tsun empty hand form is the Bill Tze form. Unlike Chum Kiu, Bill Tze is mainly an attacking form.

As well as the empty hand forms, the complete Ving Tsun system uses two weapons which are the butterfly knives and the long pole. The long pole was used in a large space against multiple opponents while the butterfly knives are short range weapons. Nowadays neither weapon has any practical value as such, though the movements used in their deployment are important to Ving Tsun practise. Additionally, Ving Tsun is a traditional system and one cannot claim to know it without having knowledge of its weapons.

Nowadays, students frequently ask to be taught more advanced forms before they have learned the first. They seem to think that the more forms they learn in a short time, the better they will become. This is of course nonsense! It is essential that students learn and understand the first form before progressing, otherwise their depth of knowledge will be shallow and they will develop bad habits. An old Chinese saying is that it is pointless having many knives in one's pocket if none of them cut.

Students come to my club for more advanced training. They say they know and understand all the forms but when they participate in real chi sao, their shallow knowledge shows itself. Their hand positions are wrong, they lack sensitivity and respond too slowly, and they can't block their opponent's strikes. This is the basis of the old saying that one minute's chi sao allows you to determine who is the better performer.

So a correct mental attitude is essential to success. To see whether the student has this attitude, the good sifu will test him and look for humbleness, willingless to learn and perseverance. Those without these characteristics never develop real skill in the system. Remember, one thousand hours of training for one minute's use.