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VING TSUN - Returning to the Basics


- text of the speech given at the '1st World Ving Tsun Conference' in Hong Kong, November 1999

by David Peterson


There is an old expression in English that goes, "He couldn't see the forest for the trees", and sadly, this seems to be the case for many of my Ving Tsun brothers and sisters. Not that I am in any way suggesting that anyone is wrong, or that I have somehow stumbled upon all the answers, but that over the years since the late, great Yip Man sigung first began to transmit his knowledge of this marvelous system to the world, it would seem that many of those who studied the system have lost sight of its fundamental essence. Perhaps it is due to the influence of other martial art disciplines on the minds of those practicing the Ving Tsun system, or perhaps it is just a basic human trait to overlook the obvious (and not-so-obvious!) and continually "re-invent the wheel" when one already has at their disposal a uniquely brilliant set of combat concepts such as those which make up Ving Tsun Gung Fu, but whatever the case, many of my respected brethren are going down paths that have strayed a long way from the basic tenets of this skill.


david PetersonBefore anyone starts accusing me of trying to put myself upon a pedestal, proclaiming myself as some "Next Generation Grandmaster", please allow me to put things in perspective. I am not, by my own definition, a master teacher, a master fighter, or a master "anything" as far as Ving Tsun is concerned. What I am is someone who is in awe of the potential of this system that we have all chosen to practice, a person who loves the art of Ving Tsun above all other pursuits in my life. I have tried to develop an understanding of this system for the past 25 years of my life, and for almost 15 of those years, I had the great fortune of being under the guidance and tutelage of another great man who helped make this system what it is today, my dear Sifu, the late Wong Shun Leung. What Sifu helped me to realize was that the effectiveness of Ving Tsun is in its inherent simplicity, and that as soon as one ignores the most basic concepts of the system, they are no longer practicing Ving Tsun.


It is quite natural, and as a result, completely acceptable, for each and every one of us to use Ving Tsun in our own unique way, in keeping with my late teacher's often repeated philosophy that, "One must be the MASTER of Ving Tsun, not it's SLAVE". However, if in being different, we are in fact "breaking the rules" so-to-speak of Ving Tsun, as set out in the basic forms and drills of the system, then we are no longer practicing Ving Tsun and are in fact reducing the quality of what it is that we practice and teach, and over time reducing our skills to a "watered-down" version of what they could be. While I readily accept that there are different ways to interpret or apply techniques, surely each of my learned colleagues present here today would agree that there are several basic underlying principles which simply must not be ignored, yet time and again, in books, magazines, videos and in classrooms around the world, students of Ving Tsun are being shown methods that totally contradict the principles upon which this system was built.


One of the most glaring errors that I have observed, time and time again, is the robotic way in which students are taught to apply, verbatim, the sequences of movements as they are practiced in the basic forms. To be blunt, this is a grave error and will only lead to a false impression in the minds of the practitioners which could well see them totally at the mercy of any potential adversary. Real attackers don't attack in rehearsed or predictable sequences, they attack at random, and with deception and aggression. Attempting to deal with such people by applying a sequence rote learned in the classroom is a recipe for disaster. The sequences in the forms, with the possible exception of an extremely few examples, are NOT to be interpreted as such, but simply as a well structured means of understanding concepts and "internalizing" these ideas so that the body can reproduce the best possible shapes or movements at the most opportune time. It is a serious mistake to presume that certain motions must follow each other in sequence just because they do so in the forms.


A more useful way to see the forms is to think of them as an ideal toolbox or toolshed, with all the tools that one might ever need placed neatly and ready for use at our disposal. As we are confronted with each new task, we simply make use of the one or two most practical tools for the job, in no particular order, and with no obligation that if we make use of a particular tool that we are in any way obligated to also use the tools immediately next to it. The tools are simply positioned for either ease of access, or easy recognition of their individual potential. We do not have to use every tool in the toolshed every time we enter the toolshed, nor do we have to make use of every tool in our lifetime. We simply use what we need, but make sure that the entire contents of the toolshed are made available to all who come after us, because while we may not need some of the tools, others may find that they have a need for them. This is in keeping with the Ving Tsun maxim, "Pass on the complete skill in order to make the next generation strong". If we only pass on our favorite ideas or techniques, we rob the next generation of the chance to reach their full potential, and that of the system.


It is therefore the CONCEPTS that need to be passed down to each successive generation of Ving Tsun practitioners, not an endless series of sequences. By the same token, drills should be kept SIMPLE, DIRECT and EFFICIENT, with an emphasis on "free" or "open" drills whereby the students are encouraged to apply the most basic techniques and concepts against random and very threatening, realistic attacks, not set routines with fixed patterns and predictable outcomes. This goal is best achieved by firstly setting up a "closed" drill, where a basic concept or technique is tested under fixed circumstances, but as soon as practical, the student should be encouraged to try to apply the same concepts or techniques under increasingly random and more realistic conditions. This helps to get the students out of the trap that complicated set drills can engender, and it keeps the training challenging and realistic. Instead of developing a false sense of security through the rote learning of patterned responses, the students quickly realize that real combat is an unpredictable arena where ones ability to adapt instantly and aggressively is the key to survival.


Too manimg_sifu_davidP6y Ving Tsun practitioners overlook the most obvious aspect of the system's advantage over virtually all other combat methods; in Ving Tsun, the best form of defense is attack! We are not, and should not, be in the business of "self-defense" as this is the fastest way to defeat in real life combat. If you are busy "defending" yourself, you are ignoring the fact that your opponent is still in control of the situation. While you are "chasing the hands" of your enemy, you are always one or more steps behind him or her. The ONLY way to guarantee victory when being attacked is to have a better means of attack! This is what Ving Tsun is all about; when the opponent launches his or her attack, you should be responding with a scientifically more structured and more efficient attack of your own! That is the true nature of this system, and that is what sets it apart from virtually all other methods.


Why then do many Ving Tsun exponents advocate complicated sequences of blocking and trapping motions when a more aggressive response is what is called for? When you are in combat with the enemy, you are not trying to Chi Sau with him, you should be trying to hit him! The reflexes and skills developed through correct Chi Sau practice are only needed and applied if and when our own attempts to attack are hindered or impeded by the enemy, and we should definitely not be going out with the idea in mind to "trap hands" with them. This kind of thinking is extremely dangerous, yet such methods are being taught all over the place. This constitutes a blatant misunderstanding of the realities of real combat and has to be avoided at all costs. If we teach our students to attempt to deal with an adversary in this way, we are teaching them how to be defeated! Surely this is not our goal as teachers and practitioners of Ving Tsun.


Ving Tsun is one of, if not, the greatest methods of combat that exists in the world today, yet there are still many people in the world oblivious to the potential and benefits of this system of personal protection. One of the reasons that Ving Tsun is still to be taken seriously by many in the martial arts world is the constant bickering and in-fighting that has occurred in recent years. We cannot deny that this has taken place, and we must come together in a spirit of understanding and cooperation so as to work together for the long term benefit of both the system and all who have, are, or will practice it. This conference is the first very positive step in that direction, and I am indeed proud to be a participant in this historic event, and deeply humbled to be asked to speak to all present. I can only wish that my Sifu was still alive to be a part of this occasion, and I am sure that he would have much more wisdom to share with you all than I could ever hope to have in my lifetime.


The other very important reason that Ving Tsun is yet to be recognized universally for the brilliant system that it is, is that we have allowed ourselves to stray from the original concepts of the system, adding unnecessary complications and impractical methods to the repertoire of techniques that are being transmitted to our students. Individual creativity, based on real experience and practical experimentation, is the key to the future of Ving Tsun. This is not to say that we need to radically overhaul and alter the system. On the contrary, we need to put aside our individual egos, be prepared to rethink and reassess our teaching and training methods, and get back to the job of bringing Ving Tsun into the 21st century. This can, and will only be achieved, by returning to the basics, by re-examining the basic concepts and techniques with the added benefit of modern sports science and the input of those who have participated in the "Pavement Arena", pitting their Ving Tsun skills against real opponents in real combat situations. It is no good constantly adhering to "tradition" when the reality of the world is no longer what is may have been in the past. If our Ving Tsun forefathers had thought in this way, there wouldn't be a system known as Ving Tsun and we'd all be here for a poetry or paper folding conference! Ving Tsun is, by its very nature, a constantly evolving art, but for it to evolve further, we must ensure that we never lose sight of what makes it work, and the underlying principles that make this possible.


When people come to my classes and ask me what Ving Tsun is all about, I answer by telling them what it is not. It is NOT a sport (…there are no rules in real combat!); it is NOT a form of fitness training (…it is too efficient in application to demand enough of one to create super fitness!); it is NOT for demonstration (…while you and I can see the inherent beauty of the system, for "outsiders" it is just not "pretty" enough!); and it is NOT a form of meditation (…well, not in the classic sense, anyway!) What it is, in simple terms, is a sophisticated weapon with which one can overcome an adversary by applying scientifically provable concepts through efficient bio-mechanical motions, derived and practiced through realistic and efficient training methods and drills, resulting in the acquisition of skills that could one day save your own life, or that of a loved one. The restrictions of time prevent me from elaborating further, but I hope that I have planted an important seed in your mind that will slowly develop into the necessary thought processes that will help each and everyone of us present here today to make sure that the legacy of Yip Man, and those gifted students of his who have also passed on, such as Leung Sheung and Wong Shun Leung, is not only preserved for the future, but is developed even further to even greater heights. Like the 'Siu Nim Tau' form, this is a "young idea" that should be nurtured so that it develops into something truly wonderful.


David PetersonI thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you, and I hope that I have provided some positive inspiration towards the goal of uniting all Ving Tsun devotees around the world so as to not only take Ving Tsun into the next millenium, but to strive for the development of the very best quality of Ving Tsun instruction and training. I also hope that my comments have in no way insulted or offended anyone present here today. That was never my intention, and if my words have been interpreted in that way, I sincerely apologize to those concerned. If my late teacher taught me anything at all, it was that I should never stop seeking the truth, nor ever assume that there isn't a better way of doing something. He taught my Sihing-dai and I to never accept any idea or method at face value, but to think it over, discuss it and test it, as realistically as possible, in order to determine its validity. Today, I have tried to share some of my Sifu's wisdom with all those present in the hope that you too will make the effort to sort through the "martial mess", to put aside egos, false pride, ignorance and prejudice, and in doing so, once again see the beauty and simplicity of the Ving Tsun forest.


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