First Move: Errors and Misunderstandings

Common Errors of the First Move

Pics and photos etc. illustrating these errors are needed to include here. If you have a look at almost any video on YouTube on Siu Lim Tao, you will see many of these errors, even done by famous masters. My problem is not finding examples, it is finding examples without embarrassing public figures. Let us say, instead, that these are intentional errors for teaching purposes. So, if you have better pics, please send them to me. I am including several of my student’s pics who have posed for bad techniques too. This took forever to do with trying to find pics and trying to get the gallery to work, sort of.  I wanted it to be a slide show that included the comments, but I couldn’t get it working right. For now, just click on the pics for more info. Thanks for your patience, guys.


Errors of the start:

  1. The first common error is that people do not take this section seriously, and thus skim through it on their way to the more interesting parts. They blur it together, leave out parts, and do not pay attention to detail. The very earliest moves of Siu Lim Tao is just as important, if not more so, than the rest of it. How you begin is how you will train, how you train is how you will fight. If you leave out details here, you will leave them out all through the system. Start correctly, in every detail. First, stand at attention – not military style, but relaxed, but nonetheless alert, with your feet together. This will help the student to take the beginning, the form, and the entire of VTK seriously. Often people do not start here, but partway through the moves. This is a mistake: a small one, but nonetheless a mistake. I call this “addressing the form”, for want of a better name.
  2. Some people do not start with their feet together. This means that the stance will end up in the wrong place, too wide, or you will measure it wrong and not get the same distance repeatedly until the distance becomes a habit. It is important that the heels start together. If the heels are together, but the toes slightly apart at the start, this does not matter, but if they are too far apart, some people can’t spread the toes sufficiently in the early part of their training.
  3. Another error of practice, if not technique, is to do the parts in a different order, such as finding the centre before measuring the stance, leaving out the first part of the moves, starting in a different place, and so on.. There are many different ways of starting, so listing all of them would be quite difficult, since almost every system seems to do it a different way. Some of these are small errors, some large, some make little or no difference, some simply leave out lessons better learned and so on. Some of them might not be relevant for a particular person, but another person might need the lesson that is held within it. The order is not arbitrary, nor are any of the moves ‘optional’ in that the lesson learned might be important to the person who leaves them out. Better to follow the order and details until you are a master, and know what is important for you, and later, your students.
  4. One common practice is to have everyone face the front of the class. It is, in fact, better to have everyone face whoever is leading the form (see diagram below) in a radial fashion, so they can practice Facing and Centre to Centre movement (the name of this website reflects this concept, and was chosen for good reason). Having someone lead while everyone faces the front means that those on the side will turn their heads to look and not keep their head facing their enemy.
  5. A common error is to hold the elements of the face and head incorrectly. People open their mouths, yawn, talk, chew gum, smile and chat, look around the room, etc. This is fighting training. The back molars should be clenched firmly, but not hard, to prevent breakage in a fight. The tongue should be pushed firmly on the hard palate of the roof of the mouth so the tongue doesn’t get bitten in a fight. The lips should be pulled taut over the teeth so they hurt less when struck. Breathe naturally through the nose. The head should be upright and looking forwards (with a piercing and intent glare focused at the enemy) in the strongest position. This should be a habit.
  6. Because beginner students cannot see the importance of these introductory moves, they become sloppy and matter-of-fact about the moves, even if they are careful about other parts of the form. This is not correct. Be consistent throughout all the training, in speed, precision, snap, etc. No need to overdo it by making things overly powerful, but it should be neat and consistent. Make all the moves crisp and clean, with no ambiguity. Precise and sharp. This will enable you to make better techniques with more accuracy and precision, and power will be correctly applied, during the fight. Fights get messy. If you are not already trying to make things crisp when there is no fight, not even a partner, then under the crisis of a fight, the techniques will likely fall apart.

Errors of the first movement – thrusting forward

  1. This part is often left out of people’s forms entirely. While not completely incorrect to leave it out, it does leave out part of the concepts of VTK – the idea of forward energy, what WSL called “Lat Sau”. This move should be left in. Most importantly, it also positions the hands correctly for snapping the elbow backwards, which is very important, and enabling the student to do it with force once he can do it correctly. If the student simply lifts his hands into the ‘elbow back’ position, the movement is upwards not backwards, thus wasting an opportunity to practice something very important.
  2. In the first move forward with the hands, people circle their hands off the centreline, keeping their elbows too stiff while letting their wrists droop downwards and not move in a straight line from the sides to the centre of the target. This is incorrect. The force is forward. This idea comes from the old belief in Chi: The energy of the body flows in the direction that the hands point. You want your energy to go into your enemy, not ‘drip’ onto the floor. The fingers are thrust forward firmly, but not like a strike. It is like pointing emphatically at your enemy – “He’s over there!”
  3. Another common mistake is to bring the hands up to the centreline first, then thrust outwards, in order to increase the power of the “biu sau”. This is wrong. It isn’t’ a biu sau, but an idea, and only an idea. The line of the movement is a constantly rising line from where the hands are at ease and ends in a thrusting movement along the centreline at about shoulder height. It could also be throat height, doesn’t matter either way, but the latter encourages people to think in terms of a strike, which could mislead them into doing the move incorrectly. The hands do not deviate from this line to get more power for the thrust, as that would be 2 moves and not one straight line.

Errors of the elbow withdrawal/attaining and maintaining the elbow position

  1. It is a common error that students (and even masters) will drop their hands during the elbow strike/withdrawal, causing their hands to move in a curve instead of a straight line. Especially, people drop the wrists too low, then snap them up into place instead of snapping them backwards. This is a common error throughout all the forms, not just during Siu Lim Tao. Looping the hands is against the principles of Ving Tsun Kuen – the hands should move in straight lines. Students will also measure the stance simultaneously with moving the elbows back. While not actually an error in itself – after all the point is to get into stance – it leaves out a lot of focused training on elements that need to be better, and thus lead the student into errors. It is best to isolate the moves so the new student can focus on the aspects that each move is teaching. Doing the moves simultaneously frequently leads into error 11, dropping the waist.
  2. In an error similar to that described in points 3 and 5 above, many people start SLT by lifting their hands into the elbow back position without first moving their hands forward, then withdrawing them. Thus, the elbow striking movement doesn’t stretch the shoulder muscles, and isn’t moving back, but instead is moving upwards, which, while not strictly speaking an error, is not conducive to good VTK practice. Commonly the student will then drop their waist straight down making error number 11, instead of pushing it forwards.
  3. Students will hold their hands in the wrong place i.e., not pull them back far enough, but relax them and let them come forwards, and often into the front of their body. The student will also not pull the elbows back hard enough, but do it softly. They will also let their elbows drop and go outwards from the body, and let their forearms take an angle with the floor, and not have the elbows go straight back behind the body. This is usually combined with error 5.
  4. The student will bend their wrists instead of having them straight in the elbows back position.
  5. The student will have the hand away from the body, or pressing hard against it. They should be just brushing.
  6. The student will not turn the fists in the withdrawn elbow position flat, but instead relax them so they are at an angle to the floor.
  7. After doing the rest correctly, many students then relax the hands, dropping them out of position a little, at the end of the move. They should, in fact, be held in their final position at the end of the withdrawal.

Errors of attaining and maintaining the waist position

  1. This should be timed simultaneously with the elbow backwards ‘strike’. Many people do it separately, or with a different movement.
  2. Another common error when someone moves into the second move is to move down with the waist rather than push the waist forwards. You will see the head descend noticeably when this happens. This is a bad habit that will lose a lot of power in the structure without the waist being forward. The error is called “Sitting on the Horse (or stance)”. Most of the power in Ving Tsun Kuen comes from the waist and lower body, even when you punch. By not having your waist forward, you cannot use this power well. The upper and lower parts of the body are not unified.
  3. Students may tilt the pelvis up but not push it forwards, or push the waist forwards without tilting it up. The pelvis rocks up AND pushes forwards. There is a feeling of upwards as well as a feeling of sinking. Upwards from the ground, through the waist to the elbows and hands during techniques and movement, and a feeling of sinking from the waist through the knees to the ground, to the apex of the triangle described by the feet.

Errors of measuring the stance

  1. When measuring the stance, students don’t make their stance wide enough. There are two components to this move. First, you need to move on the heels, which will move them apart as wide as possible, then on the toes. If the student does not move the feet as far as they can, the stance can be too narrow. The other cause of narrow stance is when the student does the last move on the balls of the feet rather than on the tips of their big toes, a little like a ballerina. When looking from the front, the corners of the shoulder of the student should be directly above the toes.
  2. Students do more than two measurements, or measure from the heels first, or fail to measure at all, such as doing the biu ji stepping instead, or just taking the position they feel is correct. These all make it harder to learn where to instinctively put your feet when a fight precipitates.
  3. The next error about measuring the stance is this: Students jump too wide when they measure the stance, usually when moving from toes out to heels out. Instead of measuring carefully, the feet skip across the ground, or even leave it completely for a moment. This gives a stance that is too wide, which is hard to move from later when movement is needed. You must measure the stance carefully, like measuring calipers or dividers. Again, when looking from the front, the corners of the shoulder of the student should be directly above the toes.

Errors of posture

  1. Students lean back too far, rather than have the upper body vertical. Some also hunch forward.
  2. Students do not have their head erect and looking forward. They do not have their teeth together, breathing through their nose, with their lips together.
  3. Students move around, look in strange places or at their hands or their feet as they measure out, etc. The correct position is to look forward at your imaginary target instead. Hold your stance throughout the form. Push your waist forward hard as you can, sink with your waist and knees. Correct or adjust only when absolutely necessary. Focus on the enemy.
  4. Students do not have the shoulders square to the front. This is very important in the slow section, but if not corrected from the start, hard to fix. By to the front, it is meant in the direction they are facing (the direction the centerline is pointing), not necessarily the way they are looking, the way their head is pointing, or the front of the class. If they are doing it right, then these may all be the same point.

Errors of waist, foot and knee positions, and alignments

  1. Students fail to keep their waist forward while measuring their stance out. This exercise is to teach people to keep their waist forward no matter what stress is on the body or mind. It is important to keep the waist forward throughout the measurement, or indeed throughout all of VTK. It makes the waist strong and is the first exercise for the waist in the system. They may also rock backwards and forwards with their waist during the movement.
  2. Students push their knees inwards or outwards in the stance, reminiscent of stances from other kung fu styles. Both are incorrect. The knees follow the lines of the feet.
  3. Students do not keep their feet at 45 degrees to 60 degrees, but turn the feet parallel. See picture for number 17.
  4. Students do not have the feet at the same angle, and that angle should be between sixty degrees and forty-five degrees. Sixty degrees is functionally useful, forty-five degrees puts more strain on the student, making the student stronger faster.
  5. Feet are not flat and even on the floor, but instead rolled out, or toes lifted up, etc. They should be flat and evenly spread, with the pressure over the whole foot equally.
  6. The knees can be too bent. If the knees are far in front of the waist, the knees might be too bent, or the student is sitting down rather than pushing the waist forward. Knees can also be too straight. See the drawings for error 23 above.
  7. Students may crouch into position rather than being sprung in place.
  8. Once students measure the stance and find the right place, distance, posture, etc., they then go and lose it all by moving out of position, often subconsciously, negating all the hard effort they just put into it.

This part is actually a major issue for problems because at this point, the student is in the ‘yee ji kim yeung ma’, the training stance, the single most important stance for learning VTK. If people are doing it wrong, then their whole VTK is wrong. There will be a whole section dedicated to stances, the first half being on the training stance. I will go through more errors and more points at that time. However, thirty or so is enough errors for now. I could go on, but enough is enough.

Common Misunderstandings

  1. The main misunderstandings in this very small beginning are that the small details aren’t important. In a fight, it is small details that win or lose for you. Your training begins with the first move. A fight can be won or lost on the first move. Pay attention to the little things, or you might lose. These techniques from the beginning tell you that precision of movement is vital.
    1. In VTK we assume our enemy is bigger, stronger, faster, more experienced, tougher, and meaner, with a desire to hurt us. The only advantage we have is the training of the techniques of VTK. Therefore, we must make sure that the techniques are as perfect as possible. It is only perfect techniques that are our advantage. In the form, we have nothing stopping us from being perfect as possible. In a fight, we will lose at least a quarter of our precision. Therefore, again, we must make the techniques as perfect as we can.
    2. It doesn’t matter if we are tired, or sick. Our enemy won’t care, or rather, will like it and take advantage. Usually, people aren’t attacked when they are on top of the world. Predators attack those that are weak or sick. This is exactly the time you will be attacked. Therefore, again, we must make the techniques as perfect as we can. How you begin your VTK is how you will go in the future.
    3. Luckily, however, much of VTK is how to fix problems if things go wrong. After all, that’s what happens in fights.
  2. The next common confusion is that the training stance is a fighting stance. Only an idiot would stand with his groin exposed like this, but then, there are lots of idiots both in and out of VTK. The fighting stance is, like everyone else, one foot in front of the other. The yee ji kim yeung ma is only for training. It is something that is only used outside of a fighting situation. A relaxed stance, somewhat similar to this, is used when outside of fighting range, but it isn’t the same, and it is moved from into fighting stance once the enemy is in range.
  3. direction of facingAnother common misunderstanding is that this description of the relationship between the training and fighting stance (turning one foot around so it’s parallel or turning it back so it’s at an angle again) is how to pivot. This is also not true, and won’t work in a fight. Pivoting is entirely different. This is simply a description of the relationship between stances. This point cannot be emphasized enough, since the misunderstanding is so prevalent.fighting stance foot position
  4. Breathing. There are many misunderstandings about breathing in VTK. Breathe through the nose with the mouth shut, holding your mouth in the “combat position”, in a normal manner, silently, and do not give away your breathing to the enemy. It is also important not to hold your breath. Breathe naturally, and normally, and silently. While there are specific breathing patterns in VTK, especially in the forms, it is best to learn them subconsciously, rather than think about it at all – and they are based on natural cycles anyway. Just focus on getting the techniques right. Forget your breathing for now. You have been breathing a long time, so just let your body do it where it should. To focus on your breathing means you will take away focus from other, much more important things at this time. I will write an in-depth article or something on breathing, especially in regards to Siu Lim Tao,  later.




  1. Anonymous

    A short mention on breathing naturally might be useful

    • SifuBill

      A very good idea. I added something on breathing, but will think about it some more. Thank you for the suggestion.

  2. I must say this is like reading my notes from my training with Sifu Lee. 🙂 You put a lot of effort to the site. I hope it will continue at least into Wooden Dummy 🙂 Thanks again.

Comments are closed.