The Third Movement:
The Ving Tsun Punch and the Wrist Roll
This section is comprised of 3 parts:
1. The punch,
2. The wrist roll and
3. The elbow withdrawal.
This is a very important section. The punch is the first true technique of the form, and is the most important technique of the whole system. The wrist roll is probably the most important exercise of VTK. Even the elbow withdrawal is about making your punch better. I will deal with each separately, following each section with the theory and problems of that section. This blog will focus on the punch.
1. The Ving Tsun Punch
There will be entire articles on the punch, so here I will only deal with the punch as it is found in the form.
i. First, reaffirm the training stance. Check foot position, waist, posture. Head up, and hands in place.
ii. Now, place your left hand at your centre, i.e. near your solar plexus, and not the upper part of the chest.
Just place it. Don’t creep it to centre, don’t snap it there, don’t make a production of it, simply move it from your side to the centre.
Use a relaxed half fist, with the knuckles slightly down and forward, aiming at your opponent. Do not point up. It is also correct to use a straight hand with fingers straight, pointing horizontally at your imaginary enemy, as this is the old way. WSL changed this from an open straight hand to a loose fist because he found many people ‘snatched’ at the punch. I have found that in small classes, this doesn’t happen if the teacher is vigilant, and in fact it gives a better idea of directions of force and movement. However, WSL changed it for a reason – human inability to follow directions correctly – so I leave it the way he wanted, although I was taught the other way as a student myself. The height of the start of the punch is also critical. Too many people start the punch from too high, and thus the punch can be smothered and you can’t put your elbow behind it in the early part of the movement. The punch is from low to high.
iii. Punch left hand out until fully straight, with a vertical fist. Movement is with acceleration not with a constant velocity, nor a discontinuous slow then fast movement at the end. It moves from centre to centre, in a constant rising action. Keep the knuckles slightly down or horizontal until the punch is almost over (contact range, the elbow being a fist and a thumb from the centre at that point). The power comes from the elbow, driving the fist forwards. There is a linear feeling of power, all along the bottom of the arm through the bottom of the elbow to the bottom knuckles of the hand. The final thrust-and-lock ends with the knuckles slightly up. Ensure that the punch is fully locked out. It is a mistake to fail to do so. The correct height is centre high, although I teach the centre between the two shoulders, being the hardest and most straight punch you can do. It is also targeting face height for most people since we stand up and most people crouch. Basically, you should end up with the punch straight out with the top of the arm horizontal. It is not to the face. This encourages people to only use the shoulder muscles. Punching lower engages more muscles and recruits them for a harder strike. It is for training.
It is critical that the punch doesn’t rock up too early, and doesn’t rock up too much. The impact should be over the 2 or 3 bottom knuckles, not just the one bottom knuckle. The knuckles should basically be in a straight line from the centre of the bottom 3 knuckles in a straight line through the centre of the forearm to the elbow to the shoulder. Also, the timing of the impact should be with the rocking up, which should be a fist and a thumb from elbow to centre.
Theory of the Punch
1. Centreline Punch. We are following the previous section, Finding the Centre. Since we are doing this, the punch must follow the rules given in that section. So, the first thing we do is put the punch on the centre. This is important. We are not doing anything else. There is no production. Simply putting the fist on centre. From there, it only goes to the centre, just straight out. It doesn’t curve in any direction, simply a straight line where the elbow locks out.
2. The Vertical Fist (“Yat Chi Cheung Kuen”, or the Character ‘Sun’ thrusting punch): Most martial arts use the two large knuckles in a horizontal fist, while in VTK we use the two smaller ones in a vertical fist. In the horizontal position, the two larger knuckles are in line with the elbow, so it makes sense for them to use these. However, in the vertical position, they aren’t lined up with the elbow – but the bottom ones are. In this position we can easily get the elbow behind them, which is important for the way we hit. Try this exercise. Using the two larger knuckles, hit a wall firmly (not too hard, it hurts). Now try using your smaller knuckles in a vertical position, hitting flat. Try a little harder. Compare the two ways of hitting a brick wall. Can you see how you can hit harder in the vertical fist than the other way, without injury? If you feel around your hand, you can see that there is no muscular support for the two large knuckles, but the biggest muscle in the hand supporting the two smaller knuckles. These have thinner bones and flex like whalebone, and are supported by the muscles. It is like hitting with a cosh or a blackjack.
The structure flexes, but hits hard. The other way is like hitting with a stick. It is all well and good, unless the stick breaks. And if you think about the main target – the head – you can see that it is heavier than the knuckles and made of the same material – bone. If I hit something like a jaw made of wood with something like two pencil thick pieces of the same kind of wood, which do you think would break first? Of course, the pencil thick pieces would break first. This happens regularly for people who do not train sufficiently in many martial arts, such as tae kwon do or karate that hit in this way. Martial artists used to get around this somewhat by making the bones denser by hundreds of pushups on the knuckles and thousands of punches on the makiwara each day, but now few people train like this. Plus, after a just month or so of no training, you lose the bone density. With strengthening of the joints, ligaments and tendons, the kind of training we do, it takes years for the conditioning to be gained, but also years to be lost as well – actually, is never really lost because as soon as you start to train again, it comes back. Although the wall bag is mostly used for learning to sink into an opponent, as well as stance and waist training, using the wall-bag develops this kind of conditioning in the bones and joints, especially the wrist. Note that calluses have nothing to do with being able to hit – they are the body’s protection against friction, and if you have undue calluses, it means that you are probably not hitting the bag correctly.
They also tell your opponent that you do martial arts – not a good thing to give away. Shaping up does this as well, plus puts the man on guard, raising the stakes which elevates the degree of violence, and tells your enemy what style you do. All bad.
3. We have the elbow down, not only for the reasons already given, but so we can block an opponent’s punch while striking, again saving time. Another reason is that we can control an opponent’s entire body by using the elbow, if you are moving forwards while doing it. It prevents the enemy from punching or kicking effectively, while allowing us to strike repeatedly. Having the elbow down is one of the main reasons we punch with the vertical fist, because it is so versatile for many uses. After we have used the elbow for these functions, we completely straighten the elbow so as to maximise the impact of the punch through the target. To keep it bent means we will withhold energy and fail to deliver a punch as hard as we possibly can.
4. The wrist snap is a very important part of the movement of the punch. It is usually considered as adding to the focus and power of the strike, similar to the twist of a karate punch, but in a linear fashion. We feel that linear forces convert more easily to linear force, rather than like a piston, which is perfectly good for a machine, but the human body isn’t built that way, and will flex and lose power from the give in the human body. This “give” in the joints and muscles prevents perfect conversion of energy. The linear movement gets around this somewhat. However, there is more to it than that. If you do the wrist snap in the correct way at the right point of impact, then you prevent the inertia of the target from reducing the acceleration, thus dramatically increasing the effect of the punch. It increases penetration and the shock value of the strike enormously. The wrist snap movement does more than that, though. With it, we can block inside, or under the punch or outside or over the punch or if we are blocked, we can do it in reverse, and clear the block for the second strike.
And finally, the wrist snap helps avoid injury. If you have ever punched someone in the mouth, you are likely to get your knuckles cut on your opponent’s teeth. The top teeth cover the bottom ones, the edge pointing down. Punching from a plane lower than this exposes the knuckles to this edge – the hardest part of the human body into something soft and delicate like a hand. This wrist snap, rolling from the top to the bottom, rolls over their teeth, so you don’t have that happen.
5. Force and momentum. Most people use momentum – that is mass times velocity – to produce the damage-causing energy. The bigger they are and the faster they are moving, the more damage it causes. This is a well-established set of physics. That is all well and good if you are bigger and faster than your opponent. But what happens if you are not? This isn’t acceptable. We have to use some different physics. Force is mass times acceleration. Mass is pretty hard to change much, but we effectively change it by getting better stance and waist to increase dynamic stability, but all martial arts try that. Acceleration is an interesting concept. Being a rate of change, it is a much more important part of the equation. It doesn’t matter how fast you move or how far, but the way you move that makes the difference. What we do differently from most people is to accelerate through our opponent. All the best strikers do, in one way or another, it is just that we teach it consciously in a progressive manner to all the students. The wall-bag training gives you the ability to punch through your opponent without his mass slowing down the strike. It is how the so-called one-inch punch works – which we call short range power, and we use it for every move not just the punch, but all the blocks and strikes and kicks and so on we have, even the stepping. And, naturally, we’ll take more than an inch if we can – or if we have less, we will use that instead. VTK doesn’t limit you. It is your tool. See the article on the physics of the punch for more complete explanation.
6. Why we do the left hand first: Most people are right handed. This has two major implications for a martial art.
One is that the student often can’t use their left hand as well as their right, so the left hand is always emphasised and always goes first to increase dexterity and strength. If a student is LEFT handed, they can do all their own training (at home) right handed to increase their own dexterity. However, in the studio, all students, right or left handed, should do the left hand first because of the second reason.
Most attackers are right handed too. VTK being a mirror image style i.e., we use the left hand to defend against the right, that means that more than likely you will use your left hand first to defend against an attacker. Therefore most training is done left handed. Even though you should assume nothing about your opponent, your training emphasises left-hand moves and tactics. Left-handedness is also harder to deal with for right handed people, giving another advantage. If you know your opponent is left handed, then of course things are altered according to the situation.
This doing the left hand first follows through for the entire system. Virtually everything in every form is done on the left-hand side first; The only exceptions are found in the dummy where we need to respond to the attacker’s right handed attack with our right hand due to some complication of the situation.