You put your whole self in: part 1

You put your whole self in,
Your whole self out:
In, out, in, out.
You shake it all about.
You do the hokey cokey,
And you turn around.
That’s what it’s all about!

Despite a year passing since my last entry, I’m pleased to announce, to greater or lesser indifference, that Phaseshifting is still here! I could talk about how life continues without the need for online validation, or how actions that aren’t commemorated in a status update or tweet are still worth taking, but all that may have to wait for another time. In the meantime, it’s a New Year, with cobwebs to be cleared and rust to be oiled. I’ll start with a diary entry, as this week saw our first VT session of the year at Combat Science 101. For now, this is still a self-defence and martial arts blog, so those of you who may want a larger lesson from this, such as it is, will have to wait for part two.

The session was simple enough, starting with a vigorous warm up based around sudden changes of direction, diagonal sprints and lateral steps. Moving through a collection of mobility drills, unearthed from my browser bookmarks and which built on previous drills the class had been practicing, we moved on to some crude stand up wrestling inspired, in true Vagabond Warrior magpie style, by a blog I’d read earlier in the day. One partner hooked his arms under the other’s and took a gable grip or similar at his back, with the second partner having to take the gable grip over the other’s arms. “Under arm” was designated Number One and the brief was for Number One to attempt to drive back Number Two, with the latter providing just enough resistance to make that task difficult and all this for thirty seconds at a time before we swapped roles. Much harder than it sounded – especially given free interpretation of ‘just enough’ – and while we entertained a new-found respect for wrestlers and caught our breath (with one student gasping “my tank is empty”), I debriefed the group.

Now, I know next to nothing about wrestling but it wasn’t wrestling skill I was hoping to develop. My aim was to show how a relatively simple exercise can develop and highlight many ostensibly disparate attributes. In this case, mindful of where we were, the one who had the under arm grip had a better chance of using “power from the ground”, a key VT principle, to unseat and move his opponent. Thirty seconds of moderately aggressive and physical work exhausted the group just enough to emphasise the need for us, as VT practitioners, to seek to avoid such a style of fight or nullify attacks before it became that kind of fight: the need to take the initiative, attack the attack and not let an attacker gain or maintain the advantage of surprise is paramount to effective VT. Finally, the key observation and learning point for me was how everyone put their all, physically, mentally and emotionally into such a simple exercise.

First through the judicious administration of a few pushups, squat thrusts, burpees and crunches – to reveal to the students that their tanks were not quite empty – and then via the subsequent analysis of fundamental VT concepts, this was the theme that we carried with us through the rest of the lesson. After a brief examination of VT’s basic structure and posture (2), we cast a similarly concise eye over the detail of the main VT vertical punch before bringing it all together in pad drills. What is often a throwaway drill or an excuse for exhibiting one’s ego, in the commonly accepted sense of the term, became an intensely demanding drill, even when performed with reduced intent or aggression. The intensity came from having to engage and distil all of one’s learning – about posture, structure, alignment, triangulation, aim, extension and more – to produce a repeatable, “right first time”, punch (3). Reducing the distance to the focus mitt to between six inches and a forearm’s length increased the demand on the student, by limiting the space available to develop speed and power.

As the VT punch trades off power for speed and closer range, the practitioner must bring all that he or she has to the punch, working on and developing the ABMVT idea of “full body geometry”. The ability to utilise full body skeletal and muscular engagement is, as my chief VT coach Ged Kennerk teaches, a skill to be learned, not something to be left to chance, so a quick full body plank helped bring that to the forefront of our attention before we returned to the punching practice. In the context of the VT punch, all the elements had already been taught in class before; the challenge now was to bring all those elements to bear at the right time, then repeat. In short, the student has to put everything into what he or she does to make their Ving Tsun work. (4)

In part 2: “You already possess everything necessary to become great”

Endnotes

(1) Ving Tsun, also known as Wing Chun

(2) Ving Tsun is, very roughly speaking, a structure-based, rather than a torque-based, striking system.

(3) Eagle-eyed readers will no doubt identify this as part of the scientific method. Ving Tsun was called Ving Tsun Kuen Hok – “the science of Ving Tsun gung-fu” – by Wong Shun Leung.

(4) For detail freaks, or dear readers who remain awake at this point, the remainder of the lesson was given to basic kicking practice, simple Dan Chi Sau and Lap Sau drills and a brief run through of VT’s first and second hand forms, Siu Nim Tau and Chum Kiu.

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