by Dave Jardine
Baat Jaam Do, the Ving Tsun knives are excellent weapons and we use a traditional chopper design, wide blade, and same width all the way along. We have a good sized guard that allows us to change our grip on the knife by rotating the handle in our hand, thus turning the blade to be flat without compromising the strength in the wrist.
The quillon, the curved part coming out where the handle meets the blade is large and rounded, just the perfect size to catch a pole or staff and allow us to move in on the opponent while controlling their weapon. It can also catch an opponent’s edged blade and with a simple turn of our wrist trap their weapon and allow us to chop their wrist with our other knife. The same as with the arm break move in the Chum Kiu form, where we don’t train to go for an arm break but just do it if their arm happens to get in the right place, with regard to trapping an opponent’s weapon in the quillon it’s not something we aim to do, but it’s a possibility we like to be open to.. if their weapon happens to catch in the quillon we’ll turn their blade and chop their wrist off. With a large quillon, the opponent’s blade can be caught without our blade being turned much at all, so it’s much more likely to happen than with a small quillon. The larger quillon also works very well as an eye gouge if our blade were to slide next to the opponent’s head, even piercing the back of the eye socket. Also, the larger quillon serves well as a guard, while a smaller quillon will more easily allow an opponent’s blade to strike over ours and into our arm. Sometimes, bigger is better..
We get our training knives made by a local blacksmith, Wayne Saunders who operates Iron Lord Forge. You can see an image of the knives in his gallery here. Click on the image in the gallery to get a clearer view. Contact Wayne via his website for further details or to order a set. He is a master knife maker and artisan.. his other work is well worth a browse!
The knife training is an important component of VT training, especially regarding specialised footwork and development of the understanding of the elbows, and to develop strength in the waist and the wrist snap for the punch.
One perspective on the knife training is that the knives are simply a piece of training equipment to develop aspects of the empty hand work. Of course weapons skill is also developed, but in reality when most fights occur there is not a weapon handy, unless it’s in the opponent’s hands!
The knife training skills can transfer easily and naturally to a broken pool cue, a couple of cricket stumps or even a rolled up magazine if we are lucky enough to have something such on hand at the time.
The real value is in what the knife training contributes to the rest of the system.
Because we are holding weapons, and programming in some of the moves to deal with an opponent’s heavy weapon, our use of the waist and feet is very different in these instances from the footwork elsewhere in the system. Yet, this footwork can be used to manipulate a much heavier opponent than our usual footwork would allow. It can also be used to deliver devastating strikes which approach the opponent from surprising positions and in situations where our usual movement or structures won’t work.
When we are training with our knives to fight an opponent with a long sword, our footwork is different again to effectively get us off the line of attack and to withdraw our leg to hide the femoral artery. This kind of stepping is valuable in getting off the line of an incoming punch or kick and moving in through the centre, and it delivers an extremely powerful and devastating punch.
Because we are moving a weight, the knives, held in the hands sometimes at almost arms length, the angular inertia from the weight forces us to develop strength in our shifting, in the waist, also in the ankles, knees, lower back, shoulders, wrists, elbows, and how to unify and/or coordinate these strengths. We train with 1.6mm steel blades which are quick and light but still give a solid chop. We also train with 3mm blades for extra strength training, and with steel pipes for power training.
The knife training develops a different mindset to the empty hand work, an extra viciousness, due to what we are visualising doing to the opponent with our chopping actions. This can obviously help if we get into a fight, but doesn’t make for a healthy attitude when relating to people in day to day life, which is one reason we are advised to not overtrain the knives. A little bit of a good thing is best, in this case.
Facing training partners attacking us with weapons conditions us so we can better relax when facing unarmed opponents. This is a positive outcome of the knife training mindset.
There is a more serious caution that comes with the knives. There is another reason that we should never overtrain them. In much of the knife training, our wrist is used much like the elbow is used in the empty hand training, especially with jum sau like actions, where our wrist effectively becomes the elbow for the action. When we overtrain the knives, our wrist can begin to act like an elbow in the empty hand training, so our chi sau and fighting gets ‘handsy’ and we work incorrectly using the wrist instead of the elbow. I’ve been advised this error once trained in is almost impossible to fix. So, no matter how senior one gets in Ving Tsun, the empty hand work always makes by far the bulk of the training. The weapons are there to complement the empty hand training.