Probably the most underrated aspect of all VT training is the air dummy form, or Hung Jong, empty dummy.
Yip Man reportedly told his students to do lots of air dummy, and by all accounts he was not one to repeat anything. It is important.
In the air dummy form, we can practice the movements unrestricted, more or less as they will be used, unlike as they are on the dummy.
The dummy training, in one very real sense, can be detrimental to our VT.
In a similar way to how the wall bag stops our punch before it has reached full extension, the dummy stops our movements often well before they have reached their limit of motion. This is how the dummy works to develop our structure, and is a valuable tool for this and other purposes. With the wall bag training, we do punching in the air at least twice the number of punches we have done on the bag, to teach our neuromuscular system to complete the movement, to punch through the target not just to it. Whatever we train we will do. Whatever we do repeatedly we have trained our muscles to do just that. To train our muscles to stop short with regard to range of motion, just because we punch a target with increasing resistance, will teach our punch to stop even though the punch may have been able to sink into their body much further. Punching in the air corrects this, so the punch sinks into their body until it reaches enough resistance or reaches it’s real limit of motion. They will certainly feel this type of punch much more!
Back to the dummy, and if we only train the dummy or train it more than the air dummy, we are programming our movements to stop short, and sometimes even to move in the wrong way. The dummy work, without the correctional effect of the air dummy, will program in and reinforce errors.
The air dummy form can program into our neuromuscular system the use of the movements from all the empty hand forms in their true and full expression.
When the air dummy form is developed further along these lines we have a very practical form which links almost every move from the other forms to the practical applications training. This way when we are asked to react to any incoming attack, we have all the responses programmed in in a very useful way.
Wong Shun Leung was inspired to make all of the VT system available to every student. Previous to this, the teacher would impart only what was deemed necessary for each student to learn. WSL found the hard way that this can be limiting and dangerous for the student. Fighting is unpredictable, and what a teacher thinks a student will need may be too little. WSLs innovation was that everyone gets everything. To this end he and Yip Man worked together to devise a dummy form that works and develops all of the movements that need development on the dummy. Some changes were made to the other forms too, to make them more inclusive so that everyone will benefit from them and have all bases covered.. well more bases anyway. The system is still open to development if situations arise that require additional material to deal with them.. no matter how complete it seems!
My thinking was to have a look at the system and see how thorough YM and WSL had been with regard to this inclusiveness. My process was to go through all the moves in the other forms and make a list of which movements require work on the dummy but are not in the existing form. Then when it came to look at where they could fit into the form, they each had their place as though it was waiting for them, and the form was improved immediately by their addition.
Also, I wished to have all of the movements in the air dummy form to have their full expression, and where appropriate with a finishing follow up move, so that the finish is being programmed in every time we do the form, and becomes smooth, quick and second nature. For example, the first move in our dummy form is a tan sau. On the dummy, this move is stopped short almost as it is begun, because our tan arm contacts with pressure on the dummy arm. In the air dummy, we can turn to face the tan while we step, drive a punch and finish with a following step and palm strike. Trained every time we do the form, this becomes very smooth, sudden, fast and powerful action, as well as being simple, direct and efficient movement, making the tan sau very effective in application. There is no comparison between working the air dummy with full expression and simply miming the dummy form, in this case doing a tan sau that doesn’t move anywhere, doesn’t face properly and is being programmed to limit it’s expression. The air dummy trained in such a way only reinforces the errors being created by the work on the dummy. When we train the air dummy with full expression, the air dummy does not compound the errors but addresses them. There is now a synergy between the two forms.
The dummy and to a greater extent the air dummy forms became much longer and are more work. I see this as a good thing.
The other forms program everything in, the dummy improves the structure and positioning, the air dummy form helps us bring it all together in full expression. Chi sau develops the sensitivity and appropriate response, but without the air dummy form the system is incomplete, and the movements are not being trained to their full expression. Relative to the air dummy training, applications training and sparring, although necessary can be detrimental to the practical expression of our kung fu. We can never train with full expression on our training partner, so our neuromuscular system is being programmed to hold back. The air dummy will adjust this to make our VTK much more effective. We cannot overtrain the air dummy.