Answer for Robert Chu's question as to why the knife set varies from person to person: Wong Shun-Leung taught only a handful of people the complete knives set in his lifetime, Yip Man taught even less. Sifu often said to me that the knife was rarely practiced in the same order as it was originally taught years earlier and that even he had inadvertently changed the sequence through the years.
All the really great Ving Tsun Sifus, realizing that they were much more likely to be in a situation where they had to use their hands, spent their valuable time perfecting their Ving Tsun, in particular their hand movements. The important thing about the knives is that you know and understand the theory and application behind each movement, not the sequence of a set of movements.
It was often said in the early days and while I was training 24 years ago, that before you learned the knife you had to have "perfect hands". The Bat Chum Do is based on the hand movements of Ving Tsun, with some very important theoretical and practical differences and there is no room for error when you use the knife as it was intended. When you fight hand to hand with someone you will always be hit, you may be hurt momentarily and able to continue fighting, or you may be injured more seriously, but chances are that you will recover and be able to fight again. When you use the knives you are in combat with an opponent who also has a weapon, perhaps two and if you make even a simple mistake, if your movements are not totally co-ordinated and perfectly executed you will be cut. You can bleed to death from even a simple looking cut, you can also die from infection and the worst scenario as an example, is that both your heads or guts are lying on the ground.
Whilst we do not have the opportunity today, to use the knives as they were intended, we still practice as if we had to use them in just this way; for this is the essence of Ving Tsun, to fight to win and practice of the knives is no different. However, once you have the hard, hard practice behind you and understand how to use each movement correctly, you will find that you can practice your knife a little less and concentrate on perfecting your whole Ving Tsun. Learning the knives too early, before you have balance and control of your entire body, very strong waist and near "Perfect Hands" can also lead to deterioration in technique and incorrect application of your movements. The weight of any weapon if practiced to the point where you and your muscles are becoming tired, can result in dropping of hands, degradation in balance and control and in short, the practice of incorrect movements.
If you know and understand the Ving Tsun Knives you will know how and why the knife movements differ from the hand movements and realize why these knives (particularly if they are the correct weight for combat against someone else with a weapon) can easily draw your open hands out of line if practiced too early.
I say to all those wanting to learn the knife, to ask yourself just how good your hands really are. "Can you co-ordinate your whole body as one unit and really draw the power from your waist. Can you feel your movement or do you still have to think about what you are doing?!" If your hands are not as good as they can be, then forget the knives and go back to hard training that will result in your really being able to use your Ving Tsun to win.
There are other useful training purposes for both the knife and the pole, but not until you are really READY TO LEARN.
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