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Siu Nim Tao

The Heart of the Wing Chun by Sifu Paul Tennet

Wing Chun’s primary training routine is Siu Nim Tao or Little idea Way.  Many translations of the name have been suggested such as don’t have too many thoughts in your mind, concentrate on the small details or establish an idea in your mind.

Over the last 24 years I have learnt and investigated several different versions of this little form.  Each method I have been exposed to has its strengths and weaknesses so my advice would be to play with each method you have and also don’t discard anything as at some point you might find its usefulness.  This article is my little thoughts on the importance of this form.

Siu Nim Tao and Fighting Techniques

Anyone with a few ounces of worldly experience can look at the form and tell you that it is not designed to train the movements or essential fighting elements of movement, timing and distance.  The fact that you stand with your feet fixed and without any noticeable rotation of the hips or drive from the legs would make any would be functions extremely limited.  That being said I believe and have been taught that for the start of the Wing Chun journey, training the individual movements without having to consider movement of the body is enough to work on.  This allows the student to concentrate on the correct angles and positioning which is essential for short and close range movements and the almost unique tight structure that will become invaluable to students as they progress.  What you are essentially doing is developing the triggers and memory for the muscles to fire (twitch reflex) and isolating the mechanics.  This idea is not new to anyone who does traditional martial arts if you look at basic drills in your system.

Siu Nim Tao and Fighting Strategy

Beyond physical technique, what really come through in Siu Nim Tao are the strategies behind the system.  Virtually every movement in the form has a principle or fighting strategy if you can see it.  Right from the start you define the centreline which many would consider the primary Wing Chun principle.  Then you occupy or control the centreline with your punch and arm.

The first section concentrates on the tan, fook and wu sau shapes, especially the elbow position as it travels the centreline.   This could not look anything further away from fighting techniques but many elements of the fighting techniques have their base in this subtle exercise.  For example he Tan concept is taking the inside line as you do if you are countering a punch on the inside.

The second section looks at different structures and the release of short range energy.  The structures are of critical importance and this in my opinion is where most instructors and students fail.  The detail involved in the direction of force, elbow position and relaxation and tension is a massive area of study in these dozen or so movements.  The Wong Shun Leung family also say that this section is about recovery and when you look at the movements many of them return to centreline and drop elbows back into the correct positions.

The third section varies more between the various schools of Wing Chun but my opinion it is basic linkage and examples of movements and the motions between A and B.  More importantly this section three brings greater coordination and even more concepts of application to the student’s curriculum.  If you notice most of the movement return to the principles.  In most wing Chun methods you always finish with the hands up and on the centreline and attacking forwards. The way I practice is with the mind set of returning high and when off the centre you always return.

 Most of the form is done left side then right which is an advanced but simple concept that each arm should operate independently of the other.  This pays dividends in chi sau and clinches as you have two lines of power to control.

Siu Nim Tao and the Mind

Training the mind is often overlooked by students.  In my opinion Siu Nim Tao heavily emphasises the mind in all movements.  The name of the form even suggests this.  Either way you are learning to concentrate, mentally relax and extend your focus beyond your physical body. 

When first learning the form, your legs might tremble or ache.  This is natural and all part of the process or pushing through the discomfort and relaxing under pressure.

Focusing you intention or developing forward energy is another important aspect of the first part of Siu Nim Tao.  Keep your mind focused on the forward Tan and Fook Sau movements and some teachers also suggest that even with your Wu Sau movement you keep the forward intention.

In Wing Chun circles the principle of “lop nim” or establishing an idea in the mind is common.  Mental focus, concentration and will are fundamental to successful application of force.

Siu Nim Tao and Health

Tai Chi masters will often say that the form is the qigong (chi gung) and that all you need is the form, not other qigong.  Siu Nim Tao is the same, by doing the form you are working health and martial technique in one. A few weeks ago I was going to suggest to one of my Wing Chun students that he should do some qigong as rehabilitation on an injury.  A couple of minutes later I felt like slapping myself across the face when the reality hit me.  I did not tell the student to do qigong for the simple reason that practicing the Wing Chun forms correctly is your qigong.

Posture, Relaxation, Breathing, Balance, Energy, Coordination and Mind / Body unity are all promoted and maintained by doing your Wing Chun forms on a regular basis.  With an understanding of these elements then you can practice play you perform Siu Nim Tao and Chum Kiu.

If you look at the number of Huen Sau (circling Wrist) movements in the wing chun forms it tell you they must be important!  Although they can be used to train grabbing and energy I personally feel they are there to help develop and maintain flexibility and strength.  Hitting wall bags etc can tighten and damage the wrist and hand and the Huen Sau movements are a corrective measure.

Many people use Siu Nim Tao as a form of moving meditation in the same way as tai chi is often described.  Also looking at the internal martial arts it is not too far removed from the ideas behind standing post “Zhang Jong”.