SIU NIM TAO
Wing Chun Siu Nim Tao: First Form
(Forms, Art For Arts Sake?)
Sui Nim Tao Is the descriptive title for Wing Chun’s first form. It translates as ‘Little Idea Way’ . But why do we need forms?
Many fighters dismiss forms as fanciful and of no practical value. They often argue that one should not waste time practising techniques to an imaginary opponent when that time could be used with a real live training partner.
This appears a valid argument, until one realises that a good partner is hard to come by and that Wing Chun is inherently a hands on training approach. It would be very difficult for the average student to spend a lot more time training on forms than chi sau for instance.
It is easy to knock something like forms or katas, if your sole purpose for training is to fight.
Most martial art teachers will tell you that a great many students will not be great fighters, and many want more from their chosen martial art.
Simply by observing Wing Chun’s first form one can see it is not designed to be fighting an imaginary opponent. If one is not using the legs and using only a single arm for the majority of the application, this is surely obvious.
This strange looking approach is all the more surprising when one considers that so many fighters say they have a great understanding and respect for Wing Chun and that Bruce Lee considered it a “great little style”.
Their thinking would also seem to dismiss all the modern theories on sport psychology.
It is common for the very top sportsmen and women to routinely go through the skills and tactics in their mind. The bobsleigh teams famously will work together visualising their every movement, the track, and the feeling of success in order to inspire and enable them to believe in themselves.
All fighters know that self belief is an important asset, we usually call it self confidence and often in fighting appears to be arrogance.
Boxers shadow spar, it helps balance, concentration and perfection of technique whilst under no physical pressure. It further allows a practitioner to see themselves performing the moves they know they need and allows the brain to make the neural pathway connections necessary to facilitate the execution of a skill when the moment is right.
Your eyes only relay light, the brain makes sense of it. We can all see things in our mind. It is this clarity of thought that these artistic sequences help to develop. The process helps you to ‘see’ more clearly and react swiftly.
Even if forms were no more than elaborate dances, that does not detract from the skill they require and develop in order to be performed well, and once again not all fighters are great martial artists.
Wing Chun forms are prime examples of building fighting ability through the cultivation of the body and the mind.
The stationary stance of Wing Chun’s 1st form offers the opportunity to scrutinise every little detail of the techniques. This alone encourages artistic perfection.
It must be remembered that a Wing Chun practitioner is not defined by his ability to win a fight, to hit a target, to be fast, to fight at close range.
These qualities are only a part of Wing Chun as they are many systems. Wing Chun is seen by its frame, the characteristic shapes that one uses. Only when one can apply the shapes and moves from the forms can a person consider themselves a Wing Chun martial artist.
The forms act as a kind of reference book allowing one to backtrack and check positioning, to observe and remind a student of some of the techniques that they may not have been applying, or have been taking for granted.
The forms hold techniques that many generations have worked to develop They are the synthesis of many minds, and save many years of your own researching by giving a helping hand.
All students eventually finish the ‘traditional’ forms, and a mastery of their techniques will certainly enable them to fight, but then the self discovery of new ideas, moves and philosophies begins.
If your SI-FU truly is your teacher-father then he will wish you to outgrow and achieve more then he ever did. He would retire happy in the knowledge that he did all he could for your growth as a martial artist.
The teacher who will not teach the ‘secrets’ is holding back for fear of you outgrowing him. If you love your children and give all you can for their betterment they will still move on and away with their own lives one day, but they will always have respect for the help you gave. All teachers in any sphere would do well to hold that thought.
Sui Nim Tao: Discussed.
Now let’s move on to discuss the Sui Nim Tao form.
The name reminds students that we start with simple ideas and attempt to master those firs,t and that we will make better progress if we keep our goals achievable.
We stand static in the Yee Chi Kim Yeung Ma often referred to as the Goat Gripping Stance. The term goat gripping apparently comes from the way farmers would hold the animals head between the knees to control it during milking or branding.
The stance, has the toes turned inwards to allow the knees to be brought closer together more easily. This also brings an awareness of the importance in protecting the inside areas (gate/yin) of the body.
The inside area of the legs and arms present a greater danger to you if struck, as this is where the vascular and nervous system are more vulnerable. In Chinese Martial Arts we state the bodies stronger where the sun shines. The inner area are usually in shade.
If you stand completely normal, your stance would usually be under your shoulders for general stability. If you then bent your kneed and turned you heels out the the stance is as wide as the length of your lower leg. A student can measure this by kneeling or may observe that the inside area between the feet is as wide as the shoulders.
Once the stance is formed the buttocks are lightly tensed which tilts the hips flattening the lower back and the legs lightly adducted (brought together) to protect the genitals from a rising kick.
The stance also lowers the centre of gravity and brings the student awareness of the earth. The Chinese martial artist say that:
The Fist comes from the Heart
Power comes from the Earth.
Training in bare feet or wearing flat shoes is preferable at first. This will encourage you to feel the floor and adapt more readily to new footwork.
Once the stance is correct the position is held and then the practitioner concentrates on the hand and arm techniques.
The opening sequence measures the proportions of the body and helps draw awareness of the upper middle and lower levels and defines the Centre Line. It can also be used a way of covering. The skill is to react to the contact, not to create a complex block!
The form is divided into three separate sections each with its own goals.
The first section focuses on the development of ‘Lik’ which is basically strength. This section in particular also focuses on intense control of the mind through controlled breathing. The aim is to cultivate the Chi.
Wing Chun requires the ability to form strong guards and powerful short punches. This is supported by developing the strength in the shoulder, elbow and wrist in particular. The strength is more sinewy than muscular bulk.
The Wing Chun student is required to develop powerful forearms and wrists to transfer power and absorb the shock of impact. However, wrist mobility is stressed too with an emphasis on circling to slip an opponents grip and to apply your own grip.
This first section can be performed very slowly and, as such, the student has a chance to concentrate on every detail of his movement. This minute observation to detail encourages artistic appreciation amongst practitioners and begins the journey to martial artist.
The second section of the form is for developing the correct use of strength.
The use of strength is termed ‘ geng’ or power, and Wing Chun practitioners are particularly concerned with this aspect of training.
The section focuses on using power for only a limited period thereby holding fast to the Wing Chun ideal of Economy of Motion. In a fight of 10 minutes a Wing Chun practitioner will use strength for only a minute or so and that strength will be used very specifically.
Conserving energy and correct application of energy are possibly the most important elements to strive for. Often termed Short Distance Power it is referred to time and time again by devotees of Bruce Lee as the dynamic one inch punch. It is in fact all our techniques, from slaps and chops to low kicking and blocking.
In the second section there are many double handed techniques which is in contrast to the 1st and 3rd sections. This is due to the fact that the techniques used do not get in each other’s way.
The emphasis in the practitioners mind should be to accelerate in the last few inches of every technique and use tremendous force in that moment. It is the ability to rapidly close the fist at tremendous acceleration that give the ability to generate a realistic punch from only a few inches.
The third section of the Sui Nim Tao uses the skills acquired in sections 1 & 2 with a variety of different strikes and blocks.
The application in the form does not have to correspond exactly to that which you would apply in a fight.
For instance the first movements of the 3rd section focus’s on a Pak Sau (slap block) which can be interpreted as an inside gate movement then counter with chang sau (spade hand). The normal counter is to shat geng sau (throat cutting hand) as this offers better protection as the elbow is higher and bridges well.
However, the throat cutting movement has already been performed clearly in the 2nd section. Therefore, the chang sau is another form of hand strike shown in the system.
Clearly the guiding principle is not to fight an imaginary opponent, but to perfect the shape, economical use and power of these techniques in an environment which is conducive to absorbing the material, and making the knowledge contained therein, your own.
Try performing the Sui Nim Tao before every training session in order to switch your mind on to the fact that you are about to study martial arts. Also try always to end a session with the Sui Nim Tao as it will calm your mind and help absorb the lessons of the day.
Taking a little time out to absorb yourself in quiet concentration will reduce stress caused by other areas of life.
Chi Sau is the fundamental approach to fighting that Wing Chun Kung Fu has developed.
Usually known as ‘Sticking Hands’ or ‘Clinging Arms’ it is unlike Tai Chi Pushing Hands in that we are at ease breaking to strike. The aim is to overcome an opponent by absorbing or nullifying any attempt they make to strike.
The great advantage of Chi Sau training is in the receptiveness it develops in the practitioner, allowing the skilled Chi Sau exponent to break and strike whenever the slightest opportunity arises. If such a situation is not available because the opponent is not offering them then the Wing Chun stylist will create opportunities.
Knowing when to stick and ‘spoil’ and when to break is developed through experiential training. This gives rise to a development in the practitioner of his own skills and as a result no two Chi Sau exponents ever feel quite the same.
This unique training system never becomes a chore, no two training sessions with a person are ever the same and you will never learn all there is to learn as you constantly discover more for yourself.
Grandmaster Ip Chun the son of Grandmaster Ip Man who taught Bruce Lee, taught Master James Sinclair a lot of his own idiosyncrasies and later Master Sinclair was easily able to handle all that came his way.
Grandmaster Ip Chun later stated that Master Sinclair’s skill and knowledge were correct in every detail. He further asked that Master Sinclair focus on improving his own skills and develop them further still in order to enhance the position of Wing Chun Kung Fu in the world.
Most students are familiar with the claims that Wing Chun practitioners can fight blindfolded, this is not entirely true. A Wing Chun fighter can fight blind with an opponent but only as soon as some form of hand or ‘bridging’ contact is made (provided the contact is not their fist on your nose!!!).