Siu Nim Tao
小念頭 — The Little Idea
As the first form in Wing Chun, Siu Nim Tao is the foundation for learning the correct stance, hand positions and fundamental techniques. In Cantonese, Siu means small, young, or just born. Nim (sometimes written as Lim) means idea, thought or reason. The word Tao means starting or beginning. Together, the phrase translates as "The Little Idea for Beginning."
Siu Nim Tao is taught in three sections. The first third concentrates on developing good structure, relaxation and Gung Lik or "Elbow Energy." This section is performed slowly and without muscle tension. Many consider this part to be almost like a preparatory meditation. In the beginning it is taught without any coordination to breath, and the focus is simply on remaining mindful and "in the moment." It is not uncommon to feel warm and calm during the performance of this section.
The second section of Siu Nim Tao begins to develop Fajing, or the "release of power." You begin to use both hands simultaneously while maintaining a solid stance. To release power efficiently you should stay completely relaxed and wait until the last moment of the movement.
The third and final section of Siu Nim Tao teaches the basic techniques of Wing Chun. These include Tan Sau, Bong Sau, Jeung strikes and others, and are performed one hand at a time.
— Grandmaster Moy Yat, Ving Tsun Trilogy, 1990
Since Siu Nim Tao is the first form, many people mistakenly believe that it is only for the beginning student. Instead, Siu Nim Tao is intended to be practiced throughout your entire lifetime. Each stage of your development brings a new level of insight, meaning, emphasis and refinement. It becomes a mirror of your development.
Since I cannot possibly explain it better than Grandmaster Moy Yat himself, below is an excerpt from his essay, Seed of Kung Fu from the book Ving Tsun Trilogy published by Winners Sports Publications in 1990.
Note in particular Moy Yat's use of the term play when referring to forms practice. This was a very specific word selection, not to demean or make training seem less serious, but to emphasize the emotional content of training. You cannot force the benefits out of Siu Nim Tao any more than you can force grass to grow. The attributes gained from forms practice likewise arise naturally and spontaneously.
You must also have an energetic, alert and playful mind when training Siu Nim Tao. If your heart is not in it, if your mind is elsewhere, or if you are "just going through the motions," your time is being wasted. Explore the form with wonder, and it will unlock its secrets.
— Kristin Martz
Siu Nim Tao is the seed that begins the growth of certain attributes necessary in Wing Chun Kung Fu. An important development is the training of "inside power." This energy is not a mystical internal strength, as has been exaggerated in many martial art tales. It is simply a label for the ability to meet an opponent's force with just the right amount of energy to stop it.
For this spring-like effect to occur the hands have to be emptied of tension. When played correctly, Siu Nim Tao invokes the body and mind to stay relaxed and alert so that energy can be provided instantly to the hands. If the student consciously tries to achieve this energy as a goal then it becomes self-defeating, because nurturing inside power comes through playing the form in a calm manner and free of any intent. The hands must learn to move instinctively and respond naturally so that the overall effect is to economize every action to a useful end while conserving energy.
Since economy of movement and energy are mainstays of Wing Chun Kung Fu, it is important that each action be smooth and effective. The body must respond without hesitation and be able to protect itself with a minimal amount of expression. It is for this reason that the "centerline" is such a vital factor to Siu Nim Tao.
We explored Centerline Theory in an earlier section, but theory comes into practice while training the form. Specifically, the hands move with exacting precision forward and back along the centerline in order to train them to occupy and control it instinctively. You learn to move in economical lines, minimizing movement and effort. You are learning to both attack along the centerline and protect it against incoming attacks.
Siu Nim Tao also prepares the student to use energy at different angles and distances. This introduces the beginner to the famous Wing Chun concept of "short power," a technique for producing powerful amount of force at a very short distance.
Siu Nim Tao: Kuen Kuit
Wing Chun Kuen Kuit are "Words of Wisdom" which capture – often in poetic terms – the finer attributes of Wing Chun Kung Fu. The word Kuen Kuit is Cantonese for "Martial Sayings," or "Fist Poems." Below are some of the important Kuen Kit for training the Siu Nim Tao form.
- Siu Nim Tao comes first; do not force progress in training.
- A weak body must start with strength improvement.
- Do not keep any bad habit.
- To maintain good balance of strength grip the ground with the toes.
- To release Qi from the Dan Tien, will enable proper release of power.
- Sink the elbow and drop the shoulders; guard the centerline to protect both flanks.
- There are one hundred and eight movements, all practical and real. Thousands of variations can be used, aiming for practical use and not beauty.
- Internally develop the Qi; externally train the tendons, bones and muscles.
- Tan Sau, Bong Sau, Fook Sau, Wu Sau, and Hyun Sau: their wonder grows with practice.
- Each movement must be clear and crisp. Timing must be observed.
- Practice once a day; more will cause no harm.
Begin your training in the Siu Nim Tao form with the Opening and Yee Jee Kim Yeung Ma Stance.