Unimpressive as it may look, the essence of Wing Chun is actually embedded in Siu Lim Tao form. You cannot possibly execute the other forms without a firm foundation of Siu Lim Tao, which outlines all the principles of Wing Chun. If you don’t understand Siu Lim Tao, you will never understand Wing Chun. If you rush through it while learning, you will pick up bad habits. The bad habits remain with you all through your Wing Chun life.
Siu Lim Tao contains all the basic hand movements used in Wing Chun: Taan Sau (攤手), Wu Sau (護手), Fuk Sau (伏手) and Bong Sau (膀手). Practicing Siu Lim Tao achieves a number of goals: it defines the centreline and teaches students where their hands should be relative to it, reinforces the correct elbow position, facilitates force generation in short range Wing Chun movements and teaches students how to execute Wing Chun movements correctly.
The meaning of Siu Lim Tao name can be translated as follows: Siu means little and in this case means minimal. Lim (sometimes pronounced as Nim) means thought (idea) and Tao means way. So together in this context, the whole name of Siu Lim Tao means a way to minimize your thought. The meaning is to try to empty your mind and concentrate on your practice. Therefore, Siu Lim Tao is both internal and energy training. It is also Gung Lik (功力) training. In Cantonese, Gung means work and Lik means strength. Together they mean to work on your strength or building your strength. Siu Lim Tao is the basic form of the Wing Chun Kuen system. Without practicing Siu Lim Tao, your Wing Chun skills will not be good.
Siu Lim Tao has three sections, although some might dissect into four or five sections to make it easier on their students. The first section is Gung Lik training. The second section trains Fatt Ging (發勁). In Cantonese, Fatt means “release”, Ging means “power”. It means release power. The third section is technique training. When you finish these three sections of Siu Lim Tao, you already have a basic concept of Wing Chun techniques. You know how to develop your power, use your energy and to use basic techniques. Regular practice of Siu Lim Tao can also give you good health and develop your Qi (氣).
First part of Siu Lim Tao
The first part of Siu Lim Tao is a Gung Lik training or internal strength training. The first part also trains the Lat Sau Jik Chung (springy forward force). In simple terms, ‘Lat Sau Jik Chung’ is the ability to attack, with power and effectiveness, the instant that a gap appears in the defenses of the enemy, regardless of whether we are consciously aware of the gap or not. By performing it slowly we are training correct elbow positioning and energy, learning to relax and building up our Qi, which has many health benefits. The more slowly you do, the more relaxed we can be.When you are relaxed, you can the feel the energy of your opponent. When you can feel their energy, you can then use the right amount of energy back to stop them.
Second part of Siu Lim Tao
The second part of Siu Lim Tao is a Fatt Ging training. This part is training how to use proper energy when you are using power and so is much faster than the first part of training Siu Lim Tao.
The very famous Long Distance Fatt Ging (most people call it one inch punch because of Bruce Lee demonstrations), is an example of how to use power while applying the principles of Wing Chun. This is, that you do not use the energy until you really want it. So when we study Wing Chun, we should not use too much energy and never use strength against strength.
In other words, in the entire second part of Siu Lim Tao, we must relax until the last moment and only then release the power. This section teaching us correct release energy by only tensing at the end of a technique. In real battle, on all the attacks we must relax until the time we are sure we want to commit to an attack and then strength is only used at the point of contact, not before. Many of the movements in this section are trained double handed. However, we can actually use one hand and it is in fact more common than using the technique with two hands.
Third part of Siu Lim Tao
The third section covers these basic skills: Tan Sau, Paak Sau, Gaang Sau, Huen Sau, Gwat Sau (scraping arm), Tut Sau (clearing hand) or Muht Sau (wiping hand), Bong Sau and punching. These techniques can be used for both training Chi Sau and self defense. If you can apply these skills properly, then you will be able to defend yourself in most situations. Chi Sau training helps us to better develop these techniques.
Siu Lim Tao is the basic form of the Wing Chun system. You should practice Siu Lim Tao more than any of the other forms. This will help you to understand the principles of Wing Chun more fully. You should try to do it is as slowly as possible and naturally. Breathe through the nose. Siu Lim Tao is not just a martial art skill, it is also internal training. It can make you healthy as well because every martial artist should be healthy.
Our Wing Chun ancestors must have realized the need for internal training and so created Siu Lim Tao later. Siu Lim Tao is for balancing the strong energy and to make us healthier. A lot of martial artists only concentrate on fighting and miss the internal training. Internal training will help us to balance our body. It needs someone with a lot of experience to realize this. Therefore, Siu Lim Tao is the most important form in the whole Wing Chun system.