Introduction to Sil Lim Tao
From Wing Chun Journey
by Craig Sands
Sil Lim Tau is the first of the hand forms of Wing Chun Kung Fu. All the basic hand movements used in Wing Chun are contained in Siu Nim Tao. There is minimal leg movement in the form; the feet only move to set up the stance in the initial movements.
Siu Lim Tao:
- defines the centreline and teaches students where their hands should be relative to it
- teaches students how to execute Wing Chun strikes correctly
- reinforces the correct elbow position
- instills correct breathing patterns
- facilitates force generation in short range Wing Chun strikes
Great emphasis is put on relaxation while performing Siu Nim Tao. This facilitates efficiency of movement and hand speed
Grandmaster Ip Ching describes Sil Lim Tao:
“Since Sil Lim Tau is the first form, many people think that it is only a beginning course. This is partially true. I consider Sil Lim Tau the basic of Wing Chun. Many of the movements of Chum Kiu, Biu Gee, Muk Yan Jong (Wooden Dummy), even Bat Cham Dao come from Sil Lim Tau. So Sil Lim Tau is not just the beginning course, but an important foundation”
Sil Lim Tao is divided into three sections, with a total of one hundred and eight movements. Each small section has its own aim in practice, and various meanings in application:
The first section is for training the basic strength of the wrist and elbow. The strength is in the formation of the major hand positions of Tan Sau, Fook Sau, and Wu Sau. This section concentrates on developing good structure, relaxation and Gung Lik or “Elbow Energy.” It is performed slowly and without muscle tension. This part is like a preparatory meditation, although for beginners it is taught without any coordination to breath, and the focus is simply on remaining mindful and “in the moment.”
The second section is the training of using the strength and power. This section 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 section is for training correct position of the basic hand movement into your muscle memory. Movements include Pak Sau, Tan Sau, Gaun Sau, Huen Sau and Bong Sau. The practitioner must concentrate on executing each movement’s position correctly.
To effectively develop and use Wing Chun you must use the first sections of Sil Lim Tao to train the basic power and strength. There are no short cuts – once the movements of the form have been learned, they must be practised seriously to train the power and strength. When practising the first part of Sil Lim Tao it has to be slow – to train for the strength one has to be serious, and to be serious one must do it slowly.
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.
Grandmaster Ip Man described that in “Sil Lim Tao or ‘little idea’, the ideas of daily matters, such as money, work, hate, love, etc…. ‘decrease to as little as possible, or even none’, so that the practitioner may ‘concentrate only upon practising’. “
Siu Lim Tao also provides the seed that begins the growth of certain attributes necessary in Wing Chun Kung Fu. An important development is the training of “internal power.” This energy is not mystical – just 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.
Sil Lim Tao invokes the body and mind to stay relaxed and alert so that energy can be provided instantly to the hands. 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.