The Wing Chun system began with Ng Mui Si Tai who taught it to Yim Wing-Chun. Yim taught her husband, Leung Bok-Tao. In Foshan, Leung took a student named Wong Wah-Bo who was a member of the Red Junk Opera. Another Red Junk student, Painted Face Kam, taught Wing Chun Kuen to Fok Bo-Chuen and Fung Siu-Ching. They passed the art on to Yuen Kay-San. Yuen’s nickname was Yuen Lo Jia (Yuen The Fifth) because, in his family, he was the 5th brother and in Guangdonhua, Jia signifies the 5th. Yuen Kay-San taught the art to a student named Sum who in turn taught Leung Dai-Chiu.
Leung Dai-Chiu now teaches in Kowloon and where he also runs a medical clinic and treats many specialized conditions such as falling and hitting, wind damp, and the loss of feeling children experience in their limbs. While teaching Wing Chun Boxing, Pole, and Knife, he also does a good job at medicine.
According to Yuen Kay-San grand-student Leung Dai-Chiu, Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen has forms like Siu Lien Tao (Little First Training), Chum Kiu (Sinking Bridge), Biu Jee, (Darting Fingers), Muk Yan Jong (Wooden Dummy), Sup Yee San Sik (Twelve Separate Forms), and applications.
Siu Lien Tao is the foundation form of Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen and every beginner must learn it. Its main focus is to develop the horse and bridge positions. The next form is Chum Kiu, which continues the step by step progression that allows a student to understand the methods of Wing Chun Kuen. The last form is Biu Jee, which combines the use the straight body and horse and the side body and horse together in the practice of attack and defense.
When a student has finished the Siu Lien Tao, they can use soft and hard to develop bridge feeling and strength. This is called sensitivity training. After, sticking hands involves the methods and rules from all three forms and the Sup Yee San Sik. The last stage of training is Jee Yao Pok Gik (free fighting).
After, the Muk Yan Jong is used, allowing a student to pretend they have an enemy present in training. With a classmate in chi sao, a student must be careful not to cause harm, but with a dummy more power is possible. This brings the techniques together, giving the practitioner flexibility.
In Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen, there is also a Juk Jong (Bamboo Dummy) that has twelve bamboo hands. The Juk Jong methods are all freestyle, using the only the methods of Wing Chun Kuen as guidelines. The Juk Jong was used many years ago on the Red Junks. They would put bamboo arms through the cabins that had weights on the back ends. In use, they functioned like the Lien Wan Sa Bao (Linked Chain Sand Bags- a group of sandbags hung together). If a student is slow, they will be hit by the return of a previously struck arm (or sandbag).
Leung Dai-Chiu sifu explained that Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen uses the Yee Jee Kim Yeung Ma (”Yee” Shaped Groin Clamping Horse). In this, the horse clamps, the chest is hollowed, the stomach relaxed in, and the shoulders dropped. When a hand goes out, the elbow protects the chest. Each elbow can be used like half a hand so that together, a student can employ three hands at once. The wrist is very important in the transmission of power. The gallbladder is important as the source of courage. These two allow Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen to use an opponent’s own strength against him with both soft and hard.
When the arms are chambered, the body and horse should be straight. The hands should be drawn up and the elbows no allowed to be out or over the stomach. To the left and right, they should not be over the ears.
Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen uses the Twelve Methods of Join, Intercept, Sink, Dart, Stick, Feel, Steal and Leak, Swallow, Slice, Press, Swing, and Detain. Other methods for helping students practice include hitting sandbags, splitting rattan rings, twisting chopsticks, pressing paper, hitting candles, hitting telephone books, etc.
Yuen Kay-San Wing Chun Kuen uses the Luk Dim Boon Gwun (Six-and-a-Half Point Pole). It is 7′2″ in Chinese measurements. The knife method is Yee Jee Kim Yeung Dit Ming Seung Do (Parallel Shaped Groin Clamping Life-Taking Double Knives).
In addition, Leung Dai-Chiu worked hard and so his teacher gave him knowledge for the treatment of falling, hitting, cuts, long-term blood stagnation, chronic pains, long-term wind damp, follow-up treatment, children’s lack of feeling in the extremities, rare problems, half body paralysis. This included both compresses and internal medicine, cleaning, operation, massage, and therapeutic massage.
An interview with Sifu Nima King from Mindful Wing Chun.
Note: Within the answers below, I at times refer to Grandmaster Ip Man as ‘Ip Man’ or ‘Ip’ and refer to Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin as ‘CST’, ‘Chu Shong Tin’ or ‘Master Chu’. I have done this for easier flow for the readers and no disrespect is intended.
Could you please share your first experience meeting the late Grandmaster CST?
I first met Chu Shong Tin in 2004 when he came to Sydney to conduct seminars for the school I was training at since 1998 (Jim Fung’s International Wing Chun Academy). Of course we had heard a lot about our Grandmaster and I had seen his astonishingly powerful demonstrations in some videos filmed at his school in Hong Kong, but to be very honest, inside I was pretty sceptical of it all, thinking that the students in the video were just putting on a show. Either way I was very happy and excited to get to meet the man in person and see for myself what he was all about.
I felt honored when my Sifu asked my friend (Murray Wood) and I to meet the Grandmaster and his family at the airport to help drive their luggage to their hotel. I must admit that Murray and I were very anxious to meet him because for us it was like meeting a huge Rock-star celebrity. After waiting at the arrival hall for a while, finally we spotted him. A 72 year old skinny Chinese man approached us with his family, with his hands waving above his head in acknowledgment of us while displaying a massive smile on his face. We naturally bowed and he laughed out loud in response and bowed back. It immediately became obvious that he wasn’t all about commanding respect. We dropped off the bags at their hotel lobby where we saw them again. Grandmaster and his wife showed their gratitude by inviting us to have dinner with them. Needless to say the dinner was one of the most nerve-wrecking dinners I had ever had .
The next day he was scheduled to do a seminar on ‘The Inner Power of Siu Nim Tao’. There were around 70 students attending. Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin arrived around 20 minutes early to meet all the students and take photos before the seminar. From the time he arrived until the start of the seminar he held the most humble and warm smile while interacting with the students, almost as if he was the one that was honored to be there. It’s very hard to put into words the way that he composed himself around others, but the expression that comes to mind is ‘open and ego-less, shy, yet extremely relaxed and content’. I must say that his behavior was very heartwarming to witness and it was very hard not to immediately admire him. Those have met him in person would know exactly what I’m talking about.
As soon as it was time for the seminar to start, it was as if he flipped a switch and his persona became very focused and serious. He started talking about the inner power that can be cultivated through the slow and correct practice of Siu Nim Tao, and within the first 15 minutes he asked for a volunteer to demonstrate on. I immediately put my hand up and jumped up, super excited about finally getting a chance to touch hands with him. He asked me to hold my arm under his, contacting at the forearms, and to resist his downward movement. In those days I was lifting a lot of weights and was around 83 kg. I knew that Master Chu was around 55 kg. On top of that I was less than a third of his age at the time. Because of this I remember thinking to myself not to resist his force as hard as I could so as not to potentially embarrass him in front of so many people. On the other hand, I wanted to use enough force to be able to feel what he was doing. While Grandmaster Chu was talking to the audience, with his forearm placed on top of mine, he very casually and slowly moved his arm downwards and even though I wasn’t holding as hard as I could, I was shocked at what I had just felt. So then, knowing that I needn’t worry about him not being able to do the movement, I adjusted my stance and honestly braced as hard as I could. Master Chu then glanced at my changed posture, smiled, then did the exact same movement in the same way with the same amount of effort and this time, because I was using all my strength, I felt like the force dropped to my stomach and moved my entire body down towards the floor. It’s an understatement to say that I was in shock and right then and there is when I decided that I needed to move to Hong Kong to learn directly from this man.
What would you say most impressed you about CST, and what inspired you to move to HK to become his disciple?
As mentioned above, I was very impressed with the way he handled himself around other people. The amount of humility and lack of ego was very refreshing as it was not an attribute that I had seen in any other person of authority. And of course the mind blowing Power that he was able to generate with such little effort was like something out of the old Kung Fu movies, which I never imagined was possible in reality. So these two factors completely sold me and caused me to make the biggest shift in my life and move to Hong Kong in 2005.
How many years did you study with him, and how were the classes typically structured?
I trained with him full-time for nine years. His classes were on every weekday were from 5 to 11pm. From the day I arrived I made it a point to be the first to arrive to the class and the last to leave. In the first three years we were practicing in his family home, which was where he had been teaching in the past decades. After that he rented a slightly bigger space, 6 floors up in the same building which to this day is where I train nearly every day.
Master Chu changed his teaching method three times in his 65 years of teaching Wing Chun. In the first few decades of his teaching which included the time he was living with and running Ip Man’s school, the main focus was on getting the students ready for Challenge fights so the classes were much more self-defense based*. Then in the 80s and 90s he changed his teaching to consist of mainly Chi Sau and a bit more focus on the forms. I was very lucky to have arrived exactly at the time of the final change in his teaching method which consisted of mainly standing and practicing the Siu Nim Tao Form. This was a huge change from what I was used to doing in Sydney which was techniques, striking, sparring and Chi Sau.
(*Note: when Master Chu stopped practicing in Ip Man’s school and opened his own school in 1964, he did try and teach the way he had practiced and instructed all students to just stand and practice Siu Nim Tao for hours. This method only lasted around 1 year and when I asked Gum, who was one of his earliest students from those days, about why he stopped teaching that way, he answered that the students were lazy and didn’t want to just stand and practice Siu Nim Tao. They wanted action and to learn how to fight and so Master Chu lost many students to other teachers who were teaching that way, and in the end, he had to change his teaching to cater to the people’s interests and to keep his school going. So actually after over 40years of teaching, he looped back to the method he tried in 1964, only this time we were all very compliant and trusted his teachings and were willing to stand and practice Siu Nim Tao for prolonged periods!)
I spent the first couple of years of my practice with him just standing in the WC Stance and trying to relax and release all the tension. It was pure agony to say the least! To stand still for 10 minutes was a challenge and I was doing 6 hours a day! I remember in the beginning I didn’t want to come across as a weak or bad student so whenever I couldn’t handle the pain any more I would go to the bathroom put the toilet cover down and sit for a few minutes to rest my feet and knees. He must have thought I had a bladder problem to be going to the toilet so often. But knowing him, he probably knew exactly what I was doing and perhaps found it amusing!
Within this first few years of me being there, he figured out the importance of energy rising upwards through the spine to the back part of the head. Prior to this he was more focused on manipulating the student’s shoulder girdle, hip and elbow joints. The discovery of the importance of the spine was a huge development in his teaching method. He came across this discovery by observing what was happening within himself when he activated the Siu ‘Nim Tao’ State, and realised that there is energy rising from the tailbone all the way up the spine to the base of the skull. This, he felt, shut off (or minimized) the front cortex activity and activated the back part of the brain, which he felt activate the Nim Tao State. After this discovery he tried can manipulate that student’s spine and was amazed that he could guide them (the ones who were advanced enough) to activate a small amount of the Nim Tao State. For example, prior to that he would need to locally adjust the shoulder joint to relax it to a level in which it could effortlessly withstand incoming force, but then he found that by guiding the rise in our spine, we were able to get a similar tangible result in our shoulders without him touching it. So this switched his teaching from a localized to a more holistic method of approach.
CST’s teaching method was very hands-on in that he has an amazing ability to use the correct kind of touch to elicit a deep level of relaxation in us. He had a background in Chinese bones setting so perhaps that had some influence in his teaching!
How much emphasis was put into practicing the first form “Siu Nim Tao”, and how did CST recommend for it to be trained?
As mentioned above, in the first few years of him changing his teaching method for the last time, the majority of the attention was on the first form. The biggest emphasis was put on how to stand correctly, meaning with as little muscular effort as possible and from there how to apply Taigung and Seng (the activation of their anus area to release tension from the pelvis hips and base of the spine, and then to rise energy upwards through the spine the back part of the brain) while performing all movements slowly and mindfully.
It’s noteworthy to consider that in his own practice in his early years when he was living with Ip Man, he would practice Siu Nim Tao for many hours every day on the rooftop where he said was pitch black and completely silent (this was in the 50s so Hong Kong wasn’t buzzing in the same way as these days). He would practice so slow, that his movement was not very obvious to onlookers. He mentioned that the neighbors would often see him practicing up there from the other rooftops, and they thought him to be a crazy person who would stand there like a statue for a long time and not move.
We were extremely lucky because in 2009, Grandmaster Chu told us that he was planning to retire and therefore for the first time ever in his 60 years of teaching he was going to teach us every form of Wing Chun including the Wooden Dummy and the weapons, movement by movement. This was huge news for the lineage, because he had never taught any students the wooden dummy and the weapons in such great detail. He spent 6 month each for the 3 empty-hand forms and Wooden Dummy and one year on each of the weapons forms. This period gave us hundreds of hours of footage that we can now study and refer back to; and of course in the end he never ended up retiring and in fact, he was with us in the training hall until the night he was sent to the hospital and laid on his deathbed.
CST is well known for teaching his students about “Nim Lik”, could you explain what is Nim Lik, and what is its importance for in Wing Chun?
Nim Lik, was the term that CST gave the energy that he felt flowing through his body. In his DVD he mentions that other internal arts have different names for the energy cultivated through internal practices. He named it ‘Nim Lik’ which can be translated to ‘Mind Force’ or the ‘Power Generated by the Mind’.
He believed the method of using and cultivating this energy was different from Tai Chi for example (this was his opinion from touching hands and watching many Tai Chi masters in his lifetime including his childhood Tai Chi teacher whom he practiced under for a couple of years in his early teens). His Chi in his words was not cultivated in a particular area of the body and the process originated from the tailbone and shot upwards through the spine (he said he didn’t cultivate it within the Dantien and it wasn’t restricted to travelling through the meridian lines).
He was able to transmit his energy into other people not only to seize them from moving, or throw them around, but also to heal them. Many times I went into training with small muscular injuries around the joints and he would spend a short while on me and relieve the pain (without any cracking or major position adjustments). Once he told us the story about a student of Lok Yiu who was a construction worker who had fallen off a building from the 2nd floor causing his arms to be clamped shut in front of his chest. The man was unable to move his arm off his chest due to excruciating pain. The hospital sent him home to rest as they didn’t know what to do. Master Chu spend a few hours on his spine transmitting energy as well as making gentle adjustments and after a few hours he said the man was “as good as new”!
The amazing thing about his energy was that it could be tangibly experienced by all. When he intended the energy flood through his body, we were able to feel it by holding his arm, leg and even skull!! The flow of Nim Lik in his limbs was experienced by us as if there were little tiny spiders pulsating in one direction and to prove they wasn’t just increased blood flow he would also make it flow in the opposite direction! Very amazing stuff that you would really need to feel to believe! I have a lot of footage of him doing this and recently published one on my YouTube channel which was demonstrating this in a seminar at my school.
Through this use of Nim Lik, Master Chu was able to produce great power without much physical movement merely by lightly touching the person. However, I know that some great Tai Chi and other internal art’s Grandmasters also have this ability!
He believed that Nim Lik is within every human being and that the body (and mind) just needs to be unconstrained internally to gain access to it. He said Nim Lik to be the same power that a mother taps into when she lifts a car off her baby. He was 55kg and was able to hold an extremely heavy WC pole at one end (with his arm extended in front of him at shoulder height) and lift it up with only a small movement of his wrist. This is something that strong men weighing over 120kg were unable to do (I would usually be the smart-ass who would ask them to try, knowing they wouldn’t be able to pull it off)
But in my opinion, the most impressive handling of Master Chu’s Nim Lik was in the way he managed his health. As a child he was extremely frail and would fall ill very frequently. Therefore, his father forced him to practice Tai Chi under a famous master in Guangzhou (this was a couple of years before he moved to Hong Kong). Since his 20s, CST was told by the doctors that he was going to die 3 times. The first time was a stomach illness which lasted a whole year (he was given 3 months to live by the docs). The second time was when he was in his 60s. his eyes and limbs started to bruise and swell. They found that his blood platelets count was so low that they tested him 3 times to triple check and at the end they gave him the test results along with a red packet saying “with this result, we don’t know how you’re alive, let’s alone walking around normally, let alone teaching Kung Fu; good luck!”
The last time they told him he only had a couple of months to live I was already training with him and he was in his mid 70s. They found stage 4 cancer in his liver and kidney. We were all very sad and some were tearing up as he was breaking the news to us. He smiled and said “I feel fine, let’s keep going with the training as if nothing has happened”. He went on to live another 7 years after that without taking any western treatment for the cancers and doctors where scratching their heads when they saw that he had shrunk the cancers. (note: The majority of the videos that I have posted online are within this stage of his life). This too he believed was thanks to the flow of Nim Lik.
On this subject, it’s noteworthy to mention that Master Chu once told me that the Yogis who are able to sit upright in Lotus position for very long periods of time are actually using something similar to Nim Lik in their spine which enables them to sit effortlessly upright for days. Therefore, in my personal opinion I believe that the ‘Kundalini Energy’ used in Yoga, even though it is not useful martial purposes, maybe more similar to what CST cultivated than what some Great masters in Tai Chi have cultivated. However, I personally have never practiced Tai Chi and I’m only a beginner in Yoga; therefor the above statement is not more than a guess according to the information collated from CST and my low-level understanding of the other 2 systems.
Was Nim Lik taught to CST by Grandmaster Ip Man?
No. According to CST, Grandmaster Ip Man didn’t talk about Energy in this teachings. He did however emphasis the importance of Siu Nim Tao practice and mentioned the power that can be generated through prolonged practice of Siu Nim Tao. He instructed CST to practice the form without the use of muscular effort and to initiate all movements with the mind. CST mentioned that he asked his Sifu many times about what he meant by saying ‘use your mind to move’ and the answer from Ip Man was always the same, “learn how to use Lop Nim’ which CST later called ‘Nim Tao’. Within the first few years, having practiced Siu Nim Tao for thousands of hours, CST started to realize that he had attained some inner power that his classmates did not have. His training partners thought that he was doing weight training or other activities to make himself physically stronger because they couldn’t figure out why he was becoming so powerful. One time in class when CST was practicing the Biu Gee form, Ip Man was watching him intently and after he finished the form, he asked CST to grab his Sifu’s forearm with both hands and perform the second last movement of the form in which the arms are both fully extended in front while turning the body. CST then performed the movement and sent Ip Man flying across the room. Ip then asked the whole class to practice that movement under CST’s instructions.
What is the best way for a student to develop Nim Lik, and how do you pass this skill on to your own students at Mindful Wing Chun?
The best way to develop ‘Nim Tao’ (the ability to shut of the front lobe and use the back part of the brain) is through the correct and prolonged practice of the Siu Nim Tao Form. The word ‘correct’ here is very important. I recommend people to explore how to stand and move with as little effort as possible while practicing the Siu Nim Tao form. There needs to be an awakened sense of mindfulness while practicing this (and all other) form. Gradually, and after hundreds or perhaps thousands of hours of practice, the student will begin to feel exceptionally comfortable and energized while practicing the form. They will have the sense of ‘stillness in the mind while moving’ and ‘movements inside the body (energetically) even when there is no physical movement’. Then by continuous practice within the state gradually the student will start to feel the flow of ‘Nim Lik’. So we can say that this energy is not something to be obtained, but rather, it’s something to be released once the body has been mindfully opened enough.
In addition, I believe that a student has a much better chance of attaining this level if they are under the instruction of a teacher that has walked the same path experientially (not just intellectually). This is why I’m planning to set up an online course and in the next few years will begin to do more workshops globally, to hopefully be able to reach many more people with the information passed down from grandmaster Chu.
If a student is not training to cultivate Nim Lik, do you think they are missing out on an important part of Wing Chun?
Most certainly! I personally went through a huge life transformation from this internal practice after having moved to Hong Kong. I can say that as I write this in 2017, I have not attained a worthy-to-mention level in Nim Lik and my overall ability in Chu’s internal art of Wing Chun is not very high when compared to what I was able to do/feel under his guidance. Having said that, the mere practice within this internal path has not only enabled me to produce much power with little effort in a lot of my movements, but more importantly, the mindfulness method of this practice has brought great amounts of mental, emotional and physical balance with in my life.
So, even though an ‘external’ Wing Chun practitioner can certainly become a great fighter, and gain things like increased health through better fitness, structural alignment and coordination, and a sense of belonging to a family (lineage), I know that there are many more fruits one can enjoy by following the internal, and almost meditative, path of Wing Chun. In the end, this path is not merely about attaining Nim Lik or the other remarkable abilities the CST had – although that’ll be very nice, but it’s more about the daily benefits that I feel and am able to pass on to others so that they too can better the quality of their lives by it. In that sense, there is much depth and truth to the old Taoist proverb “The Journey is the Reward”.
Did CST ever talk about Grandmaster Ip Man’s skill and what it was like being his student?
We asked him a lot about Ip Man’s skill. Specially the later years when he became much more like a father (rather than a rock-star celebrity) to me, I wasn’t embarrassed to ask very direct questions such as ‘did Ip Man have Nim Lik’ and other such questions that the local Chinese students would never dare to ask because of their culture. Master Chu never said anything to suggest that Ip Man did not have internal skills in Wing Chun. He would always give answers such as “Ip Man’s skill level was very high as he was able to handle himself very easily against much bigger opponents even within his older years”. Ip Man, according to CST, was very big on the slow practice of Siu Nim Tao and pointed out that “When well-versed in Siu Nim Tao, all other parts of Wing Chun training including the other forms will be well grasped and performed too”.
The relationship between CST and Sifu, Ip Man, was more like father and son or at least like brothers. This is because they both fled China around the same time (1949) and in those early years when they were living together for Five years (in the restaurant workers’ union where Ip Man initially started teaching in HK), since they both did not have any family in Hong Kong, they would spend the majority of their time together. He mentioned once that Ip Man was a very humble man and he never said anything bad about anyone, and that he was more like a scholar than a Kung Fu teacher. According to him, Ip was optimistic in character and had a very youthful heart. He was playful with his disciples and would often tell jokes. He seldom expressed grief and sadness except when occasionally thinking of his family back in China, which was mainly during the Chinese festivals.
When we look at Grandmaster Ip Man in his videos, we can see that there is a difference in his performance compared to Chu Shong Tin’s later videos. However, personally from observing these videos, I believe that Ip Man had a very good understanding and ability in using deep relaxation and body mechanics (even though he wasn’t at the same level as CST to have obtained Nim Lik) . Ip Man told CST that his Master Leung Bik had great internal skills so I believe that Ip had some experience or had at least witnessed real internal ability in his past. This, I suppose, is why he noticed very early on (even before CST knew himself) that Chu Shong Tin had developed a high level of Nim Tao and coined him ‘The King of Siu Nim Tao’.
Do you have any other stories about CST that you would like to share?
To me, Master Chu was a true master of the body and mind which was evident even outside his Wing Chun. He was able to utilise and demonstrate the inner control attained from his practice in many ways. For example, he could sit in the lotus pose and hold his hands in the air and lift his whole body off the floor just by pressing down with his knees! He was able to do the ‘Human Flag’ in which you hang from a pole with your entire body held parallel to the floor. He swam 3 hrs a day in the ocean daily and his students say that he used to swim circles around them while they were swimming. He was able to tread water with his legs until his belly button was out of the water while his hands were held above his head! There are countless other remarkable things he was able to do with the use of ‘Nim Lik’ (which I mention in some of my You Tube videos) but I think you get the picture and if I keep listing them here, I’m afraid I’ll start to sound like I’m telling Chuck Norris jokes.
Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin was a very kind and down-to-earth human being. He took me, and the other boys who moved to HK to train under him, into his home and treated us like family. Whenever I had a problem with anything and even when tragedy struck in my Family life back in Oz, he was the first person I went to for advice or closure. He certainly taught me to have respect for others and that violence doesn’t always solve problems (he knew of my background in Sydney and knew I was a violent and angry kid when I started training under him and slowly he worked on that). Even though he had many challenge fights in the 50s and 60s, he never used more than 30% of his power and never kicked because he believed that it would badly hurt the opponent; and within these fights he never had to strike more than once (never hitting with a closed fist or to the face). The only time where he hurt someone was when a group of Japanese reporters came to his house to interview him. At the end of interview, one of them held out his hand as a gesture of wanting to shake hands and as soon as CST put out his hands, the man grabbed his arm and suddenly tried to turned his body in attempt to throw him. Master Chu naturally reacted immediately by dropping his arm down a few centimetres, which ended up shattering the Japanese man’s wrist in three places!
In his last DVD, Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin expressed his frustration with his own teaching ability and said that he knows that “there must be a faster way to teach people how to obtain the inner power of Wing Chun than the way he had been teaching”. His last wish was for his disciples to find a faster method of teaching so that many people could benefit from this art in the same way that he did. I believe that in the last 4 years of his life he had already found this ‘faster’ way, since I’m putting it to practice with myself and our students at Mindful Wing Chun and we’re getting very promising results. I guess only time will tell; but regardless, I hope he is resting in peace knowing that there are people who have dedicated their lives in preserving and passing on his legacy and that the internal art of Wing Chun that he disclosed still lives on today!
For many decades, Wing Chun Kuen stayed around the Foshan and Guangzhou area and never spread much further. Today many people still don’t know this “short bridge narrow horse” boxing art. Decades ago in Guangdong Wing Chun Kuen was known as “Gwai Ga Kuen” (”Returning Home Boxing”). This meant Wing Chun Kuen was not like the “long bridge big horse” boxing arts which look good in demonstrations. Wing Chun Kuen is not good looking in demonstration but then, that is not where Wing Chun Kuen’s value lies.
20 years ago, Wing Chun Kuen had not spread far and its circle remained very small. Not many people had learned the art and those with good quality did not easily teach others. Thus, only a few were successful with it. Since then, however, the Wing Chun Kuen of founder Mr. Yip Man has been spread in Hong Kong and around the world. Now, many people know of Wing Chun Kuen. Besides the branch of Mr. Yip Man, there is another system with different methods and techniques.
The reader may ask, why are there different branches? Like Taijiquan, it has spread and developed different branches. Now in Hong Kong a different branch is becoming popular.
Wing Chun Kuen Has Two Branches
This branch has the same origins as Mr. Yip Man’s branch but the techniques and methods are a little different. This article will introduce the “Guangzhou Wing Chun Kuen”.
The name Guangzhou Wing Chun Kuen is only used to distinguish the system from Mr. Yip Man’s style. Like Taijiquan has Yang, Chen, and Wu branches, but they all remain Taijiquan. While the distant origins of Wing Chun Kuen may lie with Siu Lam, its development must be traced to the Foshan area. One teacher of Guangzhou Wing Chun Kuen is Kwok Wan-Ping sifu who operates the Guangzhou Wing Chun Institute. So we refer to it as Guangzhou Wing Chun for convenience.
According to Kwok Wan-Ping sifu, he learned Wing Chun Kuen in Guangzhou from Sum Nung. 20 years ago, Sum Nung and Mr. Yip Man knew each other. Now, Sum Nung is still in Guangzhou. This branch of Wing Chun comes from Jee Shim and Ng Mui – Red Junks – Fung Siu-Ching – Yuen Kay-San and Cheung Bo – Sum Nung – Kwok Wan-Ping.
Difficult to Research the Origins & Development
Kwok Wan-Ping says:
“Today, if you want to trace the origins and development and find out what happened a long time ago its very difficult. You commonly hear two different origins. One is that Jee Shim taught it to the Red Junks. The other is that it comes from Ng Mui. After this, this boxing art spread to a few people on the Red Junks. After, Fung Siu-Ching, Yuen Kay-San, and Cheung Bo’s skills were all passed down to Sum Nung.”
New Martial Hero: “So, is this Wing Chun Kuen different then Yip Man’s?”
Kwok Wan-Ping: “I don’t know much about Mr. Yip Man’s Wing Chun Kuen. I can only tell you about the Wing Chun Kuen I learned. This Wing Chun has the three fundamental forms of Siu Lien Tao (Little First Training), Chum Kiu (Sinking Bridge), and Biu Jee (Darting Fingers). It also has Sup Yee San Sao (Twelve Separate Hands), and more the 150 Wooden Dummy techniques. These are the important points for training wrist power.
“Do you have a Wooden Dummy?”
“Yes, we have the Hong Jong (Air Dummy) and the Yut Jong (Real Dummy). I learned Wing Chun Kuen with sunken chest and dropping shoulders. The body shape faces the side.”
“You go to the side for simultaneous canceling and hitting?”
“Yes, but we have front body, facing body, chasing body, etc. For example, when I am at the center, I can follow the opponent with my stance like the radius of a fan.
“You said Air Dummy and Real Dummy before, what does that mean?”
“They are two methods of training the dummy form. One trains flexibility, the other power.”
Wing Chun Kuen Kicks Are Not Higher Than the Chest
“Kwok sifu, does Wing Chun Kuen have leg techniques?”
“Yes, but never higher then the chest, like Invisible Kick, Heart Piercing Kick, Tiger Tail Kick, Lifting Groin Kick, Side Nailing Kick, etc.
“Wing Chun Kuen has Yee Jee Kim Yeung Dit Ming Do (Parallel Shaped Groin Clamping Life-Taking Knives) and Luk Dim Boon Gwun (Six-and-a-Half-Point Pole).
“I’ve heard the pole has a Dummy too?”
“The Six-and-a-Half-Point Pole has a Dummy, but since there is not a lot of space it’s easier to use a ball hanging from a string. The aim is to train speed and accuracy, there’s no secrets.”
“Kwok sifu, I saw you teach your students before and some of the movements did not look like Wing Chun Kuen.”
“Those were Gai Bun Gung (Basic Work). You have to train the whole body- joints, muscles, and tendons. It’s just basic work. Its goal is to build power, inner strength, speed, flexibility, and softness. In my opinion, when learning kung-fu, the basic work is the mother of the fists. I studied at the Guangzhou and Wuhon Sports Institutes where these exercises come from. They’re important so I never forgot them. In every activity, you need good basics, fist fighting is the same.”
Kwok Wan-Ping learned at the Guangzhou and Wuhon Sports Institutes for 4 years. He won the All-China lightweight wrestling championship during this time. At the institute, he studied Mongolian, freestyle, and Greco-Roman wrestling. He also learned weightlifting, fencing, and Chinese martial arts. Besides the Wing Chun Kuen of Yuen Kay-San and Cheung Bo he also learned Chen and Fu Taijiquan, Xingyi, Wuxing Bashi, Yin Yang Bagua, and Longxing Bagua palms, spear, knife, pole, flying dragon sword, etc.
Kwok Wan-Ping teaches Wing Chun Kuen, Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and other methods.
With Kwok Wan-Ping, New Martial Hero. Roughly translated from Chinese
Many of my posts thus far have dealt more with concepts and realities of self defense and personal protection; they have been quite broad and intentionally so. It was necessary for me to approach things in this way to set the tone for my approach to and interpretation of training in Wing Chun. That is all well and good, but now I want to shift gears a bit and begin to focus on the more specific technical aspects of the system as it relates to the reality of combat and fighting.
When someone begins their study of Wing Chun, after the initial explanations of concept and theory, stance and structure, they jump right into the practice of the first form, Siu Nim Tao. Literally translated it means “small idea” and is the gateway for anyone who wishes to gain proficiency in Wing Chun.
SNT: Chinatown’s “Newbie” Test
Training in Chinatown, when I walked in the door and looked in at class I could tell right away who was new. Each and every class we all performed the Siu Nim Tao form together, as a class, before branching out and working on our respective tasks while the newbies still stayed pigeon-toed, hands straight, eyes looking at the clock or stealing glances at the more aggressive exercises the more seasoned folks were engaging in. If I came in late and saw someone in the back of the room or right in front near the mirror, hand outstretched in a tan sau or slowly drawing the wu sau back, after we had already broken off into our respective skill levels I knew they were just getting started.
What Most People Think
All too often, many new folks who came in would be instructed in this form, one section at a time, and instructed to run through each section until further told. Many grew a bit discouraged and left within a matter of a few weeks or so. What I wish these people would have realized is the benefit received from training this form repeatedly. I myself have grown to appreciate the brevity and potency of training this form more and more as my years in Wing Chun pile up.
So many times, the first form is treated as something to “get through” in order to progress to the next phase of training or part of the class where you start doing the cool shit like rolling, stepping or entry drills. Coming up the ranks I was just as guilty as anyone of this-I wanted to get through the for so I could start learning the second form, the stepping, chi sao drills and all that jazz. Much attention is placed on the more “advanced” sets of Wing Chun while the first form is treated as something to be endured while waiting for the real training to start.
Ironic, isn’t it? You bet.
What the Reality Is
The reality is that all advanced techniques, concepts and principles germinate and are found in the Siu Nim Tao set. Indeed, all techniques, concepts and principles found in Wing Chun originate from the Siu Nim Tao set. I can’t state it any plainer or beat this horse dead enough: you cannot expect to become proficient in Wing Chun if you neglect this form, period.
One of the best references I have ever seen on the application of the SNT form is the SIU NIM TAU SEMINAR DVD from Sifu David Peterson. I have watched this DVD more times than I can recall and periodically do so to refresh all of the core concepts in my mind. If you are looking to unlock the keys to what make this form the core foundation of Wing Chun, pick it up HERE and make use of it. Often.
The term “structure” in Wing Chun is used so often it at times runs the risk of losing its’ meaning when people pay lip service to it but it does not reflect in their own execution of basic principles. One of the first things taught in SNT practice is proper Wing Chun body structure through the use of the yee jee kim yeung ma or “goat gripping stance.” This is Wing Chun’s bread and butter, its’ Alpha and Omega. Without this key principle, you have nothing to build on and your Wing Chun will suck. The structure derived from regular, focused practice of the SNT form is the introduction to this bedrock of training. There are always levels of detail to anything inWing Chun, but for the sake of a good once-over for now the key points of this “foundational fortress,” as Sifu Gary Lam puts it, are listed below:
Inward tension on the thighs (specifically the inner thigh or adductor muscles)-this allows the body to truly operate as one unit especially as training progresses and movement is introduced. If you have neglected or half-assed your SNT training and then begin stepping or the second form, you will wobble like the one Flying Wallenda guy that didn’t make it across the tightrope. Rotation on the center axis without proper inward tension on the thighs is just not gonna happen. Want to muddle through the first form to get to the stepping drill? Forget it. It has been said that all footwork necessary for Wing Chun is contained in the first form. So true-it is the inward tension of the thighs that propels the body forward in both forward and retreating stepping. Stepping in and of itself is a stretching and snapping back of a proverbial bungee cord between your knees-an inchworm effect that slingshots you forward as one unit. Without inward tension, stepping looks like walking through the mud with boots on, clop-clop! No structure and as a result, you have the power of one of the surviving 90 year old midgets from the Wizard of Oz in your techniques. I think I’ve whipped this dog enough, so let me just say it again: you cannot shift, step, advance, retreat, punch, strike or piss drunk in an alley if your body is not locked in as one unit, not only from the inward tension on the inner thighs but also with my next point…
The pelvis must be tucked forward with the anterior or front of the pelvis slightly higher than the rear. Put your hands in front of you like you are holding a bowl, and then tilt it like you are drinking out of it. Get the tilt? Good. Now put your hands on your hips in the same fashion, with the thumbs facing backward and the webbing of your hand digging into the side of your body like a 5 year old who is about to throw a tantrum. Tilt your hips up from the front and down in the back as you gently squeeze your ass in and pop the hips forward. Now you’re locked in proper alignment of the hips; not leaning forward like you’re trying to win a limbo contest or sticking the ass out like you just got off the mechanical bull. Ever watch a drunk guy piss in the alley or even stand up when he is a breath away from falling? You are witnessing the power of the Wing Chun stance at work. The body knows how to right itself to maintain balance, which is why this dumbass’s pelvis is tucked forward his shoulders slouch-which, just like before leads me to my next point…
The chest is slightly concaved and the shoulders slightly slouch. The 2 biggest mistakes made on the upper body are just like the ass-hip alignment of the lower body: either the shoulders are back and the chest is out, or the body curls over like a candy cane and takes on the posture of a 15 year old with skinny jeans and moppy hair who has the posture of an 80 year old with osteoporosis because he’s hunched over his cell phone or playing Call of Duty for 9 hours a day. If the shoulders are out and back, you’re gonna get knocked over pretty easily since your hip tuck is already leaning you back without proper shoulder and upper torso curvature to balance it out. If you’re too hunched forward, you can’t generate enough power to do much of anything and will end up over-committing with your upper body to try to generate any forward pressure, which your opponent will, of course, pick up on right away spin you around like you’re square dancing and punch you right in the face. As the saying goes, moderation is the key, and in this case it rests right in the middle: Inhale, and think of the way Charlie Brown exhales and his body just sinks. There is no forced curvature of the back; it just sets into a quasi-slouchy posture where the chest slightly caves, the shoulders slightly round and the body gently sets into the ground. When viewed from the side, there is a slight “S” curve from the head, down the shoulders, to the hips, down the legs and into the heels. At the same time there should be a straight line from the ears through the shoulders down to the heels. That is the line of force which generates from the “S” curve. Combine this power of the “S” with the inward tension of the thighs and you have a coiled spring ready to shoot out.
Everything that makes the SNT form an essential component of your Wing Chun training has its’ roots in this stance. Short-change this principle and you’re building a McMansion on a patch of sand instead of a poured concrete foundation.
The Shortcut to Ass-Kicking Skill
I always tell my students when they say they are too busy to practice at home or they have to travel or whatever else: If nothing else, practice the first form every single day with full attention and intention because when it comes right down to it, I’d rather fight someone who practices all the fancier, flashy stuff but neglects SNT any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Chum Kiu – 尋橋 is most often translated as “Seeking the Bridge”. If we look at the Chinese characters we can understand a more in depth meaning.
尋 is understood as meaning “seek, look for”.
橋 is understood as meaning “bridge or idea”.
The Chum Kiu Form is the second open hand form of Wing Chun that puts the lessons learned in Siu Lim Tao into motion and builds upon them. The importance of coordinating footwork and handwork together is paramount. While Siu Lim Tao’s hand motions reference the self, Chum Kiu’s hand and leg motions reference an opponent in relation to the self. From this, we are introduced to several new concepts that either are not seen or not heavily stressed in Siu Lim Tao.
While the Chum Kiu Form uses the Yee Gee Kim Yeung Ma stance introduced in Siu Lim Tao, it is in Chum Kiu that we use the Juen Ma/Chum Kiu Ma, Biu Ma and Bik Ma moving stances.
If two objects of the same mass and density, are moving toward each other at the same speed collide, how can one bounce off while the other stands its ground? The answer is that if one of the objects is spinning or twisting as it travels, you can be sure this object will stand its ground, while the other will bounce off. Chum Kiu serves this purpose. ~Ip Ching/Ron Heimberger
Juen Ma/Chum Kiu Ma is used for increasing limb energy and to control the centerline. One of its main attributes is two-way energy, the inseparable forces of Yin and Yang in motion.
Biu Ma is a basic shuffle/step (step slide). It is well suited to compliment the in-close fighting hand techniques of the Wing Chun system. The concept of Biu is to follow the center line straight in when there is no obstruction present.
Bik Ma stance is a pressuring step and a variant of the biu ma used to create pressure and leverage power off the front leg.
There are three kicks presented in Chum Kiu Form: Tiu Tek (Lifting Kick) may be interpreted as a defensive function of the leg as well as an attack, and uses an upward swinging motion of the leg in coordination with tilting of the pelvis (tiu yiu). Deang Tek (Nailing Kick) is a nailing kick that mirrors the energy of the Yat Kuen driving into the opponent like a hammer while maintaining stability on one leg. Realigning Kick emphasizes recovery by regaining the center line from a bad position on the low gate.
Although it is commonly understood that there are only three types of kicks in Chum Kiu, from thorough examination, one can find all eight kicking concepts carefully hidden.
The Wing Chun kicks like hand techniques are non committal and do not compromise the balance of the practitioner in any significant way, due to their exceptional speed but lack of height. ~Samuel Kwok
Like Siu Lim Tao, Chum Kiu Form is comprised of three sections:
The first section of Chum Kiu teaches us about many concepts that were not introduced in the Siu Lim Tao form and are prevalent through out Chum Kiu. Initially, when we move from Seung Guan Sau to Seung Tan Sau, we use the concept of kwan or rotating as we learn to move around our own arms. It is additionally seen with the turning Bong Sau and Wu Sau. The idea of Yin & Yang or two way energy is first introduced in the Yat Gee Chung Kuen/Lop Sau and is seen in the juen ma/chum kiu ma through out the form. Turn stance also teaches us the concept of Yui Ma power, using our hips and legs for power. The importance of the immovable elbow theory, first introduced in Siu Lim Tao, is now heavily stressed in Chum Kiu. Dynamic use of the upper arm and elbow in combat is introduced in the first section.
The arms must have supplemental help from the legs, hips and torso. With this in mind, it is easy to see why you should never work the hands alone. That would be a feeble and disorganized effort to create power. ~Ip Ching / Ron Heimberger
The second section introduces Wing Chun stepping, this, when combined with techniques enables the safe bridging of the gap between the practitioner and his/her opponent. Hence Chum Kiu or ‘seeking the Bridge’. For it is with contact that Wing Chun practitioner has his/her biggest advantage. Furthermore the second section of Chum Kiu is building on Siu Lim Tao by making the practitioner use both footwork and kicks with hand techniques such as blocks.
Also throughout the practice of Chum Kiu the practitioner must use both hands at once. Although this is done in Siu Lim Tao, when both hands are used in the first form they perform the same action whereas in Chum Kiu they do different things, requiring a higher level of ability and concentration form the practitioner. Therefore Chum Kiu builds on Siu Lim Tao.
The third section of Chum Kiu expands upon what the practitioner has learned in Siu Lim Tao & the first two sections of Chum Kiu. The Yee Gee Kim Yeung Ma (stance) from the Siu Lim Tao form has a 50/50 weight distribution, while the Chum Kiu Ma (stance) carries its balance or weight on its back leg. The Bik Ma or Pressuring step introduces the practitioner to a forward weight distribution in their footwork. We are also introduced to the Bong Sau in the lower gate, as well as the Double Palm or Po Pei Chang.
The majority of the Kicking Principles lie within the third section, such as the Huen Gerk or Tsiu Yang Chut Gerk (Realigning Kick), where the concept of Recovery is emphasized in the lower gate.
The concepts of Trapping and Fan (continuous motion) are employed with the 45* gum sau (pinning hand) motions and the Lin Wan Kuen, both executed in the closing of the 3rd and final section of the Chum Kiu form.
Fan Sao is used to harness your opponent’s every move. When your opponent attacks, you defend yourself with one hand and attack him with the other. This process continues until you utterly destroy your opponent’s ability to fight. ~Ip Ching/Ron Heimberger
Excerpt from a discussion with Wing Chun Granmdmaster Sigung Chu Shong Tin
Firstly, I want to begin by speaking about the history of Ip Man‘s arrival to HK and how he was able to spark such a fervent following in the Wing Chun style. Ip Man, in around May 1950 another wing Chun practitioner named Li Man introduced Ip Man to the HK Restaurant Workers Union where he began teaching wing chun. As it is known, Ip man was a man of small stature and at the time the Union’s chairman was Leung Sheung.
Leung Sheung was a very tall and broad man and if at first glance, he was probably twice the size of Ip Man. So when he was first introduced to Ip man he expressed doubt and skepticism in Ip man, saying, ‘So this is master Ip man?’. And as Ip Man having met many people in his lifetime that possessed a great amount of life experience, saw him and knew Leung Sheung’s intentions and replied, “You seem like you don’t believe in me [my power]. Here, why don’t you test me?”
This was suggested by Ip Man himself. Such a small and timid man versus a young and hefty man; and the former was the one to initiate the challenge. In this instance, Leung Sheung very eagerly accepted, saying, “Okay, okay, let’s do it”. Ironically, when the two touched hands Leung Sheung was immediately thrown 10 feet across the room and fell on the ground. To this Leung Sheung thought it very peculiar about what had happened and immediately asked Ip Man to take him in as a student.
Thus, Wing Chun was brought to the HK Restaurant Workers Union. Okay, so now we come to speaking about Wing Chun’s structural element, to which I wish to share my own interpretation and introduce it to all of you. Actually, Wing Chun doesn’t really have much style to it. It’s really just simple movements conglomerated together and then split up into three different forms. And each form is to exemplify the core concepts of Wing Chun.
Siu Nim Tao, for us practitioners will know – you place your hands out, throw one or two punches and revert the fists back, do a few movements and then revert the fists back again. That means every movement in every section introduces the function in each section. And so the functions of each section are amalgamated to form Siu Nim Tao.
The second Wing Chun form uses Siu Nim Tao function in addition with the body mass to mobilize the power from within. Thus Chum Kiu is marked by its usage of the body’s movement. Siu Nim Tao has no movement, one just stands there and does the form. Chum Kiu begins to move the body and utilizes one’s body mass to move in unison with the Siu Nim Tao hand movements. In this way, Chum Kiu is able to express its combat potential. And the third one, Biu Jee, not only incorporates body movement but also a rotation of the body.
As we may know, anything with heavy mass, once conjoined with a swift rotational movement, will generate a great amount of force. Therefore, the core concept of the third form uses the whirling rotation of mass to generate a particular kind of force. So, this is just in general what the functions of the three Wing Chun forms entails. They are all just made up with a few hand movements and aren’t necessarily considered a style of sorts. That is to say, it is a just very simplistic style but the most interesting is Siu Nim Tao. That is just my personal opinion. So how come the whole of Wing Chun you have this one form called ‘Siu Nim Tao’ [Little Idea form]. Actually, the name ‘Siu Nim Tao’ (Little Idea) seems totally irrelevant to martial arts. So this Nim Tao I thought was very interesting. From the very first day I learned I thought it was very unique. There were a few times where I’ve asked Ip Man why this style has something called ‘Siu Nim Tao’. The first time I asked, Ip Man replied “It means you have to ‘Lap Nim’ [establish an idea/thought]” and he didn’t explain any further. After a while I inquired again “What’s the meaning of Siu Nim Tao?” and he said “Well it just means to Lap Nim”. Again he just said this. And I asked one last time “Why is this form called ‘Nim Tao’. And why is it just a little bit?!” *chuckles* “Well that means you have to Lap Nim‘!!”. I asked him several times and all he said was ‘Lap Nim’ so I didn’t ask him again…
And I just abided by the way Ip Man taught me to do the Siu Nim Tao form. And was that called ‘Lap Nim’? Well, I didn’t know. All I did was practice Ip Man’s teaching, “Do not use any force, relax your arms and legs, and practice slowly. And then you will understand”. However, after I trained Siu Nim Tao for a long time, gradually my illnesses disappeared and my power kept increasing. And then after experimenting I thought “I’m really actually quite powerful”. Then I inquired about it with Ip Man and he said “Well, this is the function of the Siu Nim Tao form.” And I thought, “How can the Siu Nim Tao form teach people to be this powerful?”. Then I just kept patiently researching and analyzing how I am able to generate this much power.
I often trained very diligently under Ip Man’s teaching of the Siu Nim Tao form. At that time, I was also a very skinny and weak in health. I was just the height I am now (5’10?), and I weighed 110 lbs. And just to show how skinny I was, my biceps at the time were as skinny as my wrist that I could encircle it with my hand just *like this*. I was very skinny at the time. Skinny and very weak in health. And what a shame. I have been researching and analyzing for so many years that it is not until recently that I’ve been able to understand it a little bit more. That is just a really big shame. Actually, when one practices the Siu Nim Tao, one will eventually discover ones own Nim Tao. There are many facets to the human brain and it wasn’t until recently, through researching with neurologists, that I’ve been able to understand more about it [Nim Tao]. They said, “Your Nim Tao is of another region in the brain that differs from the region that we are accustomed to using (i.e. for thought and regular mobile functions such as picking up objects). The Nim Tao you speak of comes from a small part/region of your brain.” And so I thought perhaps I am using this small part of my brain to produce the kind of force I can generate. So I continued my research.
Now I’ve been teaching for many decades and I have the ability to take a person who has no power/force and adjust/fix them up so that they will be able to produce a great amount of force; but only when I am guiding them. Once I’m removed they will not be able to do it themselves. Well this ‘Nim Lik‘ [Idea/Thought power] was demonstrated by me twice in the [name of some event/gathering]. The first time I was standing with one leg on a weight scale and had two foreigners push against me. And as they were pushing I lead all of their force onto the scale so that the harder they pushed the heavier I got. So the Wing Chun Athletic Association has a video record of this which is still in circulation. In the second conference, I demonstrated using two fingers on each hand to take up another person’s arm and moving it elsewhere *demo* [with resistance I’m assuming]. The second demonstration, there were three foreigners who were pushing against me and I needed to push the three of them back. So these are all demonstrations of ‘Nim Lik’. So I really think it is such a shame that it’s only within the last 2-3 years that I’ve figured out how one can breakthrough to achieving one’s Nim Tao. Before I had broke through my own Nim Tao but I did not know why or how. But now I know how.
So there are two stages in achieving one’s Nim Tao. In the first stage, Wing Chun’s stance requires the practitioner to have an intent to “Tai Gong” [lift up the anus]. The second stage, after you have done the ‘tai gong’ and are able to relax the muscles in your lower body [pelvis down], you have to begin to expand the joints in your spine beginning from the tailbone. And from the tailbone you must use a little bit of thought [little idea] to bring the [chi/energy] up through the spine. Once you are able to rush the Qi, passing through each section of your spine and towards the top of your head then you will have activated your Nim Tao.
Speaking about it is very simple. And since I’ve figured this out I have been consistently teaching and advocating this method to my students. When I am helping them train, I can use my hands to guide their Qi/Intent or whatever, until it reaches the top of their brain and they will be able to generate a great amount of power. Thus, I hypothesize that once the Qi reaches up towards the top of the brain,this is what we call ‘Nim Tao’.
So recently I’ve been in discussion with the neurologists and they have said that, “Yes, that part of the brain controls the involuntary muscle movement” and they said “that that Nim Tao can enable one to express their potential power”. So actually Siu Nim Tao can help us to activate our Nim Tao…what that part of the brain is called I don’t know, we just call it Nim Tao. In this way, we can tap into a kind of involuntary power embedded in ones’ potential so that we may use it voluntarily.
Hence, I think that this is the most outstanding element of the Wing Chun system. Alright, so I think this is all I will have to say for today.
Bruce Lee developed a fascination for fighting at a very young age. It is a well known fact that wing chun gung fu was the art that Bruce Lee studied in Hong Kong from age thirteen to age eighteen. Some of his training was with grandmaster Ip Man, but the person primarily responsible for teaching him was the late Wong Shun Leung. It has also been said that Cheung Chuk Hing (William Cheung) also worked with him quite a bit. Bruce Lee liked wing chun because it was such a direct and effective fighting system, and it was the greatest fighters from the wing chun clan that inspired him the most. It was said that he often engaged in the famous “roof top fights” of the time period. He loved fighting, and spent most of his spare time training to be a better fighter. The rest of his spare time was spent dancing, as he had a fascination for the cha cha, and won the Hong Kong Cha Cha Championship in 1958.
His parents continuously worried about his education, due to the fact that all he wanted to do was train in wing chun and dance, so they decided it would be best to send him to the United States to continue his education. Since he was born in San Francisco, California, he actually had dual citizenship. They made arrangements with Ruby Chow, an old friend of the family, for her to allow Bruce to work at her restaurant in Seattle, Washington. Bruce Left for the United States in April of 1959, at the age of eighteen.
Upon his arrival in Seattle, Bruce Lee enrolled in Edison Technical Institute to continue his education. While attending school, he worked at the restaurant and actually lived in a room above the place. As soon as people started finding out that he was a martial artist, they began seeking him out for possible instruction. Some of
his first students during this time were Jesse Glover, Ed Hart, Skip Ellsworth and James DeMile.
Since he had not learned the complete wing chun system, he decided to call what he was teaching Jun Fan gung fu, due to his Chinese name being Lee Jun Fan. So, essentially, by calling it Jun Fan gung fu, he was pretty much calling it Bruce Lee’s gung fu. Jun Fan gung fu consisted primarily of wing chun gung fu, but also contained a few elements of other martial arts that Bruce had explored at the time. Many still refer to Jun Fan gung fu as modified wing chun, as the bulk of the curriculum came directly from wing chun.
Bruce Lee’s reputation as a fighter spread rapidly through the martial arts community in Seattle. He was giving a gung fu demonstration one day and a Japanese karateka that was in the audience began speaking badly of Bruce, who was highly irritated by his comments. Word was going around that the Japanese fighter wanted to challenge Bruce Lee to a fight.
On November 1, 1960, Bruce Lee decided that he had put up with the talk long enough, and the two departed to a nearby handball court. Jesse Glover had a stop watch, and was designated as the referee for the fight. When Jesse said go, Bruce and the Japanese fighter began to size each other up. Bruce attacked with a rapid series of centerline straight punches, catching the karateka full in the face with the punches. He then followed up with a hard straight kick to the face that nearly turned him a full back flip! The fight was over. From the time Jesse Glover had punched the stopwatch to the time the karateka hit the court, only eleven seconds had passed!
Due to encouragement from others Bruce Lee decided to open an actual kwoon in Seattle. He acquired quite a few students, and after a very short time had to move to a larger location. Taky Kimura became his assistant instructor for the Seattle kwoon, which was called the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute. The curriculum there was predominantly wing chun gung fu, including the sil lim tao form, centerline rotation striking, chi sao, reference point trapping hands and mook jong training.
It was obvious to everyone that Bruce Lee appreciated the practicality of the wing chun system. Even though he did add a few things from other martial arts,
wing chun gung fu and it’s core principles remained the nucleus of his system. To Bruce Lee it was all about self defense, and the directness of wing chun made self defense much more practical.
During Bruce Lee’s time in Seattle, a young woman by the name of Linda Emery started attending his gung fu classes. The two fell in love, and were married. Shortly after, they moved to Oakland, California, where Bruce had been corresponding with a well known martial artist named James Yimm Lee. Taky Kimura became the instructor of the Seattle Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Bruce’s absence, and Bruce and James opened a school together in Oakland.
Before leaving Seattle, Bruce had traveled to Oakland on several occasions to meet and get to know James Lee, and the two became fast friends. They had already planned to open a school, and James was accepting students in preparation. Bruce and Linda lived with James during their stay in Oakland, so Bruce and James had daily opportunities to train together, and work on furthering the Jun Fan gung fu curriculum.
Through his close friendship with James Lee, Bruce Lee met the late, great Edmund Parker, master of kenpo karate. Ed was fascinated by Bruce Lee and the skill level he displayed in the art of gung fu. He was so impressed that he invited Bruce to participate in his 1964 Long Beach Internationals, a world renowned martial arts event. Daniel Inosanto, a very prominent student of Ed Parker and highly skilled martial artist, was assigned the duties of taking Bruce Lee around during his visit to Long Beach. The two formed a fast friendship, which lasted for the rest of Bruce Lee’s life.
The Long Beach Internationals was Bruce Lee’s debut to the martial arts world, and his awesome demonstration at this event captured the attention of many prominent martial arts personalities, as well as some prominent people in the television and motion picture industry. Although the art demonstrated was considered Jun Fan gung fu, the wing chun influence was there for all to see! Still not fully content with what he had, yet inspired by the response to his demonstration, Bruce continued to develop his martial arts ideas and abilities.
Bruce Lee’s brother, Peter, had been a fencing champion in Hong Kong. Bruce had always liked the fencer’s ability to quickly close the gap on the opponent using very direct, economical and explosive footwork. He also noticed some similarities to wing chun gung fu. Wing chun has the four corners. Fencing has what they refer to as the four quadrants. These principles are very similar in both idea and definition. Bruce’s interest in fencing caused him to start experimenting with combining his wing chun hand tools with the fencing footwork. It was also at this time that he realized the importance of placing the power side forward, making your strongest hand closer to the opponent. This greatly increased his non-telegraphic striking capabilities.
Combining the directness of the wing chun punch or finger jab with the power side forward and the fencing lunge made it almost impossible to stop his entry. He worked on this until he had perfected the movement, with the emphasis on intercepting the opponent’s initial movement, or even their initial intention to strike.
Another striking art that Bruce Lee took an interest in was boxing. He liked the quickness of the boxer, as well as the evasive movements, light, quick footwork and the applications of angular power punching. He liked the way that the boxer applied their whole body in the mechanics of their punches, using the legs, waist and hips, thus giving the punches amazing power. The thing that he didn’t like was the fact that boxing was a sport, and therefore prohibited the use of other striking tools as well as foul tactics. The common practice was to put the power hand to the rear. Bruce Lee used to watch old boxing films through a mirror to see what the techniques would look like if applied with the power side forward.
From boxing, Bruce Lee took the hook, the uppercut, the shovel hook and the overhand hook. This gave him more versatility in his hand striking tools. He also liked boxing evasive tactics such as the slip, the duck, the snapback and the bob and weave. Some of the footwork from boxing could also be applied in certain situations.
During this time, Bruce Lee composed a letter saying that he was creating a new martial art, composed primarily of techniques from wing chun gung fu, boxing and fencing. He stated in the letter that this art was going to be IT, meaning the
ultimate art. He would name this art Jeet Kune Do, the way of the intercepting fist. This was around late 1965.
Due to the start of his acting career and increasing television appearances, Bruce Lee decided it would be best for him to move to Los Angeles, so that he could be closer to the studios. He had maintained contact with Daniel Inosanto, and Inosanto had become his student, even though he was still teaching kenpo for Ed Parker.
Together with Dan Inosanto, in 1967 Bruce Lee opened the Los Angeles branch of the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute. Dan Inosanto was considered Bruce Lee’s assistant instructor at this location, and taught all of the classes in Bruce’s absence. The school was located at 628 College Street in Los Angeles’ Chinatown district. This was the location of the last Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, and probably the most famous of Bruce Lee’s schools. It was this school where Bruce Lee taught such well know Jeet Kune Do practitioners as Bob Bremer, the late Jerry Poteet, Steve Golden, Daniel Lee, the late Herb Jackson and the late Ted Wong.
By this time, Bruce Lee’s art had fully made the transition to Jeet Kune Do, but wing chun gung fu still remained the nucleus of the system. As a very well educated and longtime instructor of Jeet Kune Do, it is my opinion that Jeet Kune Do is composed of 50-60% wing chun, 15-20% boxing, 15-20% fencing, and 5-10% taken from other disciplines. Of course, the most important part of the equation is the brilliant mind of Bruce Lee!
There are those who still try to discredit the wing chun, even going so far as to say that there is no wing chun, or very little wing chun left in Jeet Kune Do. On the contrary, nothing could be further from the truth! Wing Chun gung fu is, and will always remain, the very foundation of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. Those who say different are very misinformed. Those who leave out the wing chun are definitely missing the most important part of the equation, and the primary element that makes jeet kune do the direct, effective and devastating martial art that it is. Without wing chun gung fu, Jeet Kune Do would have never existed! That, my friends, is the bottom line!
Tennis elbow is a well known condition amongst amateur Tennis players and surprisingly, amongst many Wing Chun practitioners. The reason is over-extension of the elbows during punching.
Apart from destroying your elbows, fully straightening your arms during a punch will reduce your power generation and more importantly, your coverage, leaving you exposed to counter attacks.
Number 4 Too much Chain Punching
Chain Punching is not the answer to everything. Within the 3 empty hand forms of Wing Chun, there are many different types of strikes including elbows and upper-cuts. More importantly, these forms are there to help you develop good bio-mechanics, not specific techniques.
Restricting your strikes to only those you think are Wing Chun approved is likely to make you a rigid and ineffective fighter.
Too Much Emphasis on Chi Sao
Chi Sao can be a great tool for development of sensitivity and structure, but the truth is that real fights look nothing like Chi Sao. In reality, people do not follow predetermined path-ways to fight, and will most likely avoid sticking with you.
Over-emphasis on Chi Sao can create a bad habit known in Wing Chun circles as “Chasing Hands” which is likely to get you knocked out against Boxers and MMA fighters.
Number 2 Using the Yee Jee Kim Yeung Ma as a Fighting Stance
The Yee Jee Kim Yeung Ma stance is NOT a fighting stance.
In reality, this is a power-generating TRAINING stance designed to help the practitioner develop short range power through subtle stretching and twisting of the torso and limbs.
Number 1 Lack of Sparring
The number one bad habit in Wing Chun is undoubtedly a lack of sparring. Wing Chun practitioners can debate for days on fundamental principles, such as when to use a Tan Sau or a Bong Sau, or how the stance should be executed.
These types of debates simply do not occur in Boxing. Boxers have been fighting in the ring for over 100 years, and by now, the principles of Boxing are well known and agreed upon. Even beginners have a good understanding of when a jab or a hook should be used, and what constitutes a good stance.
A century of fighting has filtered out ineffective and fanciful movements so that only battle tested techniques remain. Sadly, this is not always the case in Wing Chun
In fighting, there should be almost no indication that a fighter trains in Wing Chun because the movements and footwork should be as natural as possible. In truth, there are no styles in a fight. There is only good bio-mechanics and bad bio-mechanics. It should come as no surprise, that all accomplished fighters move in similar ways.
After long time spent in Wing Chun and practicing several different styles of the art I will try to present my understanding of Siu Lim Tao , Wing Chun’s first form meaning .There are numerous explanations and interpretations of the form and its name . In most cases explanations don’t go further than literal translation and explanation of each character in the name . Eaven this simple way of explaining the meaning of the form’s name have deep implications on training and training but it Is far from complete and full meaning of the name .We also have to be aware of the fact that Wing Chun, at the very beginning had only one form and name of that was –Siu Nim Tao. One form contained and defined the complete system . Later from well know historical reasons one long form was divided to three forms but name of the original , old , long form stayed and was given to first of three new forms. All three forms were equal parts of the old long form but only the first part continued to exist with same name, the other two parts( forms) got new names. Coincidence ? Or there is a specific reason for this ?
To know the real meaning of Siu Lim Tao we have to go beyond the simple meaning of the characters in which the original name of the is written . Frist we have to be aware that Sui Lim Tao is a name and a name cannot be translated directly , literary but rather has a specific meaning, important and know to Wing Chun practitioners . Like it was said before, today , the most common interpretation doesn’t go beyond simplest translation of each character of the form’s name and tries to give that translation some logical meaning and context . These translations and interpretations are not wrong , and no matter there are pretty different interpretations ,they are for the most part correct but they are far from to be full and complete. I , also do not have full and complete meaning of the form, and that is the beauty of it , but I will return to this fact later. To reveal the meaning of the form we have to start with several simple facts . People who named the form lived in a very different world from today , their mind frame was completely different from anything we can find today and their thoughts and actions were driven by reasons we can’t fully understand today . Words had different meaning at that time and were used in a specific manner in a specific situation from specific group of people , just like today people from specific occupation have their specific vocabulary and sometimes even common words have very different or wider meaning .
We don’t know for sure when was the first version of Wing Chun appeared , but we can guess with a great amount of certainty it was at the beginning of 19th century. What we know is , that first version of Wing Chun appeared among Red Boats opera troupe and it contained only one , long form , named Siu Lim Tao. The fact is , many of the Red Boat’s actors were members of the resistance . The other important fact , they were , being actors , better educated than most of the other people of their time. One other thing is also important to have in mind , at that time martial arts were not meant for ‘outsiders” , public teaching was not invented yet and it was something unthinkable , martial arts were kept in secret and terminology used in particular style in most cases was understandable only for the people who were initiated into the teachings . Often, terminology was deliberately confusing and meaningless and it would have no sense to outsiders, especially if martial artists were involved in revolutionary secret societies.
So , what Siu Lim Tao小念頭, actually means. At the beginning , like it was said before , Wing Chun system had only one form, Siu Lim Tao ,and complete teachings, concepts , principles and techniques were in that form . Name of the form had at that time much wider meaning than it has today , at least that is what I believe after decades of practicing and historical research .
Simple translation would be: 小 means small , 念頭 means idea , so the translation would be little or small idea . But if know the form , if we are involved in Wing Chun, and you have to be in order to understand the form and its meaning , it is obvious that this explanation of the name doesn’t cover the whole content of the form , not even the technical part.
First form of Wing Chun is an embodiment of Taoism in technical, conceptual and philosophical way and name of the form implies exactly that.
Tao is a way”, “path”, or “principle”, an “idea” . Small idea reflects the ultimate one .
Just as in Taoism , The term Tao means “way”, “path”, or “principle” where Tao denotes something that is both the source of, and the force behind everything that exists , first form has the same meaning and significance for Wing Chun , it is a source of the system and the force behind it .
First form completely mirror Taoism in every aspect , all major concepts and principles of Taoism are major concepts and principles of Siu Lim Tao , and also they do not have same name , they are identical in their nature and can be explained using exactly same words .
One of the most important things taught in the first form is how to respond immediately and appropriately to all the changes that occur moment to moment. It is how the fight is developing, a changes happened from moment to moment . This Wing Chun principle is identical to one of the major Taoist virtues known as ”Ziran” . Ziran is defined as naturalness and spontaneity – responding immediately and appropriately to all the changes that occur moment to moment , exactly the same as we define ability and skill to react properly in a fight , to have necessary skills and respond immediately ,without thinking ,where Wing Chun becomes our nature and it spontaneously ‘speaks” when it is necessary . Large part of the system is dedicated to developing this kind of skills , chi sao , various level of sparring and some other drills and exercises .
No opposition , is one of the most important concepts of Wing Chun and again it mirrors one of the most important principles of Taoism, Wu Wei , where this Wing Chun principle of “no oppositions” have its origin , or it is more accurate to say this principle is Wing Chun expression of Wu Wei. Wu wei is typically translated as “non-action”. This does not mean that nothing is ever done. Quite the contrary, what this means is that one acts only with purely natural actions, or actions aligned with the Tao. Such actions contain no willfulness or controlling tendencies, no willful strategizing or trying to force things to go a certain way. Instead, those exhibiting wu wei simply go with the flow of things. This is exactly how “no opposition” is explained in Wing Chun . In the original Taoist texts, wu wei is often associated with water and its yielding nature. Same way is used in Wing Chun , technique , just as wu wei can assume any form or shape it inhabits. Wu Wei shaped the technical content and fighting strategies of Wing Chun , all hand positions , wrongly known as “blocks” are designed to offer no direct opposition to the incoming force but to disperse it or change its path .Footwork is developed following the same principle as well as body structure . Body is alight in a specific manner that allows neutralization of the incoming force by simply conduct it to the “ground” in a same manner that the wire conduct electricity. A great amount of power going on through the wire , but there is no opposition in the wire to all that power so the wire stays undamaged , it is the same with wing chun body structure and incoming force .
“Three Treasures” of Taoism also play important part in a set of principles from first form.
Jing 精 -sperm/ovary energy, or the essence of the physical body .We all operate with our physical bodies , in Wing Chun we use the body In a very specific way to achieve our goal .
Qi 氣 – vitality energy, including the thoughts and emotions. Qi in Wing Chun can be explained on two ways . First is the combat explanation where Qi is defined as a biomechanical efficiency . This biomechanical efficiency is what old masters called “internal” and it is a basic foundation of Wing Chun and proper understanding is necessary in order to have proper power generation , structure, ability to manage incoming force ect .
Second definition of Qi is the most common one where qi is a form of life energy, or life force.
Shen 神 -spirit or spiritual power as well as mind. In wing chun this concept represents one of the most important principles of the art – intention . “Intention” is one of the major fighting principles but it is purely mental process that effects physical performance and quality of technique execution .Without intention structure of every movement and position as well as the body in general will collapse .
At the end , how come such important and complex set of principles contained in th first form can be named “little idea” ? Using ‘little idea” to describe such a great amount if information clearly associates with Yin and Yang , represent the interplay of opposites. The concepts of yin and yang are central to Chinese religion and philosophy . They form the dynamism of the Tao, or the way of all things. Life is lived inside the interplay of opposites: up and down, hot and cold, male and female, dry and wet, outside and inside, high and low, joy and sadness, peace and war, exertion and rest, life and death, and so on. Yin and Yang symbolize this interplay that is at the center of life’s dynamism or energy. Wing Chun style and its fighting concepts have their deepest foundation in this principle . Wing Chun is soft , internal , offers no opposition but expressed techniques will be hard on the opponent , soft, relaxed body will be a hardest obstacle to the incoming force .
“Little Idea” is everything but small , yet ,such a great amount of information , the most important parts of the art ,actually the art its self is expressed by small things , short name and simple , small number of movements.
Siu Lim Tao as well as Wing Chun art is the highest peak not only of Chinese martial arts achievement in a technical sense but also in philosophical and theoretical . First form is amazing tool and it will allow the practitioner to fulfill all his needs for technical knowledge . But first form is more than that , it is , like I said before , an embodiment of Taoism, and just like the philosophical system from which is derived from , first form will allow the practitioner to learn, advance and understand the art as much as he wants and is capable for.First form will follow the practitioner and provide all the answers accoridng to his skill level , education, culture , intelligence , interests ,ect. Technical level of practicing and understanding is just a basic level, a first step in a path of knowledge , intellectual and psychological growth ,in some cases it can be even a spiritual path. First form will give practitioner what he needs , and more , as long as he is ready to explore , to learn , to experiment , to think and to feel . Through constant effort, personal sacrifice, concentrated hard work, aspiration toward perfection first form is transformed and becomes effortless , from physical and psychological point of view .Physical movement and mental effort get close to one another and the boundaries between them are slowly loosening. Siu Nim Tao grows and develops between body, mind and spirit until they eventually unite in order to continue to grow together. Then, everything happens spontaneously, there is only awareness of what is happening, but there is no conscious effort. From this point Siu Nim Tao stops to be something separated from the person, stops to be an activity , stops to be a way of life , it becomes a life its self , involved in every movement , thought , becomes a part of every conscious and unconscious action.