Siu Nim Tao

Wing Chun First Form – Siu Lim Tao

By Penglay Martial Arts

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  -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  – 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  -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.


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