by Phil Bradley
The first form of the Wing Chun system is called Siu Nim Tau. Meaning Little Idea, this form demonstrates basic but efficient concepts that provide a logical method. Regardless of the style, all Wing Tsun/Wing Chun/Ving Tsun methods will generally begin their teachings with the Siu Nim Tau.
Whereas many arts focus on an application, Wing Chun focuses on the concept of that application. A concept can adjust and respond to ever-changing situations, while focusing only on the application itself can see it defeated.
All Wing Chun empty-hand forms are taught in three sections to make for easier learning. For the Siu Nim Tau, however, its three sections have a specific purpose and stress a unique function:
- Section 1 teaches the correct bio-mechanics of arm movement and leg strength.
- Section 2 teaches how to develop relaxed power.
- Section 3 combines these elements in order to “release” that power.
Some will train the Siu Nim Tau as internal while others will train it as external. We train Wing un solely from the mindset of fighting (what many denote as external). Elements of internal training will result, such as relaxation and smooth breathing, but we do not focus on the internal aspects as some others do.
Instead, our primary focus lies in the relaxed, physical aspects of response and engagement, learning to overcome an opponent swiftly and efficiently. Internal elements result over time, but they are not our primary concern; defeating the opponent as quickly as possible is the primary goal, and utilizing the concepts found in the Siu Nim Tau begins that process.
The interesting thing about Wing Tsun is that you will find many variations. The families, lineages, and styles have particular ways to train, as well as specific modes of that training in order to cultivate what they feel are the essential elements to their preferred methods. Some are more effective than others, but on the whole, you will usually find more similarities than differences.
Section 1 begins by learning how to lower one’s center of gravity from the chest to the waist. Called Hoi Ma, or Opening the Stance, this basic but primary element is one of the reasons we can take an opponent head-on. Should too much force be encountered and we are overpowered by brute strength, the structure itself allows us to “borrow” that force and re-direct or deflect it.
When engaging force with your own force, the stronger of the two opponents has a better chance of success because the odds are more in their favor. Therefore, in order to overcome that, borrowing their force allows us to quickly change angles, respond faster, attack the exposed areas, and keeps it efficient without thinking about what to do.
Drills & Applications
A variety of drills can be created exclusively from section 1. To illustrate a bit about what the Siu-Nim-Tau teaches us, let’s explore a few drills that begins the foundation of Wing Tsun.
There are three primary punches in Wing Cun, with Yat Chi Chung Kuen, or Character “Sun” Thrusting punch (commonly called the Straightline punch), being the most prevalent. If you close your hand to make a vertical fist, and then look at the front of it in a mirror, it resembles the Chinese character for “sun”.
Wing Chun punching differs from other arts in that instead of striking with a horizontal fist and using the first two knuckles, we use a vertical fist and strike with the bottom three knuckles. If you place your arm to your side, make a fist, and then raise the arm to the front, you will see that the bottom three knuckles are in alignment with the arm. Upon impact, the entire arm acts like a shock absorber.
This is why Wing Chun punching can inflict so much damage to the opponent, and it is also why the punch can be so fast from such a short distance. It is biomechanically the correct way a punch should be enacted.
Tan Da, Fook Da and Gaun Da
Three of the first movements are the easiest to learn. These actions address defense against straight punches, hook punches, and low punches.
Tan Dar, or Palm Up-arm with simultaneous attack, is mostly for straight punches. Note, however, that many practitioners use Tan Da for hook punches, too. Personally I don’t subscribe to that concept since the elbow is slightly inward vs. outward, and you need the elbow outward in order to handle the force of a real hook, as well see in Foo Da.
Fook Da, or Bridge On-arm with simultaneous attack, is quite adept at defending against hook punches. It is not just a block, though; instead, it slices into the attack so that it doesn’t take the full brunt of force. In this way, you don’t take the entire force on your arm. It is vey similar with Lan Da.
Gaun Da, or Splitting Block-arm with simultaneous attack, is like axe splitting wood, hence the name. Wing Chun does not have blocks; instead, our “blocks” are either attacks or they slice through the attack so that we counter-attack while defending.
Lead-arm Defense Drill
After learning the first section of Siu Nim Tau and exploring the variety of concepts, we can take these movements and blend them together to create our own drills/scenarios as necessary. This teaches us not to be stagnant or always training the same drills over and over without change.
To begin this process, we work what is called the Lead-arm Defense Drill. This drill is just one of many variations that frees us up by changing from side-to-side while simultaneously working the arms. We also learn more control of the lower body and how to pivot ourselves in order to borrow the force of the attacker.
Pak Sau Drill
An excellent real-world drill that you can work with your training partner right now is called the Pak Sau drill. This drill teaches coordination, learning to make contact, feeling what that pressure is about, and how to better protect your centerline. It also puts into motion the concept of working both hands at the same time so that you can enact simultaneous attack and defense.
The Pak Sau drill is very important to Wing Chun, our entire fighting curriculum begins with it. From driving in, down, around, adding kicks, elbows, knees, and any other action you can think, Pak Sau easily and quickly transitions to effective and efficient counter-attacks.
Concepts & Theories
Wing Chun is concept-based vs. application-based, meaning that the movements themselves can only take you so far. They are excellent movements, for certain; however, they are still only mechanical actions. What really makes Wing Chun so effective is how and why the movements are applied.
For example, think about how many martial arts are in existence. Now, think about how many ways the human body can move. With the hundreds of systems and styles in the world, a person can still only do so many things.
When someone trains only for applications, what happens if they meet up with an opponent who is trained in movements that the defender did not train to respond to yet? If they follow a set pattern or routine in their daily training, then any deviation from that routine can be cause for defeat.
Wing Chun does not follow this premise; instead, the system applies concept – not movement – to the equation. Concepts such as learning about the centerline, straightline, and vertical midline are essential to what we do. Understanding how the body responds to incoming force allows us to borrow that force and use it our advantage.
In combination, the centerline and straightline principles increase your reactions so much that our responses can become extremely fast. However, there is no mystery there. It is nothing more than simple body mechanics.
The vertical midline separates the left and right halves of the body so that we can analyze what limbs would be appropriate for various attacks. This is assisted by working the Six Gates principle, in which the body is broken down into six separate areas. For example, gates 1 and 2 are for the right and left sides of the head, gates 3 and 4 cover the right and left sides of the trunk, and gates 5 and 6 cover the right and left sides of the lower body. With these areas being analyzed, we can quickly see what limbs would be more efficient to address any kind of attack we might encounter.
The Siu-Nim-Tau is unique to the rest of Wing Tsun in that while all forms are learned in sections for easier learning, the Siu-Nim-Tau’s sections each have a distinct purpose:
- Section 1 – Section 1 teaches the correct biomechanics of arm and hand positions, as well as strengthening the lower body. The structure of the stance from the ground to the top of the head is learned, and we take this structure to reinforce our upper body mechanics.
- Section 2 – Section 2 teaches us how to develop relaxed force. Anyone can release force, but releasing the proper force is what this section focuses on. Here we learn about relaxing our actions in order to remove the stiffness and tension that goes with fighting, as well as how to develop a relaxed whipping type of force.
- Section 3 – Section 3 combines all of the lessons learned in sections 1 and 2, and teaches how to unite these concepts into a workable, efficient explosion into our target.
Like all things Wing Tsun, though, not everyone trains the sections in that manner. Some apply different associations to it, such as learning double movements, focusing on gaining the inside line, etc.