Using Siu Nim Tao

Using Siu Nim Tao

By Gary Lam

It is said that Dat Mo retired in his later years to the Shaolin Temple and taught the monks a series of exercises which were developed to form the basis of Shaolin Temple Boxing (Kung Fu) so their bodies would not deteriorate whilst spending long periods in meditation.

As Dat Mo was said to be the father of Kung Fu, even though the development of Wing Chun took place many years after his death, I suppose we should expect that as a refinement of old traditions, Wing Chun should still be concerned with deep thinking and the connection of mind and body.

Dat Mo is still associated with the idea that spiritual, intellectual and physical excellence, are all equally important and interdependent in the pursuit of enlightenment.

Although enlightenment may appear to be rather macro and beyond the casual pursuit of the modern martial practitioner, if Dat Mo had forged his temple activities in Shaolin with the implicit intention of upgrading these qualities, Wing Chun as a refinement of Shaolin wisdom should continue to embody these things.

Hopefully you can draw a parallel and a level of acceptance that even if enlightenment does not factor into your daily practice, if we took Wing Chuns’ body feeling, structure, and attunement to pressure, as a ‘physical’ upgrade, awareness, study and refinement  as the mindful component, and the resultant conceptualisation of experience , inducing a change in perspective and emotion  to produce a degree of ‘spirituality’, it would seem that although our personal motivations may be detached from the original tradition, the correct teaching and absorption of Wing Chun is still in keeping with Dat Mo’s ethos.

With this in mind, we can begin to appreciate how complete martial training can be, in the personal development of people. As long as we practice, this process will operate continually behind our training to upgrade our natural ability and improve our human experience. This is Kung Fu.

Relaxation and focus are important attributes. They help to keep us alive! Everybody knows what a killer ‘stress’ is, and without ‘focus’, if we had no access to supermarkets and were reliant on hunting to eat, we would starve. (In this day and age without focus you might have a road accident).

Relaxation and focus are, without shadow of a doubt, core components of functional fighting. Relaxation aids acceleration – hence power, relaxation also aids our ability to change position and absorb impact.

Without focus to the target, we lost before we began. Relaxation and focus are (not surprisingly) core components of the Siu Nim Tao form.

Outside of contemplating the practical application of my forms, I like to ground myself in the knowledge that every repetition is gradually refining relaxation and focus that I can put to use in any way I like. I want relaxation and focus to be so embedded in my personal makeup that it permeates into everything I do. Something built through physical and mental diligence. I recognise that relaxation and focus help me in everything I do.

Meditation is concerned with training the mind for the purpose of self cultivation and self realisation. More often than not individuals employ relaxation to enhance this focus. Siu Nim Tao is the first form of Wing Chun and you can view it as a standing meditation.

We can use a standing meditation to isolate and explore anatomical adjustment within a structural framework.

Siu Nim Tao is, a catalogue of postures and positions that are useful when fighting within striking distance. Its practice requires that we donate time to self assessment – assessing how the joints bones and tendons can work cohesively to support combat within striking range – to remain connected, strong and stable. This in my opinion is the difference between Wing Chun and most other striking arts – we use a balanced grounded, magnetic quality to adapt to our opponent, rather than delving in and back out of striking range. It is important then, that we develop a cohesive connected body state to achieve this or we will be bumped off balance or sacrifice power and timing in our shots.

Wing Chun as a skill, is geared to produce a relaxed state so that the latent power of the human form may manifest via its relationship to bone structure, gravity, and the mind.
This is the root of maximum impact with minimal effort.

The Siu Nim Tao form is a vehicle for this development.
Although Siu Nim Tao is seldom recognised as a meditative process it has direct parallels to other
types of meditation. As Siu Nim Tao is usually the access point for Wing Chun, from the outset we
are exploring relaxed transition through the form’s movements.
The beauty of Siu Nim Tao is that if we are paying attention to how we feel inside (our relationship to the mechanics of our body) mental progression takes place at the same rate of physical progression as we contemplate the efficiency of the body moving to exact each change.

Enhancing relaxation through movement, and contemplating the practical intention of each change,
the form will serve to upgrade our thinking feeling and doing simultaneously. So our physical
progression matches our mental progression – something you could not achieve whilst sat cross
legged with your eyes shut in standard meditative poise.

Siu Nim Tao is for fighting but it is much more than a physical catalogue.

It addresses structural cohesiveness and it is that which allows us to break away from the reliance on muscle alone and develop power that is not reliant on excessive body motion.

Structural cohesiveness is also essential in the collection of pressure.

Siu Nim Tao is more than the sum of its part’s. It is a state of mind and a state of being. It is this state that serves to enhance combat efficiency.

Siu Nim Tao is the unceasing practice of relaxed focused mind and body in combination that when transferred to combat will enable the mind to conduct and the body to perform two tasks at the same time. If we are incapable of doing this under pressure, we do not possess Wing Chun.

The Wing Chun mindset is rooted in Siu Nim Tao practice and is in essence a coping strategy to help you remain calm and focused whilst enabling the hands to conduct two tasks simultaneously, independently, correctly, inside the chaos that is fighting. We only move one limb at a time in the majority of the form to focus the minds attention on the subtleties of adaptation.

Standing still, we amplify connection to personal feeling. We can really get in-touch with ourselves. Moderate our thinking, minimise external stimuli.

We can use this time to develop internal comprehension and mind/body connectivity, before connecting to the outside world.

Mindful practice as such links back to the masters who had developed Wing Chun.

Had they transcended the external properties held within the form and catalogued a procession of change in the context of stillness to create a transformational meditation capable of inducing a paradigm shift through daily practice as people attach to feeling? This way, mind and body could upgrade simultaneously in dualistic support of one another. “Siu Nim Tao, once a day – more will do no harm”.

Was this Dat Mo’s plan when introducing a fighting culture to Shaolin? Is there a basic deficiency in human behaviour when mind body (and spirituality) are not balanced?

Was it the plan of the adepts when developing Wing Chun to create a catalyst for fighting ability alone? Or was it dualistic in the recognition and further development of important human attributes? Attributes (more often than not) latent in man? A base appreciation that in developing the sense of feeling, and developing response to stimuli we connect more intelligently to the actual/immediate/now, rather than to the assumed/perceived. A collective, training to embody further refinement of wisdom that was being developed inside a temple? After the sacking of a temple (true or untrue) this practice would be far too valuable to loose.

As a Daoist art then, Siu Nim Tao depicts Yin Yang dualism, we practice mind and body, tight and soft, inside and outside, attack and defend, high and low, close and far, in and out, fixed and active, and a practice designed to destroy coupled with practice to foster human potential.

It is only through periods of separation from contact that we can fully appreciate the unadulterated output that belongs to us. The more familiar we are with this, the better equipped we are at differentiating between that which is our own, and that which is imposed upon us.

If we can develop a registered resting state of equilibrium through Siu Nim Tao practice, and then attempt to transfer and maintain that state inside our fighting, we create a benchmark, a constant, and in doing so enhance clarity in reference to analysing how well we can reproduce form under pressure. Analysing how a perfect state is affected by stimuli coming in, we develop a sound basis for structured improvement and self actualisation.

I don’t believe in emptying the mind during Siu Nim Tao practice. In doing so, you can only minimise what is directly transferable to real time eventualities.

If learning is ‘discover – not copy’, emptying the mind in this instance reduces ‘a little idea’ to……. something much smaller.

Not thinking is a complete impossibility, but if we separate thinking as a function of the brain (not the self) then by quieting the brain and directing willful attention through the body, in any activity, we are training the mind to support physical change and in doing so fortify each adjustment with mental attention.

To our benefit, fighting aside, each repetition provides a unique opportunity for us to learn more about ourselves through the experience of detachment.

It is only when we have internalised form, that Kung Fu output has the propensity to embody what people term as internal qualities. In simple terms this is the ability of the individual to separate cognitive thought from conative attitude whilst applying conscious focus inside the body.

Internal development is exactly what the statement implies. It is a personal recognition of what is occurring inside the body during change, that opens for epiphany of new feeling and awareness states that can be transferred to practical application to supplement and refine contact to the outside world and therefore combat efficiency.

Concentration on my internal workings through Siu Nim Tao repetition is a focus of mine. If conscious mental output serves only to deduce what is happening to the exterior of the human form and beyond, then martial output remains external.

Sometimes internal qualities may manifest through practice and repetition but it is my personal opinion that without the individual understanding as to what and where – (like driving a fast car every day without appreciation of its mechanics), our timing may improve but ultimately at some stage we reach limitation as the internal workings remain a mystery. An upgrade in skill may be stumbled upon, but more often than not it will remain random as without understanding we forfeit the aptitude for contemplative development, we would possess no control for testing frequency of success, and why ‘this or that’ has occurred etc..

Most people talk about their Wing Chun as being internal and external /soft and hard (which indeed it should be) when in fact accurately speaking it is more often than not either hard and empty or just plain empty. This is a great shame.

Inside of Siu Nim Tao sits some pretty impressive technology, yet some of us remain somewhat ignorant of its intricacies, both as a technical resource for infighting and as a vehicle of transformation.

Siu Nim Tao should always be time well spent.

The dictate for success in using Wing Chun is relaxation and analytical practice.  It is wise to be mindful in practice and to think in practical terms about how the role of the mind affects our fighting ability and performance. In developing feeling for use whilst fighting, the best place to start is definitely Siu Nim Tao.


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