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The Hidden Power of Siu Nim Tau

My master Yip Man first started teaching Wing Tsun in Hong Kong at the
Restaurant Worker's Union Association. At the time I was the secretary of the
association, so Master Yip and I had many opportunities to be together. Before I became
interested in Ving Tsun, I often overheard Master Yip explaining his Wing Tsun theories
in his classes. Gradually he sparked my interest in the art. It so happened that I had great
interest in physics and mechanics; I enjoyed his theories on body structure and power
development methods very much. Through my careful analysis, I was convinced that
Master Yip's art was flawless and very advanced. Finally, I decided to follow Master Yip
and became his student.

Like every beginner in class, I started my journey with Siu Nim Tau , even though
I had already familiarized myself with the form as an observer. It took me little effort to
completely learn the basic movements. I then began to wonder about the essence of the
form, besides the hand movements. I went to Master Yip and inquired about the meaning
of Siu Nim Tau, especially the non-combative tone in the name. Master Yip replied:
"This is about Lop Nim -- to establish an idea in the mind". I am sure most of my
peers have also heard about this term. Master Yip also added that it required prolonged
practice of this form to truly master the essence of lop nim.

This hidden meaning of lop nim really caught my interest. I spent much time analyzing its
nature, but could still not grasp the concept. Therefore I decided to drop all my thoughts
and simply practiced Siu Nim Tau whenever I could, day and night. After a long time, I
began to see the connection between lop nim and the form. I suddenly felt great joy in my
Wing Tsun training, which fueled my interest in the art further. I became obsessed with
the art. Gradually I discovered some powerful but hidden forces within each Siu Nim Tau
movement. All the movements are indeed able to deliver indestructible power, yet they
look very soft and graceful. At that moment, the concept of lop nim became extremely
enlightening and inspiring to me. I finally understood the reason behind it.

I summarize this hidden power as a kind of nim lik (the force of an idea; or
mind/intent force, where nim is the same idea/intent as in nim tau ). In essence,
Siu Nim Tau has two major points: nim lik and "structure".

1. Nim Lik (force of idea/intent): it stabilizes all Wing Tsun movements to form a springy
and dynamic combination of body structures. It makes Wing Tsun body structure able to
sustain great pressure and produce rebound energy. Although there are common terms
such as nim lik, qigong, noigong or supernatural abilities that are being perceived as some
kind of unusual power, here I would only illustrate the concept behind nim lik (force of
idea/intent). Nim lik is the power of a highly focused mind. It helps one bring forth chi
flow into every part of the body. Everyone should have this kind of power. However,
without training, it is very difficult to focus thoughts. Siu Nim Tau is a great tool to
invoke mind focus power. If properly practiced, one can deliver this kind of power at will
in every instance. The mind can stay focused even when the structure is adjusting or
moving at high speed. So to achieve nim lik is the goal of Siu Nim Tau.
Let's look at a simple example: if a healthy person falls down from a 6 - 7 feet tall
platform unprepared, although he/she lands with both feet, he/she is still likely to injury
him/herself. However, if the person is mentally prepared for the fall, his/her feet will
automatically recoil and absorb the impact. Also, he/she can only have this reflex if
his/her feet are relax. This is an unique attribute of human muscle in its relax state. The
springy force on the feet that help the person land safely is a direct result of relax muscles
and nim lik.

note: according to contemporary scientific findings; when human muscles are in relax
state and are moving at steady speed, they can sustain greater pressure than when they are
tensed up (using force). It is so amazing that our Wing Tsun ancestor Ng Mui was
able to make use of this scientific method to design our Siu Nim Tao hundreds of years

2. Structure: Yee Gee Kim Yang Ma allows one to project all energy forward
towards the target. Tei Gong (pulling up of the muscle around the anus area) helps
unite body and stance. It also helps relax the leg muscles while being in the stance; thus
the whole body reaches a highly alert and ready state. These are the necessary conditions
to produce nim lik and must be maintained firmly. The core techniques of Siu Nim Tao --
Tan / Bong / Fook -- are indeed subtle uses of body mechanics. These three
techniques take the shape of arcs or bows. As we extend the arc shape further, Tan / Bong
/ Fook become hemispheres. As we all know, an arc or spherical-shaped object can
sustain strong impact. It can also transfer or deflect energy dynamically when spinning. A
wheel can accelerate faster than objects of other shapes (e.g. square, triangle). Each
movement in Siu Nim Tao, inspired by this efficient arc-like structure, and when
combined with nim lik, becomes extremely powerful defensive and offensive techniques.
In addition, practitioners must not employ brute muscle strength. Siu Nim Tao training
should never be tiring. To be proficient in this foundation, all movements should be done
with the mind rather than strength.

Many Wing Tsun practitioners like to impose their techniques into frozen and static
postures. Many believe that Bong Sau should be done at certain height or angle, or
criticize others for not complying to their artificial standards. Some may call this style
traditionalist; that style reformist; and on and on. In fact, movements in Siu Nim Tao are
not named as if they were static postures. For example, when rolling up Tan Sao into
Bong Sau, it is the course of this rolling movement that makes up the Bong Sau
technique; the function of Bong Sau exists in its circular motion. Similarly, all other
techniques in Siu Nim Tao employ circular movements in various directions.

It is a popular belief that Bong Sau is a passive technique: practitioners only use Bong
Sau to deflect incoming forces. This would apply to the scenario where a statically posted
Bong Sau is being used to block attacks. However, this explanation lacks an
understanding of Bong Sau. In my experience, Bong Sau can deliver enormous offensive
power. Indeed, it is a very aggressive and penetrating technique due to its circular nature.
Finally, I suggest that all fellow Wing Tsun practitioners look carefully into each
technique of Siu Nim Tao. Discover the subtle circular movements in each of them.
Practice with mind focus and steady speed. Use the mind to command each technique
rather than using muscle tension. I am sure you will gradually find great joy and
satisfaction in your Siu Nim Tao training!

Tsui Sheung Tin

Siu Nim Tau 小 念 頭

Susana Ho (3/2003)
Siu Nim Tau is the first form of Wing Chun system. Throughout the
whole form, it should be performed in a relaxed manner through
proper STANCE together with a non-stop Focusing / Forwards Thinking /
Mind Force / Nim Lik 念力 at a stationary position. All movements of the
hands are initiated by the relaxed shoulder joints together with the co-
operation of the elbow joints, wrist at the centre and traveling to the
desired positions. No movements are initiated by the forearms or the
muscles. The form movements can be divided into three sections as
First Section
1. Stand straight with feet together and arms by the side. Make
sure body is relaxed but not sloppy. Draw both arms up to the
side around chest height; form fists with thumbs tucked in (at all
palm and fist positions) and with the palm side facing upwards.

2. Slightly bend the knees. With heels tuck together, open the feet
into one straight-line (as straight as you can). Pivot on toes to form a
triangle with feet pointing towards the end point of a fully
extended arm at the centreline. (Make sure knees are not beyond the
toes and the back not beyond the heels.)
3. Contract internally upward at the Anal Sphincter / Anus/ Tei Gong
提肛 to link up the whole body as one unit. This is the basic
STANCE throughout the whole form.
4. Open the fists into flat palms. Move both arms sloping
downwards until they cross the wrists at the centre with left arm
over right (the elbows are still bent not straightened); palms facing
downwards and form a knife edge.
5. Rotate the arms upwards until in front of the face and turn both
palms to face the body at the same time. Then, withdraw both
arms back to the STANCE position.
6. Drop the left fist down to the centre at the solar plexus level with
the knuckles perpendicular to the floor and facing the front, and
thumb on top; execute a straight punch. Fist opens into a flat
palm and turn until facing upwards; then, bend the flat palm
upwards until perpendicular to the forearm (do your best and a little
tension at the wrist is acceptable); turn the palm inwards until the
fingers face the floor; form fist at that position; withdraw the arm
back to the STANCE position. Repeat the same on the right hand
7. The left fist is opened and the palm is flattened, facing upwards.
Place the wrist at the centre and solar plexus level; move the
wrist along the centreline with the fingers pointing straight
forwards; when starting to have the intention to force muscle in
order to keep the movement, stop, and this is the ultimate angle
for that person. This is called the TAN SAU 攤手.
8. Bend the flat palm upwards until perpendicular to the forearm;
turn the palm inwards until the fingers face the floor; flick the
palm upwards until fingers are pointing upwards and palm edge
facing the front. This is called the WU SAU 護手. Move the WU
SAU backwards on the same route as traveled by the TAN SAU
until back to the centre at the solar plexus level.
9. Drop the palm facing towards the body with the edge facing the
floor and maintain the wrist at the centre. This is called the FOOK
SAU 伏手. Move the FOOK SAU forwards on the same route as
traveled by the TAN SAU until the same ultimate angle is
10. Change the FOOK SAU to WU SAU by turning the wrist inwards
with a flat palm until the fingers face the floor; flick the palm to
WU SAU position. Repeat WU SAU and FOOK SAU until the third
time back from the WU SAU.
11. Execute a side palm strike to the right shoulder; back to
the centre; a front palm strike towards the centre.
12. Turn the palm until a flat palm is facing upwards; bend the
flat palm upwards until perpendicular to the forearm; turn the
palm inwards until the fingers are facing the floor; form fist at
that position; withdraw the arm back to the STANCE position.
13. Repeat the same movements on the right side; start from
nos. 7 to 12 except no. 11 where the side palm strike is now to
the left shoulder. End of this section.
(For nos. 7 to 10, try to perform as slowly as possible to make sure that there is no
forcing of the muscles which causes the tension.)
Second Section
14. Open the left fist into flat palm and turn until facing
downwards; thrust straight down beside the body. Repeat on the
right side.
15. Both arms are then placed together around the lower back with
the palms facing outwards. Thrust together sloping downwards.
16. Place both downwards, facing palms in front of the waist
area and thrust in a slightly slanting downwards direction.
17. Rotate both arms upwards until shoulder height and at the
same time close the elbow joints until left forearm is placed on
top of the right one. Slash the arms out to the side until near
straight and then rotate back to the previous position except that
now the right forearm is on top.
18. Sink down both elbows until they are parallel to each other
and then move downwards until the fingers point to the front.
Then, sink back towards the waist together with the turning of
the flat palms until they face the floor and fingers are pointing to
the front.
19. Thrust both arms forwards towards the eye height with
fingers pointing forwards and palms facing the floor.
20. With full extension of both arms, move the palms with the wrist
till fingers points upwards; rotate the arms downwards. Move the
palms with the wrist till fingers point downwards; rotate arms
back to shoulder level and withdraw arms back to the STANCE
position. End of the second section.
Third Section
21. Open left fist into flat palm and turn until it face the front. Move
the palm to the right shoulder and back to the left shoulder in a
45 degree angle. Strike out a palm strike towards the centre at
that angle. Repeat no. 12. Repeat the same movements on the
right side with reversed left-right directions.
22. Open left fist into flat palm and drop it at the waist height
with wrist at the centre. Thrust out sloping upwards towards the
chest height along the centreline with an elbow angle slightly
bigger then the ultimate angle. Then, cut down and rotate the
arm until the palm is facing downwards. Rotate back to the
previous position. Bend the palm until the fingers point upwards;
turn inwards until fingers point downwards; open out into a side
palm and then thrust forwards. Repeat no. 12. Repeat the same
movements on the right side.
23. Open left fist into palm. Rotate through the shoulder joint until
the wrist is at the centre; the palm is facing outwards and fingers
are pointing forwards at the shoulder height. This is called the
BONG SAU 膀手. Rotate the arm into the TAN SAU position. The
fingers are then pointed downwards (at your best) with palm facing
the front and then palm strike forwards. Repeat No. 12. Repeat
the same on the right side.
24. Move the left arm sloping downwards to the centreline with the
palm facing downwards and elbow angle slightly bigger then the
ultimate angle. Place the right wrist at the left elbow with the
palm upwards and fingers pointing to the front. When the right
arm thrusts and turns towards the centreline and the palm is
facing downwards, the left arm is withdrawn back to the right
elbow position with palm upwards and fingers pointing to the
front. Repeat four more times and with the last time, withdraw
the left arm back to the centre at solar plexus level and form the
palm into a fist.
25. Six continuous chain punches are executed by striking out
one and sinking the other back to the punching position. Then,
withdraw both arms back to the STANCE position. End of the
third section and the form.
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