Siu Nim Tao or the Little Idea is the first of Wing Chun’s three forms. It’s when the practitioner gets introduced the art’s core concepts.
A very compact form of training, containing 80% of the art’s concepts, the first form acts both as a map to Wing Chun’s fighting method, as well as a way of creating and strengthening structure.
Siu Nim Tao is a code.
In other words, without the proper understanding of how and when to use the concepts learned in the form, Siu Nim Tao remains a set of movements and nothing more.
The form does not show you what you have to do, nor how you can apply the concepts that you are learning. While practicing it, you are planting ideas into your subconscious and nervous system.
But, without the proper guidance, you may never know how to express those concepts in the real world.
As Dr. Robert Chu stated, “Siu Nim Tao is rooted firmly in developing the body structure. The Yee Ji Kim Yeung Ma posture is the foundation of all Wing Chun Kuen. It is wrongly understood that Yee Ji Kim Yeung Ma is an inflexible rooted stance, but the stance is instead dynamic” (Dr. Robert Chu, Siu Nim Tao. Is it Wing Chun Without It?, Wing Chun Illustrated – Issue 11, page 6).
So, not having the right information can lead to misunderstanding the form’s practicality and using only a small part of your potential as a Wing Chun martial artist.
Chasing Hands vs Chasing Center
While doing the first form, we are actually reprogramming the way we move. For example, Tan Zao is not a natural reaction.
A natural reaction would be chasing hands or addressing the obvious threat and not its cause, the opponent’s center.
Wing Chun teaches us to always chase the center and never the hands, to go to the core of the problem, thus not wasting energy uselessly. And we learn this concept in the first part, when we slowly do Tan Zao forward.
After being introduced to this idea, we then apply it in Chi Zao, in drills, in free sparring and of course in Fighting.
You are what you train.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous article ‘How to Gain Authentic Skill in Wing Chun’, there are three main elements to Wing Chun: form, drills, and fighting.
All three are interdependent, but will be expressed differently. You cannot fight using Siu Nim Tao nor can you fight using pure drills.
The more you focus on one element, the better you get at it. So, you cannot expect to be good at fighting if you only train form.
Fighting is spontaneous.
It’s when you have this out-of-the box mentality and use what is most comfortable to you, your sharpest tools, while at the same time maintaining structure and a calm emotional state.
Drills have the role of expanding your tool set and acquiring new skills, on the other hand, form is when you keep those core skills active.
If we were to compare Wing Chun to a car, form would be the engine, drills would be the body and fighting would be driving the car.
While you might be able to drive without knowing anything about mechanics, becoming a professional driver, may require more than basic knowledge of how your car works.
In other words, anybody can throw a punch, knocking out or controlling somebody bigger than you is an art.
The three elements form, drills, and fighting have the same core elements, like structure, speed, precision and emotional state, while the way we physically express each of the three is very different.
Are we wasting our time?
There is a debate going on about the practicality of doing form, and are we actually wasting our time practicing it.
Some think we might be better off training the wallbag or sparring, instead of sitting in front of the mirror, looking weird with our toes pointed inwards.
We need to accept the reality that most people lack even the most basic understanding of this skill set called Wing Chun. So, lack of understanding often leads to changes in the basic concepts of the art. Like the need to do form.
We suddenly don’t need it anymore.
Well I think we do. But form is not enough, form must be completed with the right information regarding structure, regarding how to use the concepts, and why you are actually doing it the way you are.
A very useful explanation of Siu Nim Tao came for me, from Gary Lam, he has an excellent DVD and I recommend you buy it immediately, especially if you are just starting out with Wing Chun.
I do not receive any money for recommending this, I just consider it a very useful resource that you should definitely think of buying.
Would you build a house without a plan?
Siu Nim Tao is simply the plan of the house. After you have a well designed plan, you start building the house, making the necessary adjustments, and giving it a personal touch.
In my opinion, Siu Nim Tao is necessary, but we should not get lost in it. It is still a very basic, beginner’s way of training. It’s like cleaning your engine.
We still continue to practice Siu Nim Tao, just to make sure that everything works the way it should.