Siu Nim Tao: The KEY to Making Wing Chun Practical and Effective, Part 2

Performing the Siu Nim Tao set at one of many demonstrations/lion dances around the Chinese New Year. This form truly is the glue that binds Wing Chun together and a treasure chest of fighting skills.

Before I get chomping on the second installment of my Marxist manifesto on the importance of the Siu Nim Tao (SNT) or “small idea” form as a staple -no, the staple – of your Wing Chun training and making the skills of Wing Chun practical and its techniques effective ion real life usage, let me just address a comment made to me re: my blog in general, specifically, the tone of my posts.

Strong Feelings

I do use occasional profanity, and frequently draw analogies that sometimes poke fun at people I find rather irksome or annoying.  There is usually a heavy dose of sarcasm regarding ways of thinking or training I find ineffective, skewed or just plain stupid.  The one thing that drives my tone, my verbage and my views on things is my passion for the art of Wing Chun as a potent and very lethal skill for self preservation. That is what drives my training, my teaching and my writing. It is also why  I remain unapologetic for my delivery of material, so if you are easily offended by profanity and sarcasm please look beyond the words and tone of my writing and extricate the passion and value of the concepts I put forth – and then have your mommy give you a juice box and a gold star award to put on the fridge, puss-cake.


In Part I of this post on the SNT I discussed the reality that all Wing Chun skill flows from the SNT form and thus, all skill developed in Wing Chun is directly proportional to the time spent on its’ focused and dedicated practice.

The first and primary concept to be ingrained in the body is that of proper structure. I’m not going to recap here-just click back to Part I if you need to refresh your mind-I’ll just say that the SNT form is reflective of the idea of Wing Chun being based on pyramid or triangular structure, the groundwork of which is the body structure and alignment as detailed in Part I. Once that is set, and the body is positioned in the “S” curve ready to receive and transmit force, the next piece of the puzzle to be focused on is that of the proper elbow placement.


No form places greater emphasis on developing proper elbow placement than SNT. In fact, the first section of this form, known as the tan sau section, is done slow intentionally. The feel of the elbow in the tan sau section is akin to putting on a mitten when you were a kid, pushing into the glove from your elbow.  An adult equivalent for us combative arts folks is the feeling of sliding your hand into a boxing glove someone is holding for you.

Notice that in either case, if the elbow is not resting in front of the rib cage and the forearm is not directly perpendicular to the body as it pushes out, your arm will be pushed off to one side or another.

I can’t help but think of those folding chairs you get at WalMart in the summer for beaches and stuff like that which accordion up into those long, narrow tubular bags with a shoulder strap; once you scrunch up the chair so it is narrow enough to slide the carrying pouch over it, you must push downward into the ground to slide the carrying case over the chair.

Any deviation from the straight pressure into the ground will cause the chair to wobble to one side or another and you can’t slide that thing in the bag for shit.  In effect, the same idea is what is being cultivated in the tan sau section of SNT in the fact that the force is received into the “S” curve via the forearm being perpendicular to the body and the elbow pressure sliding forward as if a glove is being slid onto the hand.

This pressure mirrors and allows the force to be received through the arm, to the elbow, to the hip, down to the heels, recycled back up from the ground and sent back through the kinetic chain until it’s sent back to your opponent. To use a visual analogy, 2 things come to my mind:

  • Think of the way Popeye (my favorite cartoon) has the power surge down his body to his legs and back up and then out his arms when he sucks a can of spinach down before kicking the shit out of Bluto. Incidentally, I’ve always liked Popeye since he’s not a super hero; he’s just a regular guy who is capable of superhuman things with the right tools and motivation. In place of spinach and defending Olive Oyl my motivation is protecting my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for me, my family and friends and my tool of choice is not spinach, but Wing Chun.
  • In the movie Kung Fu Panda, when Tai Lung punches Po in his big belly and the force travels through him and back through his hands to send Tai Lung flying away as Po looks at his hands in amazement. In the context of the movie, this scene finally answers the question why the Dragon Warrior was fat and squishy in order to defeat Tai Lung, but when viewed through Wing Chun glasses, it illustrates the idea of your body and structure as a conduit of energy to receive your opponent’s bad intentions and send them right back to him.
It is impossible to generate any real power without body unity. Fortunately for us, the inward tension on the thighs in the SNT form trains our structure to move like a coiled spring capable of generating serious force.

1 + 1 = 3

This is how the parts of the SNT form build on each other, reinforce one another and produce what is known as a synergistic effect, i.e. one where the sum total is greater than the parts. The structure of the body combined with the forward pressure of the elbows in proper placement allows for greater transmission of power because the body is one unit.

If you look at the different major motions used in the SNT form-the tan sau, the fook sau, the wu sau, the pak sau, the punch, the biu jee eyejab and the palm (both vertical and horizontal) only the head of the weapon changed; the delivery mechanism of the elbows and the body as a unit remains the same. This is akin to the idea of a Black & Decker power drill: if you need to bore a hole and then drive a screw in, you don’t buy a new drill! If that were the case I’d stop typing right now and buy an Ace Hardware franchise. You simply change the head of the drill.

Since we know that situation and principle dictate target, and it is the target that dictates the technique, we need to be able to decide which head of the tool, or technique-be it a punch, palm or eyejab-to use at that moment to fit the situation. By having the structure of the body in place and the elbows in proper alignment projecting forward pressure, both in tandem with and as an outgrowth of the body’s proper structure, you don’t have any extra shit to remember.


When using a punch, palm or eyejab, as the fist or hand projects from the centerline, the elbows follow suit from where they are. They do not flare out to the side or try to follow the straight line of the punch by coming in and down the centerline. To do so is to jack up your structure either by reducing the strike by simply extending your tricep as it flares to the side (like some bodybuilding meatbag who tries to punch a heavy bag but has no idea how to throw a punch) or by trying to snake your punch in before it travels out from the centerline so that the elbow directly follows the fist outward (which will completely cave in any semblance of structural integrity of the use of triangular positioning).  Instead, the strike simply shoots forward from the chambered position.

This creates an inverse triangle of pressure that will bounce or deflect an attack by preserving the triangular structure of the punch. If that sounds a little confusing, just remember the bow of a ship or a cow-catcher on an old locomotive; as the force is applied forward to the tip of the triangle (the punch, palm, etc.) force is generated outward on the sides to push the water or cows away. In Wing Chun, this is generated by the elbows through their proper placement and forward pressure.


The use of the eyejab or the biu jee in the SNT form is not a small one; I can think of no better technique to stun some shitbird than poking him right in the eye before knocking his balls around and leaving him in a crumpled heap before stomping on his head for good measure. As a bonus, the biu jee can be used as an effective bridge or deflection of a forward attack, like is seen in Choy Lay Fut kung fu, another devastating and punishing style. This cannot be done effectively if the elbows do not project towards the target and shoot forward with appropriate pressure.

This can also be seen in the “riposte” or deflecting interception of Jeet Kune Do, although to treat the biu jee merely as a flicking motion as some schools of JKD train in my opinion is to pigeon hole it by making it dependent on just speed. I want my eyejab to have both speed and structure to deflect and drive in.  Having trained in JKD for years prior to my involvement with Wing Chun and holding an Apprentice Instructor’s certificate in the art I feel confident in my ability to make such a comparison/critique.


The jum sau is one of those techniques that cannot be done unless the arms are in the right place and the elbows are the source of power. The sinking action of the jum sau is not a downward action; it is sinking only to the degree that the centerline is closed; once the centerline is properly closed deflection occurs and the sensitivity training will then dictate that the punch will follow to the opponent’s centerline. No forward pressure? No proper elbow placement? No chance.


After the jum sau section is the slicing gan sau section. This one is even more important to maintain proper elbow fixed position and placement-if not, all you end up with is some half assed karate “chop” downward, like a swinging hinge, where the upper arm stays in place while the elbow pivots and and chops downward from the tan sau, extending fully on the downward swing. Wrong. Wrong. I see Wing Chun people do that section all the time as a slicing chop and all I can think is that I can tell they’ve never honestly tried to apply this technique against a non cooperative opponent kicking them hard…as well as thinking that I’d rather get a sandpaper handjob than try that in a fight.

I want them to try to block a kick one time-just one time -like that. Try blocking a round or thai kick with the chop-chop gan sau and then see how long it will take you to be able to lift a coffee mug to your mouth without pain again. The elbow must be fixed and rotate from the upper arm as the arm comes downward in a slice-it is meant to be done in an Ole! matador fashion as the body turns to dissipate the force. We don’t turn in the form simply to focus on the slicing to reinforce proper elbow placement.


The bong sau in the SNT form is not a rising block; it is a corkscrew fashion to deflect, and its’ stationery practice lays the groundwork for all other variations of this technique. It is not a “swimming” action from the shoulder, that is, it does not roll forward from the outside ; it simply projects out from the body. The elbow must have the slight feeling of scraping the ribs as it comes out and then rotates-think of starting a tan sau and then pouring out a can of beer.

This compact springlike position reinforces the ideas of “attacking the attack” so that the attacker will feel the deflection and receive my springing energy. It’s true that people have a hard-on for the bong sau and tend to waaaay overuse this technique( along with my #1 pick for Most Overrated Wing Chun Technique ever, the tan-da, but more on that one later) however when used properly it serves a definite purpose for both attack and defense, which is why it did not win the coveted above mentioned award.

I will cover the bong sau in greater detail in the future-in the meantime just remember that what can make or break the bong sau is the forward pressure generated from the elbows.


Now it’s time to put it all together.  Simply put, the position of the arm never changes. The angle of the elbow remains the same in a tan, bong, jum or gan sau. The forward pressure is still expressed through the elbow, either puerly forward in the tan, fook, punch, palm or biu jee, corkscrewing forward in the bong, sinking in the jum or sinking and slicing in the gan sau.

As I said before and will say over and over again until I am blue in the face, my tongue falls off and I puke coat hangers…situation dictates principle; principle dictates target; target dictates technique. The only way this works is if the body has a structure that reinforces transmission of energy through proper placement of elbows.

Reinforce Your “Foundational Fortress”

Sifu Gary Lam, former Hong Kong full contact champion, thai boxer and all around Wing Chun badass calls the SNT set the “foundational fortress” since all techniques, principles and concepts that form the Wing Chun arsenal flow from this set. That is right on point.  It is so profound yet so simple that most folks who learn the set never give it more than a cursory glance.  Big mistake.

My go-to resource for the Siu Nim Tau form is the Siu Nim Tau Seminar DVD by Sifu David Peterson.  I have watched this DVD more times than I can recall and still refer back to it the way a Scrabble addict hits up a dictionary.  Click HERE for my detailed review of this and my other “secret stash” DVDs I keep close to my mental nightstand.  Want a shortcut to ass-kicking skill? Make regular viewing of Sifu Peterson’s Siu Nim Tau Seminar a constant part of your training.

Did you do your SNT today? If not, get up and crank it out.


Train Smart, Stay Safe

Sifu Bobby


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A WORD OF WARNING: I tend to speak and write how I think, so some of what I say may come across as insensitive, rough around the edges and maybe even a bit arrogant. If sarcasm, political incorrectness and occasional "naughty words" offend you, you may want to move on - but if you're serious about making your Wing Chun WORK, then fill out the fields above and let's get started!