Teachers will all tell you the importance of Siu Nim Tao. They’ll tell you it is at the centre of all Wing Chun and that it’s the building block for all that is to follow. It’s a foundation that is returned to again and again throughout your learning. Some might take all this to mean that it is quite important – and they’d be right.
Siu Nim Tao is a series of controlled movements that run through the various blocks and punches at the heart of Wing Chun. The drill serves multiple purposes, but mostly it teaches students about stance and posture, and it instils the correct breathing patterns. This is all-important because unlike more intuitive forms of martial art, such as krav maga, kung fu depends upon the use of counterintuitive techniques in high-pressure situations. The benefit of Siu Nim Tao is that the techniques aren’t simply being learned, they are being repeatedly drilled into your brain. The result of all this is that when applying Wing Chun directly, the arms hands and stance will automatically fall into the correct position.
Siu Nim Tao then is an important business, and no one takes it more seriously than this sifu. He is one of the dozen certified disciples of the great Ip Chun, the son of modern Wing Chun’s founder. His technique is therefore as close to classically perfect as an unregulated martial practice can get.
This sifu has the sort of intensity and grace you would expect from an old master. He always addresses you by name and carefully monitors his class, though doesn’t take part in much of it. Central to his teaching is the Siu Nim Tao, which is performed at the beginning of class with great detail. Each movement is lingered over and the drill lasts some time. A student performs this, but later the sifu may repeat it again for the benefit of the class.
After Siu Nim Tao the class is divided by expertise. The sifu may become closely involved, he may not, but his senior class members are there to provide guidance and further instruction. Much time is spent over the centre line and ensuring that each class member is able to perform their actions perfectly before they can proceed. This class is excellent for form. It instils a true grounding in Wing Chun, each detail is essential to successful mastery and a student can have confidence that they are learning the real deal.
The slight negative comes in application. There is no pad work and little time spent on real world situations. The tone is relaxed and students wear tasteful pastel polo shirts marking their association with the school. The students do not all appear to be of a high fitness level and many of them are older, after the class you are invited to have tea with the group. This is all very civilised, but, for those looking to be challenged and push forward their martial art, comes as a bit of a disappointment.
I have the highest respect for this sifu and his practice. I need to learn to perform Siu Nim Tao with the accuracy and grace he does, but the lack of application of his classes serves as a huge negative. But the question remains, how perfect do you want your Wing Chun to be?