Siu Lim Tao (SLT) is a large, intricate and elegant part of the model in our method of VTK. SLT training is where we get our long duration stance work done, in the basic training stance. The ability to get the elbow to centre is developed in many ways but most of all in SLT practice, through working on the strength in the upper pecs to pull the elbow in, and relaxation of the antagonist systems to allow the movement. This is very important for optimal use of tan sau, fook sau and of course the punch.
SLT brings us awareness of the separation of upper and lower, which are then coordinated in the following forms and partner training. In the basic training stance, the lower is in a state of dynamic tension as the core strength works against the structure formed by the hips, knees and ankles, while the upper is in a state of relaxation, with isolated areas of dynamic tension eg the fist held tight, the elbows drawn back, and with arm movements. So the upper body and the lower body have very different feeling in them, which helps us begin to feel the different ways in which they operate and coordinate.
First thing we do is to stand with feet almost together and arms hanging by the sides. We feel ourselves relax and allow our weight to sink through our feet into the floor. Our shoulders are rolled back and sinking down. We feel the natural curvature of the spine. When we feel centred and grounded, we raise our arms so the fingertips are at our mouth height. We don’t see this as a technique in any way. The position is just to make it clear to our body-mind that with our shoulders and hips square to the opponent, we can reach equally with both hands. This is called ‘Facing’, which allows us to block or deflect and strike simultaneously, and is a cornerstone of the system, that we face the opponent. Ving Tsun is a brave system, in that we present our vital points to the opponent and don’t turn sideways in a protective stance. Facing front on, we may be seen to be more vulnerable, but we have two or three weapons in the fight at all times. The ability to block and strike at the same time effectively doubles our speed without trying. We place the fingertips pointing to the mouth height because that is where we can most shock the opponent. The idea is to get a feel for where the mouth height is at striking range. To do this movement with power is to confuse the programming, as our brain will focus on the striking aspect of the movement. When we place the arms in their position slowly and deliberately we are writing a clear program, getting the right message in.
Next we pull the elbows back and behind, with fists clenched. At the same time we perform a posterior tilt of the pelvis which draws our centre of gravity down and creates some forward pressure, straightens the curves in the lower back and drives the sacrum down towards the front. The elbow movement can certainly be considered a strike, delivered to someone attempting to grab from behind. This strike can break ribs from the sternum and do a lot of damage. The movement also serves as a stretch for the shoulder, to increase range of motion for the joint so these strikes can drive in further and also not restrict our punching action. The clenched fist is to improve our grip strength, and to teach us how to isolate muscle groups, in that we hold the fist clenched using muscles and tendons in the forearm, yet the upper arm muscles are relaxed. We hold this position while working with the other arm in SLT, and in single dan chi so that we are training both sides and not wasting valuable training time by just leaving one arm hanging loose.
We then measure out the stance by pivoting on the heels to open the toes out 45deg, then pivot on the ball of the foot, as though scrunching a cigarette butt out under the ball of each foot simultaneously, to bring the heels out 45deg, leaving us in a pigeon toed stance, feet turned in at 45deg, just over a fist between the knees and with added pressure on the posterior tilt of the pelvis. The sacrum is now being driven towards the tip of the triangle formed by the feet. There is a lot of forward pressure which is being driven throughout the rest of the form. This forward pressure tests and develops the structure of the hips and legs. If there is any error, eg the feet too far apart or the feet not turned in enough or the knees opening out at all, the forward pressure will break the structure and we will fall forward. The entire time we are in the stance we are using this pelvic tilt to try to break the structure of the hips and legs. This serves to develop incredible power in the stance and step, develops great strength in the ankles, knees, hips, and psoas muscles. With this strength the knees and ankles are less vulnerable to damage. This basic training stance is simultaneously training the back leg of each side of the fighting stance. The pressure is both towards the line of the left foot and to the line of the right foot, with a resultant vector straight forward and down. The stance is created by work of ligaments and psoas muscles which are deep in the body, thus we are learning to stand with structure and not leg muscles which use a lot of calories and are vulnerable to attack eg a corked thigh from a shin kick to the quads. There should be a feeling in the lower back that the now flat small of the back is being pulled forwards. There is also the feeling that the upper body is being buoyed up by the lower.. the straightening of the curve of the lower back lifts the upper body up, giving it support in a very relaxed way. See more on the stance in the Stance article.
We then define the centre by placing our arms down in front, arms crossing on the centre just proximal from the wrists, left arm forward, wrists about a fist and a thumb out from our body, then rolling the arms up maintaining contact to cross still on the centre at centre chest height, now right arm forward. We don’t consider these movements to be techniques at all, in fact it is not advisable to train to use two arms on their one, because the opponent is then free to strike, eg if we drop our two arms crossed down to stop a knee strike, it will work, but they are free to head-butt us while doing so. There are better ways to go about things. These movements are simply to spell out to the simple parts of our brain which we are programming, exactly what and where the centre is and that it is important. We get a feel for how far the forearms move without moving our elbows. We also learn to get a feeling for sticking to the arms, another cornerstone of the system.
This time when we pull the elbows back, we can notice that the same force is delivered by the strike, thus getting a feel for the fact that delivery of force is not dependent on range. This is expanded upon elsewhere in the system.
We now perform a punch to the centre with each arm. The left first, pulling the elbow to centre and simultaneously wrist snapping to drive the small knuckle forward with the fist vertical. Then we open the fist, wrist roll with the hand turning first in towards the centre and all the way around to work the forearm muscles and tendons before reforming the fist and pulling the elbow back, then repeating with the right. When doing wrist rolls, we do not allow the elbow to turn. This makes for much more productive work for the entire wrist roll, and serves to teach us to have separate control of the wrist and elbow rotation, which has valuable practical application, eg when a punch is being deflected in towards the centre, we can roll the elbow out slightly to increase the wedging action of the arm and drive the punch through regardless. The wrist rolls are primarily to develop flexible strength in the wrists. With all the structural power we learn to deliver with our strikes, the wrist will be the weak point especially if it gets bent on impact. Wrist rolls give just the right kind of development to prevent injury and promote quick, often instant recovery. There are a lot of wrist rolls in the forms and they are there for a reason. We work them, take our time with each one and milk them for all they’re worth.
Now we begin the slow section. Our tan sau is made by pulling the elbow to centre and sinking it low. The wrist comes to centre first and forms a shallow curve by having the hand almost horizontal, creating a curved structure which will serve to scoop a punching arm that happens to hit the fingers down into the strong part of the structure mid forearm. At the end of the movement, when we feel the elbow is reaching its limit of motion, the wrist sinks so as to make a straight line from elbow to fingertips. When done at speed in application, this is a wrist snap which serves to add power to the tan sau and sinks the forearm a little which has the effect of throwing the opponent’s arm back away and down, jolting their whole body and turning them, ruining their stance so that they cannot absorb our strikes. The tan sau is trained straight forward along the centreline, exactly as it must be used in the fight, where we turn to face the incoming force with a shift that also serves to drive our simultaneous punch. We train this strike and following move in applications training, and to the extreme in the air dummy form. To keep facing the opponent while performing tan sau will cause the tan to fail. We face with the tan, exactly as in the form.
In our SLT we do three fook sau movements in the slow section. Most schools seem to do 3 fook sau movements. As I was taught to do only 2 fook sau, I practiced this way for many years. Eventually I saw there are also variations in the way people do the fook sau.. some high, some low, some flat, some with the arm at an upward angle. After a time, I began to see the value in doing a low flat fook sau as I had done previously, and a high flat fook sau, one of each on each side. After a while it came about through the training that there is value in a third type of fook sau, done with the elbow low and the arm inclined forward and up at 45deg from the elbow. So now we do 3 fook sau, all different and with their relevant shoulder arrangement.
The first fook sau we do low and flat. This corresponds to a punch to the xyphoid process at the base of the sternum, or any low punch really.
The second fook sau we train at an angle of 45° from the elbow to the wrist, with the elbow in a low position. This corresponds to a close range punch where we need to punch or palm up into the head.
The final fook sau we do high and flat. This corresponds to a punch to the head, especially when intercepting an incoming punch towards our head. We consider that most people out there punch with their elbow high, not sinking as in VTK, so we train to deal with this.
Each of these punches has a very different dynamic structure. In each of them we use the shoulder to effect movement of the elbow, which translates automatically into a forward movement of the wrist/fist. The shoulder joint also changes for the different movements so that it will be close-packed and act like a structure with regard to transmission of forces, relevant to each segment position. For the first two fook sau movements, the shoulder is internally rolled forward and down, to allow the elbow to sink. This is not a gross shoulder movement as we use for jum sau when the elbow sinks as low as it can, but for fook sau it is an internal shift of the shoulder around it’s own horizontal axis. For the third fook sau, the shoulder rotates internally back and down, effecting a lift in the elbow which brings the forearm up and the fist to the head height. It is important to effect these changes in the shoulder so that the shoulder is close-packed for each arm position. This means the shoulder joint will work more like a structure on impact, rather than a joint, for each given arm position, and will allow the reactive force to travel most efficiently through the shoulder into the body and to the ground. When we have the wrist, shoulder, waist, knee and ankle close-packed on impact, our structure works as one to transfer the reactive force from the opponent through the structure to the ground, where it rebounds back up through the structure into the opponent, instantaneously, thus for all intents and purposes doubling our power. The close-packed position also holds the joint as a stable fulcrum so that forces can be delivered more efficiently.
Our wu sau retracts back at the same height after the tan and the first two fook sau movements. After the low fook sau, the wrist rolls into the wu sau structure. The expression of the elbow forward takes the wrist across the centre and lifts it a little, so the wrist is 45 deg forward, across and up from the elbow.. the perfect angle for deflection and transfer of forces. We crank the wrist forward, so it is trying to get further forward the entire time it is being drawn back. We have the working part of the wu sau, the area just proximal from the wrist, on the centre. This is practical, makes sense, and allows the shoulder to move correctly and comfortably. The path of the elbow is such that if we let the shoulder relax and allow the elbow to fall back by our side.. very slowly. In order to keep the wrist high, the elbow rotates slightly as it is drawn back. We need to keep the same angle from elbow forward, up and across to the wrists in order to have good structure in the wu sau wherever it is and no matter how close to the body. The elbow is always behind the wrist, backing it up. The main purpose of this retracting wu sau action is to teach us that whenever we are drawing our arm back, we have forward pressure in it. When we have just thrown a punch and are retracting our arm, a good fighter may follow our arm in and strike. If our arm is simply pulling back, we will be too late to change our action, but if we already have forward pressure in the arm we can change immediately and smoothly. We do the retracting wu sau movement in the SLT very, very slowly in order to program it directly in to our neuromuscular system, so that it will be natural and automatic that we have forward pressure in our arms, always.
The final wu sau we do high, after the high fook sau. With this movement we find the elbow doesn’t move back far before the shoulder reaches it’s limit of movement.. we have created a structure. This teaches us how to create such a structure when the wu sau is high, making our wu sau hand part of our entire body structure, making it very strong without using tension or locking up, so that it will not fail and is still free to change. After this wu sau has being retracted, we turn the wrist so the palm is open a little, sinking the thumb away from the centre and drawing the wrist a little off centre and forward along the line of the forearm, preparing it to have the angle of maximum contact and control of an opponent’s arm. After this turning wu sau action we do a palm strike to the face height. It is very important to bring the elbow towards the centre a bit in order to effect the wrist movement. This teaches us to keep control of an opponent’s arm as we do our strike. It also improves the structure making for a more powerful strike, more sudden and more difficult to see or respond to.
In the second section, after the response to arm bars and grabs ideas, and after the seeking hand out to the sides, we don’t do a wrist jut followed by a finger strike as some people do, because after a wrist jut the fingers are too far from the throat and it is too risky. If the fingers hit the jaw they can be dislocated, and while that’s not a big issue to fix, in a fight it can be very serious.
We practice an elbow jut followed by a finger strike, because an elbow jut leaves our fingers on the opponent’s throat, already past the jaw and usually draws them in so our fingers are already on the skin near the carotid artery. Perfect for a finger strike! The strike takes no extra time and in practice is usually delivered while a follow up finishing strike is on the way from the other arm. After this we train a wrist jut followed by a palm strike, because this works safely and effectively. In practice the wrist jut is accompanied by a simultaneous punch with the other arm, then the palm strike with the jut arm serves to finish. We practice the step with this second strike in the air dummy form. Both these actions, elbow jut-finger strike and wrist jut-palm strike are valid and useful. We have an inclusive approach in our method, so have included both actions each with the appropriate follow up. I was taught the elbow jut-finger strike and I love it, would never change it or drop it. unless heaven forbid I had to.. so it is retained as is. I also love the wrist jut-palm strike, so it is included in the system, and here in the SLT in this place in this section is where it belongs.
In the arms down and arms up movement it is important to keep the arms straight in order to capitalise on the angular acceleration, so that the wrist will intercept quickly and powerfully. In practice, when raising the arms there is a wrist snap upwards, but in the form we change the wrists first and then perform the action using the deltoids to bring the arms up, lats to pull them down. This way we develop the power in the arm raising action, and the wrist snap will be automatic, because our wrist wants to get into its customary position. The wrist snap serves to raise the area of the forearm proximal from the wrist, and to sink the forearm in the downward action. This is very important, because if we ever need this arm raising movement to work, it means our arms are down and an incoming strike is too close to our head for even bong sau to reach it. Raising the arms is great, but the wrist snap is critical for the interception. In this instance, punching to their head will not make it in time. We will be hit first. This movement is in the SLT form for a reason, and it has great value if understood and trained correctly. The wrist snap also serves to cock the wrist for a follow up palm strike.. a very powerful action.
The first movement of the third section we do not seek the centre with the elbow, but hit directly the palm to the centre. This is the idea of the intercepting fist. If our arm is somewhere to the side of our body, and there is an incoming punch to our centre, the best way to deal with it is simply to hit the opponent’s centre. The deflection of the opponent’s strike happens automatically. We train this with a palm to avoid any changes in the wrist which would confuse the programming. We need to keep that simple for the simple parts of the brain that we are programming. If we were to make a fist the brain would now focus on the hand, missing the point of the exercise. To draw the elbow towards the centre at all with this action makes it too slow to intercept.. we would then be using a curved pathway instead of a straight line. It is interesting to observe how slow this looks when someone sinks the elbow to the centre. When tested, it becomes obvious.. bringing the elbow to the centre fails to intercept the incoming strike, hitting directly to their centre does. In this instance, the straight line rule overrides the centre to centre rule. This is one of the most beautiful ideas in all of Ving Tsun.. the intercepting fist. We simply hit them and the block takes care of itself.
In the jum sau section we do not huen and hit low with the same hand immediately, we stop after the huen sau, change our wrist ready to drive the knife edge of the hand without moving our elbow, then hit low with the palm in a separate action. This is to train in the idea that we never retract the elbow before striking, never gather to punch, we just hit forward with no notice, no telegraphing, even when we feel a need to, even if our fist is already touching the opponent. The positioning of the elbow after the huen is such that it is almost irresistible to retract the elbow in order to get a powerful strike. This makes the brain notice and get the message: never retract the elbow before a strike!
In the gan sau section we found the hard way that hitting immediately after a huen to the inside leaves us vulnerable to a hook punch from the hand we just huened. The huen serves to roll their arm down and around. If they roll with that and hook a punch in, it comes in very quick, often landing on our jaw before our low palm strike.. and anyway, who would trade a punch to the ribs for a punch to the head? It’s like gambling one hundred dollars to win fifty! We do a huen sau and quickly return the arm up into a cover hand or biu sau, ready if the opponent’s arm flows up for a hook punch. In application this is combined with a specialised step to deliver a very powerful, demolishing punch through the opponent’s centre, to the face from square on. We train this step and punch from huen to the inside in the air dummy form, on the head high hanging bag and wall bag, and of course in applications training.
So, in the jum sau section we train huen to the outside to change the position, while in the gan sau section we train huen to open up the centre and strike through with a most demolishing strike which comes from a surprising angle, has incredible power, is not deflected easily and covers their counterattacks.
When we bong sau, we first drive the arm forward as though driving a head high punch, then, as though our punch is being deflected by a strong intercepting punch on the outside, we bong by pointing the elbow to shoulder height and slightly in, keeping the elbow in the entire time, and allowing the wrist to fall and drop down, across the centre and forward away from us. It is this movement which rolls our forearm over, and in practice rolls the incoming arm away immediately and with no effort. At no time during the movement can the elbow travel out from the centre, because this creates a weak structure and leaves us open to a redirected strike and counterattack. We need to maintain good structure throughout the movement, so we keep the elbow in. In practice the elbow points to the inside of the opponent’s shoulder.
After the bong sau we sink the elbow to centre to prepare for the next action, uplifting palm. For this movement, we keep the elbow under the wrist at all times, driving the lifting action of the elbow along the line of the forearm while we do the wrist snap to drive the heel of the palm up and forward. This movement if done correctly cannot travel far, usually only so far as the upturned palm is at our eye level. Consider that if we are using this action to lift their chin or arm, we don’t want to be in close to the opponent with our arm raised high, leaving our ribs vulnerable and our centre open to manipulation. Our elbow is still ours at the end of motion, not theirs. To lift an opponent’s chin or arm, or to effect an arm break, our upliting arm movement doesn’t need to travel far at all.
In the SLT in basic training stance we are only developing the elbow movements, ie the shoulder actions, and some accompanying wrist actions. We need to be aware of how these arm movements coordinate with the waist for shifting and stepping, but in the SLT we only train the arm actions. The stance is of course being worked the entire time. See the article on the basic training stance.
In this SLT we aim for just one minute for each movement in the slow section, ie one minute for tan sau, one for wu sau, one for fook sau, etc, etc. As the students learns to handle this, we encourage the students to extend this time in increments from two minutes, to five minutes, ten minutes and finally fifteen minutes for each movement. At this final stage we are standing in stance for a 4 hour SLT. The benefits of this long form practice are manifold and powerful. Not the least is the mental fortitude to gut it out no matter the pain or discomfort. Also strength in all of the joints and most of the muscles, development of the waist for stepping, to deliver powerful strikes and to hold our ground against incoming forces, development in understanding of the waist, development of the centre for the elbow, development of all the basic arm structures, development of spinal alignment, relaxation of the muscles not being used for our strikes, stillness and emptiness of mind, accompanied by effortless one pointed focus, development of the unfocussed gaze that notices much, development of feeling of the elbows moving independently yet very much connected to and coordinating with the waist, the whole structure. And more, some of which you can only find by doing this long form practice by yourself. Your experience of this is very personal, similar in a way to a bad toothache!
We also practice the Siu Lim Tao in a more open stance, achieved by relaxing the adductors while in the basic training stance which causes the feet to open out to a wider angle, pivoting on the axis points under the ankle, feet still facing in but only slightly. This stance we use in shifting and Chum Kiu, for chi sau and stepping training. In the open training stance the pelvic tilt is minimised, because there is no structure to work against and to apply such a force would immediately drive us forward and out of stance. So when doing SLT in the open stance our waist is relaxed, we feel the aliveness of our structure and the way the forces spiral through the body.
Training the Siu Lim Tao in this open stance allows the centre to be involved, instead of effectively locked down by the pressure of the basic training stance. The centre now can coordinate, direct and most often initiate the actions of the arms. This way there is much more power in the movements and it becomes a much more internal experience, training the whole body to be involved in each movement. The Siu Lim Tao in basic training stance always has immense value, because it’s there we hone the movements of the arms, separate from the core, and for the other outcomes listed above. The Siu Lim Tao in open training stance has great value because there we learn how the centre is involved in every movement.
So, we have two Siu Lim Tao forms. In the open stance, the movements are flowing, smooth, and each arm movement in the slow section is done in about 5 seconds. This form only takes a few minutes to perform. In the basic training stance, SLT takes as long as can be endured, up to 15 minutes for each arm movement in the slow section, which is a 4 hour form, the development of which is the most difficult and perhaps most rewarding of all VTK training.