Triangulation of the Siu Nim Tao Form
By Maksem Manler
When exploring the Siu Nim Tao form we should look at the qualities of the stance, movements and thought processes involved to better understand what we are aiming to achieve by practicing the form. In this article we will be exploring the essential qualities of the Siu Nim Tao form and how they help to cultivate the driving force of Wing Chun's power - Nim Tao.
Practitioners will know that the Siu Nim Tao stance is front facing, with both feet angled towards the centerline. The centerline's placement on the z-axis in space is where the legs extend to. From the top view, the stance takes on the shape of a triangle, hence you will often hear the term 'triangulation' in Wing Chun. Of course, this stance is not necessarily one we would use for fighting, but rather a stance that requires the least amount of effort to be upright.
In order to maximize the power of the body for fighting, we need to use its total weight. This means that the muscles should be as relaxed as we can make them so as to not disconnect the body weight at the points the weight is being held. The relaxation allows the weight of individual parts to act as one, to be connected. So the Siu Nim Tao stance - the sheep clamping stance - is what we use to stand with the least amount of muscular engagement as possible.
What else is interesting to note is that whilst standing, we are also pointing our entire body at the centerline. Why would we need to do this? If we go back to the fundamental premise - that power is dependent on the amount of weight we can use - then we can surmise that aiming it all at the same point should create cohesion of the body weight.
But just because the body is facing the same point doesn't necessarily mean that the weight is acting cohesively. For the weight to act cohesively, we need to engage a mechanism that can direct the weight of the body parts to the same point. Of course, that mechanism is the mind, the Nim Tao.
Let's look again at what the Nim Tao does. It is responsible for the planning of movement and the coding of our intention. Very simple. By placing our attention on one point, we can use that point as a crutch to cultivate our intention - or as Ip Man put it - to "Lap Nim" (establish intention). To build an idea, you have to keep that idea constant, and the only way to do that is to keep it focused. If the intent is kept constant, then the body will slowly actualize the idea.
In a slightly related field, Patanjali talks of this concept in the Yoga sutras. Samyama is the name given to a three step process of concentration of attention on an object (Dharana), absorption of attention on the object (Dhyana) and blending of self with the object (Samadhi). If one is interested, there are many correlating principles in the Yoga sutras.
By utilizing a single point in front of us and focusing on the idea of placing our total body weight there, our Nim Tao is effectively 'planning' the transfer our total body weight to that point. The network of proprioceptors in our body will automatically orchestrate the necessary relaxation, movement and effort needed to achieve this mental plan held in the Nim Tao.
This relates to what GM Chu said so precisely - "think from your Nim Tao"!
GM Chu also stated something to the effect of "don't think about how you are doing it, just think it and keep the flow of thought constant". This concept is documented in his book and discussed throughout the training footage taken in Hong Kong.
When we say the weight of the body culminates at the point of focus, what we are talking about is the idea that somehow the body is transferring its total weight to the point of focus. Or another way to say it is that each movement has the total body weight behind it. Nim Tao is responsible for orchestrating this phenomenon and why it is said that your thought must be focused. Chu Shong Tin coined this ability as "Nim Lik" - the power of a highly focused mind.
An analogy that my teacher, Sifu Mark Spence, described which is incredibly useful to help us understand this concept, is the analogy of balancing a stick vertically on your fingertip. As long as you remain focused on the idea that you are keeping the top of the stick upright, you do not need to worry about how your hand underneath is accomplishing this. You can trust that your body will automatically adjust to keep the stick upright as long as the idea is maintained.
And this process is the exact same process that we use in the Siu Nim Tao form. We are picking a point in front of us and focusing on the idea of our total body mass being at that point as we move. As this idea takes hold in your Nim Tao, your body automatically starts correcting the impeding tension in your ligaments, muscles, tendons, joints, fascia, nerves or wherever else the weight is being trapped in your body - slowly, but surely. In fact, very slowly! This is why the ability to use the Wing Chun power can take a while, and why GM Chu said that patience and persistence are the keys to Wing Chun.
I have always found it hard to believe in methods without understanding what the point of those methods are. If I ever trained with Ip Man and he told me to just "believe and train" I would have had a very difficult time following this instruction! Which is probably why it took me a long time to wrap my head around what I was meant to be doing and to gain an understanding of it.
Wing Chun is incredibly scientific with solid logic and reasoning behind its methods. Even the seemingly magical aspects like Qi/Chi flow do have a physical basis. We will take look at some of these interesting ideas in another blog.
By Maksem Manler