Introduction to Siu Lim Tao
Above: “The Ving Tsun Tong”
Centre: Portrait of Yip Man
Right :“Passing down Ving Tsun only in the right way.”
Left: “Making our ancient Chinese culture strong.”
These scrolls tell you that Ving Tsun should only be passed on the right way, which will make us stronger. As part of the Ving Tsun Tong, we must endeavour to make this ancient Chinese art, part of an ancient Chinese culture, strong. Yip Man spread VTK to the Western world, and most schools look to his lineage. It is through his lineage, through Yip Man’s top fighting student, Wong Shun Leung, and his top fighting student, Barry Lee, that this series of articles, books and blogs are based on.
This series of articles covers the first form of Ving Tsun Kuen, Siu Lim Tao. This is an introduction to the entire series on Siu Lim Tao. “Siu” means little or young in Chinese, and implies ‘beginnings’. Lim means thought or dream or idea. Tao means head but also means way. In context, Lim Tao means idea. However, Chinese words are symbols, and very contextual. Thus, the meaning of the words “Siu Lim Tao” can be very poetic, and has various interpretations. Usually, though, it is simply translated into “little idea”. In English, it is the “Little Idea” Form. It means the little idea, like an acorn growing into an oak tree, that is a small beginning, with promise of growing into a great and powerful structure.
But because I can’t leave it simply like that, I say it’s because people have little idea what they are in for. It looks simple, but it isn’t. Far from it.
Siu Lim Tao is also called the first set, the first form, and other things. Some people from particularly old lineages call the first section, or sometimes the whole form, “praying three times to Buddha” because of the wu sau resembling a ‘praying hand’. There are many ways of doing the form, each lineage having their own way. Often this is considered incorrect by other lineages, but the truth is that they may, in fact, be perfectly correct. It is not the order or the techniques that make it correct, but the way you do it, and making sure that nothing is missing over the entire system. Two forms can look superficially identical and one can be completely wrong, because it is missing something or is done in the wrong way, or is missing something that is not made up later in the system, while two seemingly completely different forms can in fact both be correct, because they aren’t lacking these things. The key is in what is being learned by the student, and how it fits into the entirety of the system.
This blog series will tell you how to do it our way correctly, and how it should be learned and trained. The form itself, as a set of moves, is secondary to how you perform it – there will be other blogs on the practical side of things. The principles herein could easily be used for different versions of Siu Lim Tao without difficulty, and the methodology could be used to significantly improve performance of other forms, even other martial arts entirely. However, the form itself described here follows the Yip Man Lineage, with a practical slant towards, and under the heavy influence of, his best fighting student, Wong Shun Leung of the Hong Kong VTK lineage, through Barry Lee. Similarly, all the major interpretations and applications, as taught to me by Wong Shun Leung’s protégé and top fighting student, Barry Lee.
Occasionally I will give some additional insights and applications that have been influenced by other prominent masters from Hong Kong and Foshan. Other masters’ knowledge such as Painted face Kam, Kwok Fu and Cheung Bo lineage is included, partly as a comparison, and sometimes for illustration, and other masters more secretive and not so well-known. When I mention these, I will indicate their source, and the variation from our “standard” repertoire. However, the form itself as given is as completely as is possible the distillation of the pure VTK method from the Barry Lee/Wong Shun Leung/Yip Man lineage.
Although a secretive style, Ving Tsun Kuen has a saying: “There are no secrets in Ving Tsun”. This means that the teacher should hold nothing back from the student. And in fact, many do tell their students everything they know. Unfortunately, some teachers have held back, and, much more often, students haven’t stayed with a master long enough or trained often enough to learn the depth needed. Thus, when they themselves become teachers, there are missing parts from their knowledge, incompletions, and misconceptions. It isn’t that they hold back, it is that they don’t know themselves. Some add other ideas into it to cover this lack. Some even promote that they know “secrets”. There are no secrets in VKT. Just things some people failed to learn. Unfortunately, it is impossible to realize that you do not know something – it is an absence. It is human nature to think we learned it all, and it takes some epiphany to see there is a lack. These documents were intended to help both with the epiphany and making up for that lack. They are the mortar between the bricks that are laying the foundations of VTK. Without such mortar, the foundations will not stand up to the stresses of combat.
If you can’t find a teacher or practitioner to learn from, then follow the video in the link and at least try to copy the moves. Using the information within these blogs will help to make it functional instead of just arm waving, or some kind of strange Chinese folk dance.
A note on the video. This is actually just a normal training session, not a demo video. There are plenty of small errors done by various students in it. Do not mindlessly copy what they are doing. The correct way to do this is found in these blogs and articles. For example, the guy in the yellow shirt is having his first lesson with us, and doing it according to how he learned elsewhere. None of the others have trained more than a couple of years at most, when the video was taken. Just follow through at the pace given in the video, trying to copy what you see. It’s close enough to start with.
Another note on the video. I had to change the soundtrack. I used some music I had from China, supposedly free and without copyright in the West, but I found they had actually pirated someone else’s music. I therefore changed it to some free music from YouTube’s library.
A note on the pictures of the errors used in the blogs. These are all taken from the internet, and are, as far as I can tell ,unintentional errors, and the pictures are public domain. They are taken from people who vary from beginner to master level, and some are from textbooks on VTK. I have deleted the heads so people can’t see who they are so easily, but one point is certain. No-one, no matter what level, can be sure they aren’t making any mistakes. It is also not my intention to disparage any particular system, but to show common errors. This is why I use drawings instead of photos for the correct techniques, so students can learn idealized positions, which are extremely difficult to actually do. Or rather to do ALL of them like that. No one is perfect. But, no one needs to copy other people’s errors either. We will make enough of our own, without adding more.