Forms of Wing Chun

Sil Lim Tau – Little Idea (First Form)

Sil Lim Tau, sometimes referred to as Siu Nim Tao, is the first of the hand forms of Wing Chun, the other two are Chum Kiu (Seeking Bridge) and Biu Gee (Thrusting Fingers). Sil Lim Tao is a basic form for beginners. Grandmaster Ip Man described that in “Sil Lim Tao or ‘little idea’, the ideas of daily matters, such as money, work, hate, love, etc…. ‘decrease to as little as possible, or even none’, so that the practitioner may ‘concentrate only upon practicing’.”

Sil Lim Tao is the basic Kung Fu of Wing Chun. That is why almost every Wing Chun Sifu, when teaching his students, always wants the students to practice ‘Sil Lim Tao’ first. Sil Lim Tao is divided into three sections, with a total of one hundred and eight movements. Each small section has its own aim in practice, and various meanings in application. The first section is for training the basic strength of the wrist and elbow. The strength is in the formation of the major hand positions of Tan Sau, Fook Sau, and Wu Sau. If you wish to perform well in Wing Chun, you must use the first sections of Sil Lim Tao to train the basic power and strength. There is no short cut, once the movements of the form have been learned, they must be practiced seriously to train the power and strength. Every Wing Chun practitioner knows when practicing the first part of Sil Lim Tao, that it has to be slow. To train for the strength one has to be serious, and to be serious one must do it slowly.

The second section is the training of using the strength and power. In Wing Chun Kung Fu, the strength and power are used half soft, half hard. This is easily demonstrated when throwing a punch, your arm travels at great speed but the muscles are relaxed, this is the soft part. But just before you make contact with your opponent, your muscles in your arm tense up for a split second, this is the hard part. This later develops into full delivery of the Kinetic Energy of your arm and body into the target, without compromising balance.

The third section is for training correct position of the basic hand movement into your muscle memory. Movements include Pak Sau, Tan Sau, Gaun Sau, Huen Sau and Bong Sau. The practitioner must concentrate on executing each movement’s position correctly.

Chum Kiu – Arm Seeking (Second Form)

Wing Chun’s second form chum kiu builds on the base of knowledge learned in the first form and teaches the practitioner how to use these skills under different conditions.

The first section of Chum Kiu teaches how to use turning and techniques at the same time, for example the Bong Sau and Wu Sau with turning and body shifting. This is teaching the practitioner to use the hips to develop power, something which is not seen in the first form. It is also teaching the practitioner about body positioning when using techniques like the Bong Sau which becomes considerably more effective when combined with body shifting (turning).

The first section also introduces two way energy as seen when the Lan Sau arm Laps and a straight punch is delivered. This enables the practitioner to deliver more devastating blows with relative ease as the Laping arm is enabling the transfer of power across the body as the force can flow in one motion without interruption, with the addition of pulling your opponent off balance, the target will also be moving into the punch and so additional damage will be caused.

The second section introduces Wing Chun stepping, this, when combined with techniques enables the safe bridging of the gap between the practitioner and his/her opponent. Hence Chum Kiu or ‘seeking the Bridge’. For it is with contact that Wing Chun practitioner has his/her biggest advantage. Furthermore the second section of Chum Kiu is building on Sil Lim Tao by making the practitioner use both footwork and kicks with hand techniques such as blocks.

Chum Kiu also introduces the Wing Chun practitioner to three different kicks, a lifting kick to block others kicks, a front kick which can be aggressive or defensive but never flashy, and a turning kick which again can be used to stop the advance of an attacker or strike them. The Wing Chun kicks like hand techniques are non committal and do not compromise the balance of the practitioner in any significant way, due to their exceptional speed but lack of height.

Also throughout the practice of Chum Kiu the practitioner must use both hands at once. Although this is done in Sil Lim Tao, when both hands are used in the first form they perform the same action whereas in Chum Kiu they do different things, requiring a higher level of ability and concentration form the practitioner.

Therefore Chum Kiu builds on Sil Lim Tao.

Muk Yan Jong – Wooden Dummy (Third Form)

Muk Yan Jong sometimes called Mok Yan Chong has 116 techniques that comprise the wooden dummy form as taught by the late grandmaster Ip Man. The form makes up an important part of the Wing Chun learning curve. The ‘dummy form’ is often said to contain the fighting techniques of the Wing Chun system. This does not mean to say that the techniques learned in the 3 empty forms are not for fighting or combat, the difference is application. The empty hand forms have to be applied to a situation and cannot always be performed exactly as they appear in the form whereas the techniques in the Dummy form are performed against the ‘Jong’ or dummy, and therefore are being practiced in a way that applies them directly. This is because the techniques are performed against the physical arms, legs and body of the wooden dummy.

The wooden dummy itself (sometimes called a wooden man) represents a physical opponent; its arms can represent attacks that have to be blocked or obstacles for the practitioner to overcome in order to attack the trunk of the dummy. The leg of the dummy has to be maneuvered around and attacked by the practitioner during the form.

The advantages of training on a wooden dummy are, that it can be hit as hard as the practitioner wishes, it can be trained on for long hours whereas a live partner might get bored and as the Dummy does not move much, the practitioner learns mobility while circling around the dummy in conjunction with blocking and striking hand techniques.

The dummy form contains applications from the three hand forms, along with some additional techniques like the neck pull and some additional kicks. Because of the angle and structure of the Dummy, the trainee is naturally drawn to execute his/her techniques with correct positioning. Because the dummy is a solid object any mistakes in the practitioner’s technique, like incorrect angle and position of block or wrong use of energy is easily identifiable. Mainly because it will result in a loss of balance or a clash of force causing pain and one mistake in the positioning of a block in the dummy form will often lead to the next move being harder to perform so eventually the positioning and use of energy becomes perfect from training on the dummy. A live partner on the other hand may not be able to identify mistakes if he/she is not experienced.

Biu Gee – Thursting Fingers (Fourth Form)

Thrusting fingers is Wing Chun’s final hand form.

Biu Gee (thrusting/darting hand/fingers) is sometimes also referred to as Biu Tse, Biu Jee or even Bil Gee is the third and final hand form of the Wing Chun Kung Fu system and is generally only taught to trusted Wing Chun practitioners. Biu Gee contains advanced techniques and emergency escapes.

Bui Gee teaches how to perfect the use of ‘inch energy’, enabling the practitioner to develop power through very short distances. It also builds on the two way energy developed in Chum Kiu.

Biu Gee footwork is known as circle stepping or Huen Ma and is essential to the Wing Chun system. Again this builds on the Chum kiu style thrusting stepping or Biu ma. Huen Ma enables the rapid but safe change of direction enabling the practitioner to avoid an attack and swiftly counter attack.

Biu Gee also introduces the practitioner to a technique known as Kop Jarn, or downward elbow. Kop jarn can be used to attack at very close distance where punching or striking with the hand is not an easy option. Kop jarn can also be used to block an incoming attack when the practitioner has his/her hands trapped. This is one of the reasons Biu Gee is said to contain emergency escape techniques.

Other emergency techniques are seen in Biu Gee, for example the use of Biu Tse Sau to escape when the elbow has been pinned.

Therefore Biu Gee completes the hand forms of the Wing Chun system by finalising the use of power and energy in techniques, building on the Chun Kiu style stepping and providing the practitioner with options to escape a bad situation such as being pinned, trapped or recovering from a fall.

Therefore because Biu Gee builds on Chum Kiu which itself builds on Sil Lim Tao It should only be learned after Chum Kiu has been properly understood. Once Biu Gee has been mastered the practitioner can deliver devastating power through extremely short distances with pin point accuracy.

Luk Dim Boon Kwun – Six and Half Point Pole (Fifth Form)

Luk Dim Boon Kwun literally means six and a half point pole. The techniques in this form are generally taught as the first of the weapons forms. The form only has six different techniques which are repeated in various directions and the half technique of dropping the pole. Therefore it is much easier to learn than the Bart Cham Dao which has well over 100 techniques.

The pole itself, sometimes called a “Dragon pole” presumably because people think it sounds “cool” It is around 8 or 9 foot, (one and a half times the height of the practitioner is a general rule). It is tapered at one end so it is thinner at the top than the base. Throughout the form the practitioner only holds the base. This is quite a big difference to other pole based styles which tend to use both ends of the weapon to spin and lash out in various directions. Because of its large size it is quite cumbersome to handle and it is thought the weapon was mainly for use on the battle field rather than one on one fighting. Theory has it the pole is for the first impact and the butterfly knives are for close fighting. Hence the half technique of dropping the pole is very important all be it a relatively easy process.

The form will help the practitioner gain strength in both the legs and arms. This is because a traditional horse stance is used for most of the form putting extra pressure on the legs. Also being around 9 foot in length the practitioner will require reasonable amount of upper body strength just to hold it out straight let along train with it for long hours. The form will also help improve coordination and it will help understand the principles of Wing Chun better. For instance being a centimetre off of the centreline with your guard would be hard to notice, however at the end of the 9 foot pole it becomes obvious. Therefore training the pole will help the practitioner identify subtle mistakes in his technique which applies to both empty hand and weapon techniques.

Bart Cham Dao – Butterfly Knife (Sixth Form)

The Bart Cham Dao sometimes called Batt Jam Dao literally means eight cutting knives. Baat is the number 8, Cham is to cut or slash and Dao refers to a single edged blade like a knife or sword. This is usually the final form taught to a Wing Chun Student. Ip Man only taught a hand full (seven) of students this form in his entire life. Ip Man is said to have learned the form off of Leung Bik.

Shaolin monk theory

There are a number of theories about the origin of the form. The most common theory, but in my opinion least likely theory, is that the form originated with the Shaolin monks. The fable goes, that the monks would keep the knives in their boots and use them to defend themselves. They were allegedly used so monks could incapacitate not kill their attackers and therefore still uphold their moral integrity. Whilst this is plausible, there are two key problems. One, there is no evidence that any of the Shaolin sets use Wing Chun style Dao in the same way as Wing Chun students do during the Baat Cham Dao form, namely rotating the blade so the spine of the blade runs parallel to the forearm. In fact some people[1] have suggested that, compressive research covering all the weapons used by the Shaolin styles, does not show any use of the Wing Chun style Dao. Secondly, a pair of large knives would not be a good choice for non lethal combat. A walking stick or plain metal baton would be cheaper and likely safer, non-lethal, self defense option.

Developed from Crane and other Kung Fu styles

An alternative theory is that the form was developed as an adaptation of other styles of Kung Fu that existed in southern China at the time, possibly Fujan White Crane. Fujan White Crane does use two Dao and rotates the blades during the form. However their form does not resemble the more modern Baat Cham Dao Form as done by Ip Man and Ip Ching. Therefore, to me, it seems likely that the Wing Chun form was inspired by other Chinese martial arts that existed at the time, but it had the Wing Chun principles of economy of motion, non-commitment and directness applied. This theory is supported by the fact a number of other southern Chines martial arts like Choi Lee Fut and Hung Gar etc, also use a pair of dao. Although again, they use them differently. In addition there is a fair amount of evidence[2] to suggest Wing Chun’s hand forms are themselves and adaptation of Fujan crane style and snake style Kung Fu.

Everyday knives used for Wing Chun

Another possible theory is that the form is a way of using Wing Chun to fight with domestic knives, for instance Chinese cooking cleavers (which are sometimes used in pairs when cooking). Some people argue, the form can be seen as an extension of the hand techniques, just using a weapon. Whilst this is again a possibility, I feel this is an unlikely theory due to the nature of the form. In the final section of the Baat Cham Dao, the student is required to reverse the grip so the spine of the blade is parallel to the forearm. This is something that can only be done swiftly mid flow, by using the hooks on the back of the Dao, something which would not be present on a domestic knife of any sort. This last point leads nicely onto the evolution of the weapons themselves.

History of the weapon

Calling Wing Chun dao, Butterfly Knives is often very confusing for people outside of Wing Chun as the term is commonly used to describe the Filipino flick knife or balisong. The knives used in Wing Chun are nothing like the Filipino knives with the blade concealed in the handle. However the term butterfly knives is very common within the Wing Chun community. It was likely coined as a reference to the way people tend to mount the knives when putting them on display. i.e. crossed and resembling the shape of a butterfly with their wings open. People also refer to Wing Chun Dao as butterfly swords, which is more helpful, but still says very little about the sword.

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