Could you explain what it was like learning from Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin and how the classes were structured?
For me it was like being in a movie (being 21 and training in his living room). For me it was a life changing experience to learn under Grandmaster CST and it totally flipped my understanding of Wing Chun.In ‘oz’ I trained very hard-core in terms of sparring with Powel, punching in the chest with Spence etc.
When I came in 2005, CST was just beginning to change his teaching method to try and focus on passing on the Nim Tao or what some call the ‘mind/internal’ aspect of the art. But there was still a lot of Chi Sau. I did lots of Chi Sau sparring with the locals, punching, kicking, pretty much everything apart from live sparring but it was still 60% Siu Nim Tao practice. Before we came in 2005, no one would be there the full 6 hours and practice Siu Nim Tao for that long, so I think we really changed the trend and in the video he mentions how he realized that people dig the internals. He had tried to teach in this was in the 60s but people didn’t want it.
Then I went back for a few months to save up and sort out everything to actually move here. Came back in 2006 and by then it was pretty much just about Siu Nim Tao. I stopped everything after his comment of how tense I am.
In terms of class structure, initially, there was actually no structure to the classes and he would just go around and correct.But I should mention that in 2009-2010 he did mention that he will be retiring in 3 years and that he would be teaching all the forms. This had never been done before! We filmed a lot!
What did GM CST emphasize the students to practice during his classes?
In the first couple of years it was uprightness and relaxation of the joints. Then after he discovered ‘Seng’ to activate Nim Tao, it was all about that for us and retaining ‘Seng’ in everything i.e. in pivoting to find the centre of gravity, all the way up to the weapons.For visitors till the end it was still about joint manipulation.
I should mention that he never asked us to not practice Chi Sau, other forms and striking. In fact, I realized pretty early on that if I did do some movements he would come and give instruction. So I did a lot of bag work, other forms and Chi Sau, etc. Sigung told Ah-Tung ‘why is everyone just standing and not moving!’ So in short, the emphasis for the seniors in the class was to practice everything but effortlessness and using the mind, with ‘Seng’, centre, etc.
What is the difference between Grandmaster CST’s Siu Nim Tao form and form practiced by Ip Man’s other students? (Why was GM CST called the king of SNT?)
I think the biggest difference was his nature (inquisitive, gentle and passive) and the reason he began his practice which was his fascination with SNT’s name and how Ip Man always said that ultimately all movements must be initiated from the mind. So he started Wing Chun ‘cause he was watching this for a couple of months. Not fighting or techniques!
Also, the fact that he did many, many hours of it and did it extremely slow on the rooftop. He was one of the main teachers at Ip’s school and since he was living there, he was the one opening and closing and helping out, so he did teach others to do it very slow. But after a while people that are into the fighting aspects will see fighting moves and applications in the forms rather than ideas to be cultivated. He said others didn’t practice Siu Nim Tao slow, one legged standing, pivoting to find (their) centre of gravity, horse stance.
He had developed a perfect posture and was very flexible. Despite being physically very weak and he had many, many hours of free time to practice.
He was called the King by Ip cause (during the time he they were living together). Ip could see that he found something. CST said that Ip told him that his smaller teacher Leung Bik had a similar feel to what CST had and that’s why he recognized it in him.
Even though grandmaster CST is the only one that spoke of the internals of Wing Chun like ‘Nim Tao’, ‘Nim Lik’ etc, I should add that there needs to be recognition given to the other Ip Man students that worked hard in passing on Wing Chun. For example, Sifu Wong Shun Leung’s style is very different but he was a very fierce fighter and went out representing Wing Chun.
In the CST method, how should the forms be practiced? (for example, slow, relaxed, posture, breathing etc.)
All forms should be performed as relaxed as possible with no tension anywhere, however it’s gotta’ be mindful relaxation not sloppy relaxation in which it feels like a throw. The aim is to be able to use the mind to initiate the movement which is developed in Siu Nim Tao! The aim is to be in control of every joint and every millimetre of movement.
Breathing should be normal and natural. When we relax the breath will spread unilaterally and naturally fill up the abdomen.
Speed: Siu Nim Tao should be practiced slow especially the 1st section.
Chum Kiu is practiced slow and with an even pace perhaps the same speed as the 2nd sections of SNT.
Dummy is practiced slightly faster than Chum Kiu.
Biu Gee is to be practiced as fast as possible.
Pole and Knives are practiced similar speed as Dummy.
What is the importance of rising energy up through the spine and why did Grandmaster CST emphasise it so much?
According to him this is the ‘on switch’ of his method of Wing Chun. He said that if he didn’t do this, he won’t be able to activate ‘Nim Tao’.
However, because it was a natural occurrence for him, he didn’t realise this ‘til the last decade. So, prior to him finding it out he would always say feel a straight line from tailbone to the crown of the head or being pulled up from the head or balancing something on top of the head.But when he learnt that the spine manipulation can make it so people can relax other joints it was a game changer. And he started to get us to actually think upward through it which makes it a live process/flow up in the spine.
This, again is a very tangible thing. So he used to manipulate people’s spines (the ones that were relaxed enough) and once the spine was decompressed and the muscles were relaxed around it, the person then had access to that are of the body (locally). Once the entire spine was risen, then there is full access to all four limbs. Very few people had the ability of being corrected from tailbone up. Everyone has the potential but it just takes correct practice with some good guidance.
A few people even had postural correction in the spine from this practice. And hundreds have had pain relief from it but I guess that happens in yoga and Tai Chi practice too.
He said he didn’t know why it is but knows that it is so! The entire nervous system is along this path so perhaps clearing it up and rising through it does something. In yoga they call this practice raising up the Kundalini. Perhaps it is almost the same as what he called ‘seng’.
What is ‘Nim Tao’ and could you give an example or demonstrate it?
The word ‘Nim Tao’ is from Siu Nim Tao. Little Idea or Intention, so the intention or idea part is ‘Nim Tao’, but it’s a ‘state’ so it is not thinking but rather ‘being’. It is present moment orientated and so we cannot think our way into it. CST said that it is when we can minimize the activity of the front lobe and use the upper back part of the brain. The way to activate it is through what he called ‘Tai Gung’ and ‘Seng’ which is the act of complete relaxation in the pelvis and a decompression and upward flow in the spine from the tailbone to this area of the brain that he talked about.
Now in my opinion, ‘Nim Tao’ is not something that is either on or off. Just like tension or mindfulness or anything else, there is degrees of ‘Nim Tao’ for example let’s say my level is 5% more than the average-joe and CST’s was 90% more, and according to him when a mother lifts a car off her baby she is tapping into this ability (however she probably can’t do it again even if you paid her and the situation is making her tap into it whereas his was controllable by him and therefore could be utilized at will in different actions and situations). And that’s the thing, maybe someone can apply ‘Nim Tao’ to move powerfully in a single movement but they can use it dynamically in Chi Sau, others can do it in Chi Sau but not kicking, and some can do it in a controlled environment but not in high intensity sparring or fighting. So once a level of ‘Nim Tao’ is attained, it depends on how you put it to practice as to how you’ll be able to use it!
It enables you to feel, and gain control of the muscular and skeletal system in a remarkable and tangible way.
So it’s not just about using ‘Nim Tao’ in Wing Chun moves. We just use it in the Wing Chun principles because they are the most sound for fighting in terms of physics but it does not mean that we cant use it for other martial arts or any type of movement or posture. This is the beauty of this ability, because you can use it for any sports, postures, holding a baby, hiking up a mountain, swimming, tennis, sitting while driving, anything!
‘Nim Lik’ is the highest level of Siu Nim Tao practice in the CST method of Wing Chun. It’s a term that grandmaster CST gave to his the flow of energy he feels in the hopes that people may understand it better as it’s in his view the power/energy released through a highly focused mind! He said that it is released in the body once ‘Nim Tao’ reaches a high enough level and the body is relaxed to a very deep level.
I should highlight that he believed that they method of cultivation and using of ‘Nim Lik’ is different from ones who cultivate it at the ‘Dan Tien’. He mentioned this a few times. Once he said Yogis uses something to sit in perfect posture for prolonged periods of time without fatugue.
To me, ‘Nim Lik’ is not something mystical or metaphysical because it is tangible to yourself and others. But it’s important to understand that words can’t really do it justice, and when we use words like internal, mind, energy or ‘Nim Lik’ people are generally put off by it depending on their predispositions.
To say something like energy or ‘mind force’ is that the best way to describe something because it makes it sound like it’s not something concrete and tangible and physical but it almost certainly is because grandmaster CST was utilising it tangibly. This is why I believe that grandmaster CST didn’t talk much about ‘Nim Lik’ even in his DVD or books. Another reason I think is that he believed that it’s hard to grasp until you can relax to a high level. So Nim Lik is achieved once Nim Tao reaches a high enough level. I kept asking him one day and he said to ask him again once I could fully relax my muscles. Now I understand why.
Now some people may believe in it and some people may not but either way whether you believe in it or not it’s not going to help you in attending it. So if the believer doesn’t do the practice the belief is worthless but if the nonbeliever tries to prove it wrong by sticking to the practice completely and totally then my bet is that they will find something that’ll surprise them.
The flow of ‘Nim Lik’ is very tangible and literal and it’s not based on the reaction of the opponent, such as them miraculously flying away. It was flowing in his arms like spiders under the skin and he could make it go the other way. He was then able to project it into people for healing and otherwise purposes.
So there is different levels of it and ultimately there should be a level in which it can tangibly felt by someone in your body as was the case with grandmaster CST. I have felt it when he spend a long time correcting and manipulating and facilitating relaxation and guiding it out in my spine and out to my forearms. There was literally only a handful of us that were keeping up with the pace of his teaching in the last two to three years. This wasn’t like any special training and it was the similar kind of body manipulation as he did but the level was deeper. Also the words he would use with us was changing too.
How do you generate power using your body mass in the CST system?
So once the joints are decompressed and expanded through mindful relaxation, you get a different sense of the body.
You can feel your skeletal system as a whole! And once you are able to through ‘Chum Kiu’, you begin to explore and accurately feel the centre of gravity of your body. Once you have found that you explore how to retain it and make it the main engine behind your movements. Not just in a solid tense way like a rock but every joint can also actively add acceleration with in the one united body mass. So it requires an openess of the joints so they are like outlets, backing each other up like an unblocked hose, and this can be applied to any movement, not just Wing Chun.
What’s your idea about need for sparring in martial arts?
I believe it’s crucial for martial arts or fighting purposes! Absolutely! Having said that it’s completely fine if people don’t. Because some just want the health benefits like yoga. You see, within the internal arts, the martial aspect is only a branch of the tree. It’s a big branch, but it’s still just a branch and not the whole tree.
Even within external arts some do it for fitness weight loss, such as taibo or boxercise. Some don’t want bruises and some don’t even want to sweat much but they pick up life changing philosophies and motivations from practicing martial arts which is beautiful. But if a school or teacher is advertising martial arts and telling students that that training will prepare them for real fighting I believe there must be some type of realistic sparring
Internal styles are unique because they take a lifetime, therefore they have no limit to them. If grandmaster CST lived to 200 then he would be much better than he was when he passed at 81. Some don’t want to tense up or get injured because let’s say they’re putting hours into the practice to achieve a certain level of relaxation and control and by getting injured or tensing up from sparring hardcore daily they go backwards. But I want the whole rounded thing. It’s a martial art in the end. But we need to keep in mind that fighting is not the ultimate goal for some.
For example you wouldn’t go up to a lady practicing ‘Tai Chi’ in the park and challenge her to a fight because you know that’s not why she’s doing it. But on the same note, your doctor probably wouldn’t advise you to do MMA training to fix your back problem, so it’s the health benefits that come with it and the mental and emotional transformation that people are into.
So in this method of Wing Chun, it’s about using perfect biomechanics and gaining a different control over the musculoskeletal system and in that way it can be used for any activity that required movement, any sport, etc. Personally I want it all and know that it’s a martial art.
Standing meditations and forms like Siu Nim Tao are like having a Ferrari V12 engine. Doing movement forms like Chum Kiu is putting the engine inside the frame of a Ferrari. Biu Gee is like flooring it.
If you’re only doing things like techniques, Chi Sau, and the dummy form, that is like taking the car for a drive in normal suburban areas and staying to the speed limit.
Now sparring is like taking that car to a track and testing its limits in a rather safe environment. But there you can really give it a go and see what feedback you get from it. You may crash and hit the walls or ride it off road but you’re pretty safe. Then, ring fighting is like racing that car with other cars on the track. Things get a bit more realistic and dangerous.
Now a street fight is like using that car on the normal road without any safe walls and you’re being chased by someone that’s gonna kill you if they catch you. Here you could die. So, in my opinion, someone that has not taken the car to the track and tested its potential and got used to giving it a thrash and especially with other cars in the race then you probably have less of a chance to outrun the person who is catching you even if they are in a slower car (if they’ve tested the shit of that car).
So people that say ‘yeah in a real fight Jiu Jitsu doesn’t work’ and ‘as they come in I’ll poke ’em in the eye or bite them when they’re on top of me’, they have a point that that could be done, but my answer is if they can handle you so easily with rules then they’ll eat you up without rules.
They also can poke in the eye. Tyson bit ears off even with rules, what do you think he’ll do on the street. Without sparring how can you know it’ll work under pressure? This is the reason people like Joe Rogan is coming out and saying Kung Fu is shit for fighting. It’s not at all but I do agree with him that a lot of people that practice it won’t have a chance against an MMA fighter. Why? because it has internal things people focus on that and don’t do the sparring whereas in MMA it’s at least 60% sparring based.
I stopped all sparring for a few years and in this time didn’t get into a fight. Now in the last year I’ve picked it up. I was always gonna pick it up because I know without that part of the martial arts is missing. I gotta carry on tradition the proper way.
So with this opinion, we do sparring. Grandmaster CST used to fight. Sifu Wong Sheung Leung was undefeated and even bested a Russian heavyweight boxer in a real challenge fight. Then when it became illegal, he encouraged his students to go to Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore and enter tournaments to gain experience.