Sai Lim (NIM) Tao is a form that helps one become centered physically and emotionally as well as cognitively. The form focuses on acquiring a mindful awareness of the very moment at hand without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Sai Lim Tao uses a very specific manner of controlled breathing to facilitate mindfulness: During the first part of Sai Lim Tao, outward and inward movement of the practitioner’s hand and arm occurs four times with each hand and arm:
The first time . . .
. . . the hand is moved outward in a perfectly straight line starting at one’s own solar plexus (the diaphragm just under the sternum and in the middle of the ribcage) until the arm is fully extended. During extension of the arm the practitioner is to slowly breathe in for approximately four seconds with the goal being to breathe in fully and completely so that both the chest and the abdomen are fully expanded with fresh air.
While performing this movement it is very important to keep one’s elbow directly in front of one’s solar plexus throughout the entire extension: This does not come naturally for most people but develops over time. The purpose of this is to make sure that one’s elbow is blocking one’s solar plexus so that the practitioner gets used to protecting her/his solar plexus with her/his elbow at all times when engaged in a physical conflict because the solar plexus is a direct and immediate path to the diaphragm which is NOT protected by ribs: This makes it easy for one’s opponent to strike at the solar plexus thereby knocking the wind out of the practitioner and consequently ending the fight because you cannot fight if you cannot breathe!
Then the same hand is brought back to the solar plexus as the practitioner exhales slowly over approximately four seconds: The practitioner should be at the end of exhalation when the hand reaches the solar plexus, and should simply rest the diaphragm without immediately taking in another breath: The idea is to hold the breath in the exhaled position, with the lungs mostly exhaled, for approximately four seconds. While resting one’s lungs during these four seconds the practitioner should, without moving the eyes from a fixed point (about 2 feet in front of the practitioner at the same level as her/his own solar plexus – ideally while staring at her/his reflection in a mirror), mentally make note of four things that the practitioner notices (sees) in her/his peripheral vision. Doing this is a grounding technique that encourages the practitioner to remain mindful (in the moment).
The second time . . .
The very same sequence is performed, but this time while the hand rests against the practitioner’s solar plexus and the practitioner is holding her/his breath (in the exhaled position without immediately inhaling) the practitioner is to listen carefully while attempting to take note of three sounds that are taking place within himelf/herself and/or his/her surroundings. Not only is this an excellent grounding skill to keep oneself mindfully in the present moment (especially helpful when counteracting anxiety), but . . .
. . . the ability to hear where your opponent’s precise location is during hand-to-hand combat may be of critical significance if, for some reason, you are unable to see your opponent secondary to . . . (A) being poked in the eyes by a perpetrator who unexpectedly attacks you, secondary to . . . (B) having dirt/sand, pepper spray, or mace aimed at your eyes by an assailant, secondary to . . . (C) being attacked late at night by a predator who has planned his attack during a time of night when visualization is extremely difficult, etc . . .). During advanced Wing Chun training the opponents blindfold themselves prior to engaging in competitive sparing because this not only encourages better listening skills but it also encourages the practitioners to use INTUITION to feel / perceive where their opponent is located at, how the opponent plans to attack, where the opponent plans to attack, and when the opponent plans to attack. We will come back to this use of intuition in the last (fourth) movement of the hand and arm.
NOTE: I understand if you have skepticism regarding this “intuitive” skill but allow me to provide you with a common, everyday occurrence as evidence that this intuitive skill is real: Guys may be able to relate to this experience more than women. So, fellows: Have you ever been in a grocery store and you just happened to notice a “drop-dead gorgeous” woman on the COMPLETE OPPOSITE END of the store . . . so you figured, “What’s the harm in just looking? She won’t catch me . . . and . . . it’s JUST a little ‘eye candy,’ so what’s the harm in looking for a moment?”
Then, as you were staring straight at this woman (with your tongue hanging out of your mouth like a rabid dog) she almost immediately turns her eyes STRAIGHT TOWARD YOU and catches you being a complete TROAL! How humiliating! She intuitively FELT your gaze upon her!
Science has not defined a way to explain this phenomenon, but it is a factually based occurrence, so MUCH so, that when I was in the army’s boot-camp they gave us a short and “dirty” (quick) lesson on how to kill a nearby enemy quietly with the bayonet (dagger) on the tip of our M-16 automatic weapons, for use ONLY when firing our weapons at the enemy was not an option because it would cause too much attention thereby giving away our location. This may be antiquated by now (I’m not sure if this is still taught), but they taught us to walk using the edges of our feet instead of walking flat-footed,to make less noise, and of HIGH IMPORTANCE to this discussion, they taught us to NEVER look directly at the enemy whom you are sneaking up on, but rather, we were to stare at the ground about a foot away from the enemy and use our peripheral vision to view our enemy so that the enemy would be less likely to “feel” our gaze, which would turn US into the target instead of the enemy being the target.
So, believe it or not, intuitive skills such as this are very real and can be acquired and nurtured using various training methods. Wing Chun is a close-range hand-to-hand combat strategy in which you are encouraged to boldly invade your opponent’s personal space (about four to six inches away from your opponent) and stay in that space until you have defeated your opponent. When fighting this close to your opponent it is impossible to see how your opponent is going to attack you so you must intuitively perceive how your opponent will attack you. I’m off this tangent; more on this subject later.
Back on track: The thrid time . . .
. . . The very same sequence is performed by outward movement of the hand and arm over four seconds while inhaling into the chest and abdomen, followed by an inward return of the hand and arm over four seconds while exhaling , but this time while the hand rests against the practitioner’s solar plexus and the practitioner is holding her/his breath (in the exhaled position without immediately inhaling) the practitioner is to attempt to define two sensations that the practitioner feels such as bodily discomfort, an inner feeling of peace, a cool draft in the room, or in the case of a physical confrontation during which you are unable to see your opponent you must scan the environment with all of your senses while slowly and methodically searching your surroundings for your opponent’s location: When your opponent is about one or two millimeters away from, for example, your arm, you may experience a piloerection which is when the static electricity of your opponent’s arm-hair electrically arcs such that it contacts the static electricity in the hairs of your arm thereby causing “goose-bumps” which are little parts of your skin which contain a small hair. When that arm hair is electrically stimulated by the presence of your opponent, the bump of skin surrounding the hair will raise thereby alerting you to the presence of danger. These “piloerections” are also called “horripilation.” The ability to pick up on this extremely discrete manifestation is, of course, only a skill of a highly advanced martial artist.
The fourth time . . .
This is the last time, in the Sai Lim Tao form, that your arm will extend and then retract in the manner that it has been doing. Everything stays the same except once you reach the position of holding your breath for four seconds while your hand rests upon your solar plexus, your goal is to discern something (only one thing) intuitive that you are able to “pick up on” with the right hemisphere of your brain which is the abstract, language, and artistic portion of your brain. This intuitive perception can be a matter of introspection or an intuitively perceived component of your environment. It is great practice to discuss with your sifu exactly what it was that you intuitively perceived (if you were able to perceive anything at all).
More about Sai Lim Tao . . .
When practicing this form, one should ideally practice in front of a mirror, focusing one’s eyes on the reflection of one’s own solar plexus, which is just below the chest in the center, where the diaphragm can be accessed by a forceful strike. By focusing on this particular point of an opponent you are able to discern the movement of the entire body (inductive reasoning): If your opponent is going to punch you with his right hand, his right shoulder can be seen moving toward you in your peripheral vision. Likewise, if your opponent is going to kick you with his left leg and foot , then the left hip can be seen moving toward you in your peripheral vision.
Sai Lim Tao places the student into a meditative state of mindfulness which prepares the student for the other forms of Wing Chun , for normal (or abnormal) stressors of life, and for physical competition.
Here is a video of Ip Chun performing traditional Sai Nim Tao:
Here is me demonstrating traditional Sai Lim Tao:
My OWN interpretation of Sai Nim Tao only has a couple of differences from Traditional Sai Nim Tao: #1. Instead of performing a Huen-Sao in which you roll your wrist and hand upward and TOWARD your body to (theoretically) redirect a punch, I roll my wrist the opposite direction so that if someone has grabbed and “locked” my wrist after I implemented a punch or other strike, I roll my wrist and hand upward and AWAY from my body until my hand is in the position of holding a teacup, then I “spill the teacup“ (an Eight Animal Kung Fu concept) thereby not only breaking my opponent’s grasp on my wrist, but actually reversing the situation so that now I have hold of my opponent’s wrist. #2. I added the Pak-Sao blocks to the form because these blocks (along with Fak-Sao blocks) are probably the best default blocking method to use in Wing Chun due to the universal (varied) applications of these blocks.
Here is me performing my OWN interpretation of Sai Nim Tao: