Relaxing the Bicep in Siu Lim Tau


Relaxing in Siu Lim Tau


When it comes to training a good Siu Lim Tau we all know that we need to be relaxed in order to initially feel, and further develop, the correct elbow energy, but could we do more?

Yes, by setting our stall out correctly before we begin.


Grandmaster Ip Chun is quoted as saying;

“In the first part of Siu Lim Tau, the fingers and forearm should be relaxed,

this is very important for the student to master”.


Whereas at the same time I am reminded of something Master Ip Ching once said to me in Hong Kong;

“Tension in the hand develops energy from the elbow”


Now it is this second phrase that is often misunderstood and can result in tension being used throughout the whole arm.


This description by Master Ip Ching fits perfectly with my most common method of drawing used for the energy out of a student when the playing of Siu Lim Tau.


The idea that you split your mind into four equal parts:


You must push forwards with the Tan, no matter what


You are pushing against a resistance (Whatever force you are using to move forwards is also back)


Do not use muscle


Hopefully if all four principles are believed to be equal, then you should be able to draw on a different kind of strength, a feeling not so familiar, this we hope, is energy.


There are many methods I use in order to try to encourage energy development from a student (this being just one), and even then, if we are being honest, we do not really know if we have hit the nail on the head or not.

This is like visiting the doctor and trying to tell them how you feel, no matter how eloquent you may be in the description of your illness, they will never actually feel what you feel.

Therefore, we can only attempt to make our best guess with the information we are given, and keep changing how we view this process, because one day you will find the right balance and approach for you, provided you are not being too blinkered with your training and too stuck in your ways to adjust of course.


Many students, after spending just a little time with me on their energy have said things like,

‘Wow, I thought I knew what energy was, but that feels so different’


A common question on Siu Lim Tau is;

‘What speed should I play the Form?’


Simple answer,

‘As slow as possible’


But this is not quite right, it is not that by just going slow you will have a good Form, it is more a case that if you are doing the Form correctly, you will not want to speed up and risk losing the feeling you have achieved.


Now before I discuss relaxing, let’s understand what I mean regarding tension, to me tension is anything in excess of what is needed to maintain a position.

When I ask a student to relax, I am frequently questioned on the this, with concerns that if they relax then, ‘their arm will fall’, to which I reply;

‘So if you tense, does your arm lift?’



“In the first part of Siu Lim Tau, the fingers and forearm should be relaxed,

this is very important for the student to master”.


Excess tension is what we are trying to avoid in Siu Lim Tau, so where do we start?


At the beginning.


After checking centerline and executing our left and right punches, we open our left hand and set off with a Tan Sau, BUT, for me, this is where the main action needs to occur, before the Tan sets off.


If we consider for a moment the starting position, the very point when we first open our hand, this is where our bicep is at its most contracted and is something we often do not consider because it is, Out of sight, out of mind.


Let’s go further back for a moment for a moment.

Posture is important, important that we keep our head up, our airways free, shoulders relaxed and so on.

This can be helped by using a mirror but do make sure it is tight against the wall.  If the mirror is leaning against the wall, therefore angled, then this will result in a downward trajectory to your viewpoint and subsequently of your positions, with the final technique being way too low.

If you do not have a mirror then it is common practice to have a focus point up ahead and allow the hand to drift up to your peripheral vision, providing you also allow the hands to move down and out of it too, or your Wu Sau will return too high.

The downside of not using a mirror can be that you start to look down at your hands (again causing bad posture and low positions).


This then becomes a strong reason behind relaxing the eyelids, along with, that if your eyes are open you may bedistracted and if your eye are closed you may be tempted to daydream.


So now that we’ve established correct posture of the body and an understanding of our final Tan destination, let’s go back to the start, the opening of the hand, where our bicep is at its most contracted.

At this point the elbow is pointing behind us and will swing to eventually being in front of us at the final Tan position.

The start of this swing is focused on the arm relaxing and only when the upper arm is at a vertical position would we start to encourage the use of energy for the remainder of the forward swing.




Unless we fully release the tension from the bicep, tension can remain with us throughout the forward swing and the rest of this first section.


Now here’s the big tip!


After you first open your hand, slightly rotate the wrist so that the heel of the palm is facing upwards, this will engage the rotor muscle and pretty much do all the work for you from here on in.


Next, take a good thirty seconds or so, to feel the tension in the bicep and slowly, very slowly feel this tension begin to flutter away, like petals caught in a gentle breeze.

As the tension leaves, the bicep relaxes.

As the bicep relaxes it begins to elongate.

As the bicep elongates the swing begins to occur.


By the time your upper arm is at the vertical point of the swing you will be so relaxed the feeling of energy will be free to flow as it should.


KEEP this relaxation and only try to train a small amount of energy.


Although the power may not feel so strong, it WILL feel pure.


‘Less is more’


You will feel amazing afterwards and possibly realise that the ‘strength’ you were training previously, was quite possibly not completely energy but more likely a battle you were having with your own tensions, triggered by, and lingering from, your NOT relaxing the bicep at the start of the Form.

I am not saying that what you were training before was wrong, look at it this way;

If you put a drop of poison into a pint of water, the poison will still be effective, but not as effective as if it were the bottle of poison itself.


This, is the purest form of energy training, with zero interference from outside tensions.


Give it a go, I am sure you’ll find my method interesting.

Thank you



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