“Never let the drive for perfection be the enemy of doing things effectively”

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a significant number of students from my Sifu’s school would travel to Hong Kong to train at Grandmaster Chu ShongTin’s school,   Chu ShongTin was our Sifu’s Sifu.

Very few would stay for more than a week but they would return shining with an inner light and full of tales of amazing feats, brilliant teachings and the sheer joy of being in the company of greatness.

A fair call.

But they also returned with an arm structure that for some reason was much less efficient and effective than it was before they left Australia.

This condition humorously became known as ‘Hong Kong Spaghetti Arms’.

Those afflicted with Hong Kong Spaghetti Arms would act as if they knew something we did not, despite not being able to prevent themselves from being hit when playing Chi Sau.

If ever there was a case of “Never let the drive for perfection be the enemy of doing things effectively” this was it.

I know where the condition of Spaghetti Arms comes from and I also know that it is a correct step on the path to a capable and effective body, but it is only a transition phase, it is a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

But hey, what can you learn in a week?

Sadly these Wing Chun tourists were stuck half-way along the road to amazing unbendable arms, if they had stayed longer in Hong Kong they would have learned how to correctly take the “impractical softness” out of their arms and replace it with rigidity without using muscular strength.

The Sil Lim Tao Form, or rather the “A” section of the overall Sil Lim Tao has three major learning objectives.

  1. Set up the neutral body.
  2. Move the arms without disturbing the neutral body.
  3. Energise the neutral body so that it becomes an active body.

Step #2 is what results in Spaghetti Arms.

The purpose of the Sil Lim Tao Form is to become familiar with our own body structure, it is not in any way intended to make contact with another person or outside force so having Spaghetti Arms is of no consequence when doing the Form.

In fact, it is as it should be.

The third learning objective of the Sil Lim Tao Form, energising the neutral body, brings everything together, torso, arms, and legs by various stabilisations, both global and local.

 Stabilisation of the lower torso or Pelvic Girdle is achieved by recruiting the DEEP MUSCLES…

1. The muscles of the pelvic floor…. Contract the glutes.

2. The transverse abdominals…. pull in the navel

3. The multifidus….. Stand tall.

4. The Internal Obliques… breathe sideways.

5. The Diaphragm… tuck the diaphragm under the ribs.

In short our core muscles that attach to and hold our spine secure.

Local Stabilisation of the torso is not addressed in the S. L. T.  as there is zero body movement, it is introduced in Chum Kiu and Biu Gee.

Stabilisation of the upper torso or Pectoral Girdle is achieved by recruiting

 1. The Levator Scapulae …  Pull the head back and stretch the neck.

2. The Rotator Cuff Muscles…. Bend the Bar.

As you can see when we follow the simple set-up of…

  1. Contract the Glutes.
  2. Pull in the navel.
  3. Stand Tall.
  4. Breathe Sideways.
  5. Tuck up the diaphragm.
  6. Bend the Bar.
  7. Stretch the Neck.

… we stabilise our complete torso.

This set-up could well still suffer from Spaghetti Arms as there is still some work to do.

One of the many reasons we do the S. L. T. Form so slowly is to allow us to observe and make contact with the bones and most importantly the joints of our arms.

The shoulder joint, the Elbow joint, the wrist joint, and the finger joints.

If we ‘bend the bar’ we stabilise the shoulder joint, this results in a natural, pliable solidity in the shoulder joint.

When we hinge the elbow joint we create a kinetic force that pushes our forearm down into the wrist and our upper arm back into that stable shoulder joint connecting the upper arm to the torso and creating a return force back down the upper arm that crosses the elbow jointed reinforces the forearms force.

It is just physics.

In a contact any force pushing my wrist back toward us is met by the return force from our body, if the muscles surrounding and crossing the Elbow are contracted I have real problems, in effect both of us are putting pressure on the elbow joint, if it is natural and only working as a hinge the partner/opponent has real problems due to the aforementioned return force.

We, people, are not used to using the elbow joint as it was intended, as a hinge, instead we think that it is a way to move our arms and as such when the elbow struggles we engage all of the local muscles that we can call upon to get the elbow to move the arm.

Each muscle and there are 7 major muscles attached to the elbow joint and 9 that cross the elbow joint, calls up a favour from its neighbour, soon every muscle in our body except the little muscles in the Pinky Toe are giving a hand.

Result – Gridlock.

It is misleading of me to say just “control the Elbow Hinge and you control the whole arm” because teaching our body to trust that simple, natural movement when we are in dangerous situations is more than we can hope to get from an intense week in Hong Kong.

It can take a very long time to convince our Monkey Brain that this is a good IDEA.

Best we start today.

Book a flight.

Or come see me because as my Sifu would say about himself, “I am closer than Hong Kong”.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes


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