Another Review for Gary Lam’s Foundation Fortress

Date: May 18, 2016

Customer/3rd Party Review: This review was done by a customer/3rd party and is listed here for you reference only. The views and opinions of the reviewer are not those of Everything Wing Chun and do not necessarily reflect EWC's views or opinions on the subject matter. It is posted, like all customer reviews, to give you more info on the product and to give you different opinions on a product so that you can make the best decision for yourself about its content. The review is NOT by an EWC employee or contractor and EWC cannot stand by anything said in any customer/3rd party review. Enjoy!

Review by: Manuel Bustos
DVD Purchased at:

The DVD “Foundation Fortress” by Sifu Gary Lam of the Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun (WSLWC) lineage is the latest offering by Sifu Lam covering Wing Chun’s empty-hand form “Siu Nim Tau.”  The wording on the DVD “Uncovering the hidden principles of the Siu Nim Tau” succinctly expresses the central theme of the DVD. The DVD stresses the true importance of the Siu Nim Tao form as the very foundation of Wing Chun, and then explores the Siu Nim Tau form illuminating those concepts that can so easily be missed, overlooked or in some cases misunderstood.  So important is Siu Nim Tao that it is rumored that the late Grandmaster Ip Man practiced the form daily up unto his death.  Additionally, within Sifu Lam’s  DVD, “Making Gwoh Sau (Crossing Hands) Work for You”  Sifu Lam is found to state that about 80% of Crossing Hands is derived from the Siu Nim Tau form, further proof of the great importance of the Siu Nim Tau form. The DVD runs approx. 80 minutes and can roughly be broken up into three sections: the form and the hidden concepts, the six actions of the form and once again the hidden concepts gleaned from the Siu Nim Tau form and a seminar from 2009. The added bonus of the DVD is the 2009 seminar that runs roughly 26 minutes and while filmed earlier in 2009 the seminar does shed light on those hidden principles of the Siu Nim Tau form in a visceral manner. The DVD is geared towards intermediate- level students, in the sense that the student should already know the Siu Nim Tau form to fully appreciate the content of the DVD.  “Foundation Fortress” is a worthy addition to any Wing Chun student’s collection, but is probably better understood by an intermediate or higher level Wing Chun student – highly recommended.

Detailed Review

Wing Chun is a high-level martial art. Within Wing Chun there are three empty-hand forms: Siu Nim Tau, Cham Kiu, and Biu Ji; one Muk Yan Jong form, and two weapons forms: Luk Dim Boon Gwan and Baat Jaam Do. Traditionally the Muk Yan Jong form and the weapons forms and are taught near the end of the training.  However, as sophisticated and high level as Wing Chun is the first and most basic form, Siu Nim Tau, is arguably the most important form of the Wing Chun system.

Wing Chun has been described by the great, late Wong Shun Leung as “the science of in-fighting.” Siu Nim Tau lays the foundation of the Wing Chun system. Indeed Wong Shun Leung usually likened the Siu Nim Tau form to learning the “ABCs” of a language. Within the Siu Nim Tau form are shown basic concepts, proper body alignment, the correct structure, stance and relaxation. Without the proper schooling and absorption of Siu Nim Tau all of the subsequent forms within the Wing Chun system will fail because the foundation is faulty. However, Siu Nim Tau is decidedly ingenious for within the form, in not so plain sight, are hidden principles and concepts that are vitally important to the art of Wing Chun. That said within the Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun lineage, Wing Chun and hence Siu Nim Tau is viewed and taught as concept based rather than technique based – there are no fixed responses to an attack (Sifu David Peterson).  Proper form, structure, distance, relaxation and breathing are the hallmarks of the Siu Nim Tau form as demonstrated on the DVD, “Foundation Fortress.” The Siu Nim Tau form as taught and passed on by the Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun lineage is a modification the Wing Chun genius that was Grandmaster Ip Man. The Siu Nim Tau form of the Wong Shun Leung lineage illuminates the brilliant insights gained from Sifu Wong’s Beimo years and detailed discussions with Ip Man, which further refine Grandmaster Ip Man’s scholarly learning.

The DVD, “Foundation Fortress” may be broadly divided into three sections. In the first section of the DVD the three sections of the Siu Nim Tau form is finely detailed and those hidden concepts and principles contained in the form explored. The second section shows the six actions of the Siu Nim Tau form: side punching, Bong Sau, Gaan Sau, Kwan Sau, Tan Dar, and Biu Sau. These “actions” also represent distances from long to short (close range).  Once again the necessary foundation, Siu Nim Tau is the cornerstone of all the techniques of the “six actions.” The final section of the DVD presents highlights from a 2009 seminar that pertain to the hidden principles of the Siu Nim Tau form. The title of the DVD “Foundation Fortress” is not without merit, for indeed Siu Nim Tau is the foundation of Wing Chun in the truest sense of the word.

This DVD, “Foundation Fortress” by Sifu Gary Lam of the Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun lineage starts in a seemingly unusual manner.  Siu Nim Tau seems to be absent. We are shown students performing Baat Jaam Do, Luk Dim Boon Gwan and even Muk Yan Jong work for a good three minutes before Sifu Lam begins his presentation on the main subject of Siu Nim Tau. The question might be asked, “Where is Siu Nim Tau and why are we viewing Baat Jaam Do, Luk Dim Boon Gwan and Muk Yan Jong work on a DVD titled “Foundation Fortress”?”  Simply put, much of the Wing Chun system is contained within the first form Siu Nim Tau. To properly execute the higher level Baat Jaam Do work the foundation, the Siu Nim Tau form, must be mastered; the same is true with the Luk Dim Boon Gwan and the Muk Yan Jong – mastery of the two weapons forms depend upon the mastery of Siu Nim Tau.  Within the DVD, “Foundation Fortress” Sifu Lam clearly demonstrates the truly significant importance of Siu Nim Tau form within the Wing Chun martial art and while exploring the form investigates the hidden concepts that so permeate the Siu Nim Tau form.

At first glance the execution of the Siu Nim Tau appears to be very simple.  And indeed the Siu Nim Tau is simple for the Siu Nim Tau form has been chiseled away to leave only that which is necessary.  However, upon further reflection, practice, observation and guidance from a qualified instructor the true complexity, hidden concepts and principles of the Siu Nim Tau form begin to appear. Indeed within the Siu Nim Tau form there are many concepts shown, which are hidden from the casual observer, the beginning student and even the intermediate student. For example the Wing Chun straight punch has two motions near the final execution of the straight punch and the delivery of the punch is both attack and defense. But what purpose does the stance serve in relation to the straight punch? What of the structure of the punch, where does the power come from? Why is the fist vertical instead of horizontal as in so many other marital arts? Finally a slightly hidden principle, what drives that punch? Only as the form becomes more integrated within the Wing Chun martial artist do the details of Siu Nim Tau and hence Wing Chun become apparent or better said emerge.  Once again, within the DVD, “Foundation Fortress”  Sifu Lam explores those hidden gem, principles and concepts, of Siu Nim Tau. It goes without stating that a properly a qualified Wing Chun instructor is quite necessary.

The hidden principles, concepts or keys of Siu Nim Tau are gleaned through the proper performance or execution as well as from the guidance of a properly trained instructor of the Siu Nim Tau empty-hand form. To stress this point Sifu Lam has two students demonstrate the first two of the three sections of the Siu Nim Tau form, while Sifu Lam himself finishes out the third section of the form. Sifu Lam allows the students to make errors. These errors are then corrected by Sifu Lam. Sifu Lam’s corrections incorporate the “usually missed detail” explaining why the late Wong Shun Leung performed the movements of Siu Nim Tau as well as the principle(s) behind the movements in the manner that Wong Shun Leung passed on to his students.

Take for example the Gaan Sau within the Siu Nim Tau form.  That move was solely a Jam Sau before within a challenge match (Beimo) Wong Shun Leung was hit at a fairly low level during the course of the challenge match.  After, consulting with Grandmaster Ip Man, Gaan Sau was added to the form. Hence in Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun the Siu Nim Tau form has both Gaan Sau and Jam Sau present.  A Jam Sau cannot “properly” go low enough to cover a low blow to the body, so Gaan Sau was necessarily added to the Siu Nim Tau form. Again, a detail that could easily be overlooked the novice student who might try to shoot Jam Sau down too far down ending up in a compromised position if indeed the Jam Sau could reach the low hit.

The second portion of the DVD takes the Siu Nim Tau form and utilizes six basic actions that are extracted from the Siu Nim Tau form for illustrative purposes.  Once again Sifu Lam illustrates the proper execution of the six actions and then proceeds to hammer out the details. Here the details are again fleshed out for the viewer – once again those hidden principles. A great example of this is that Kwan Sau.  When executing Kwan Sau, how should the hands and arms be positioned when execution begins and why? That question is answered by Sifu Lam. The answer is not so readily observed and therefore is one of those hidden concepts that arise from with the Siu Nim Tau form. Failure to properly execute the double Kwan Sau Sau can have consequences that leave the Wing Chun fighter compromised.  As a second example when executing a double Gaan Sau, how should the arms be retracted? Incorrectly retracting the arms will have an effect that is explained as far up the Wing Chun form chain as the Baat Jaam Do form! Perhaps the most easily seen, well like most things after the principle has been explained, hidden detail is the execution of Bong Sau. How should the Bong Sau be executed when in conjunction with a Wu Sau?  The incorrect retraction of the Bong Sau will get the arm pinned - again, an example of a detail that can easily be missed. Finally, what is the function of the Wu Sau? How does the Wu Sau work and why? For the answer to that the DVD shows many examples.  Sifu Lam does an exemplary job of demonstrating the importance of Wu Sau, which usually does not seem to get the attention warranted due to some of the hidden concepts of Wu Sau.

It should be stressed that Wong Shun Leung had battle tested Wing Chun in the streets of Hong Kong during his Beimo years defeating all of his opponents (usually within three techniques!! (Sifu David Peterson)) of various styles and also had long conversations with Grandmaster Ip Man regarding Wing Chun. The execution of the Wong Shun Leung Siu Nim Tau is the result of the careful analysis of Ip Man’s Siu Nim Tau, incorporating the knowledge gained by Wong Shun Leung in those Beimo years. It should also be noted that Grandmaster Ip Man was fond of testing his skills (Sifu David Peterson video review – “Wing Chun: the Legacy of Ip Man”).  Once again within the DVD “Foundation Fortress” Sifu Lam goes into great detail on why each movement is performed as Wong Shun Leung taught the individual movement and the hidden concept(s) behind the movement (as an example: 15 degree Paak Sau, first section of the Siu Nim Tau form).  Sifu Lam also demonstrates the Siu Nim Tau form using both hands simultaneously as an additional instructional aid. Of course the form of Siu Nim Tau is also presented in its entirety for clarity and reference.

The final portion of the DVD contains a seminar highlights from 2009. This is a seminar in which the finer points of Siu Nim Tau as well as the “actions” are presented.  This seminar runs about 26 minutes and the highlights offered are yet another presentation of the first two sections of the DVD.  According to Sifu Gary Lam Wing Chun is simple, direct and efficient and that is precisely the message Sifu Lam both conveys verbally and vividly demonstrates to the audience attending the seminar. To state the most salient point of the seminar I turn to Sifu David Peterson (“Look Beyond the Pointing Finger: the Combat Philosophy of Wong Shun Leung”), also of the Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun lineage, “Simplify, don’t Complify.”  Complify is a creation of Sifu Peterson intending to state an easy to remember phrase that carries profound insights of Sifu Wong Shun Leung and of course Grandmaster Ip Man. That phrase, Simplify, don’t Complify” is a significantly defining concept that Wong Shun Leung refined throughout his career. This message, “Simplify, don’t Complify.”  is stated clearly and better yet demonstrated by Sifu Lam to the audience in attendance of the 2009 seminar.
“Foundation Fortress” is decidedly recommended.  This DVD is recommended for the Wing Chun student who is of intermediate to advanced level. The DVD is longer than most of Sifu Lam’s other DVDs by the addition of the seminar, which is a welcome addition to the DVD. It is hoped that more seminars will be added to future DVDs of Sifu Lam as Sifu Lam’s Wing Chun canon expands. The genius that was Grandmaster Ip Man and the brilliance of Sifu Wong Shun Leung are well demonstrated by the illumination of the details of the concepts or principles of the Siu Nim Tau form within the DVD “Foundation Fortress” that are “hidden” from the casual observer and practitioner.  Within the simplicity of the Siu Nim Tau form lies a great deal of work that has complexities not readily observed without guidance or deep thought. However, the Siu Nim Tau form expresses the deeper, hidden complexity of the form in an unquestionably elegant manner.