Chi-sau, or Sticking-hands, is a training method unique to the Wing Tsun system in how it approaches the concept of fighting. A variety of arts utilize the method after seeing what it can accomplish, yet none outside of the system have captured its essence like Wing Tsun. But what is Chi-sau?
Chi-sau is a method of training the arms for sensitivity. Upon contact, the arms can sense the power, speed and direction of the opponent’s attack, thereby instantly countering. Since interpretation such as this is much faster than using the visual senses, this is why a Wing Tsun practitioner’s reactions are generally quite fast and explosive. It can, however, also lead a practitioner to use the wrong response if not completely yielding to his/her own force.
"... in order to borrow the force of the opponent,we must get rid of our own force."
The basis of Chi-sau implies that in order to borrow the force of the opponent, we must get rid of our own force. “Getting rid of our own force” means learning to relax with the situation and teaching the body how to pivot correctly, maintain structure, and not rely on physical or brute force in our actions. If we train to use brute force, what happens if we meet an opponent who is physically stronger than us? Instead, we learn how to relax and we teach the arms to maintain their structure, as well as teaching the body as a whole how to be mobile in relation to what the arms are feeling.
Chi-dan-sau is Single-arm Sticking-hand. Also called Dan-Chi-sau, we learn one arm at a time so that we can focus on the feeling in a simple, controlled way.
The starting position. Both practitioners are exerting a slight forward pressure. The practitioner on the right is in Fook-sau with the elbow pressing inward towards his centerline, while the practitioner on the left is in Tan-sau.
In response to Tan-sau changing to Jing-cheung, this is defended with a quick Jut-sau. The movements are gradual and are not aimed at striking; instead, they are gentle actions in order to teach each other how to feel the pressure and direction of the movements.
Jut-sau changes to Yat-chi-chung-kuen and is defended with Bong-sau. Again these are small movements that are not aimed at striking, but instead are geared solely to provide a bit of pressure in order to learn how to feel.
Both return to their original positions and repeat Chi-dan-sau over and over until the arms are fluidly responding.
This exercise teaches the basics of learning to feel pressure and direction of an opponent’s arm. This pressure stems from the wrist being used as a guide and the elbow providing the force. Concepts of the centerline, straightline, and mechanics of the arm are heavily explored so that in the end, a practitioner simply responds without having to think about it. The action just happens without pre-determined thought, much in the way you drive your car.
If you think about the step-by-step action that goes into simply driving a vehicle:
You get the idea.
With fighting, many of the same elements exist, which is why sometimes a very good fighter can easily lose if he attempts to think about what to do vs. simply doing it. There are too many things happening simultaneously, so Chi-sau removes that element by teaching the arms what, how and when to do it, solely through the contact that they meet.
After each arm is sufficiently trained, stepping is introduced. Not only does this increase and decrease the arm angle, it begins the process of teaching the body what to do with that force (or loss of force, depending on the situation). It also teaches us how to maintain contact with the opponent, since that is what Chi-sau is.
A common Wing Tsun motto proclaims “Stay with what comes, follow through as it retreats, and spring forward as our hand is freed.” Chi-sau training not only encompasses this philosophy, but relies on it.
After each arm is individually trained, we now progress to using both arms simultaneously. There are a few different terms for this, depending on the force being used and the exercise being worked.
Chi-sheung-sau, or Double-arm Sticking-hands (also called Sheung-Chi-sau) is the primary term used to denote two arms sticking to the opponent’s arms. The rolling action itself is Poon-sau, or Rolling-arms, while Luk-sau is Rolling-arms with Forward Pressure.
It is Luk-sau that is most commonly seen and how we will term Chi-sau when relating this section.
Double Rolling-arms with Forward Pressure
The starting position. One practitioner is in Tan-sau while the other is in Bong-sau. Both, however, also have a Fook-sau position. The arms are positioned wrist-over-wrist vs. side-by-side.
As the arms roll...
... they now change from Tan-sau to Bong-sau, and from Bong-sau to Tan-sau. Fook-sau for both remains unchanged.
During the rolling, a slight forward pressure is always being exerted. Additionally, Fook-sau’s elbow is always being pressed towards the vertical midline.
The arms begin to roll back...
... and return to the starting position. This sequences rolls over and over until the arms are fluid, the shoulders remain relaxed throughout, and the forward pressure remains constant through each nuance of the roll.
A practitioner will spend a great deal of time in Luk-sau developing the correct structure and feeling before proceeding to the Chi-sau attack/defense sequences.
Not all lineages train the Chi-sau curriculum in the same sequence, but most will eventually cover the same material. The AWCA continues to pass on what was taught to us, which is Chi-dan-sau, full competence and correctness in Luk-sau, and the progressing to the Chi-sau sections.
As mentioned, Chi-sheung-sau includes two beginning stages called Poon-sau (Rolling-arms) and Luk-sau (Rolling-arms with forward energy). A practitioner will first learn the correct mechanics for working both arms simultaneously (Poon-sau), and once competent, forward pressure will be applied (Luk-sau) to begin the actual curriculum of interpreting attacks at various levels.
"... these levels take a practitioner's training to full use for realistic self-defense."
Beyond Poon-sau and Luk-sau, there are three stages of incorporating real-world fighting practice, these being Nuk-sau, Gor-sau, and Kuo-sau. From basic attacks and defenses to full-scale Chi-sau sparring, these levels take a practitioner’s training to full use for realistic self-defense.
It is important to develop a proper and stable structure in Luk-sau, including stepping and basic attacks/defenses, before progressing to the Chi-sau sections. If approached too soon, many bad habits will result, and these bad habits will see you getting hit repeatedly.
Remember that this is not a race. It is all about working everything in the proper order so as to logically progress your skills for creating a reliable skill set that you can count on when/if needed.
At the AWCA, we teach seven primary sections of learning derived from the Siu-Nim-Tau and Chum-Kiu curriculums. Following this, we have Biu-Tze Chi-sau, as well as Chi-kwun, or Pole-clinging, for the long pole.
By no means are these seven sections all-encompassing for every facet that Chi-sau embodies. Instead, it is merely the main stages of learning in which to expand from. I do not know if it would even be possible to list or illustrate every single movement and/or counter-movement within the scope of Chi-sau. Minute changes can make one action take a completely different course, which in turn creates another possibility.
Therefore, there are times when the protection of self from literal life and death situations could become a reality. And in these cases, this is what the Biu-Tze was designed to accomplish.
1. Chi-sau Section 1 Attack
From the Luk-sau rolling, the attacker initiates Sheung Lap-sau, or Double Grabbing-hands. The timing must be precise because any change can be immediately felt by the opponent.
As the arms initiate the grab...
2. Chi-sau Section 1 Attack
... the attacker utilizes Chuen-ma to turn the body while pulling the opponent off-balance. Do not pull towards you; rather, envision that you are “throwing away” the arms in order to open a hole in the opponent’s defense.
3. Chi-sau Section 1 Attack
While turning, the outside Lap-sau quickly drives up the arm just above the elbow via Pak-sau. If below the elbow (closer to the wrist), you will eat an elbow to the face.
4. Chi-sau Section 1 Attack
Pressing with Pak-sau and you move forward, the other Lap-sau changes to Jing-cheung and slams into the opponent’s stomach.
The defense teaches us to relax when pulled and to create an elastic response in order to blast back into them.
1. Chi-sau Section 1 Defense
As the attacker initiates Sheung Lap-sau, the defender relaxes his upper body so as to create a whip-type of effect. Adduction of the knees keeps you grounded vs getting pulled off balance.
2. Chi-sau Section 1 Defense
As the attacker comes in, the defender immediately turns back to him with one arm in Jut-sau and one arm in Bong-sau. An alternative is to respond with both arms in Jut-sau.
3. Chi-sau Section 1 Defense
Jut-sau changes to Yan-cheung in order to stamp down and trap the opponent’s arms, while the other hand changes to Chau-chong-kuen.
Throughout the training of these core elements, a practitioner is taught the concept behind what is happening, and from there, he/she will easily discover for themselves other possibilities. The real problem is that when someone learns something, they consider it etched in stone, and anything that deviates from that would be wrong.
Sadly, these kinds of practitioners miss the point.
It is not about the amount of movements or counter-movements there are; instead, it is all about if you can really use what you have learned when you need to use it. Without that, knowing every movement in the world will do you no good when you have to actually defend yourself.
Think of Chi-sau like a high-speed game of chess. One wrong move will find you in dire straights. It all comes down to pressure, relaxation, and being able to take advantage of what you are feeling, when you are feeling it.
A great deal of time is devoted to learning the elements of Chi-sau and how it relates to our fight training. Below are a few sessions of Chi-sau training to illustrate various sessions we experience and work in. Remember that these are only examples of learning to feel the direction and pressure of an attack. Chi-sau and all-out fight training are two very different things.
Note: A variety of new and more detailed Chi-sau videos have already been filmed and are currently being edited for posting. They will be available here shortly.
Entire volumes could be written on what Chi-sau is about and how it works, but at a basic level, the entire premise of this training is to teach your arms what to do when contact with the opponent is made. Taking things step-by-step, we start with single-arm training, progress to double-arm training, and then advance to various core elements in order to learn the pressure and angle of attacks.
Following this, the bulk of things are freed up so that we replicate fighting practice. The goal here is to always focus on feeling what is happening and responding to it vs getting in the hit. Yes, hitting is important; after all, that is why we train. However, when that becomes the primary goal, it will usually see the practitioner in a bad position when posed with someone that is keeping a good structure.
With Chi-sau training, both good position and feeling will guide him/her through the holes in the opponent’s defense, leading them into the hit.
From single-arm to double-arm, the world of Chi-sau is one of the most fascinating studies of martial arts that you will ever find. Instead of seeing an action, thinking about what to do for it, and then initiating a counter-action, Chi-sau teaches us to make contact and instantly respond, leaving the middle man of thinking out of it.
And if you are ready to explore what Chi-sau can do for you, then Volume 3: Chi-sau is waiting.
Volume 3: Chi-sau
This four-part set of in-depth video-illustrated workbooks takes you through each phase of Siu-Nim-Tau and Chum-Kiu Chi-sau, culminating with learning the ins-and-outs of how to apply the Chi-sau concept to your fight training. Look all you want at other Internet sites but you will not find a training medium that even comes close to what Volume 3 delivers.
This one-of-a-kind training platform was built with true learning in mind vs. merely reading about it, and it has already helped thousands of practitioners all over the world discover the reality of what Chi-sau affords.