Inside Kung-Fu October 2003

ikf-october-2003Inside Kung-Fu

“Making the Chi Sau Connection Part 1”

By Joseph Simonet

October 2003

Pg 30-34, 67-68

Sensitivity in chi sau is all about sensing your opponent’s intent through physical feedback and pressure. PART 1

Chi sau is a dynamic, energy-based training exercise that teaches its practitioners the critical elements of structure and sensitivity in close-range fighting. After more than 30 years of training in many systems of martial arts, chi sau continues to be one of the most important training methods in my curriculum. How-ever, writing a meaningful article about chi sau, unlike teaching it first-hand, presents two major challenges.

First, how do I compress 20 years of chi sau training into a few thousands words? The best way for you to understand my teaching is for you t understand me. In short, I write the way I teach, I teach the way I train, I train the way I fight, and I fight to win. With that in mind, this two-part article will focus on the functional structure provided by chi sau training with the goal of practical application in a fight.

The second challenge is making my instruction relevant to everyone reading this. Whether you have been training in the martial arts for 30 years or 30 days, your personal skills and abilities hopefully will be enhanced by what is offered here. And so I have decided to focus on some of the misunderstood aspects of chi sau training and two specialized exercises that form both excellent precursors to chi sau training and useful supplemental exercises for experienced sticky hands practitioners.

Penetrating Hands

Chi sau, or “sticky hands,” is a highly developed training method that is integral to the study of wing chun gung-fu. It is designed to teach practitioners how to quickly and efficiently pierce an opponent’s defenses – and maintain their own – while fighting at contact distance. Although it is often described as a “sensitivity” exercise, this term can be misleading. If your concept of sensitivity is petting a puppy or taking an anger management class, you’re missing the point. Sensitivity in chi sau is all about sensing your opponent’s intent through physical feedback and pressure – Feeling what he is trying to do before you see it.

To achieve this type of feedback, you must make contact. Therefore, the first step in understanding chi sau is under standing the commitment to contact-range fighting. When boxers close the gap and their arms are entangled in a clinch, the referee separates the fighters to allow the fight to continue. Real fights don’t have the luxury, so chi sau practitioners learn to use contact-distance clashes and entangled arms as the foundation of much of their fighting skill. In fact, this type of engagement is precisely the situation in which a well schooled student of chi sau will have a clear tactical advantage and power superiority over fighters from other systems.

The 4 Ranges of Combat

Generally speaking, there are four ranges of unarmed combat – kicking, punching, trapping, and grappling. Chi sau deals exclusively with trapping rang, which can be simplistically defined as the distance at which elbows strikes are most valuable and effective. A more colorful definition of trapping range would be the distance at which knees, elbows, and attitude wreak havoc – the true “in your face” range of close combat. At this range, visual perception – the ability to determine an attacker’s intent by sight – is not fast enough to fight effectively. You are literally so close that your opponent can hit you before you can react.

However, by making contact with him and “feeling” his intent, you can determine it instantly. This “fighting by Braille” approach will allow you to dominate and destroy most average opponents at close range. It is also the one element that is most often missing from the skill sets of most beginning and advanced martial artists of other styles.

Structurally, there are three fundamental arm positions in chi sau: bong sau (wing hand), taun sau (palm up), and fook sau (bridging hand). These are demonstrated in photos 1-3. The unique and often misunderstood aspect of these three positions is their ability to function in multiple ways. They can be used in singular actions as blocks, attachments, and a means of deflecting incoming attacks. At a more advanced level, they can also be utilized in conjunction with other simultaneous actions and as reactive mechanisms. For example, in photos 4 and 5 the taun sau is used in conjunction with a left straight punch to effectively block and counter strike the attacker’s left hook. When considered alone, the specific qualities of the taun sau as a block are clearly seen. When considered with the straight punch, its function as part of simultaneous, coordinated actions is also clear.

Pulling the Trigger

A higher-level application of the taun sau allows it to function as a reactive mechanism or “trigger.” In chi sau training, the taun sau is used as an attachment to “stick” to a partner’s opposite hand, as shown in photo 6. The remaining photos of this sequence demonstrate single sticking hands, or doan chi, as well as the deflecting and triggering qualities of the taun sau. The person on the left (“A”) is attached with a fook sau to the person on the right (“B”), who is in a taun sau position (Photo 6). When “A” throws a left straight punch, “B” senses the incoming attack and maintains adhesion with the attacker’s wrist (Photo 7). This deflects the punch outward and opens “A’s” centerline for an immediate palm heel strike with the same hand (Photo 8). Note that during the palm strike, “B” maintains contact with “A’s” left arm so he can continue to detect, deflect, and counter-attack based on feel and sensitivity.

Even with the benefit of competent firsthand instruction, learning chi sau can be a trying experience. To become an accomplished sticky hands player, you will ultimately have to endure months of frustration, pain, exhausted, aching shoulders, and getting slapped around by more experienced practitioners. However, to make this process less arduous and speed your progress, I have developed a series of training drills as a precursor to actual sticky hands practice. Performed properly, these drills will prepare you physically for chi sau training and also give you a means of solo practice that you can continue to use when training with out a partner.

The Inner Tube Drill

This is a unique and extremely valuable training method, which teaches proper sticking alignment and structure to develop a “feel” for sticking. More importantly, it develops the strength and endurance necessary for quality sticking skill.

The inner tube drill is illustrated in photos 9-12. To perform this drill, the person on the left (“A”) places his right foot forward with 60 percent of his weight on the lead foot. His arms are held palm up with the elbows bent and the inner edges of the arms touching from the elbows the edges of the hands. Both elbows are approximately one-fist distance out from the center of the body. This is the double taun sau. The forward weight distribution and lean creates an aggressive body structure and forward “load.” This posture is also the foundation for straight punching with closing footwork.

The person on the right (“B”) in photo 9 assumes the same body position and the same forward load, however, his hands are placed in a double fook sau position – loosely curled with the insides of his wrists contacting the outside of “A’s” wrists.

From the double taun sau position “A” folds his hands together to a palm-to-palm position while applying smooth forward energy against “B’s” resistance (photo 10). Continuing to roll his hands, “A” goes from palm down to palm out, until the backs of his hands touch and his elbows rise slightly (photo 11). This is the double bong sau position. “A” then reverses this process to return to the starting position (photo 12) “A” repeats this action – double taun sau to double bong sau – over and over against the constant pressure of “B’s” resistance.

Not the “B’s” double fook sau is the connecting bridge between the two partners. As “A” rolls from taun sau to bong sau and provides forward pressure, “B” maintains contact and “rides” the movement and pressure of “A’s” double bong sau.

If you do not have training partner, you can practice this motion with its namesake – and inner tube. Purchase an inner tube from any local bike shop. The size of the tube you choose will depend upon you physique and strength. You may have to try several different sizes before you find one that is just right.

The solo inner tube drill is demonstrated in photos 13-16. Place the inner tube over your body so it is wrapped around your upper back. Hold the front of the tube with your thumbs with your arms in the double taun sau position. Now perform the drill as you would with a partner, using the elasticity of the tube to provide resistance (photos 14-16).

Serious practitioners of chi sau must develop their deltoids, triceps, and lattisimus dorsi to become proficient at sticking. My students perform 500 repetitions of this drill at least three times per week. After three months of this training, they typically will develop the specific strength and form to progress to chi sau training.

Bong Sau Drill

The bong sau drill is another excellent exercise that develops the skills and strength to be proficient at sticking. The body structure, forward load pressure, and arm positions are identical to the inner tube drill; however, in this drill, the practitioner learns to move his arms independently rather than in tandem.

In the bong sau drill, the partner in the double fook sau position is the proactive player. This drill illustrated in photos 17-21. From the same double taun sau/double fook sau starting position, the person on the left (“A”) throws a right straight punch at the chin of the partner on the right (“B”). As “B” senses “A’s” punch, he rolls his left arm into a bong sau position, maintaining contact with “A’s” arm and deflecting the punch upward (Photo 19). “A” then throws a left straight punch. “B” senses her punch and responds with a right bong sau (photo 21).

Continue this pattern, alternating left and right sides for many hundreds of repetitions. As you progress, you can also mix and match right and left punches and vary the speed and energy of your strikes to challenge your partner. Performed properly, this exercise can become quite lively and serve as preparation for actual chi sau training.

These drills are an excellent way to develop the proper structure and specific skill and strength necessary to practice chi sau. By first learning and practicing these, you can avoid many of the common mistakes made in chi sau practice and will achieve proficiency much more quickly. Even experienced chi sau players will find these drills a useful supplement to their current training, as well as a means of practicing their skills when a training partner is not available.

(In part 2 of this article, the author discusses how to expand the skills developed with these drills into actual chi sau practice with a partner.)


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