By Sifu Donald Mak
What is Chi Sao? Key Concepts and the Importance of Bridging
Many Wing Chun practitioners will have heard that the purpose of Chi Sao is to improve your sensitivity.
While sensitivity training is an important element, Chi Sao also has another key function, i.e., what we call “bridging.” By this we mean Chi Sao serves as a bridge between the empty hand forms (the three sets) and real life fighting. In other words, without a bridge, we cannot do real fighting or utilize our empty hand forms.
It’s also important to recognize that Chi Sao is a form of fixed, routine training, and should not be confused with real fighting.
Neither is Gor Sao real fighting, as it is just a more advanced form of Chi Sao. The only way to simulate real fighting in our training is to use protective gear in order to execute full contact and full force punching and kicking. There are several deeper conceptual elements to bridging which I will now briefly explain.
1. Attacking Track: In Chi Sao, we learn to use all of the key positions or tracks – e.g., high vs. low, inside vs. outside, front vs. rear, straight vs. curve – that are needed to attack our opponent (as well as to defend).
These are also the same tracks or paths that we would use in a real fight situation, so Chi Sao serves as a training bridge to help us understand how to use key positions or tracks to attack an opponent in a real fight.
2. Awareness of Favorable or Unfavorable Positions: In Chi Sao, we are in constant contact with our opponent. In such a position, it is easy to feel whether you are in a favorable or unfavorable position.
If you find yourself in a favorable position vis-à-vis your opponent, you should attack right away, applying Lut Sao Jik Chung concept. If you find yourself in an unfavorable position, you need to reposition and correct yourself, e.g., return to your centerline.
Chi Sao training therefore teaches you to take advantage of favorable positions and to reposition when needed in a real fight situation.
3. The 12 Hand-to-Hand Situations: These 12 positions are basically all the positions that you will find yourself in, whether it is Chi Sao or real fighting, e.g., inside position both right and left, etc. The Chi Sao rolling exercise helps replicate all of these 12 positions.
Once you’ve trained in using them, you can employ them without thinking, by just acting or responding.
4. Fighting Range: Another important concept in Chi Sao is determining the fighting range. There are basically three fighting ranges or points of contact with your opponent: the wrist, the elbow, and the shoulder. Each of these ranges requires different fighting strategies.
For example, the wrist area is the safest as it provides the greatest distance from your opponent while still in contact with him. Elbows can be used for striking and bring you much closer to your opponent, but also increase the chance of being struck. The shoulder is considered the take-down range and is the closest contact with the opponent short of full grappling.
In Chi Sao rolling, we can experiment with each of these three ranges through different attacks and footwork.
What is the Purpose of Chi Sao?
1. Sensitivity: As mentioned, Chi Sao helps develop your sensitivity to the movements of your opponent.
It also trains your balance and the directional sense of your arms, e.g., training a forward Tan-Sao which should not veer to the right or left when confronted with force.
2. Power: Chi Sao serves an important function in developing power from your structure. By structure we mean the Wing Chun triangular structure from the so-called “goat stance” or the Yee-Jee-Kim-Yeung-Ma.
The rolling Chi Sao movement also trains you to develop forward force, i.e., in rolling, pay attention to developing a forward energy, rather than just rolling right and left. Apart from developing power from structure, spiral force can also be developed.
The first step in learning both sensitivity and power is through the single-hand Chi Sao (Dan Chi Sao) exercise.
The main points here are to develop a square body structure, relaxed shoulders, and be forward facing. At first, roll slowly and focus on developing a forward-directional force.
In addition to rolling, you should also concentrate on your lower body structure, digging deep into your feet and legs for support and power.
The power should come from your legs up through your entire body, rather than your arms or hands.
An important principle in developing Chi Sao power is to use circles/ rotation/spiraling against straight line attacks (e.g., Bong Sao, Fook Sao or Tan Sao).
The rolling exercise in Chi Sao helps train this concept.
3. Static Elbow: Another purpose of Chi Sao is to strengthen your static elbow position. During rolling, try to keep your elbow static, i.e., in a relatively stable position, not flapping around during rolling. The development of a strong static elbow is important for many Wing Chun hand positions.
4. Wing Chun Principles: A final purpose of Chi Sao is to reinforce key Wing Chun principles such as Chung Seen (center-line), Jee Ng Seen, front facing, relaxation, forward force, and strong lower body structure.
Key Points to Keep in Mind During Chi Sao:
• Keep moving and release forward and rolling energy. This helps to train the continuous flux of force.
• Have a clear sense of attacking in your mind during rolling
• Maintain a static elbow
• Be relaxed but firm
• Exert forward energy for attacks, while using circular force for defending (e.g., Bong Sao, Techniques related to Juen Ma….)
Three Stages of Chi Sao
1. Single handed (Dan Chi Sao)
2. Double handed (Sheung Chi So or called Pun Sao, Luk Sao or simply Chi Sao)
3. Gor sao