Have you ever dropped something and failed to catch it? Probably everybody has at one time or another. However, if you are a student of Wing Tsun for long enough, you might notice yourself catching those fallen items a bit more often.
The primary training that increases your reaction time is sticky hands, known in Wing Tsun circles as “chi sau.” Chi sau is pretty much confined to the art founded by Yim Wing Tsun. However, we do not know if sticky hands were a part of her repertoire. There are other Chinese martial arts that have similar drills, but it is most highly developed in the later years of the art.
The training exercise known as “poon sau,” is a rolling arms kind of drill that has two people facing each other that have joined their wrists together and roll their arms in the three classic “seed” techniques called Bong Sau, Fook Sau and Tan Sau. Different combinations of the hands are used but the essence is the forward pressure which, in Wing Tsun, is normally light pressure. No downward, side ward or upward pressure is allowed in this training. Over a period of months, the practice gradually brings about improvements in the ability of the trainees to cling to their partners arms by the subtle forward pressure exerted in training.
In the training, the muscles of the arm are conditioned to snap forward if a hand is freed. The challenge is to become soft as rubber so that one’s arms can behave like rubber in their ability to snap and flex with power. If one’s hand is freed, the reaction must be instantaneous, just like an elastic band or a rattan cane.
The above described action may seem superficial because the contact-type reflexes can be thought of as being dependent on the clinging and the pressure. However, the lack of tension necessary to make this work, creates a speed in reactions and movement that are unheard of in any other training. Becoming relaxed enough to make it work requires time and patience. Strength is not a factor. The relaxed lightness of the hands can result in great speed and reaction time with practice.
Certain drills to build spring can be thought of as supplementary exercises. If a fellow student or your instructor presses your hand and arm back into lan sau (bar arms) or bong sau (wing arm) and suddenly releases it, this can train your arms to give the feeling of rubber flexing to a snap if it is repeatedly done with only a few seconds between reps. Repeated actions like this build skill more effectively than delaying the repetition by 30 seconds or more.
Other drills to build reaction time are more familiar to other schools of martial arts. An example would be such a drill as using a hand technique such as a punch to hit a coaching mitt that is pulled away when your coach perceives you as moving. This is a great exercise to build explosive hand techniques and eliminate the telegraph.
-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg