Martial arts drills that set Wing Tsun kung-fu apart from others include chi sau. Chi sau is a drill that often becomes a form of sparring. Some other Chinese martial arts have a tradition of a clinging arms drill like Wing Tsun’s chi sau but not as thorough in its focus.
Chi sau is also referred to as ‘sticky hands.’ This reference is because the idea of ‘sticking’ or ‘clinging’ to an attacker’s arms gives the defender the information needed to defend such as the strength of the attack, the direction, the momentum, and the reality of the attack. Without sticking there is the risk of mischaracterizing a threat by seeing an attack coming which can be deceptive.
An attacker may fake an attack from one direction and attack from another direction or work with false timing and burst suddenly forward to get the defender to change or open a heavily defended area. In addition, an attack that is seen must be processed as an actual attack first before the arm which defends must be selected, then moved into position. If one’s training involves defending then attacking, this whole process takes too much time. In Wing Tsun chi sau, the arm is already in position because it is sticking to the attacker’s own attacking arm. Chi sau training involves mechanical reactions so that when an attacker’s hand moves, he is moving the defender’s arm instantly and the defender is trained to use that force against the attacker with flexible arms and legs.
So highly developed is chi sau among those in the Yip Man lineage that many of the proponents become obsessed with it as an end in and of itself rather than a step towards more effectiveness in a self-defense or fighting situation. For actual self-defense, one must train how to close the gap between two antagonists and obtain the sticky contact to counter the attack quickly and safely.
For this reason, Leung Ting WingTsun® trains the student in longer range defense first. Chi sau training starts later in the intermediate student grades.
By sticking with an attacker’s arms, one can also borrow their force and avoid clashing with a stronger force. The whole time, the defender is getting input from the attacker’s arms as to their power to avoid it and use it. Chi sau turns out to be a more reliable indicator of an attacker’s real movements than seeing an attack and responding using one’s eyesight as the judge of power, attacker’s intent and angle.
Chi sau builds what some call ‘contact reflexes’ which means that a practitioner’s arms become like two springs which have a load placed on them. When that load is released, the arms spring forth. A practitioner can add explosive force to the spring for a lighting fast striking ability.
In the beginning of one’s training, it is necessary to undergo a period of rolling arms practice called poon sau to condition the shoulders and reduce the tension in one’s arms. Certain mechanical reactions are developed and later, more flexibility is taught. Like everything, chi sau skill has stages in which a practitioner increases in skill and applications. Once a student has mastered the idea of stick, it is time to learn when to get rid of stick and hit your attacker!
Leung Ting WingTsun® has seemingly unlimited learning and skill building opportunities. There are chi sau programs up through the entire wooden dummy form and then sticky leg programs which last into the 5th and 6th Practition Levels.
-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg