What is Chi Sau? Is it important? How do you practise Chi Sau? Who has all the answers?
In this brief article I shall try to give you an insight into Wing Chun viewed through the practise of Chi Sau and at the same time erase some misconceptions that have developed over the years. Chi Sau is the heart of Wing Chun, its importance cannot be underestimated. Chi Sau allows a practitioner to investigate technique and use of energy correctly, without the risk of injury.
Too many people use their Chi Sau to score points by hitting their training partner. In a juvenile way they feel the need to prove themselves. Quite often the contact made is far too heavy and is directed into the face. This can lead to injuries because of the lack of control that is inherent in this method of practice. An aggressive attitude of this kind not only goes against philosophy of Kung Fu it is also detrimental to the progress of the student. It prevents them from attaining a relaxed, confident and realistic approach to fighting and to everyday life. Another sad development is the isolation this way of thinking has created among Wing Chun schools. The competition between schools results rivalry and animosity which then cause violence amongst their members when they play at Chi Sau and influences their Wing Chun.
Wing Chun is a very violent system: it deals with understanding the reality of fighting and learning to cope with situations where you are faced with a serious physical threat
You cannot learn Wing Chun merely by sole practise of rehearsed techniques taken from the forms and by fighting. Chi Sau allows the Wing Chun practitioner to correct the position of techniques from the three forms in a practical setting, to understand the importance of the elbow, as well as the changing requirements of energy and strength that are specific in techniques. To understand the reality of street conflict you must have a balance of theoretical, and practical application. Chi Sau provides the means to achieve this
There is no fixed pattern of movements in Chi Sau, and this relates it closely to sparring, especially at the highest level. Yet Chi Sau should always be practised with control and maintained as a separate concept distinct from sparring or free fighting, where the aim is to dominate your opponent.
However it must be realized that blindfold Chi Sau is not the highest level. Once beyond the blindfold stage of Chi Sau player should be able to use the information from the sensitivity of the arms, together with that from the eyes, to give a complete picture the situation. The player can then respond in a relevant and specific way. At the highest level, two of equal ability, Chi Sau becomes much more like a game of chess. There are no quick skills, but a prolonged cat and mouse game with each player waiting for the first mistake that allows an unanswered contact to be made. When practised in a relaxed good-humoured atmosphere Chi Sau becomes more of a social intercourse. Both players should gain equally from the practise, and avoid the hit, for that hitting does nothing to promote the family spirit that should be the basis of any Kung Fu school.
Among the important factors in developing good Chi Sau are, keeping an open mind, and maintaining an inquisitive nature. If you seek the truth, then you must also develop the ability to accept it when it is proved to you. This article does not give you physical directions, but more of a philosophical viewpoint so that it can be a catalyst provoking discussion rather than a statement to be dismissed.
The natural differences that occur when two people teach the same theory should not cloud the issue. The variety of ways that instructors use to describe their understanding of a concept should be viewed as a broad tapestry from which ideas can be shared, and result in a greater depth of knowledge for all. The childish dogmatism “This is right because I say so!” has no place logical investigation. One fact that cannot be argued against is, that if Chi Sau is ineffectual then Wing Chun will also be ineffectual at the highest level. Just because an experienced aggressive instructor can apply a technique on a submissive student does not validate the technique. The correctness of a technique depends upon how deeply it has been researched, and how it stands up to the criteria of Wing Chun theory, and only then if all possible variations have been considered
Essentially Wing Chun is all about correct use of energy, understanding the fundamentals behind a technique and applying commonsense. When we use tension, our muscles burn up the available energy, if the energy requirements exceed the oxygen supply then we get a lactic acid build up i.e. we get tired. Therefore, if we ration the amount of tension to the bare minimum, we can maximize the time, and we can maintain our fighting capabilities in a confrontation. To do this you must have an understanding of what happens at the moment of impact when a technique is applied, and how tension is involved in producing the perfect technique
It is the theoretical perfection of the whole system that should be sought for through the practical investigation that is Chi Sau. As perfection will always remain elusive, it allows us to continue the search throughout our lifetime, keeping our enthusiasm for learning intact. Each new person with whom you play Chi Sau, provides you with new experiences and through these a greater understanding, irrespective of their level of Wing Chun. The teacher also learns from the student, it just depends upon how honest the teacher is with himself.
The main difficulty with sparring is, that it does not give a realistic view of actual fighting, as you cannot use full energy with your training partner in attacking techniques. Holding back allows your partner to strike back, where in reality, they would not have been in the position to do so if the initial technique had been performed correctly. This is still true even when wearing protective equipment. When striking to the head, cuts may be avoided but not the internal damage caused by brain shake at the head impact.
Chi Sau is only a tool to hone your fighting skills. This is achieved not only through the physical training of technique, but by discussion with your training partner of the details of a movement and how it relates to the principles laid down in Wing Chun. These principles include straight lines, simplicity, economy of motion, never using strength to overcome strength, how stance turns, and body shifts are incorporated in technique, and the use of tension and relaxation. All of these factors must be dealt with if a full understanding of a technique or movement is to be achieved. This is something that must be experienced physically by a student, and not just passed on verbally by the instructor. A student can have knowledge of how a technique works but is only when they have ‘felt” the correct movement and energy inside themselves that they can be considered to have fully understood it.
It is only through the gradual and systematic progress through Chi Sau exercises that a student develops the necessary experiences that allow him to become a complete Wing Chun practitioner. In the early stages of Dan Chi and Poon Sau a student is only expected to concentrate on simple concepts and principles, correct arm positions, and responding to circumstances. Once the simple rolling movements, and reflexes start to become second nature, the basic techniques are introduced. The importance of the basic techniques lies in developing the correct timing of the move and investigating the mechanics involved. The “when” and “how” are just two of the questions students have to learn to answer themselves. As a student grows through their Chi Sau education the techniques become instinctive. As their experience expands they will find that their basic techniques do not work against training partners who have the same level of ability in Chi Sau. This is not because the technique is at fault, merely that your partner has the knowledge to dissolve the attack. Progress in Chi Sau then depends upon developing reflexes, and responses that relate to the situation you find yourself in rather than trying to predict what might happen or remember what has happened in the past
It would be around this time that a student begins to concentrate upon blindfold Chi Sau, Blindfold Chi Sau helps the student to focus on developing their “feeling”, and not relying totally upon their eyes to see what is happening in their surroundings. The student will learn to sense with their arms, extending the range of information that is available to them to make a judgement of their predicament. In defense, it helps to understand how your arms are positioned to protect your centerline in relation to your opponent’s arms and their alignment. It is used offensively in learning to release a strike the moment that a gap appears.
Chi Sau has many layers, and to gain a complete knowledge all of them must be understood, from the soft relaxed practise of the mechanics to the hard realism of conflict. To ignore any aspect will result in an imbalance in your Wing Chun.
Remember, that to achieve a high standard in Chi Sau takes time, so be patient. You hold all the answers, once you have worked out what the important questions are!