There are an infinite number of approaches to Chi Sao. As you play Chi Sao with more people from different lineages, you’ll notice quite a bit of variety in strategy, implementation of principles, and energy. Here, I’d like to discuss some basic strategies for advanced Chi Sao. Specifically, these are observations I’ve noticed between novice and experienced Chi Sao players.
First and foremost is forward pressure. Forward pressure in Chi Sao is a delicate balance like most things. You don’t want to be pushing forward with all of your upper body as you’ll be pulled off balance by your partner. Forward pressure in Chi Sao is having relaxed energy pushing forward with the majority of the forward intent coming from your heels, up through your hips, elbow, and eventually your hand. So, the energy should be stronger in your stance than in your arms. In fact, it should be such that your fingers are relaxed. One way to test your relaxation in the arm is to wiggle your fingers, if you can’t, then your hand is probably too tense and tight.
The tension and tightness prevent you from feeling and being sensitive to the movements of your partner in Chi Sao. Therefore, we keep the arms relaxed. You push forward while maintaining your structure, the proper angle in the fook sao, tan sao, and bong sao, and the correct elbow position, and stance. As you push forward in this manner, your structure maintains your balance. When you are pulled, your alignment is such that your stance should move first as your upper body follows or they move at close to the same time. Your upper body should never move first, although sometimes this happens against a strong opponent who pulls you. Regardless, maintaining the proper positioning will enable you to recover much faster and press the fight.
Another element to forward pressure is forward intent. When there is a gap you move forward. Forward pressure allows you to feel a gap or a loss of pressure from your partner. Forward intent allows you to move in and take advantage of it. Forward pressure maintains the correct feeling and pressure during Chi Sao to sense an opening. Forward intent turns forward pressure into an attack. In other words, forward pressure is maintained in the bong sao, fook sao, and tan sao rotation in Chi Sao. Forward intent is the punch or strike initiated as a result in your partner’s lack of pressure. This element is trained to respond and react based on the feeling you receive from your partner. In other words, it should work just as well whether your eyes are opened or closed.
On the topic of forward pressure, I see and have done Chi Sao with a lot of students who only have forward pressure after completing a rotation. They tend to bounce forward after each roll. For example, they will roll their right arm from bong sao to tan sao, they press forward upon completion of the tan sao. Then they roll back to bong sao and again press forward upon completion of the bong sao. However, during the roll itself they lose pressure. This is when they get hit. It’s easy to follow their bong sao or tan sao in as it rolls into the next position and catch them.
Much of this, probably 90%, relies on maintaining a strong stance. Your stance is not just Yi Jee Kim Yeung Ma, but includes all the variations thereof. Your stance, your horse, is not just stagnant and stationary. It is moving all the while maintaining connection to the ground and to your hand techniques. It’s a dynamic stance, not static. It moves when it has to move and remains still when it’s necessary to remain still. It is not locked or rigid, but it also does not move aimlessly. It moves with purpose.
A second idea or method in Chi Sao is trapping. Trapping includes techniques such as Pak Sao, Lop Sao, Gum Sao, and others. Trapping relies heavily on the feeling you receive from your partner. It’s not just an arbitrary technique to be applied regardless of what is going on. If your opponent is pushing forward too hard, then perhaps you can pull him in with a Lop Sao. If he lacks any forward energy at all, perhaps you can jam him with a Pak Sao. The right tool must be applied to accomplish the right task. This also must be trained to become a natural reaction.
What’s the opposite of trapping? Most novice Chi Sao players use very little trapping and mostly rely on speedy tap hits. It’s easy to sometimes slide in and hit someone low or tap them quickly in the chest by just relying on speed within a short distance. However, often, then attacks are weak and they end up trading taps with their partner. In the process of speed hitting, they fail to trap their partner’s free arm which typically delivers a tap at the same time they get tapped. No one learns anything if Chi Sao is practiced like this. It’s just a game of tag. If this is the case, you might as well put on the gloves and spar. The aim in Chi Sao should be learning how to utilize your partner’s energy against him/her to execute a safe attack, one where you can hit and not get hit. Trapping typically makes this easier because in trapping you use one hand or arm to control two of your partner’s arms and simultaneously hit him. Bruce Lee referred to this as a Hand Immobilization Attack.
Third, this one is not so much of an approach as it is perhaps a dirty strategy, but how good is your endurance? Sometimes, you can play Chi Sao with the purpose of wearing out your partner’s shoulders! By pressing and leaning a little, your partner’s arms could start to falter. He or she will then be more susceptible to your attacks. Again, this is somewhat of a dirty strategy, but hopefully, it will teach your partner to work on his endurance and stamina. Obviously, it only works if your endurance is higher than your partner’s. It helps to alternate as well between a slow, fast, and medium pace. As in sparring, dictating the rhythm of the exchange will serve to your advantage. Again, endurance and stamina are required. These strategies are not so much for learning, but for testing your own skill in Chi Sao with others.
Another approach to try in Chi Sao is with MMA gloves, headgear, and mouth guard. This is for the more advanced players, but here you really learn how good your Chi Sao is. It’s not just a game of tag, but getting punched hurts. So, you’ll want to do everything possible to defend yourself in this type of Chi Sao. This also teaches you how to deal with more force in Chi Sao. Not everyone does Chi Sao with softness and no use of force. You must use some force in Chi Sao, otherwise, you’re training yourself to punch and defend without force. Your techniques will lack power and won’t work when you need them to. So, this is another method to try in Chi Sao.
Some people incorporate kicks into their Chi Sao. That is fine, but in reality, you probably aren’t going to kick someone from Chi Sao range. You’re more likely to knee to the groin, foot stomp, or sweep. Therefore, it may be better to train sweeps and leg traps into your Chi Sao. These are just some ideas and thoughts, things that I’ve seen work, and haven’t seen work. It’s important to remember that above all else, Chi Sao is a training tool. It is not sparring, it is not real fighting. Use it for what it is, but don’t get absorbed in it. There is much more to the art of Wing Chun than Chi Sao. Thank you for reading.
Wishing you peace and compassion.
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