Initially in chi sao you just want to defend all attacks and maintain good structure. Good structure is an all encompassing terms that involves everything from your stance, to your hand positioning, to your forward pressure and muscle tension. You are really just trying to survive and keep up with your training partner.
As you get comfortable with your defense and structure you may move on to improving your offense. You employ counters, timing and improved structure to challenge your training partners. Some of these may be conscious improvements, but often these things just happen without your noticing it. For some people offense comes naturally, or is baked in to their practice from the beginning. For others it needs to be developed and coaxed out. Either way, it is an essential part of Wing Chun.
Inevitably you will find that you tend to rely on certain techniques and get stuck repeating them. Identifying and breaking your patterns is a great way to expand your chi sao and keep your training partners guessing. Experimenting with new techniques may be humbling as they probably will fail much of the time, but if you have even some success with new techniques you can probably refine them and learn when and where they work best.
It is easy to plateau while training in any martial art and feel like you are not making much progress. Or perhaps you feel blocked from really using certain techniques. This is where learning set-ups and combinations can open some doors and help you advance. These can be learned at any stage and will add wonders to your arsenal.
Depending on the experience and variety of your training partners, there are many ways to continue working on your chi sao. Changing up your style of chi sao is one way. If your chi sao is usually soft and slow, try switching to hard and fast, or soft and fast. If you normally work at the outer edge of your optimum range, trying working at the inner edge of your optimum range. Another approach is to try handicapping yourself. If your attacks are dominated by one hand, try using your other hand for all attacks. Or try chi sao while standing on only one leg; this was a tip I picked up from someone else and is surprisingly useful.
There are many paths your chi sao practice can follow, and many more ways you can work on improving it. Please share your experiences with us online, or in person at one of our classes.
First, know how to do a simple backwards break-fall. I think the most important part of that being to roll and tuck your chin down to your chest so you don't smack your head on the ground. Next, learn to sit back up to one side with one arm behind and one arm forward protecting your head from an opponent. From the side-seated position you should be able to kick at the knee or shin of an opponent and also scoot backwards and away. From there you learn to get back up on both your feet in one fluid motion. All of that takes some practice, but most people can pick it up pretty quickly.
In order to feed someone learning to defend take-downs and survive a ground-fight, it is good to know a simple take-down. We learned a simple technique that starts with an upper body clinch under the arms and gripping together on the back of an opponent. Holding them close, with your chest and shoulders forward and your hips away, drop your grip to their lower back and pull with your arms and push with your upper body. The opponent is tilted back and off-balance, and will likely fall. Getting into the clinch is difficult, and it is good to eventually practice against an opponent fending you off with punches. The opponent will also get good practice avoiding the take-down.
If you and your opponent both end up on the ground, and you are on top, chances are you can throw some punches and fight your way back on to your feet. But if you are on the bottom things may be a little more difficult. Focus on facing your opponent; keeping your legs, hips, body and hands in play, and between you and your opponent when possible. You can use your limbs and hips to put distance between you and your opponent, sit up and stand up.
Practice holding your opponent in the guard position and pulling them close to the ground where it is difficult for them to throw punches. Your legs and arms can be used to rock your opponent backwards and forwards. Try and get your opponent to brace their hands on the ground while holding them close. Eventually your opponent will want to sit up, that is your chance follow them up. Put one hand behind you as you sit up on one side, drop your legs from the guard, bring your other arm around in front of your opponents face or throat and push off. Pushing off your opponent's face or throat while scooting back(as mentioned earlier) will give you room to eventually stand up. You could also put your feet on your opponent's hips and push them back forcefully.
Besides what I mentioned above, we also practiced shrimping, a couple of standing choke escapes and some other bits and pieces I will remember later. The above material was very appropriate for people with little or no ground-fighting training, and gave us a simple idea for how to survive a situation on the ground.
During the San Francisco Bay Area 10-Year Anniversary Seminar, I said some things that could be misconstrued as meaning “Chi Sao is useless.” That was certainly not my intention, and nothing could be farther from the truth. The point that I wanted to make was that Chi Sao by itself is not enough to apply Wing Chun.
My opinion is that unless you are fighting with a short-bridge martial system, Chi Sao will not look like it does in practice. It is better to see it as one of many tools in the training process. It is akin to focus mitt drills or heavy bag work in a boxing regimen: by themselves they have limited use; but when integrated with other practice (and sparring!), they develop some attributes and build on others. Chi Sao serves that same purpose within the context of Wing Chun training. Here’s how:
Developing contact reflexes
Following the old adage that “the hand is quicker than the eye,” we understand that it takes less time to react to tactile stimulation than it does to a visual stimulant. In the instant it takes our brain to coordinate our eyes with a hand reaction, it might already be too late to avoid an incoming attack. You can try this with a partner: tell him exactly where you are going to touch him, then see if he can block your motion before you reach him. In the vast majority of cases, despite knowing exactly where he will be touched, you will reach him before his hand even starts to move in reaction. However, if you start with your wrists in contact, he will often be able to stop your motion.
If we accept that contact reflexes are faster than visual reflexes, then we start to train them so they are more efficient. This is because our innate reflexes might not be effective for self-defense. Therefore, constant repetition of motions from our forms, based upon tactile sensation, allow us to develop and refine reflexes that can override or complement natural reactions in an efficient manner.
Integration of Wing Chun theories and techniques
Wing Chun forms teach us how to move: Siu Nin Tao helps us develop economical arm motions while Chum Kiu allows us correct footwork so that we can unite our upper and lower bodies. Chi Sao teaches us what, when, where and why to move. Through Chi Sao practice, we put the basic theories of Wing Chun into motion. Centerline, simultaneous attack and defense, and other core WC principles help us express our techniques correctly as we practice them in within the framework of the sticking hands exercise.
Maintaining correct structure in relation to a partner
Correct Wing Chun structure complements the core set of fighting principles as the essential components of Wing Chun. How we root to the ground and how we link our joints and bones determines how well we can transfer power without allowing an opponent to control us.
Since our own structure only remains effective in relation to our opponent’s, it must retain a dynamic quality. For example, if you are facing an opponent squarely following the Wing Chun adage of “Always Face The Center,” but your opponent moves to your flank, you just adjust either your footwork, your torso, arm position or all three in order to maintain structural integrity. In essence, your structure is similar to the counterbalances now built into skyscrapers in earthquake prone regions, that help absorb the erratic energy from the rapidly shifting foundation.
Although we practice Chi Sao at close range, the dynamic structure we develop through sticking hands practice helps us understand how our body should move, regardless of the range of combat.
Bringing our techniques to life
Sifu Lo Man Kam, the progenitor of the East-West method, says that Kung Fu is dead; but that a living person breathes life into the Kung Fu. While some martial arts will teach the student a specific block against a specific attack, such an approach still requires active choices that you may not be able to be call upon in the split-second that it is needed. Some martial artists follow a pattern within a form, or some other kind of preset combination. However, these fixed techniques do not always take into account that an opponent is alive and moving, and each action will bring about a corresponding reaction, whether it be attack, defense, or retreat. Just because you are going through a choreographed technique does not mean that your opponent is going to follow your script. Chi Sao teaches us to take otherwise “dead” techniques and make them spontaneous and efficient for a given situation.
In the course of our practice, we should always be flowing with our techniques. Through constant Chi Sao practice, we learn to flow from one technique to another without conscious thought. By developing fluidity, we become more adaptive to sudden changes in combat. One of Sifu Lo’s analogies is that a pebble is dropped into a pond, the ripples will continue inexorably toward the edge. If it hits an obstacle, it splits, and continues. Chi Sao should teach us the same one-mindedness, to quickly and efficiently go through or around obstacles to reach our target (the centerline).
Covering instead of blocking
While man martial arts teach a student to block against specific attacks, Wing Chun assumes that we cannot see and react in time to an incoming hit. Therefore, we are taught to cover the areas where we are open though body positioning and hand movements . While this can be done to some extent without much training, Chi Sao teaches us to do it immediately, reflexively and efficiently.
Although you may not know what attack your opponent will launch, you can position yourself in a way to limit his choices, and move your hands to stop whatever comes in. Instead of answering A, B, or C to a multiple choice question which has not yet been asked, the practitioner is choosing D, "all of the above" to preempt an attack and stay one step ahead of his opponent.
Flexibility and unlimited application
In the course of Chi Sao training, we quickly learn that there are multiple solutions for one problem posed by an opponent’s hands; likewise, one movement may be applicable to several different attacks. We learn how to apply a relatively small number of techniques to a wide variety of combat situations, while maintaining an open mind so as to be ready to change if the need arises. As such, our mind is opened to the virtually limitless possibilities afforded to us by the principles of Wing Chun.
Control of an opponent’s structure
Through tactile sensitivity in the arms, we can contain an opponent’s hands; unifying our body parts to work in a structural unison, we can use our arm structure and stance to control his entire body. By effectively neutralizing an opponent’s structure, we can reduce the unpredictability of combat and reduce risk of injury to ourselves while maximizing our potential to end a physical confrontation.
Maintaining calm in a stressful situation
Mental calmness allows us to operate at peak efficiency. However, maintaining calmness in a stressful situation can be difficult. If you can remain calm under an unrelenting barrage of attacks from a skillful practitioner, you are already halfway there.
Understanding universal concepts of combat:
Regardless of the martial system one practices, hand-to-hand combat is ultimately resolved by superior timing, position, and distance. Chi Sao teaches us how to take advantage of all of these aspects.
Timing refers to when you attack or counterattack your opponent. You may chose to intercept as they initiate an attack, break their rhythm and attack as their own attack withdraws, or just begin the offensive yourself (while remembering to “ask hands” and cover their lines of attack). Distance means the space between you and your opponent, and which weapons can reach which targets based on your range. Position relates to where you are in relation to your opponent.
Through continual practice, Chi Sao makes Wing Chun our own personal martial art. The way you do Chi Sao will be different from the way I do it, based upon our mindsets, body types, and physical and mental strengths and limitations. While we are still governed by Wing Chun principles, our application of these principles becomes an expression of ourselves, where the art conforms to the individual, and not the other way around.
Thanks to all who came and participated in our 10-Year Anniversary festivities. For those who came to the seminar, I would like to emphasize the main points that we covered.
Siu Nin Tao Bong Sao:
- Must be relaxed and springy
- Should be a passive response to pressure on the outside of your arm
- Used to redirect force so that an opponent cannot feel your center through your arms
- Used to changed the angle of someone pulling on your arm
- It is not as effective for stopping a single high hit to your head.
Chum Kiu Body Alignment
- 90° is the strongest structural position for receiving or delivering force
- 45° is the best angle of deflection
- 15° is a mobile angle
- Maintain a straight line from your weight-bearing knee to your shoulder
- Based on Chum Kiu Turning and Stepping Angles
- Move your body as unit, keeping your upper and lower body aligned.
- 45° forward stepping: closing the distance on the blind side
- bracing forward: projecting your power forward
bracing back: receiving forward force
- Lifting Thrust Kick (Wong Shun-Leung: “use your closest weapon to strike closest target”)
- Lifting Low Sweep Kick
- Kick Transitions for balance and power.
- Step-by-step process for delivering power
- Based on using the minimal amount of muscle so that more of your arm mass is moving forward
- Can be used even when NOT rooted or aligned.
Chum Kiu Bong Sao
- Turning Bong Sao to redirect strong forward pressure
- Jamming Bong Sao to collapse an opponent’s arm
- Low Bong Sao to redirect downwards
- Use of various Bong Sao in conjunction with a tan sao
- Against someone pulling both of your arms
- Against someone pushing both of your arms
- One hand pins while one hand covers
- Which side is “linked” and which side is “unlinked”?
With your opponent holding you in a tight headlock with their left arm:
- Chop or punch the groin with your left hand.
- Grab the opponents right wrist with your left hand. Put your right hand on the left side of his face, stick your fingers in their eye and push their head back and away.
- As you push the head back wind up your right knee and knee the opponent in back of their left knee. At the same time look upwards and lift your head up out of the headlock, so you don't go down to the ground with your opponent.
Check these out too:
Head Lock Escape with Punches
Standing Rear Choke Escape
A simple way to train Pak Sao is to stand in a neutral stance with double Wu Sau held about a hands length apart, at neck or chest level, about a foot away from your body; and have a partner feed you punches. Pak Sao at about 45 degrees each incoming punch, keeping your hands at roughly the same height as the incoming punches. Only redirect the incoming punch far enough to point at your shoulder. When you make contact with the Pak Sao stick to your opponents forearm, you should be aiming for somewhere between the wrist and the middle of your partner's forearm. Also, make use of Wing Chun structure and have your elbow on the same line between your wrist and shoulder, just like when you execute a punch in Wing Chun. You might want to pull your other Wu Sau hand back and to the center slightly to prevent it from making contact with the deflected punch.
There are variations on Pak Sao but executing it like I just described makes use of a lot of Wing Chun theory. It is very simple and economical, pushing your hand forward at 45 degrees, mostly using your tricep muscle. It is a deflection and so should not require a lot of strength. It covers the center line the entire time and your Pak Sao is in position to block another attack to your center line, or punch and attack your partner's center line. It sticks to your partners arm letting you know what your partner is doing with that arm. You are using Wing Chun structure which allows you to add more power to the Pak Sao if desired.
We often drill Pak Saos like this and add a larger clearing Pak Sao, every few punches, to make space and punch with the other hand down the center line, over the Pak Sao arm. Some students may tend to get in the habit of Pak Saoing the punching hand down and away but this type of Pak Sao loses some of the benefits listed above, and can leave you less protected for an incoming counter-punch.
Adding power to your Pak Sao while well rooted can also direct some force up your partners arm. Against an opponent this can be used to shock and uproot, useful when trying to close or press an attack.
Attitude Toward Training, Part 2: The Ego Issue
In the previous installment of Attitude Toward Training, we discussed the issues of rationalizing our mistakes. This next part will talk about the root of Rationalization: Ego.
You have seen it rear its ugly head in class: the smirk of a partner as he gets a hit in, or tempers flaring in a structure-less push and shove match between people who feel they have something to prove. You have probably been guilty of it yourself—I know I have been at times. It can become a road block to development as your focus on self-pride overshadows the function of class. Yet, as with most things, Ego has positive aspects to it as well: it often fuels the desire to improve if we use it as a motivation instead of allowing it to rationalize our shortcomings. To illustrate this enigma, I am going to recount a recent event.
|Thierry Cuvillier (right) schooled me in Chi Sao.|
|The goal of class is to improve the process to reach a result, not to get the result haphazardly.|
In my opinion, it should be left at the school door. Let your ego motivate you outside of class, to allow for a healthy competition that helps everyone progress. But once you step on the floor with your kung fu brothers and sisters, you should do your best to swallow your pride as you practice. Remember that the goal of working with a partner is to develop physical skills; not to prove you are king of the mountain. Feeling satisfaction with every hit you land while getting upset at every hit you take makes you focus on the final result (the hit) and not the process (how the hit landed). And class is about improving the process in order to achieve a result correctly, not about obtaining the result haphazardly.
Zen, which is practiced at the Shaolin Temple, emphasizes the idea of "No Mind" to obtain perfection in physical action.
Attitude Toward Training, Part I: Pitfalls of Rationalization
|Bradley Temple, Sifu Lo Man Kam, Nick Vietch and John Kang in 1996|
When I was training under Sifu Lo Man Kam in
I remember that when he reached about the mid-point of his Wooden Dummy training, I felt that his hands had become stiff, and I had an even harder time working against him in Chi Sao. I told myself, “he’s too stiff, he’s doing it wrong!” However, in retrospect, this misplaced critique of his hands did not make me any better. In fact, what had happened was that the Dummy training, as it often does, had made his hands stickier and firmer (stiff is bad, but firm is good—it like pushing up against a springy young bamboo stalk as opposed to a rigid pine 2 x 4). I would only realize this once I had practiced on the Dummy a lot myself.
In my 15 years of doing Wing Chun as a student and teacher, I have seen similar stories played over and over again. When rolling hands with a student from another school, he grumbled that my hands had no structure—yet I landed several hits on him and he was dead tired from unsuccessfully trying to hit me. My students have complained that another student was too stiff, and he wouldn’t listen when they told him to relax. One student was getting hit by another and criticized him for moving too fast and too sloppily. However, telling a person his shortcomings after they have just schooled you probably just makes them look down on your as an insecure sore loser. Even if they were using bad technique, they probably would not realize it anyway, and your comment would only reinforce in their mind that they were doing it right.
|Even if your partner is using bad form, you still got hit.|
So what is the right mindset for dealing with these types of situations? Step back, reflect, and try again. It doesn’t matter if your partner was using poor technique (or really good technique that your experience leads you to believe it is poor). The key is to find the solution in yourself. Whining about it does not make you any better.
In the beginning stages of practice, Wing Chun stepping is awkward and difficult for new students to do correctly. One way I found tonight to help students overcome a variety of problems such as over-stepping with the backleg, not keeping the toes parallel, and not keeping their hips facing forward is to apply pressure on their forward extended hands as you step backwards with them at the same pace. (picture to come)
This will give them the opportunity to feel when their structure is rooted and the benefits of keeping hips parallel to increase stability as well as to experience being linked. At the same time it lets you monitor their feet to make sure they are parallel.
As one of my students (a former wrestler with boxing experience) started getting the hang of it, I weaned off the pressure and made him transition to punching at about 150% improvement.
By Sifu Lo Man Kam
When talking about kung-fu, many people limit discussion to the performance of remarkable, but not necessarily combat-applicable fighting sets. Perhaps they have been misled by the "Martial Arts Novels" popular in Asia; or lured astray by a trickster claiming to know supernatural skills; or maybe their preconceptions are influenced by foreign fighting systems. Regardless of the source of their limited conceptions, they now believe they must practice these flashy sets in order to fully master martial arts.
Wing Chun does NOT emphasize flashy techniques
In Wing Chun, on the other hand, fighting sets do not exist per se. Examining the structure of Wing Chun, we find that it uses the human body as a point of reference, as opposed to an animal as seen in some Chinese martial arts. The style combines an understanding of physics and geometry to form a system of forms. Actualizing the techniques depends on bringing into full play fighting principles, coordinating one's fighting position, fighting distance, and fighting rhythm. The fighter must use natural action when performing his techniques. One's opponent is alive and moving, and each action will bring about a corresponding reaction, whether it be attack, defense, or retreat.
Wing Chun eschews fancy names like Taiji's "Strumming the Lute"
The Sticking Hands Exercise hones contact reflexes
In order to help the student to both understand and use correct reactions, Wing Chun has adopted several adages: "Take what comes, follow what leaves;" "as the hands break contact, thrust forward with your own;" and "when the opponent presents and arm, use sticking hands; if he doesn't, use asking hands." These ideas are actualized at the moment of contact, and are developed through constant chi-sao practice.
Chi Sao requires continuous, natural motion
Seeing this as a process, someone is bound to ask how long it takes to thoroughly and completely understand this idea of contact reflexes. In reality, there is no such thing as "completing" practice; good can still be better. It is the same as if a basketball star stops practicing because basketball season is over; he will meet with failure when he returns. "Completing" is the same as giving up, and practicing kung-fu is like sharpening a knife. The more you whet the knife, the sharper it will get. Endeavored practice and constant questioning are the only ways to develop natural reaction. Otherwise, when the time comes to actually use your skills, you will invariably fail.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The nephew of Grandmaster Yip Man, Sifu Lo Man Kam has taught over 2,000 students from 34 different countries. He lives in Taiwan and is the progenitor of the East-West Wing Chun Association. His article, originally from Beauty and Vigor magazine, has been tranlated and reprinted here.
Find out more about Sifu Lo at: http://www.lomankamwingchun.us.