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Chi Sao and the Art of Conversation

by Dr. John Crescione

Warning YOU SHOULD BE DOING CHI SAO BEFORE YOU READ THIS ARTICLE There is no Wing Chun without chi sao. Simultaneous attack and defense is not Wing Chun. Trapping is not sensitivity. Sticky hands, sticking hands and stick hands are all translated as chi sao but if you analyze the 3 terms, you get 3 different definitions. Sticky and sticking denote qualities of hand sensitivity while stick hands is a more generic term for what you are doing. Sticky denotes an attachment and detachment physically and metaphorically, Sticking implies a permanence-even into a bad position for you. All of hand training up to this point is trying to get you to learn where the hands are in relation to the front of the body and the centerlines. Are your hands too high, too low, too left or right, too heavy or light in relation to your opponent's hand, your opponent and your mutual centerline's? Everything, all the training is a form chi sao. From no contact to contact; from lost position to recapturing contact and the center. Chi sao training with a partner attempts to train the practitioner to "listen" to what the opponent is saying in their hands and answer with the appropriate response. The response is or can be multi level-CAPTURE THE CENTER, DEFEND THE CENTER and/or ATTACK THE CENTER. When you Chi sao with someone, you are having, or trying to have a conversation with them and their hands. Are you having a lighthearted conversation with a friend? Are they argumentative? Are they lecturing you? Are you talking down to them? Are both of you having your own conversation? Are you both just asking questions to each other? Do you understand the conversation? Is it the same language? Each type of conversation teaches the player something if they are listening with their hands. And sometimes it's okay to argue, (break the centerline) shout (telegraph a move) , lecture (can't get a hit in at all) or talk pig Latin (use other styles hands or sloppy hands within the game of chi sao) to the opponent sometimes. The training exercises such as Pak Sao and Lop Dar teach you how to have a conversation, to respond to a question with an answer (at first usually the politically correct one) , even if the answer is in the form of a question-as long as it applies to the conversation. If "Pak Sao" is an answer to a straight punch (the question) is it the best answer? How was the question (punch) asked? Fast? Hard? In a straight line? Uppercut? Hook? Is the Pak Sao (the answer) used in the right context? Straight forward, snappy, pushing, inward, downward or slapping? Each answer whether technically correct or incorrect leads the conversation (the exchange of technique) in a certain direction. If the grammar of the conversation is incorrect i.e., run on sentences, improper punctuation, capitals in the wrong place etc., the chi sao will be sloppy, wild and unbalanced-usually with both players doing poorly. They may be hitting each other but they are getting hit also. This is not good. How do you develop the art of conversation, how to listen well and how do you become the captain of the debate team?

SIU LIM TAO chi sao teaches but doan jiang, the immovable elbow (the depth of the subject matter or the heart matter.)

chor kiu, the sinking bridge, wrong bridge or collapsed bridge and fei jiang, flying elbow (not understanding the subject matter or experimenting to see if the opponent understands the subject matter.) jung seen, centerline (subject matter) oi/noi moon, gate theory (defining and staying within the subject matter) poon sao/kiu, rolling hands/bridges (how to put sentences together luk sao jik chung (lost hand, straight punch) basic grammar and sentence structure phon sao (trapping hands) having a conversation

Everything is going to revolve around the centerline, what the conversation is going to be about- (hitting the center) , making a point in the conversation (SIU LIM TAO chi sao should be a conversation, not an argument, lecture or discussion.) First the conversation is with a parent and child ,then child to child. Sentence structure, questions, statements and answer formation are learned at this level.

CHUM KIU Chi Sao teaches using the horse (learning to discuss ) to shift around the contact point (what you're listening to) using the horse to shift the contact point (changing the subject or slant of the conversation) training the horse to feel through the contact point answering questions from different points of view (angles) how to follow the conversation how to follow a line of thought

elevate (deepen) the level of the conversation how to interrupt the conversation coming in and being able to listen on the middle of a conversation how to argue safely how to talk your way out of a bad situation


how to master a debate how to shout and whisper lying effectively steering the conversation baiting the conversation

Everyone has some of these qualities (abilities) already in their hands. They come out naturally in chi sao. The precaution should be to not train those natural qualities more than the others do because you're already good at them or they come easier to you. You will never become a good or well rounded conversationalist-only good at what you can already do naturally. Training them does polish them, but you never get out of an advanced Siu Lim Tao level chi sao regardless of what level you are training at. And against a true conversationalistyou will lose. Food for thought if you can only hit with speed-you are not that good. if you can only hit with power-you are not that good. if you can only hit with 1 technique -you are not that good.

if you can only hit with tricks-you are not that good.

If you can hit with all of the above, you are good- but only at that technique. However, if you can do all those things, all the time, in any given situation then you can have a discussion on that particular subject. Therefore, the more subjects you know about and are skilled in you can debate and contribute ideas, not just stay in the conversation and answer a question every now and then. Up to this point, we have not mentioned the style, tone, inflection, punctuation or speed of the chi sao. All those have to be taken into consideration with the opponent. Nor have we examined the following-are they speaking the same language? Are they speaking politically correct or incorrect. Are they speaking in slang, rap, old English, informally? With or without an accent?


Do you train Wing Chun as a fighting technique or as a feeling technique? Do you train sensitivity for feeling or fighting? Do you train your feeling as a fighting technique or train your fighting for feeling technique?


teaches that the center is a sphere, not a vertical, flat or horizontal plane the contact point is to be maintained at that level, felt and manipulated - beginning questions and answers with sustained contact **** to maintain contact and good position, inside and out, up or down while in motion trains the ability to create one half of a dynamic sphere that can be defended with tan/bong/fook and its branches-palm strike, jut sao and jik chung trains the ability to enter and close the opposite gate -trains jik chung and jut sao and the proper line of attack -trains the proper interrupt response trains to open, close and run around the center **** Up until contact/sensitivity training all the technique training has been singular questions and answers with momentary contact and in only one plane and direction


defines forward and rear gates as a dynamic sphere participating within the dynamic sphere feeling the forward and rear gates independent and coordinated hand motion with and without the horse

Poon Sao- (rolling) conversation, an exchange of ideas with no dominant point of view, direction or intent Luk Sao Jik Chung- (finding the holes) discussion specific exchange to get a certain idea or point of view across. Phon sao- (filling the holes) specific questions and answers within the discussion Under ideal circumstances between two expert players, the only thing that should happen is a conversation containing 2 or 3 rolls and then walking away. That is if the intent is a friendly one or to see what the other person has. If you both can't find a hole in 2 or 3 rolls, then

both of you should walk away. Because a) there weren't any and to attempt to make one would invite disaster or b) neither of you know what your doing. Understand that rolling (at Siu Lim Tao level) is about holding the mutual reference point in any position-in/out, up/down. If the reference point moves there is an opening, wherever you contact-that is the reference point and the potential angle of attack from your opponent and you. So ideally you are looking and trying to put your hands in the best position while maintaining contact with the opponent's. Then you will try to move around the contact point to a different angle if the first angle is blocked (in good position) .That is why you roll to a different position and one reason that you run (heun sao) . Now the question becomes-do you train chi sao for fighting or chi sao for art? The heun sao hand can change the attack angle or position of contact hand for 3 reasons. The question may be, why would you want to leave the contact hand when it can hit you? 1) You can't get in from your initial position (contact point) , 2) when the opponent is pushing you out of or across the center (up or down count as well) . 3) To bait an attack You should never run just because you don't like the position you're in. This tells the opponent (if they're paying attention) that there is a hole in your defensive- in your mind, technique and emotionally/spiritually.. The proper way to run1. do not stick completely on the bridge (some versions do stick to the hand completely when they run-for our purposes, let's just leave it this way for now, without the whys, how comes and because 2. the running hand should never go below parallel to the floor 3. run on the down motion 4. run in a forward spiral 5. run with a punch-if you run into fook sao you must apply the fook with authority then relax into good position

TAN/BONG/FOOK-The 3 hand laws or pillars

BONG SAO-wing hand, elbow up hand
the wrist must stay in the same spot in the vertical and horizontal position as it rolls from bong to tan or fook the elbow does not go forward or back (cho kiu) ,nor does it go too far outside the gate (fei jiang) the elbow up position is transitory, you are truly not suppose to see the elbow for any length of time in combat. At best it should also not be seen from behind when rolling up bong sao should be thought of as a log floating on the water. Push down on one end, the other end goes up-push down in the middle, it rolls to deflect the force bong sao's intent is to move the opponent's hand off the center, not across the bodythe only direction is slightly lateral, not up or down

TAN SAO-palm up hand, spread hand, dispersing hand

the wrist and elbow are on the same straight line in front of the center, the wrist covers the throat and the elbow covers the heart chor kiu occurs when the wrist drops down from the proper position, fei jiang occurs when the elbow flies away from the center toward the outer edge of the gate or when it does not return to the center (as in a bad fook sao position)

you must move the elbow in, not push the wrist out, with the tan sao. The more pressure you put on the opponent's wrist you give them more information on where your hands are and where your direction of force is pushing them or their hands tan sao can be thought of as a place holder so that you can use your other hand to hit, it can be more passive but still alive and sensitive

FOOK SAO-elbow in hand, subdue hand, capture hand

think of the paw of a dog or fox fook sao energy should be forward but relaxed the best position for forward energy position is between the throat and CV17-from CV17 to the solar plexus you should be more relaxed but still forward, concentrating on good elbow and wrist position in Siu Lim Tao form the radius and ulna can be above one and other with the elbow in (hand and fingers pointing inward) in chi sao they must be 45 degrees of each other with the elbow in, this forms the proper tunnel for deflection just by elbow and wrist position (this is why some of you still get hit, even when you do have the correct position as per the form) keeping the elbow in protects and defends your center while the wrist puts you in a good position to attack and defend


In Bai Jong, all Wing Chun hands should be 100% neutral or 100% potential energy to go in any direction, in motion,50% kinetic energy in any direction (this has nothing to do with speed, but with intent) and then 100% kinetic energy when you're sure you can hit and not be countered (think of a heat seeking missile) .That range is usually inside the fist and one half elbow distance. The elbow being a fist and one half away pertains to defense, but ideally the hit should land at about that distance for penetration power. The purpose is to straighten the punch inside the opponent. When the elbow is bent, it defends a broader surface area then when the arm is straight. With the elbow "immovable"-if the arm is pulled, the whole body moves forward-if we want to reach our opponent we must step because the elbow doesn't move-we do! "Getting in" is not the important thing when you play with an advanced player (Not getting your head handed to you, maybe !) -These are the questions, the more important things-Did you get in with something? (Not Tag Sao, Speed Up Sao or Cheap Shot Sao) , When you wanted to ?, Clean and to the point ?, With technique ?, Horse ?, Timing ?,Control of the opponent ?, Control of the center? If you "got in" with all of the above, then you got in ! Let's give 'um something to talk about!

CHI SAO 10 tips to improving your chi sao , A.Fong

1) Your hands are only as good as your stance Let's start of with probably the most important thing before you get into chi sao. If you want to improve your chi sao significantly then make sure you've got a solid YGKYM. All to often, I see people jumping into chi sao, when they can't even find there own center of balance. Thus, imagine one of those huge red wood trees, in Return of the Jedi, how strong would that tree be, if its roots were decaying? Obviously, it wouldn't take that much force to knock it over. There are several ways to test your YGKYM stance. The first being just sitting in your stance for about 45 minutes, if you can last an entire 45 minutes without any aches or pains anywhere, then you'll know you've found you center. The 2nd way

is have a partner push against your chest slightly and see whether or not you can actually root against the force. If you can't handle a light push, then you aren't going to be able to handle the oncoming force with your stance during chi sao. 2) Recipe for tan, bong, fok? Tan, bong, fok sau oh my. These are the main ingredients when doing chi sao, thus its key to know how to do these moves correctly, and to understand how they are put together structurally. Now, I'm not going to dive into detail about each one, coz that would be an entire article on its own. But keep in mind some simple rules. Tan sau should be flat, do the test for yourself and see if you can feel the difference between a flat tan and one that isn't. Imagine a tan being a bridge between you and an opponent, can a bridge connect 2 points being up. Of course not! Bong sau, key thing is make sure your elbow is higher than your wrist and make sure that the hands/fingers continue in the direction of your forearm. Finally fok sau, probably the most difficult one of the 3, be aware of the point of contact. Why is it important for you to know the structure of each of these moves? Imagine them to be your TV antenna, if the antenna is just slightly off, your reception won't be that good. If you tan isn't in the right position, then that will decrease your level of sensitivity. 3) I'm ready to fight? Ah, jumping ahead of ourselves once again. Before you get into those prodigal son battles, make sure first and foremost, that your roll is decent. While chi sao may seem like 2 guys facing each other working a steering wheel, it is in fact a constant forward motion, instead of what appears to be a circular movement. What's the difference? If you have a circular movement and force is pushed slightly against it, if you remove the force, your hand will remain in the same position and continue its circular movement. On the other hand, imagine your hand as a spring, waiting for the pressure to be removed. Once the pressure is no longer there, the hand will automatically move forward. Thus, you won't even have to think when to attack. Key note though, is that the forward pressure doesn't need to be initiated by you, if your structure is correct for tan, bong, and fok, the structure along will maintain that forward pressure. All to often people, either have no forward motion or over emphasize it too much. 4) Equality for both sides In the beginning when doing chi sao, picture it as if you were doing push ups against the wall. Notice in order to keep your body square you need to push equally on both sides of your arms. Well, when you start doing chi sao its sorta like the same thing. You want to be able to maintain equal energies on both sides when your rolling. Literally, regardless of what position you are in: inside gate - bong sau and tan sau outside gate - double fok sau chi sao - tan sau and fok sau or bong sau and fok sau - thus being in both inside and outside when rolling The wrist for the most part are lined up with each other for both arms. The importance of equal energy, well its because of the inequalities of the forward drill when doing chi sao, that your opponent can use that to his advantage.

5) Tension vs. Energy Mommy, what's the difference between tension and energy? One of the most recurring problems when doing chi sao, is differentiating between tension and energy. When you use tension it involves muscle, which reduces your sensitivity significantly. Thus, have you ever rolled with someone who was really tense, then all of a sudden just pulled your arm away from his. You'll notice when its tension the hand just stays there doing nothing at all. But if it was energy, the hand automatically shoots out towards you. That's the difference between the 2, and how you can tell one from another. 6) Where's my center? I'm sure everyone has done this before. Have someone do a bong sau and place it perfectly into the correct position, and then press against his bong sau. What you'll notice is how much force that the bong sau can take, with the guy/gal putting very little effort in dealing with the force. Now offset that bong by either moving it slightly left or right, let's just say about 1% of the center line. And see the huge difference. Notice how easily it is to collapse his bong sau with very little pressure at all. Well, in chi sao its key to be aware of the centerline for everything that you do. Thus, if your in inside gate, you need to make sure both your tan and bong are in the proper position, if your just slightly of, just like in the example above, your opponent can take advantage of this. 7) Fok sau woes Probably the most difficult thing in the beginning to deal with is that of fok sau. The most difficult thing is maintaining forward pressure upon the roll, and the most common mistake is pressing downward with the fok sau. Notice the Siu Lim Tao is the blue print for the motions of all the moves, and if you do 3 fok sau's in SLT, you'll notice that this is the CORRECT motion that you do when chi saoing as well. The best way to deal with the downward press, is to adjust the elbow. Remember, that elbow leads the motion, thus if the elbow is raised and is almost on equal level of the wrist, the downward pressure will occur, if you sink the elbow, this will fix the problem. 8) Tag your it Have you ever seen this happen. Your chi saoing with someone and he gets a good hit on you. So your ego's all bruised and your like, "bitch I'm going to force a hit no matter what." Next thing you know you have 2 idiots using muscle, zero structure, and just hitting each other back and forth. What's this called? Its called a waste of time. In the end what your developing is bad habits. Remember, chi sao helps you to develop so many things, from timing, to energy, understanding the distance, to learning how to stick. If you break the rules of chi sao and fail to learn from it, your wasting time. The reason you got hit, is because your structure sucked, eat the humble pie, and work with your partner to recreate the scenario again, and learn how to deal with the oncoming force. 9) More defense Any idiot can attack, every art has deadly moves. But the test of your true skill is how good your defense is. Allot of times when I practice, I literally just allow the opponent to attack one after the other. It truly is a test of skill to be able to take whatever he throws at you and redirect it constantly. Remember, attacking is a simple skill that doesn't take that long to develop, on the other hand defense is

something that really can impress others. Spend more time working on your defense when chi saoing. 10) Control Man, there's nothing like getting a good solid hit on your partner, right? The fact is your partner is your best friend, and without a partner you can never get better in wing Chun. Thus, if you decide your ego needs a boosting by smacking him down, what your displaying is such a low level of wing Chun. The fact is, every attack you do when chi saoing should be controlled. There's nothing more impressive, than going full speed with an attack and stopping just inches away from your opponent. That my friend is skill. Wing chun is all about control, if you can control yourself, then you can control others