The Nature of Chi Sau

By David Peterson

The Wing Chun training drill of ‘Chi Sau’ – commonly referred to in English as “sticking hands” – is one of the most misused and misunderstood parts of this combat system. Primarily it is a reflex training drill that requires constant practice in order to develop skilful, quick and alert responses to meet the basic requirements of Wing Chun combat theory: “Intercept what comes; pursue what departs; when the hands are free of obstructions, attack instinctively.”

Even before a student begins to learn ‘Chi Sau’ they are taught the basic requirements of this exercise through the practice of the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ form, the “young idea” from which Wing Chun grows. The concept of ‘Chiu Ying’ or “facing” is immediately present, laying down the foundation for always being able to take the most favourable and shortest line to attack the opponent, even before the fight has commenced. Thus, when ‘Chi Sau’ training begins, the proper structures are already present so that the next stage – becoming comfortable and confident when in contact range – can then be developed and enhanced.

When properly understood, the practice of ‘Chi Sau’ is designed to prepare the Wing Chun practitioner both mentally and physically for what needs to take place in actual combat when one engages with the enemy, and so it involves contact from the very beginning. However, if the student is not given detailed explanations as to the nature and purpose of the drill, they will be likely to over indulge in the practice of ‘Chi Sau’ such that they invent their own interpretation that leads them further and further away from the intended outcome.

As an example, many practitioners of Wing Chun take the idea of “sticking hands” far too literally, ending up falling into the trap of actually “chasing the hands” of the opponent. Rather than giving them a superior position in the fight, this habit contradicts one of the system’s most basic fighting concepts, allowing the enemy to dictate the course of the fight and put the Wing Chun exponent in a position where they cannot attack their intended target, but instead find themselves in a passive position at the mercy of their opponent.

‘Chi Sau’ needs to be done in such a way that it develops the instinctive skills necessary to automatically change ones line or method of attack only when the initial attack has met an obstruction. It should never degenerate into a game of “If you do that, then I’ll do this…”, otherwise it totally deviates from its actual purpose. When fighting, one needs to remain calm and with the eyes firmly on the target, with just one idea in mind – to attack the opponent in the most simple and direct way possible.

Thus ‘Chi Sau’ should always be seen as a means to an end, that end being the winning of the fight, and not as it is currently employed by many Wing Chun practitioners, as some complicated game of trying to trap the opponent’s every action. ‘Chi Sau’ is NOT an alternative to fighting, nor is it the guarantee to victory in a fight. It is simply ONE of a variety of drills and training concepts that helps to develop the skills required to overcome ones enemy in combat.

One shouldn’t ever think of going out to ‘Chi Sau’ with an opponent, but instead to attack the opponent at the earliest possible opportunity. The role of ‘Chi Sau’ is to ensure that the reflexes are enhanced so as to automatically assist in the attainment of that goal should there be a clash of limbs during the process.