What is Chi Sau? How do you practice Chi Sau? Who has all the answers? These are some of the many questions that I have been asked during my time as an instructor. I had asked my Sifu, Samuel Kwok, these same questions and he gave me an article he had written that answered a lot of my questions. So with his permission I submit this article entitled Chi Sau, The Heart of Wing Chun to my students and anyone else who would like to gain more insight to the art of Wing Chun. The reason that I've included this article in the Jeet Kune Do section as well is that Chi Sau is a very important part in Jeet Kune Do as well as Wing Chun.
In this brief article I shall try to give you an insight into Wing Chun viewed through the practice 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 over estimated. Chi Sau enables 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 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 on control that is inherent in this method of practice. An aggressive attitude of this kind not only goes against the 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 in rivalry and animosity which then cause violence between 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 rote practice 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 closely to sparring, especially at the highest level. Yet Chi Sau should always be practiced with control and maintained as a separate concept distinct from sparring of free fighting, where the aim is to dominate your opponent. 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 a real conflict you won't hold back. This is 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 impact.
Chi Sau is only a tool used 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 use strength to overcome strength, how stances turning and body shifts are incorporated in a 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 it is only when they have "felt" the correct movement and energy inside themselves that they can be considered to have fully understood it.