Chi Sao is at the heart of Wing Chun. It is one of the characteristics that makes Wing Chun immediately stand out. When people see Chi Sao, they know they are looking at Wing Chun.
The strategy is simple but brilliant. If you stick close enough to your opponent, you can control his hands without having to look at them. You can avoid his strikes without relying on speed or reflexes.
Other Martial Arts use this strategy too. Boxers will utilise a similar method when they are in a clinch. Judokas use grip fighting to tie the opponent down and limit their mobility.
The strategy has great merit if employed correctly. There are, however, some traps Wing Chun practitioners fall into that can make it hard for them to utilise this brilliant strategy. These are the top 2, in no particular order.
1 – RANGE
Chi Sao works best at a range close to the Boxing clinch. At this range, it is easy to suppress your opponent’s arms without much danger. If you attempt to stick from too far away, it is easier for the opponent to use footwork to get away, regain striking range, and counter.
It is a crucial mistake. First, you must breach the gap safely — and this involves similar strategies to what grapplers use against strikers, such as distracting the opponent with “feints” to close the distance.
Yes, WC is a striking art at heart, but it operates at a much closer range than most striking arts.
2 – STYLE
Once in this close range, you must use the sensitivity acquired in training to suppress the arms of the opponent. Don’t focus on maintaining the classic WC shapes such as Bong Sau or Tan Sau. These shapes are only guidelines and patterns — in combat, they will be all but missing except to the trained eye.
Slight pronation or supination of the arms to stick and control the opponent’s limbs will be all that is required. And because the opponent is constantly moving and trying to escape, pronation and supination will change into each other almost quicker than the eye can see. So you won’t see much of the classic positions of WC — but the opponent will still feel the energies involved with these shapes.
In reality, good quality Chi Sao used effectively in combat will not look much like the classic Chi Sao done in training. It might look more like “Dirty Boxing” at the clinch range. But we mustn’t allow these things to get in the way of our development.
Those in the know will recognise the Chi Sao strategies and energies used.