“Chi Sao is very important in Wing Chun, but too much emphasis is placed on the idea of ‘sticking’ to the hands – this causes the student to end up chasing the hands instead of punching and trapping. This mistake totally contradicts the Wing Chun basic principles (emphasis mine).”
Wong Shun Leung
If I flew to China and found a basketball court with a friendly group of Chinese players, I would be able to play a game of pickup with them, because the rules for basketball (more or less) are the same everywhere. I could go to Nigeria, Corpus Christie, or New Dheli and still be able to play with the residents of these places who liked basketball.
Wing Chun Chi Sao, however, is not only not a game, its practices and “rules” vary widely even between Wing Chun classes from the same lineage.
I’ve “rolled” with students from many different schools (including three of the four schools in which I trained). They were all very different. In one, there was no competition at all – the goal was only to drill. In another, the goal was a sort of slow and gentle contest in which we were trying to lock the opponent out and get our hand in.
I rolled with students from other schools at social gatherings and found we had to have a discussion about what we were trying to do. Many people get into martial arts to find a place to blow off aggression and many Wing Chun students try to turn Chi Sao into fighting.
In fact, in my opinion, competitiveness is the biggest hindrances to students who are trying to progress in Wing Chun.
To properly learn from the drills within Chi Sau, you need at all times to cooperate (and communicate) with your training partner. Any competent Wing Chun practitioner can tighten their movements, bring in their elbows, make their forward energy fluid and tight, and essentially lock the other person out, completely frustrating their training partner’s attempts to find weaknesses or gaps in their lok sau (rolling bong to tan, bong to fook). The only option in this scenario is for the locked out party to start amping up the violence, using explosive Pak Sau and Lap to clear the way.
This is unhelpful for either party.
In order to have a useful practice session, we must be slightly sloppy to help our partner learn. We need to allow slight gaps and openings, so that our partner can find them, feel them, and learn to practice their defensive and offensive movements. So their hands can fall forward through the gaps in what is called Loi Lau Hoi Sung (upon loss of contact, rush in).
If I violently Kwan Sao every time my partner tries to train a a Jut (cover) and hit, then I’m just being a dick! And no one will want to train with me!
But, you say, then I am training in a sloppy way and you fight like you train! You think you will be Chi Sao-ing in a real fight? You think you will be given two bridges?
To properly use Chi Sao as the training tool that it is, my partner and I have to slowly raise the bar of resistance, adding in speed and timing and the other attributes of proper Wing Chun actions. But we have to agree to every change we make. Chi Sao is an exercise in which we agree on the parameters and agree every step of the way as we change them. Will I feed you or will you feed me? Can I respond to your attacks with full speed and timing?
As we step up the amount of responsiveness and timing, we edge into Gwoh Sao and eventually, at some point we are practically fighting, except we don’t take that final step forward (we don’t “take position”).
So what are “Chi Sao competitions?”
I’ve seen it on Youtube and I’ve seen it in person many times in class and once in a public competition.
I remember one guy in a class – he used to whip his hand out from a slow roll and slap you in the head then reconnect with the roll. Was this useful? Was he learning how to use Wing Chun in a fight? No – he was playing outside the rules.
The rules are there to get us to train correctly. Chase center. Cover and hit. Pak and hit. Tan and hit. Even Bong and hit. Clear the path, maintaining forward energy toward the center, then hit when the path is clear. This is the goal of the “game.”
These other approaches to Chi Sao are a form of playing tag.
I got you!