Still round the corner there may wait,
A new road or a secret gate.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
*This article is at the intermediate level
I like to think that I have invented a new drill.
Many Wing Chun teachers over the years have added to our treasure trove of methods to up our game, notably Wong Shun Leung and Gary Lam (in my lineage).
But Wing Chun has been around for at least a hundred years and maybe for as long as three hundred, so what I have come up with is likely to be nothing new. But it was new to me, so perhaps it will be new to you also.
The meaning of the Wing Chun phrase “Chi Sao” has become fuzzy through sloppy use, so I will define it (again), so we can use it as an exact technical term.
Chi Sao is a slow to medium speed drill in which the trainees practice attacks and defenses in a cooperative manner. Who is doing what is agreed upon in advance and then movements are trained. Calling it “Chi Sao” really just means we are going to do these drills using a base of the Tan-Low Fok-Bong-High Fok rotation.
We do similar drills starting with a Lap Sao base (Bong-Strike rotation).
Chi Sao is not fighting. Lap Sao is not fighting. They are drills.
In fact, lets just get it out of the way and say that nothing is fighting except fighting. Being good at any drill is no indication of how well you will do in a fight.
Chi Sao is to fighting what jumping rope is to boxing. You may be great at jumping rope but suck at boxing. In fact, you can even be good at boxing but not as good at fighting — this is another topic.
Jumping rope helps develop some attributes (footwork, endurance of a certain bandwidth) but does nothing for your ability to take a punch or keep your hands up.
Two capabilities that are, as we know, related. If you can’t do the latter, you better be able to do the former.
Back to my NEW drill
As I’ve mentioned several times, I’ve had a sore nerve in my left arm since October. To let it rest, I stopped going to my class with Greg and quit lifting weights. I couldn’t face doing nothing, so I continued to work with my students and training partners.
I’m in the fortunate position of having a handful of students / training partners who I teach but who let me set the agenda, so I can test stuff out with them.
Last year, my training partner in Greg’s school and I were working on going back and forth from Chi Sau to Gwoh Sau. Back and forth, back and forth. This is how you get good. Its a cycle or an iterative circular process. You start doing pretty basic drills, then move into Chi Sao (cooperative drills with agreed upon constraints), then amp it up to Gwoh Sao.
With Gwoh Sao, we have less constraints. We both try for timing, i.e., simultaneous interception and attack the attack, trying to catch it somewhere in the middle. We want our action to occur in the “middle” because we want the action to be committed and not easily changed in response to our “jeet” action. Bruce Lee named his whole modified-Wing Chun system after this idea (Jeet Kune Do or Way of the Intercepting Fist).
If we get tied up or sloppy, and stop doing clean Wing Chun actions, we back off on the speed and the timing and either go back to some agreed upon form of Chi Sao or all the way back to basic drills.
All intermediate and advanced training goes around this cycle, varying the level of complexity and intensity. Correct Gwoh Sao aims to be a clean exchange of tightly timed Wing Chun actions. By Wing Chun action, I mean it should have as many Wing Chun qualities or express as many Wing Chun principles as possible. Each player should have facing, structure, all elements moving as one, and so on.
My problem in training, before my injury developed, was I would periodically react badly to my partner’s actions in Gwoh Sao. I might grab. I might stand in front of his incoming action (as if standing stupidly on the tracks in front of the oncoming train). I might end up collapsed and too close to deploy any useful action.
So I thought, “I need better reflexes.”
I needed the correct reflex to an incoming attack. This is another feature of our training model. We are working to modify or add to our set of reflexes. Its best to modify – its easier to divert the river than to cut a new trail in the jungle.
Plus I needed it to be light and relaxed so it didn’t add to my injury.
So here is the drill.
One trainee just practices Jeun Ma (turning) and punching. I think we can all agree you can never get enough of this one. Its our bread and butter. So this partner is getting good training and sending a non-stop series of punches toward the partner’s centerline, following a set and not to difficult to catch/intercept rhythm or beat.
So the punches are coming in and for the purposes of this drill, the other trainee has a few options and one prime directive.
Create a “wedge” in front of you with a steady response to the incoming punches to your centerline.
You can Jaam, Taan, Pak, Lap, Wu, or Ding. These are the options.
No Bong Sao!
Use your waist to drive your actions. Connect this waist action to the elbow. Feet are going like wiper blades. Hips are side to side. Elbows are driven forward and there is a hip to elbow relationship. Use a steady relaxed rhythm.
Keep the centerline clear by diverting the incoming actions. Do not STOP the action. Divert it off the line…barely. Just enough. Use as little energy as possible. Vary your action. If you Ding, use it to create space. Don’t Ding for no reason. Do a little Tiu Ma if you Ding.
Sp just practice the ball (fist) handling skills. Practice allowing the incoming strike to glide along the forearm as you drive your elbow to their center in a relaxed manner.
Chase center! This is the prime directive. Chase center with the elbows.
If you Ding, use it to create space.
Redirect, redirect, Taan, Inside Wu, Outside Wu, pass the arm off to the other hand. Basic ball handling skills.
Start moving from one side to the other. Get off the point of their triangle, into the negative zone on either side. Use the dummy footwork or Tiu Ma. Try to do all of this at once but stay relaxed.
Build up to stepping in with a Tan Da action and contact the training partner and move them back with a structured taking of position (all relaxed and easy, using a smooth slow timing. Rhythmic.
Change sides every few minutes. Don’t do this tired. Switch to hitting and let them control your attack. Switch.
Start attacking. Pak Da. Tan Da. Light at first and then start trying for that POP to the center – that “Shock and Awe” Pak Da. That “Shock and Awe” Jut Da. Start trying to fit a zippy Bong Da in the timing.
Then back to the lighter version.
The main thing is to control the centerline (and thus your opponent) with your elbow and maintain an elbow-hip connection.
In a real fight, things happen very fast and your brain will be impaired by fear induced distortions. You may end up operating almost entirely on auto-pilot delivering a half-assed version of your best.
This drill is a good way to just lightly lay down good railway tracks of movement.
In a real fight, pain will be happening. You may be damaged.
This drill will help build your intuition. You can start amping it up. More speed. Harder attacks and defenses. This is another drill that can ramp up into Gwoh Sao.
I found it sped up my instinct to jam my elbow into the attack. It helped me feel even better about stepping into the attack and catching the timing.
Play with it and let me know if you are already doing it (or something similar) and what you think. I’m going to do a video version of this as soon as I can organize it.