Chi Sao, the art of sticking hands, is a unique method of training from the Ving Tsun system of Kung Fu. Ving Tsun, a southern style of Chinese Kung Fu was brought to New York by Grand Master Moy Yat in 1973.
There are many approaches and reasons to practicing Chi Sao, some practice it mainly for sharpening their technical skills, others practice it for developing instinctive reactions and correct hand positioning. Some regard Chi Sao as a strengthening exercise, while still others study it for increasing sensitivity. Chi Sao is all of the above and more. The following is an interpretation of Chi Sao, the Ving Tsun method of sticking hands.
From my own years of training with Chi Sao, I personally regard it as a physiological practice that is focused on forward energy. The constant flow of forward energy is called Chong Chi. Chong Chi is an aid to practice and helps increase the practitioner’s efficiency. It should not be looked upon as some sort of mysterious internal power source as some would like to believe.
If one presses the arms of a practitioner who has Chong Chi, the person will immediately feel a floating sensation against his own arm. This sensation is not so much an opposing jerking force, but rather a force similar to the force of a strong spring. The arm of the practitioner who has Chong Chi is full and substantial, quietly alive, with a feeling of direction and a sense of evenness, in other words, it has “just enough” for the task at hand. This even forward energy flow is similar to water going through a garden hose, filling every possible corner in the most efficient manner.
In the Ving Tsun system, a practitioner of Chi Sao uses both hands simultaneously against a partner. By rolling their hands (Luk Sao) in harmony, as well as in contrast, the practitioners cultivate the Chong Chi concept. The practitioner should keep the forward flow of constant energy and fill every possible gap in each roll and turn. As training progresses, the energy applied is refined. The practitioner attains the ability to penetrate even the most narrow of openings provided by his partner.
To learn Chi Sao properly, an expert instructor guides his students step by step by showing them how to apply the right flow of energy (energy in motion). In the hands of a novice, Chi Sao can turn into a jerky wrestling match, struggling up and down, left and right. Such strenuous practice will not only prevent the student from understanding the true nature of Chi Sao, it will also lead to his providing of openings for his partner to penetrate through. When Chong Chi is properly flowing through the arms of the practitioner, it is similar to water flowing through a hose. If the water is turned on and off, the hose will jerk. Before I understood the true nature of Ving Tsun Kung Fu, I used to practice Chi Sao every day after school. However, without the concept of steady flowing forward energy, the motion of my arms was spastic. This allowed my elder brothers (Si Hings) to penetrate my defenses with their strikes during Luk Sao practice.
From the various positions in Chi Sao, the practitioner tries to penetrate his partner’s defenses using the Chong Chi concept. The martial artist “moves” and dissipates the partner’s force. This motion is similar to a plow moving through snow, borrowing the aggressor’s force to complete his own counter movements. The two practitioners are actually two halves to a whole.
Jong Die, the elbow position, is important in Ving Tsun because it is a cushioning device or a deflecting auxiliary force used if the wrist fails to detect a sudden increase in pressure from the partner’s penetration. This particular elbow position is a trademark of a Ving Tsun player. The elbow is the immovable center, not in a sense of dead energy which does not give, while the forearm and the hand are pliable, adapting to changes. The hands Chi Sao should be soft, but not yielding, forceful and firm, but not hard or rigid.
One can classify Ving Tsun as a soft style, though I have never believed in distinguishing it in this manner. Comparing it with other so-called soft styles, Ving Tsun is more economical in structure. Also, the different hand positions that can be utilized in Chi Sao practice make it very versatile. Offensively, Ving Tsun’s Chi Sao utilizes mainly straight, forward energy, defensively, it makes use of a small deflecting arc as well as straight, penetrating lines. A practitioner of Ving Tsun keeps to the center, letting the opponent move around the centerline. They also learn to view their opponent’s movement practically, that is by never overreacting with their own extraneous movements. The practitioner moves straight, from the center out, or “just enough” from the outside in, with the centerline well in place and aided by their elbow being tucked in.
Ving Tsun’s Chi Sao, especially with Chong Chi, contributes to the total training of a martial artist. However, it must not be looked upon as a cure-all. It is but a means to an end. Some practitioners wrongly regard it as a method of fighting, which it is not. Rather, it is a study with ground rules which serve as guidelines in the learning of Ving Tsun. Chi Sao emphasizes correct positioning, the study of economical lines and angles, and above all, the cultivation of constant Chong Chi.