3 Reasons why Wing Chun Chi Sau might get you hurt in a fight

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Warning: Please read the article before leaving a nasty and annoying comments. We don’t think Chi Sao is bad or useless or that Wing Chun sucks. please think before you speak 🙂


What does Chi Sau do for me in a fight?

When an attack is thrown at you and the attacker’s hand/body part makes a SPLIT SECOND of contact with you, as a Wing Chun practitioner, your body responds in the appropriate manner to defend yourself.   This response is developed from “sensitively” drills such as Chi Sao, some times called sticky hands.

If, and ONLY if used correctly Wing Tsun Chi Sau is a powerful tool. In the hands of a laymen, using sticky hands as a training tool can have lots of negative effects.  Surprisingly many Wing Chun practitioners just assume that since their “Sifu said so,” they have somehow absorbed the “magic juice” that made figures like Yip Man and Bruce Lee great.

In styles like Wing Chun it should be in our nature to question, experiment, and improve. If you are not constantly striving forward, reaching for the unreachable perfection Wing Chun has to offer, you’re not doing yourself any favors by assuming “I got it.”

What should you practice when training Wing Chun hand techniques?

Take a simple Pok Sau drill, something most Wing Chun people would agree is a relatively basic drill. Have you really mastered everything that drill has to offer?  From Sil Lim Tao to the Butterfly knifes, can you honestly say you can’t improve upon your Pok Sau technique?

With an advanced drill like Chi Sao/sau, the benefits should not be taken lightly.  The purpose of this drill is to ensure that you have the appropriate responses built into your body (that’s right, your WHOLE body, not just your hands) to take down your opponent.  Only through hard work and determination, continued training and drilling the correct form and responses, can one assume they have truly absorbed the benefits of this exercise.

Listed below are a number of Wing Chun issues, if not corrected can cause you to truly SUCK in a fight.

1.“Tagging” your opponent in Chi Sao

When you hit your training partner you have to ask yourself, “did I Hurt him/her??” By no means are we suggesting you go Spartan on your training partner, but look at where you landed.  Was it a clean hit with your entire body? Was it just your hand tagging him/her acting without your body behind the punch? Were you close enough to have had penetration power.

Lets look at a scenario to make this point more clear:

Tim and John are Chi Sao’ing.   To the untrained eye, it would appear that Tim is winning, he hits John 5 times for every one time John hits him.

What is the problem?

Every single time Tim hits John, he stands on his tippy toes and over extends his shoulder/over reaches to hit John.

Standing on your tippy toes is a fairly common issue among ALL martial artists.  If a boxer stands on his tippy toes every times he/she throws a cross (the back hand) it makes it impossible for the boxer to have any type of power. Without any power, it’s very difficult to hurt the opponent. Perhaps you’ll be slightly faster, but you won’t hurt the bad guy, if you don’t hurt him/her you are only going to piss him/her off with a fast annoying blow.

Chi Sau

Clearly Scott is exaggerating “leaning,” but you must note how Mike (on the left in green) is maintaining vertical structure and not leaning when punching Scott

While you are training this drill, you should record or watch yourself in the mirror. Most of us will be shocked to see our heads bobbing up and down.  Its also the type of mistake ALL of us make, if you’ve never had to correct yourself, you’re probably still doing it and never realized  before today.

Over reaching is yet another common mistake in Chi Sao and if not corrected will put you on the fast track to losing a fight.   If we once again use the boxer reference, imagine a trainer and a boxer working the focus mitts.  The boxer keeps over reaching with his shoulder when he throws a jab. What happens? The trainer gets mad, more than likely will bop him in the head with the mitt, and tell him/her to stop over reaching.

Once again we see a situation where it is physically impossible for the boxer to develop any power. The reason is its just a fast annoying punch, that isn’t backed up by the rest of his/her body.

The same rule applies to Wing Chun Chi Sau, if you have to throw your shoulder out a bit too far, you are not going to get the desired result.  You are only fooling yourself into thinking you are winning a training drill.

Not to mention, as the Kung Fu experts we all aspire to be, someone like Tim from the example above, is opening himself up to a WORLD of problems.   It would be very easy to apply locks, pull him off balance, or any other Kung Fu’ie attack that takes advantage of the lack of basic Wing Chun biomechanics.

What about John’s attacks?

When John attacks he pays attention to where his hands are in relation to his body, allowing him to be in a nice firm stance when he attacks. Being that he is bending at the knees, assuming it was a fight and not a training drill, his punches have the extra “umf” required to knockout his opponent.

2. ONLY “Feeling their energy” during Wing Chun exercises

When a Kung Fu brother or sister asks you to “feel someone’s energy” it is possibly the most confusing and misleading phrase someone can tell you when you are first starting out. To someone new to the world of Wing Chun it implies that there is a “magical” aspect to Kung Fu.

Lets take a moment and define what “feeling” really is in Wing Chun.

When you are training this drill you are “feeling” for your training partner to make an error, after he or she makes the error, you capitalize on their mistake and attack.  That’s it, just a few years of hard work and you can do it too.

Lets revisit our training partners Tim and John, but role ahead 10 years later.

When you train this drill with Tim he “feels like” he is super fast, always a step ahead of you, and totally controls the center.   He did this by taking advantage of his lanky body type and constantly Chi Sao’s 3-4 times a week as well as using the chest stretching drill 10-15 mins a day.

John on the other hand has a very compact heavy set body type. When you train with him you feel like you are pushing up against a pile of lumber.  He accomplished this by training the most basic form, Sil Lim Tao 10 – 15 times per day.

As you can see the magic of Kung fu was not downloaded into their soul. They accomplished this from HARD WORK.

3.  Chi Sao puts Wing Chun or Wing Tsun at the top of the martial art food chain.

Wing Chun being a martial art for those of reasonable intelligence; is it really wise to assume that a Boxer can’t take you out?  Check out this article here to hear more thoughts on this subject of Wing Chun versus other styles.

Walk into Gleason’s gym in Brooklyn, New York. Tell ANYONE who works out there that you are a “Kung Fu” or Wing Chun guy and gage their response.  The lady or gentlemen you are speaking to may look like someone from the neighbourhood who happens to have a six pack, but the reality is that person might have around 10 years of fight experience under his/her belt, may be a pro fighter, and has enough pre-contact (before chi Sao range) experience to see you coming a mile away.

The point is that as a Wing Chun person who uses research and development to escalate your marital arts training, ask yourself “how can I use this drill to simulate an attacker from a different style to develop the appropriate response for this type of challenger?”

So….does Wing Chun work?

Of course! It depends on you to build the environment you need for it to work.

If other types of fighters aren’t at your disposal to play around with, the answer is you have to create the circumstances in Chi Sao to simulate (to the best of your ability) to combat these responses.

For instance, if your training partner suddenly did a spinning back fist while training Chi Sao, how would you respond?

If your training partner suddenly did a single leg take down, how would you respond?

If your training partner started attacking you from different angles and vectors not native to Wing Chun, how would you respond?

If you train yourself to fight Wing Chun people, you are only going to be able to fight Wing Tsun people.

Are these the reasons why you train Chi Sao?

Do you have any thoughts? Or any more “ways to NOT  make your Chi Sao suck” to add?

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12 Responses to 3 Reasons why Wing Chun Chi Sau might get you hurt in a fight

  1. Mike Pekor February 8, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    Excellent article, once again!!! Very clear, direct and honest. Many times it seems that people can become fixated on chi sau (and push hands in taiji) and forget that these drills are just a means to a greater end. Yes chi sau is fun, but we need to remember that it addresses only a part of what “fighting” entails. We need to keep all ranges in mind and as you said, make sure our strikes can aactually do damage. Mike

  2. john February 8, 2013 at 3:39 am #

    Nice job..I would add no just about “tag sao” but about not “listening” to your opponent’s attack or counter attack to defend or neutralize as well.So2 people just wind up slugging beach other.

  3. David Shaman February 8, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    Outstanding! Excellent job at keeping Chi Sao in it’s proper perspective! I love that you are addressing, head on, the unfortunate “Cheap Sao” phenomenon. People create a false sense of accomplishment, and feed their ego, by getting a cheap “tag” in, with no real power behind it. Although you should always use great control when you play, the POTENTIAL to do great damage with the opening should be there. Your body HAS to be behind it! Otherwise you are just indulging your own delusion, and preparing yourself for absolute disaster in a real fight! Thank you for continuing to shed light in an often misunderstood area. You guys exemplify genuine Kung Fu integrity and wisdom.

  4. Chin April 11, 2013 at 2:30 am #

    Very true! chi sau practice can ready one to deal with hands that come from any angle, but what aspects of chi sau does one actually use in real combat? one mistake would be to “chase the hands” and try to stick to every punch, when a quick taan-da would be much more practical. moves in wing chun should be thought of like offense rather than defense, aimed towards the opponent’s centre line, rather than swept off to the side. however, id bet money i didnt have on the man with these skills and sensitiity training over the man without senstivity training…with confidence, anyday.

    • Gerard September 10, 2014 at 2:44 am #

      If you honestly think the practical use of Chi Sau is to stick to every punch, youre missing it completely AND your own Chi Sau may suffer for it. All it is, is sensitivity training. If none of you can use SENSITIVITY in a real fight, youre all headed for disaster.

  5. B December 14, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    Wing Chun Chi Sao is effective for fight if used correctly by someone properly trained in it and not in a mcdojo. Most people don’t know what to do in that close a range and swing for the fences or try to stay within boxing range. But for a wing chun practitioner whos been training it for a long time would handle it pretty well. The energy concept makes sense as well like think about it, the second a wing chun practitioner starts doing Chi sao on someone untrained in the system, theyd panic as to what is going on and what to do, and the wing chun fighter would handle it pretty well to his advantage because once the opponents arms are getting trapped and stuff they panic and panic is never good enough for a fight, once their hands are busy getting trapped and deflected itd be difficult for them to even try to knee you without a base and balance or even kick.
    People should stop putting styles aside as useless just because its not in a cage. What MMa fighters do is a sport with regulations, with limited techniques. Go up against a seasoned well trained wing chun fighter and see if you can get through chi sao, don’t just fight some beginner that just started the system and hasn’t trained long enough to justify your point. Also someone whos been trained by a real Chinese instructor that knows their wing chun not some western mcdojo.
    I respect all styles of martial arts traditional and sport based, but I hate die hard mma fans that don’t know shit about martial arts and just talk one sided. UFC and other MMA organizations are not and never will be the proving ground of martial arts ever, not as long as they have rules and some stupid gold that goes around your waist and fighting for judges and a scorecard, that’s not martial arts. Martial arts is a system in its entirety without any stupid rules and regulations.
    I watch and respect UFC myself, but im not a die hard fan of it, I just don’t like the die hard idiot fans claiming styles as useless just because its not in a cage, a cage doesn’t mean shit in the real world.
    Chi Sao is effective as any other technique in their own systems when used correctly.

  6. Tom Pappas February 4, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    I agree with a great deal of the article but that has more to do with the misguided who fail to realize it’s a sensitivity drill. Western boxing clearly works better for many because of the training. However, a good Wing Chun man would be hard to handle on the street where many fights happen up close and personal. The problem I have seen with many TAs is that those who practice are out of shape and stand in front of their opponents in a training stance feather than a fighting stance. Then they have limited mobility, no experience with being really physical and misunderstand the art. I am sure Wong Shun Leung would get killed in an mma fight but destroy many Mma fighters in a crowded bar nose to nose.

  7. Phillip March 3, 2014 at 1:55 am #

    Obviously you don’t understand the use of chi sau; You DO NOT use chi sau to fight with. There is NO doubt you have never been in a real fight or you would not make such a ridiculous statement. Chi sau is a training exercise. I have never seen anyone use chi sau to fight with in a real fight; if you have please educate me.

    • Scott October 6, 2014 at 11:48 pm #

      Hi Phillip,

      You are correct. I don’t think you read the article 🙂

  8. Yojimbo June 8, 2014 at 7:59 am #


    With all due respect, I beg to differ with your article and at the same time I do not wish to be a missionary and try and convince you to my way of thinking


    Chi Sau is not about street fighting and when training in Chi Sau, you do not have to do spinning back fists etc

    Chi Sua is simply an exercise to develop your reactions so in the street you are in a responsive frame of mind. Also it is a great exercise to ensure you keep your guard up (as your shoulders will ache when doing Chi Sau) and keep your centre line protected at all times

    It amazes me that most modern Martial Artists want to become experts quickly and so gems like Chi Sau are being by passed

    Bottom Line: Bruce Lee and Ip Man trained hard at Chi Sua…..I wonder why?

    Yojimbo G


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