I have seen a lot of criticism of the wing chun kung fu drill called “chi sao” (sticking hands) online. Mainly these comments are made by those who have no idea what they’re talking about. This article won’t cure the ignorance (because those who ARE ignorant often choose to remain so), but I felt it was time to shed a little AUTHENTIC light on this aspect of wing chun training.
Here’s the truth: chi sao IS NOT FIGHTING. In fact, it’s not even sparring. It can be USEFUL toward teaching a wing chun practitioner how to fight since it takes place in our range, but this is not its real purpose.
Chi sao is a training tool used to develop sensitivity to gaps in your defense as well as that of your partner. You are supposed to maintain a light touch so you can feel what is going on. If you tense up, you are doing it wrong. (I have this exact problem, but I am working on it.) Many students have a tendency to use muscle and flinch during chi sao because they fear getting hit. This is why a lot of schools won’t have their students move on to free-form sparring: if you’re tense during chi sao, then you will be the same way during sparring. Before you know it, your training has headed down the wrong path. You will rely on using muscle instead of structure. Anyone who has studied wing chun for even a month knows that the system is based ENTIRELY on structure over strength.
At the school where I go, we have done chi sao two different ways in class: (1) free form or improvised, and (2) focusing on a specific technique. Both have their values. With #1 you learn to go with the flow because nothing is planned. The second one’s value lies in the fact that you are focusing on the structure of one particular technique. Why is this important? Because in wing chun (more than any other martial art *I* have seen), what you do in one area impacts ALL the others.
I hope this sheds some light on the real reason we do chi sao, which (again) is NOT to fight but to train our sensitivity. Of course, some people out there will choose to remain ignorant. However, it is my sincere hope that some of you out there will appreciate this honest summary from someone who actually “walks the walk.”