What Is Chi Sau?

What is Chi Sau?

 Learn to improve the famous wing chun stiking hand drills via mental planning for “No mind” response counter strikes

You hear a lot of people talk about “chi sau”, but what is it exactly? “Chi” in Chinese means stick, and “Sau” means hand, therefore chi-sau means “stick hand” or “sticky hands.” That is the literal meaning of chi-sau, but in the context of martial arts, it is the metaphor given to the unique drills & techniques exclusive to the Wing Chun fighting system.

The purpose of chi sau, or stick hands, training is to increase the practitioner’s sensitivity, speed-up his contact reflex, and develop his close-quarter ging (focused power). All the chi sau techniques, or drills, are derived from wing chun’s 3 and only forms, and the drills are practiced in a reciprocal manner, contiguously, as though it was a real exchange of techniques. For every offensive technique, there is a counter technique.

The idea of chi sau is to control your opponent’s energy by sensing his intentions from the vibrations that he’s emitting at the point of contact. Once you have sense the angle of his attack, or the angle of his energy, it is relatively easy to control and manipulate his attack by deflecting or jamming his energy using the counter techniques, or you could launch your own attack first if you can detect a weak energy point (opening).

The most important principle of Wing Chun is to use speed & skill to overcome a bigger & stronger opponent. The element of this “skill” is chi sau. Ultimately, Chi sau, and indeed Wing Chun, is about the control of energy.

 “Sticking hands” looks as though we are stuck to our opponent because, once we have made contact, we are actually following our opponent’s arm, feeling & probing his energy, absorbing his energy and seeking for an opening to launch our own attacks. Again, this brings us back to energy control. In chi sau, our arms acts like a probe or feeler to sense our opponent’s vibrations. Once we anticipated our opponent’s intention by his minute vibrations, we can pre-empt his moves. For example, if we can sense an incoming punch, we could use the Wu-sau to “jam” his incoming energy immediately, before he can generate any momentum, thereby limiting his ability to generate power. Remember, the reason for sticking so close to your opponent is to control his energy – no energy, no power. Secondly, being in contact with your opponent enables you to react to his intentions in the shortest time possible, because it is faster to react by feel than by sight.     

 An introduction to Chi Sau

Imagine the Wing Chun hand forms as your dictionary to spell the moves correctly and efficiently, the Chi Sau is the periodic table, you the scientist and the kwan (studio) the laboratory, this is a science and one must be aware of this when practising any form of chi sau. You and your partner must be on the same frequency when practising, and not just working the mechanical movement of the exercise. Concentrate on the contact point, the connection, energy and of course the sticking. Beginner students engage in single sticking hands in which only one side of the body and consequently one arm are used, while more advanced students engage in double sticking hands utilising both arms and feet.

When performing Sticking hands, the practitioners maintain constant contact with each other, testing each other and constantly seeking to exploit any weak points within their framework. Strength In Wing Chun and sticking hands comes from training the framework which comprises of the Bridge Hand and the adduction Stance.

Chi Sau can be practiced at SAS in 2 different ways:

a) Technique against technique – this is more of a set drill than anything else. You face your opponent and deliver pre-agreed techniques. Your opponent allows you to follow each move to completion until a state of familiarity is achieved. Then knowing what the initial attack will be, he will counter and then counter-attack. This method of chi sau training is excellent for developing your framework, conditioning your joints for strength and teaching correct posture, balance and distancing. (chi dan sau, bong lap chi sau)

b) Free Style Chi Sau – as the name suggests there are no predefined techniques but the aim of each opponent is to control and dominate the other using techniques. This does not necessary need to result in a free style fight but instead each opponent tries to work out under pressure what his weak points are so he can improve them and as well as send the correct strike signal to your opponent when ever you exploit his weak points. (Lok sau chi sau, Lap sau kuen fa)

Kung fu is not something that only relates to Chinese martial arts. Because it is never the style that demonstrates kung fu. It’s never the technique that demonstrates kung fu. It’s the martial artist. In China, kung fu never refers just to martial arts. It really isn’t a mystical thing Within Chi Sau, there are three basic concepts:

a) On Incoming power or energy, no matter the direction, you absorb it. You cannot absorb until you can yield. In order to absorb or yield you have to be strong. If you absorb when you are strong, you are able to yield. If you absorb when you are weak, your bridge hand will collapse. Yielding uses the whole body to absorb or to change from one hand technique to another seamlessly without collapsing the bridge hand and using the correct angles. You must have strength in your framework to be able to yield. Your bridge hand and horse stance are vital in yielding.

b) Within the same distance and space, when you move forward, you should project your energy towards your opponent using your framework. You use this concept to dominate your opponent’s distance and balance to make his bridge hand collapse in order to open up his framework. You require strength in order to achieve this or else your energy will be rigid and agitated.

c) When your opponent’s bridge hand collapses and there is no block hand or barrier in the way, this is the time to strike straightforward to the body of your opponent using your energy and power. In other words “hand free straight hit”

Improving vastly in Sticking Hands, depends a lot on adhering to these principles and adopting the right mentality. The student must know his weak points in order to improve them and he must also know his opponent’s weak points in order to exploit them.

The right mentality during Chi Sau is learned by observing some simple principles and suggestions as listed below:

1) Never take your partner lightly – This applies to whoever your partner is, whether stronger or weaker. Your framework should be maintained at all times.

2) Concentrate – This is essential during training in order to be able to react fast and to be able to focus energy in to a point of application.

3) Seek for your opponent’s weakness – Two suggested areas are his bridge hand and horse stance.

4) Deal with the person your are facing and his energy and not his hands.

5) Stick to your opponent.

6) Breathe naturally.

Applying these suggestions and concepts consistently to your sticking hands training will produce vastly improved reactions, sensitivity, speed, timing and strength. The benefits that can be developed from Chi Sau training can also be applied to other areas of Wing Chun, the results are absolutely incredible and hard to put into words. It needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated!

SAS Chi Sau training is an on going learning experience in which you can learn from practitioners of both higher or lower standard than yourself. It is truly a fascinating and ingenious training system. Chi sau`s true value can only really be appreciated by those who train earnestly and have a desire to learn from the system.


Chi sau has nothing to do with street fighting, but the real purpose is to make you aware of the “auto pilot mode” that are practiced in class and to make you responsive to different types of energies. Once you have the concept of different energy deliverance you can disguise your intentions and attacks and make it more difficult for your partner to sense any form of attacks, so really you are practicing to decrease the kung fu (energy) not increase it as it will be detected by sensitive arms and a more skillful student of Wing Chun. This form of training is unique to wing chun as we are the only fighting art that has so much emphasis on the CHI SAU and although as already stated it has nothing to do with street fighting, but has everything to do with reflexes of a prime wild animal in the jungle. This is the “killer instinct” we as animals (humans) do not have. Chi sau will bring out the mind of a predator one who will respond in a split of a second without putting any thought or ideas into the mind before reacting, this action may one day save your life.

The “free fight Chi sau” purpose is to work on all of the above qualities and to add the gates, footwork, blocks and strikes in the wing chun system, so now you are working on experience hand fight practices. However, as this fighting is authentic and unique to the southern Chinese martial arts it is unorthodox way of fighting in today’s modern environment, the science of in fighting is truly a rewarding and satisfying fighting system as you become very lethal in your attacks and your defence is excellent to the point of perfection. But the journey to get to this point of free fighting using the chi sau system is hazardous, frustrating and cumbersome at times, you are going through the learning process and more mistakes and bad judgment will be made than good ones, but through experience and guidance one improves immensely and quickly, and soon are on their own way to finding their own style of fighting using the Wing Chun Concepts, and remember “man makes the art – art does not make the man”   

Master Andrew Sofos

Sticking hands at the Temple of Apollo


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