The Tan-Sau of death and other secret techniques of Wing Tsun Kung Fu - part 1 of 2
The 10-hour Chi-Sau marathon, thoughts on a Wing Tsun training method
The main headline is obviously an exaggeration, but its purpose will become apparent in this text. Sorry, no secret death blows here. The following thoughts are primarily for my students, yet I have added a few necessary explanations for other readers, who are not familiar with the topic.
Just last week, I had the pleasure to train on a Saturday with ten members of our Wing Tsun school for ten hours straight. Ten hours back to back with almost each practitioner experiencing sweat dripping into their eyes, shaking arms, burning shoulders, failing muscles, more or less moaning and groaning, regardless of the skill level. Summarizing it all, a very gratifying workout for every student, as they felt afterwards that they truly gave everything. A 10-hour Chi-Sau marathon!
The term Chi-Sau is often translated as “sticky hands” or “sticky arms”. I prefer the expression ‘clinging arms’.
To onlookers, the arms of two Wing Tsun trainees appear to be glued together throughout a series of attacks and defenses, counter attacks and counter defenses. Chi-Sau is a special training method unique to Wing Tsun Kung Fu. Although there are a few similarities, it should not be mistaken with push-hands (or pushing-hands) exercises in Tai Chi or seemingly similar methods such as flow drills in other martial arts as Jiu-Jitsu or several Filipino weapons styles.
I have to briefly mention, that some mixed martial arts have developed the partial use of Wing Tsun methods. One example is a German karate master, a friend of my Sifu, who has implemented Wing Tsun ideas, including elements of Chi-Sau into his Karate repertoire.
Furthermore I want to say that I am well aware of the fact, that the training method of Chi-Sau (Chi-Sao) has diverse meanings as to its value and purpose in different Wing Chun, Ving Tsun and even in the various Wing Tsun (WT) styles.
I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Come on, if there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of WT practitioners out there, there’s bound to be a multitude of interpretations. As I often say, it’s a martial ART! So, allow each other different opinions!
For readers not familiar with the scene, there is more politics in martial arts than in politics. One example only: Two small Wing Chun organizations, both originating from the same student of the late Grandmaster Yip Man.
The first Wing Chun organization claims that only their Chi-Sau is the right one, because it looks now the same as it was practised 10, 15 years ago. Whatever that means! Two years ago, I met a well-known leading representative of the second Wing Chun organization, originating from the same Yip Man student, who doesn’t think much of the first mentioned organization of the same style. Much to my surprise, especially since both claim: “No politics, just plain good old Wing Chun.” Latest here we should remember that different opinions & views are OK!
Over the years, one learns that the “wise und understanding master” image as portrayed in many movies is just a utopian idea. Even martial arts masters are just people!
The question for us is now. Why does ‘our’ Wing Tsun Chi-Sau look, feel, train different ...
1. than most other ‘wing chun’ Chi-Sau methods and
2. and differs even from different Wing Tsun variations.
Chi-Sau is often explained as an exercise to develop reflex-like responses. It is said that one learns to feel on contact the direction, speed and power of an attack. Where your eyes could be tricked, invoking wrong responses, your arms cannot be. Without chasing the arms of the other person, our arms thrust forward, shield us and attack the attacker at the same time.
Here right away is an important point! The attacker most likely doesn’t know Chi-Sau, doesn’t know what you are doing next, doesn’t care. This means that your responses, arising as a result of your Chi-Sau training, must work against a fast and strong (stiff, tense) opponent. Stiff and tense compared to your cooperative training partner.
In Wing Tsun we have a way of training Chi-Sau in sections. Similar to basic techniques of the Wing Tsun system being catalogued in forms, so does each Chi-Sau section ‘catalogue’ a specific set of attacks and defenses, followed by counter attacks and counter defenses. You could also explain a Chi-Sau section as a two-man form, which increasingly leads to spontaneous responses.
Specific Chi-Sau sections cover the usage of specific techniques from the Wing Tsun forms. Every section also stands for one particular scenario that happens more frequently when two human beings fight.
Why are there Chi-Sau sections in Wing Tsun and not in most Wing Chun, Ving Tsun styles? Wing Tsun (WT) became very popular in the early 90’s in Europe, especially in Germany. It’s hard to get exact numbers, but at one point there were some one hundred to two hundred thousand practitioners. Teaching much larger schools requires new thinking, new training methods. That’s the reason. As forms allow “portioned” teaching, so do Chi-Sau sections. There are not that many, but some top WT schools boasted between 2,000 to 5,000 students. The feedback of hundreds, if not thousands of instructors supports the ability of teaching programs to stay connected to the reality of self-defense.
Seven Chi-Sau sections cover in Wing Tsun the majority of applications of the first and second form (Siu-Nim-Tau and Cham-Kiu). Due to size, experience, talent and many other factors, not everyone may need in the end all components that have been trained. The instructor’s job is to give you ALL building blocks (sections). Once you are experienced enough, you can choose, mould Wing Tsun to fit your personality.
Even though many favour the idea of sensitivity training, and focus solely on the development of reflexes, I sometimes tell my students to forget about that.
Yes, you heard right. What is the reason behind that? OK, imagine the following scenario. You are being attacked, respond swiftly, control the attacker, punch him, he even bleeds, you give him a couple of Fak-Saus to the necks, he appears to almost fall over. ... Slowly is he standing up, wiping the blood off his face, and this evil grin begins to form. All you will remember is him screaming and starting to rip off your head.
Scenario too gruelling? Just think about. What if you hit repeatedly and nothing happens? Yes, this is a horror scenario. Punching is one thing, punching with knockout power is something entirely different.
Now you may understand the first headline of this article: “The Tan-Sau of death and other secret techniques.” Nobody will at your first technique start screeching: “Oh my gosh, he knows the Tan-Sau of death!” You can’t Bong-Sau somebody to the ground. Wing Tsun is after all Kung Fu. Chinese Kung Fu = Chinese Boxing. Strategies and tactics are different. The technical execution is different. But a Western and a Eastern boxer alike must possess knock-out power.
This is one of the reasons why we train any element of Chi-Sau in four scenarios:
1. speed – slow motion, regular, fast,
2. distance – far apart, regular, close ,
3. power – barely any strength, regular, full power ("Bull" Chi-Sau),
4. training variations – supportive, 50/50, going through
That all four scenarios come in three variations is simply for explanatory reasons. You could of course train five variables of the component distance. Three variations can stand for minimum, optimum and maximum of the chosen scenario.
I understand that the description of the four scenarios might sound confusing. Hence, the article is primarily for my students, who go through these training scenarios almost every week.
My own Chi-Sau experience has changed over the years and has been heavily influenced by many different WingTsun (WT) instructors. In order to teach systematically and enable a continuous learning process I developed the ten core concepts as a blueprint for all training methods. Please see the graphic in part 2 of this article.
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