Chi Sau

We begin our chi sau practice with single hand dan chi.

When this practice is underway we begin double dan chi.

Once people are doing double dan chi and can do the change of arms, they can begin rolling, because they are already doing this action in the double.

From rolling, we begin stepping and trapping practice, and when the student has this practice well under way we begin chi sau in earnest.

We like to start chi sau practice slow and smooth.

Chi sau is a problem solving activity. By the time a student starts chi sau in our method, they are already practicing all the forms, have been introduced to all the concepts and have all the tools required to solve the problems chi sau poses. We allow the students to read the whole textbook before the course exam.

The practice is slow and smooth to give the student time to think, to respond appropriately and with good technique. This makes sure the student will not develop inapropriate flinches or resort to desperate and unproductive measures such as crossing the wrists in to the centre. It also makes sure the student is not learning to rely on speed.

We don’t want to be learning to rely on speed, or what if the opponent in the fight is faster? We need to learn to rely on correct positioning, timing and optimal use of the ideas the system has presented us with.

If the rolling is very slow, the attacks and defences are maintained at this slow pace, with no sudden attacks or sudden movements to save ourselves when our partner wins. We keep it honest. This way, we can learn from our errors, and hone our movements to make them effective as possible. Then they will work regardless of how fast our opponent is.

The intensity in chi sau is built slowly over time as the student is ready. This way we arrive at smooth flowing movement, great technique, appropriate response and problem solving on the fly all at high intensity, in a surprisingly short time.

There are ways to cheat in chi sau, and we avoid them like the plague.

Chi sau is not a competition. It is a cooperative training exercise.

Cheating in chi sau is only cheating ourselves and our training partner out of productive training, making it more likely we will lose in the fight.

One cheat we avoid is chocking up the centre. The arms are thrown forward and held in with the hands high, making it impossible for the partner to do anything. It is defensive in the sense that we are protected, but then how are we to learn recovery from bad positions, or how to find a way through to their centre.

Another cheat is to cross the hands in towards the centre further than the elbows. It is usually done by students who cannot easily get their elbow close in to the centre. The hands come in to protect the centre, to make sure no-one can get through. We don’t do this, and do not train with people who do it. It’s worse than a waste of time.

The elbows come in to the centre. When two people are training chi sau, the one with the poorest centre, who can get the elbows to centre the least, determines how far the elbows are in for both partners. Each pair of arms train on their own centreline, which is parallel to the centreline. The facing when attacking and defending is achieved by shifting, either sidestepping, pivoting, both, or otherwise adjusting the position.

When the arms are trained parallel to the centre, they can drive to the opponent’s centre with a small change in body position. It makes almost no difference compared with someone who has a good centre and doesn’t need to shift so much. People with a poor centre get very good at adjusting the position.

It is still optimal to train on the centre, and if there are a few students in the group with a good centre this training requirement will be satisfied for those who do have a good centre. In all other instances, we train parallel with the centre and never cross the centre.

Having the elbows out and the hands in does not translate to fighting with VTK.

If our partner has the elbows out and hands in, our attacks and traps can never work or get through. They are cheating in the training in a way that will not help them in a fight.

One more cheat in chi sau is to attack suddenly from moderately paced rolling.

This may not be an issue between two advanced practitioners who are adept at changing the pace suddenly and with everything random. When training with more junior students, it is definitely a cheat, and teaches both but especially the attacker to rely on speed to make their stuff work.

Flinching suddenly out of position or losing your structure to avoid being hit in chi sau is also cheating. It cheats your partner out of the feedback that their stuff is working, but worse cheats yourself out of learning properly how to defend. Better to be hit and learn what your error was than to learn an inappropriate response that allows you to keep making the error indefinitely.

The best partner to train with is one who is just below your level. This way they can challenge your attacks with good defence, but you are training predominantly to attack. This of course is the most beneficial for fighting. It’s great to have good defences, but if you don’t get in and finish it there’s much more chance you are going to go down.

Chi sau can highlight gaps in your understanding or even in the system you are training.. if you pay attention and stop to check what has happened, think about it and test your conclusions.

There is so much material out there regarding chi sau I don’t intend to say any more here. It is a problem solving arena, and I believe anyone with a grounding in the basics can and will work it out for themselves.

Dave Jardine


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