Where the Game Changes. Wing Chun Kung Fu’s famous (or infamous) Chi Sao!

Authored By:
Grandmaster Garrett Gee

Written By:
Sovannaroth Kruich
Kung Fu Tong Research Team Member

The richness martial arts have to offer the people of this world is undeniable. On the surface we are exposed to a myriad of seemingly infinite techniques and applications of open hand combat and weaponry. Over the span of human evolution we come to the modern world of combat recognizing things from the most common of threats to facing the unknown factors; the ultimate test of truth. While the mixed martial arts world is transforming the atmosphere of the martial arts stage, we must consider that regardless of the circumstances and conditions that change over time, there are also constants. We must be able to see that through this historical transformation of the martial arts world, and through the cultural drifts over the decades and generations, some things get lost in translation. Though the test may change with time, the truth we all seek as martial artists and warriors of the way will always remain the same.

One of the most widely known characteristics of the art of Wing Chun Kung Fu is that of Chi Sao. Chi Sao goes by a few common English names: Rolling Hands, Sticky Hands, and Sticking Hands, for example. Chi Sao is a method of sticking to the adversary’s arms through a consistent connection point through one’s own arms. This facilitates the challenge of gaining superior angles of entry into the enemy’s kill zone by use of position, leverage, and energy. At least, this is the general idea. There is also a wide sense of diversity in the Wing Chun world as to what Chi Sao is for and varies in use and function from group to group, which includes the "how, what, when, where, and why" of Chi Sao. So how can we explain what is Chi Sao? We shall take a look at the most opposing of views: Chi Sao is a game vs. Chi Sao is a part of combat.

Wing Chun's tactic of Chi Sao

In the picture above, we can see Grandmaster Yip Man’s and Bruce Lee’s left arms in the Fuk Sao position. Their right arms express the alternating actions of Taan Sao and Bong Sao.

Wing Chun's Chi Sao is often referred to as the game but what is it a game of? Is it a game of tag, or who has the higher sensitivity levels, or the fastest trapping and striking hands? Perhaps it is a form of meditation to find a sense of peace and harmony with a non threatening practitioner. It would, however, stand to reason that if Wing Chun was originally designed by its creators to be a combative method driven by efficiency, so too should its components. Let us examine things here.

Chi Sao is represented by three key techniques: Taan Sao 攤手 (dispersing hand), Bong Sao 膀手 (wing arm), and Fuk Sao 伏手 (controlling hand). The combined actions of these three techniques create the signature platform of Chi Sao. Each person uses these three techniques with both their arms: one arm designated for the Fuk Sao, and the second arm for the Taan and Bong. The interaction of these techniques is driven by being able to receive the opponent’s incoming energy, and upon that, escort it away from one’s center. Based on my expertise in Moy Yat Ving Tsun (Wing Chun) as taught to me by Master Richard Loewenhagen, an accomplished master certified and recognized by the Ving Tsun Athletic Association in Hong Kong and a senior author and editor of the Kung Fu Tong Research Team, here is a general layout of the stages of development for Chi Sao:

Moy Yat Ving Tsun Chi Sao stages of development method:

• Dan Chi Sao; a single arm rolling pattern involving Fuk/Tan Sao, Dim Jeong/Jut Sao, Punch/Bong Sau.

• Puhn Sau; drilling the basic double arm rolling mechanics of the Tan, Bong, and Fuk Sao.

• Luk Sao; develop the ability to deliver equal energy and reaction in both arms on every roll. Detect inequalities in the bridges

• Jow/Jip Sao/Daan Da; training to track center, learn to connect and disconnect bridges, apply single and double hand strikes

• Tsui Mah; learn how to apply proper footwork for superior angulations, comprehensively with applications of Chi Sao to create openings and inequalities in the bridges and facing

Based on the generalized logic flow listed here, there is a comprehensive approach to developing the ability to satisfy its conditions. There are identifiable stages of skill development requiring the use of combative tools for single and double arm combat. In theory, this should be viewed as combat, so where does the disconnect lie that Chi Sao is then viewed as a game? Some of the most common misconceptions are due to much of Chi Sao beginning with a pre-determined set up (as shown in the photo with Yip Man and Bruce Lee), whereas combat typically occurs before contact and from any and all directions. These misconceptions are just a few of the many other ideas out there. Other views hold that Chi Sao is merely a moment of time in the realm of combat, occurring between the moment of contact, the dispersion and redirection of energy, and the ensuing strike. Is that a sufficient counter argument?

The majority of Wing Chun practitioners agree that Chi Sao requires, among several things, highly developed tactile sensitivity and speedy reflexes for Loi Lao Hoy Sung 來流去送(receive what comes escort what goes). One should consider, however, if that is an exclusive trait attributed only to Chi Sao. Should it not apply to the Wing Chun art in its entirety, and if so, then what makes Chi Sao truly unique; the mere tactic of "sticking" to the enemy?

While there are some that cannot see past drills and techniques and predetermined exercises (the game) I surmise that Wing Chun Chi Sao still holds true to its original design of being combat oriented. As stated in the beginning of this treatise, over time things get lost in translation. The goal is to disrupt, distort, and therefore weaken, the opponent’s configurations through constant contact pressure and energy manipulation in order to deliver damage and destruction to the opponent through compromised areas. This needs to be done without the loss of any and all aspects of battlefield domination.

Where the Game Changes; the Battlefield of Ideas

Grandmaster Garrett Gee with Master Wayne Schulz in Chi Sao

So how do we get beyond the “game”? How do we get to the place where Chi Sao is more than just a drill, an exercise, or a bunch of techniques used like a game of chess? Combat rarely if EVER begins from the "two arms rolling" set up, yet in both combative and non combative environments therein lies strategy and tactic. When and how does Chi Sao become combat functional? In order to answer this highly subjective question it requires an objective approach to the science of Chi Sao. The following content is from the teachings of Grandmaster Garrett Gee 朱競雄师傅, the current head and inheritor of Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Kuen 红花義詠春拳, founder of the World Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Kung Fu Association and the Kung Fu Tong and its Kung Fu Tong Research Team.

To go beyond the commonplace understanding of the technique and attribute-based applications of Wing Chun Chi Sao, we must examine what ideas are in place driving each action. Also, we need to see how those ideas are therefore expressed in each physical manifestation. As it has already been documented and published most notably in the book Mastering Kung Fu: featuring Shaolin Wing Chun, co authored by Grandmaster Garrett Gee and Master Richard Loewenhagen, the Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun formula details its unique mode of operations for risk management. For the sake of brevity, here is the general idea of the formula.

1. Center Line Theory: Facing is measured by establishing a stable and structured body position oriented to the center mass of the opponent, along with specific facing requirements entail a constant connection to the opponent’s center of gravity through the bridge point

2. Two Line Defense Theory: Depth range is measured and controlled by a phalanx based battle formation, constituting all parts of the body, positioning the lead forearm in front of the body for engagement and a second line of defense to measure strike capability using the other arm

3. Three Reference Points Theory: Height considerations for upper body encounters, utilizing the nose, solar plexus, and waist line designations to gauge high, mid, and low threat assessments for both offensive and defensive measures

4. Four Gates Theory: Range considerations for close quarter engagements that enable maximum efficiency to be achieved via targeting, tracking, and tracing, of the opponent's body parts and balance points relative to the center of gravity within the close quarter zone

5. Five Lines Theory: Multi-purpose means to manage the exchange and travel of energy in the vertical and horizontal dimensions of engagement, via redirection, displacement, and absorption of the opponent's structure and mechanics

6. Six Gates Theory: Concepts designed to enable the matching and countering of structural and positional spatial relationships within all zones of combat.

These six requirements must be observed in concert through the lens of HFY’s concept of Maximum Efficiency, the Occupation of Space via HFY's reference point based structure system, and HFY’s Five Energies Concept. Maximum Efficiency demands that no further things can be added nor subtracted in order to achieve the highest result through the least amount of resources. Spatial Occupation demands that all points of leverage be advantageous and supported by HFY's structural reference point system to facilitate offensive and defensive command and control. HFY’s Five Energies Concept demands all points of engagement have a direct and constant relationship to the opponent's center of gravity, through the use of said reference point based shapes, neutralization, and maintenance of superiority over all threats - striking, crashing, and flowing, by using the language of the art to guide all actions and reactions. There are a multitude of considerations required to instantaneously read all three dimensions of Space, intervals of Time and the nature of each timeframe, as well as the dynamics and signatures of different energies within any given space and time. Any distortion of information, be it a lack thereof or a misinterpretation, yields the potential for failure.

What does this mean for Chi Sao? What does any of that have to do with Chi Sao? Through the context and content of HFY Wing Chun technology, it is logical to reason that Chi Sao is an extension of line control, close quarter domination, and zone engagements. The statement holds true with and without contact. When applying these parameters to Wing Chun Chi Sao, things can change greatly especially for the Wing Chun “initiated”.

Determining the Center Line:

The Centerline Theory must be established first and foremost. This is your gauge to directly measure up your opponent via triangulated structure and focused energy. If the opponent violates any stipulation of Wing Chun's requirements, this is causation for an instant strike to their kill zone. Structural defects and/or improper energy are indicators of compromised defenses, easily detectable by one with proper structure and energy. Upon the violation there is no more condition to Chi Sao; no more sticking, only a direct and immediate assault on their balance and center of gravity whilst maintaining/embodying the HFY Wing Chun discipline. All these potential consequences must become evident at the establishment of the Center Line before examining the Taan/Bong/Fuk Sao techniques.

In HFY, the arm bridging technology, as well as the body structure and total body mechanics, are based upon the HFY Tin Yan Dei (Heaven/Human/Earth) concept, and therefore function based upon that. This concept is inherent within all aspects of the use of the human form and in relation to three dimensional spaces. Chi Sao responses are predicated upon the harmony and disharmony of these relationships. In order to Chi Sao, the opponent must in essence obey the same laws of Time Space, and Energy as embodied by HFY. This is why each occurrence of Chi Sao must be earned, because if the opponent cannot or does not abide by the HFY Wing Chun Formula in any capacity, its mode of operations demands the combat requirements to be fulfilled without hesitation. Know when to stick and when to hit. Know when to move and when to stay.

"When there is an opportunity I do not hit! It hits all by itself." - Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon

Taan, Bong, and Fuk Sao, are simply tools. Yet, more than that, they are vessels that carry out ideas. Wing Chun itself, is based on an idea. The idea of Maximum Efficiency in combat is paramount and ever present in all actions of Wing Chun, and therefore all things Wing Chun must be subject to its influence. The ultimate goal of Chi Sao is harmony. Without harmony there is no Chi Sao; only destruction and disharmony. This is the law of Yin and Yang. HFY Wing Chun Chi Sao abides by these combat parameters.

The interactions of offensive and defensive exchanges are brought to clarity through Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun’s Time and Space Chi Sao system. Everything can be defined, analyzed, and assessed. Causes, effects, and Consequences are quickly determined to be correct and/or incorrect via the following constructs: HFY Line Theory + HFY In/Out Box Theory + HFY Gate Theory. Here are a few helpful and technical questions to ask:

“Why would I use Chi Sao, and when is it useful?”

“Am I using these tools in accord with its designed purpose?”

“How does Bong Sao change or influence my command of time and space?”

“What is the proper way to connect a Fuk Sao, and what theory does the Fuk Sao embody?”

“What is the proper use of a Taan Sao, and when would I use forearm versus wrist contact with Taan?”

Essentially, without the correct ideas in place, Taan Bong and Fuk become meaningless in the realm of combat. Without a clear reference to combat and the context to provide an environment to understand and experience it, how can Chi Sao ever be fully combat functional? From the point of view presented through the Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun formula, one can see that if we understand how we approach combat itself, then it becomes clearer on how Chi Sao is merely a tactical extension of the science. In purpose, Chi Sao only occurs if the opponent presents specific conditions for its deployment at the bridge. The transformation begins with the idea, and that idea gives rise to many more which affect a person's behaviors, understanding, and overall value system.

Grandmaster Garrett Gee, Kung Fu Columnist for the Chinese Times in the 1990's He promotes, demonstrates, and teaches many types of Kung Fu worldwide Founder of the WHFYWCKFA, the Kung Fu Tong, and its [Kung Fu Tong] Research Team

Grandmaster Garrett Gee, Master Richard Loewenhagen, and the Kung Fu Tong Research Team continue their educational works and historical recordings for the benefits of society today. Grandmaster Garrett Gee actively conveys the importance of the disciplined mind and body for us to realize that all actions must obey the natural laws of this universe. To go against nature is self destructive, and in all senses, faulty. Can you see past the techniques and attributes? What lies beneath the surface, and moreover, below that? When these combat values are applied correctly, Chi Sao is merely an extension of the Wing Chun art designed to influence the dynamics of Time Space and Energy in combat. Only Grandmaster Garrett Gee has the expertise to deliver the know-how of the science of Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Kuen and all that is contained within. The HFY Wing Chun formula is quite extensive and comes with many implications. It is not so easily applied nor transposed onto other arts, and it cannot be arbitrarily used. To do otherwise is to stray away from the integrity of the system. It should not be overlooked or underestimated that all aspects of the Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun system are embedded with its signature, and therefore reflect the nature of combat within its core.














Home | Garrett Gee | Class Schedules | Photos Reading Room | Family Tree | Hung Fa Kwoons | News and Events

          Phone / Fax:    415-596-5997         San Francisco   Hung Fa Kwoon            Email:   worldhfy@gmail.com   

  copyright 2005