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The Sticking Hands of Wing Chun


- by Sifu R. Chu

It seems that many practitioners of Wing Chun don't have the right idea when they play Chi Sao. The Chi Sao is a living laboratory for the techniques found in the forms, and it gives a fixed environment in which to freely apply the movements contained in Siu Nim Tao, Chum Kiu and Biu Jee. The Wing Chun system does not have any fixed form of application nor does it contain any of the elaborate formal two-man sets such as in Hung Kuen, Bok Pai Siu Lam, Wah Kuen, Choy Lay Fut, and Tang Lang. Because our system gives practitioners a sense of freedom while practicing in Chi Sao, they follow only certain criteria when engaged in Chi Sao practice.

Chi Sao is not an all-out, anything goes type match, nor should it be considered a form of competition. Chi Sao practice is the training for sensing and feeling an opponent's attack through the touching of the bridge-arm. Because the sense of touch is brought into play, we can react faster than if we relied solely upon our vision. Chi Sao allows one to feel openings in what we define as the gates. An analogy that I am fond of using is the analogy of a door. In order to strike my opponent, I must pass through the door or gate of his defensive bridges. If a door is open, I can walk through it; if it is closed, then I must wait until it is open to walk through it. Similarly, if a door is attached to a spring, I must hold the door open to enter. And if the door is a revolving one, I must wait for the correct time to enter. Many Wing Chun practitioners wrongly try to knock the door down! This phenomenon is witnessed in every Wing Chun class.

There are definite levels of Chi Sao practice. Beginners often engage in using force against force and will do techniques of a singular sort. Intermediate level people tend to use more combinations, utilize strategy and use more body power. Advanced level practitioners utilize more power, correct timing, proper shifting and stepping, and generally have more confidence. Having confidence to face an opponent can be one of the most important attributes developed through Chi Sao practice. In no way should there be a contention of forces while practicing Chi Sao.

Those who play with a contention of forces are not practicing Chi Sao, but some lousy form of Tui Sao (Push Hands) or Sumo wrestling. Training in Chi Sao develops reaction of the sense of touch, with the bridge-arms used as feelers or antennae of an insect. Due to the short range nature of which Wing Chun practitioners are familiar with, there are no feints.

The closest principle which resembles feinting is what we call "Mun Sao" (Inquisitive Hands). Many practitioners within the Wing Chun clan think that only the lead hand can be considered a Mun Sao, but this is incorrect, either hand or both hands can be considered Mun Sao depending upon the situation. The Mun Sao concept makes Wing Chun Kuen an art of problem solving, for when faced with a question, you must strive to answer the question.

The principle of Mun Sao is to ask the opponent what he will do in this instant. At the onset of touching hands with an opponent, or when engaging during Luk Sao (Rolling Hands), one can already feel the level of skill present. Tai Chi Chuan's Push Hands exercise is a different game altogether; its primary goal is to push the opponent's arms away so that you can strike him. However, both Tai Chi's Flushing Hands and Wing Chun's Sticking Hands exercise develop the ability to interpret, understand, and neutralize energy. The most important aspect to avoid during Chi Sao is to make it a match of strength. If Chi Sao practice is regulated to a mere force against force match, you have lost the Wing Chun aspect. We react to an opponent's energy, not wrestle with it! I doubt Ng Mui or Yim Wing Chun would develop a system based solely on strength or to use force against force, the fact that they were women.

If you observe how the feelers of an insect work, you will notice that the feelers move about in a random manner. When the feelers touch something, they go around it to interpret and determine what the object is. There is some whipping about and springiness to the action of the antennae and the insect decides whether to walk around the object, walk over it, or simply avoid it. We can use this analogy to explain Wing Chun's Chi Sao training - If our Mun Sao feels or senses too much pressure, we can redirect it, guide the pressure elsewhere, ride it, or go away from the source of force to create your technique. Many other Gung Fu systems call this principle using your opponent's force against him. Only proper practice and experience determine what is the correct feel during Chi Sao practice. A master cannot give it to you - one must earn it through hard work and insight. And because learning this level of Wing Chun Kuen is so hard to master, many students get frustrated and quit. Equally frustrated are the Wing Chun masters who realize the difficulty in teaching this aspect of the art.

The concept of using the opponent's force to give rise to your own technique is not unique to Wing Chun. It is however a stage of realization where the martial arts merge with philosophy and principles. Concepts such as "using no way as the way" and "allowing yourself to be empty" stem from throwing away your ego and stop leading. Rather than lead, allow yourself to follow your opponent. Sun Tzu, the great Chinese military general recommended to "Attack after, but arrive first", which Wing Chun Kuen is based upon. As long as your fist contains ego, you can never reach a high level. And merely doing forms and techniques never made anyone a master. You must invest in loss, receive many beatings, give up yourself to follow others and learn to lose, before you can learn to win.

As Wing Chun Kuen's roots are in the Shaolin Temple, some of the concepts found in Wing Chun are related to Chan Buddhism. At the advanced aspects of both, the concepts of "egolessness" and "emptiness" is appreciated. Buddhism states that suffering is caused by desire. In Wing Chun, the desire to be not struck, can cause suffering. In fact, there is a saying in Wing Chun that expresses the desire not to be struck: "If you're afraid to be struck, then you will be struck; If you're afraid to strike, then you will be struck; Don't try to strike when you can't, strike when you should."

When we first learn Chi Sao, we feel afraid or insecure. Thoughts like, "I can't stop him!" or " I can't control the situation!" run through your mind. It's quite natural to have these feelings, but you must not let them control you. Later as you grow more skilled, you get more confident, and your air changes. You're then able to face your partner in Chi Sao with more confidence, but then, you must not let the confidence control you. When you finally reach the highest levels, you have no fear, no emotion. You merely reflect. The Buddhists refer to this as a "mind like water". Should your opponent attack, "you" are no longer there; there is no "you" as in ego - you flow with the motion and give yourself up to follow your opponent's action to ultimately allow your opponent to give you the means of defeating himself. At this stage, there is "no technique" and "free form". At this point, a student has become an expert to join mind and body together.

This corresponds with the Wing Chun motto of "allowing the hands and feet to develop a mind of their own". Wing Chun becomes a true art then, with the practitioner's experience allowing to express and interpret the art for himself. No one can tell what's right and wrong for the artist, only the artist decides for himself. It is only at this level of development that Wing Chun Kuen transcends a mere method of self protection. I hope that all Wing Chun practitioners can reach this level and come to live the art this deeply. But first, they must learn to ask where the openings are, and once there, how to close up their own openings while crossing the bridge. Giving up ego is an easy thing to say, but hard to put into practice.


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