By Alan Orr – First published in UK Martial Arts Illustrated Aug 2004

In Wing Chun we have a unique method of training our awareness skills called ‘Chi Sao’, often known as ‘Sticking Hands’. This name, however, doesn’t really do justice to what is a unique method of developing not only tactile skills but also a complex mental awareness and understanding of timing, space, distance, pressure and so on. I say complex as at first it is, but once learnt and trained it then becomes a part of your normal thinking and seems to be just your body’s common sense. As it becomes more deeply embedded into your body’s basic understanding of balance and control of time and space, it then allows you to perform at a much more advanced level of skill development.

‘Relax not collapsed!’ is one of the sayings my students always hear me say. So often what I see in Chi Sao training is ‘lazy’ Chi Sao. What I mean by that is the people training have not any idea about what they are working to improve or what their goals are in training. Going through the motions and repeating the same mistakes does not improve your skills!


A Model of Chi-Sao Practice

Every time you practise Chi-Sao, consider the following: What is my goal? Decide what you are training, whether to improve a certain technique or mental method and agree with your partner what the practice is to be. This could be a single technique, combinations, set or variable training patterns, body structure testing, position testing, attacks, counters, mental ideas, free play at different levels and so on.

Key points to learning Chi Sao

• Isolate your thinking around the area, concept or technique that you need to improve.

Focus intention on that area, concept or technique that you need to work on.

Do not analyse while you are doing it • Just experience what is happening.

• While experiencing, you are receiving feedback and feeling will give you the answers you need.

• If experience is working then extend that practice, be mindful and build an awareness of what is working correctly.

• If experience is not working then stop, analyse what is happening in the Chi-Sao and within the particular technique or mental method and then repeat with corrections and new ideas.

• Retest it and go back to feeling and experiencing


• Practise with an intention

• Feel the experience and feedback

• Analyse the feedback, reassess and repeat with new intention

Mental Methods

Mental methods are tools that enable you to develop mental structure around your physical movements and the physical applications of your techniques. They serve to build strategy and game plans in all area of your practice. They are also the mindset to the successful Wing Chun practitioner. Unlike basic strategies or techniques, mental methods are the things that develop a deeper subconscious awareness of yourself, your opponent and the interaction in each moment. In the Chu Sau Lei system we have an outline of Mental Methods, which helps us build a stronger intention of our goal of controlling our opponent.

Chu Sau Lei Mental Methods

Mun Fa/Yin Fa -asking/inquiring and enticing. Asking can be done with the hands, pressure, body, steps, or technique. In asking, you pressure the opponent and use 4 ounces to offset his 1000 pounds. In enticing, you draw the opponent in and allow him to open and make mistakes, from there, you exploit his mistakes and strike him as he “tells” you to.

Jou Fa -running -avoiding pressure or running from pressure, as well as using pressure to give rise to new situations/techniques.

Jou Fa is also the method of riding the opponent’s energy and exploiting it.

Jeet Fa -methods of intercepting -beating the opponent to the strike, recognizing threat and immediately shutting it off with the hands, body or steps. This is also a method of frustrating an opponent and causing him to become emotionally unbalanced.

Tao/Lou Fa -methods of leaking and stealing, seeing an opportunity and taking it, or passively finding it and exploiting it to your advantage

Jiu/Gor Fa -common methods of Gor Sao (crossing hands) such as Tan Da, Pak Da, Lop Da, etc. in singular and combination. Typically, it is a technician’s level of training.

Sim Fa -methods of evasion with steps, body displacement, dodging, hand movement, etc., whilst still in close contact. There are two major methods, using the torso to evade (small evasion) or using steps to evade (large evasion).

Dai Fa -methods of guiding, leading an opponent to walls, objects, other directions other than they wanted to go (i.e. Opponent wants to attack you, but you guide him while feeding off his power)

Jie Fa -methods of borrowing an opponent’s power and energy, and using his momentum against him, this is closely tied to pressing the opponent and leading him

Fou -methods of floating, unbalancing, uprooting an opponent Chum -methods of collapsing a person’s structure or sinking and knocking down an opponent

Tun -methods of swallowing an opponent’s force and dissolving it, also related are methods of storing power within the body, and folding methods to absorb an opponent’s power

Tou -methods of expelling force in contact with the opponent, also methods of extending your force through an opponent

Chi/Mor- methods of Sticking/Rubbing the bridges Bik Fa -methods to close in Tor Fa -methods of dragging the opponent

Tui Fa -methods of pushing/shoving Saat Fa -methods of finishing Tuen Fa -methods of breaking and de-linking the body connection in an effort to preserve the body structure

Jip Fa -methods of linking up the body connection once the connection is broken. This is the opposite of Tuen Fa.

Application of Mental Methods

Certain mental methods work well with others in combination. Some mental methods are always used in whatever you do. The aim of practice is to apply them singly and then experiment with combinations. The building of mental structure and awareness that the mental methods produce in the physical movements causes them to become more refined and precise. This is what develops the high level of skill. Often we use these mental methods without being aware of them; they may simply seem like the right things to do at the time. This will lead to variable levels of success. To be consistently successful we need to have awareness and develop patterns of our skills to have ownership of our applications. This means that we will have to look at something that was successful and model it.

A Reminder of the Model

Take each Mental Method and apply them through your Chi Sao model: Mode of application Mental focus Practice, feedback and experience Analysis and review Retest

Variables to be aware of:

Body types, skills and mental states of your opponent

When doing something with someone else there will be inherent variables: body types, skill levels, mental states and intention and so you need to train with certain people to train certain attributes; you will need to match the right attributes with the right people as this will allow you to calibrate your skill.

Skill of the opponent

In set training patterns, in which the technique or mental method is decided beforehand, there will be a certain extent to which your partner will be anticipating and countering the pre-ordained technique or mental method which may limit its apparent efficacy.

Partner’s level of response

Variables will occur within the chosen area of testing. A situation may arise in which your partner is giving you the wrong response, defence or feedback and this will require that you adjust and correct the response, defence or feedback to produce a counter attack.

State of well-being

How you feel will have a big impact in terms of energy levels and feeling of well-being as well as general state of health and mental focus.

In terms of application of mental methods, in reality they are never used in isolation. In real application, more than one will be combined and integrated.

Diseases of Chi Sao

These are some key points for you to think about from my teacher Robert Chu Sifu:

  • Stance errors
  • Too hard
  • Rigid stance –
  • too fixed/locked Too soft/limp

Technical errors

Flying elbow (This is incorrect elbow structure) Restrained/choked bridge (the bridge arms are too close to the body and does not allow enough distance to do anything with elbows and power base) Fingers spread apart – too loose, should be relaxed, not loose – this also shows lack of concentration in the mind Hands and fingers are too rigid, this will send energy to the hand and you will lose it in the bridge and power base

Calibration errors

No stance spring/poor stance, which leads to lack of power No waist/hip – this is required to control structure Too fast – that is, not having the proper timing to go along with the motion’s relative speed Too slow, again, related to the improper use of timing Incorrect Timing – which is determined by lack of letting go of oneself and paying attention to the situation at the moment

Mind errors

Eye placement (look where you are going – have the peripheral vision, do not focus and be hypnotized on one area Too much fear/nervousness Too much pride/confidence/arrogance Too tired/mental fatigue – take a break Do not train too much unsuitable/unusual/flamboyant techniques – for example, trying to do techniques of other systems which do not match WCK’s economy of motion, stance, structure and sensitivity

Some ‘Must Have’ Key points in Chi Sao

The successful student of Chi Sao must have: basic structure of the lower and upper body the ability to integrate the lower and upper body to work together the ability to control the upper and lower body to function independently of each other the ability when attacking with one arm to maintain the structural integrity of the other arm the awareness and focus of his own space the ability to maintain his centre – to be able to keep it linked to the environment (opponent) and have control over it to keep it dynamic yet rooted proper timeConcept of Your Space and Time The intention is not to break structure alone, but to break structure and to control it whilst maintaining it in the broken state. This means allowing your opponent no space and time within which to adjust, counterattack or restore his physical structure and mental focus. Within this can be seen the principle of yin and yang, that is where defence and attack are the same. By attacking your opponent’s structure as your defence you will take away their space and time and then be able to control their space, time, balance and structure. Correct application of breaking and controlling structure will result in the opponent being opened up and being made vulnerable to strikes. You will be able to strike your opponent at will.

Training Drills

Guess the mental method One method in application – Have your opponent apply a certain mental method and try to distinguish which one it is.

Two methods in application- Both you and your partner apply a mental method. Each of you has to distinguish which one the other is using.

Alternating opposing methods in application – Both try to apply your mental methods at the same time. See how many mental methods it takes to achieve your goal of controlling your opponent.

An example of this would be: You tired to use Chum (methods of collapsing a person’s structure or sinking) your opponents feels this and applies Jie Fa (methods of borrowing an opponent’s power and energy, and using his momentum against him, this is closely tied to pressing the opponent and leading him) to counter his counter you then apply Jou Fa (running -avoiding pressure or running from pressure, using pressure to give rise to new situations/techniques) he then tries to Jeet Fa (methods of intercepting -beating the opponent to the strike, recognizing threat and immediately shutting it off with the hands, body or steps) and so on until one gain the control of the opponents structure. All the time you would also be using methods of Mun Fa/Yin Fa (asking/inquiring and enticing), Chi/Mor (methods of Sticking/Rubbing the bridges), Sim Fa (methods of evasion with steps, body displacement) and so on as the same time.

This can be trained very slowly at first to give you time to learn to flow until you can do it full speed with good power control.

In solo practice, one can visualize the different energies or pressures of opponents. From this one can visualize a variety of counters or strategies for offsetting and so on. This will develop a high level of mind-body awareness.

Some people may say the skills I am describing are over complicated to be applied in a real situation. But it reality without this level of being able to calibrate your skills you will not reach a higher degree of knowledge and understanding of the arts.


This is the product of skill derived from being able to apply your mental methods within your system. The desired results emerge from your actions. This is the level of skill you want to obtain.

Training Tip: Remember skill in the martial arts is trained, not just learned. You must apply yourself to be able to do what you have been taught. It is not want you know it is want you can do with what you know.

Alan Orr is a disciple of Robert Chu Sifu and the Europe and Asia Pacific representative of the Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun system.

He is also the UK representative for Guro Mark Wiley in the Filipino martial arts and Sensei Eddy Millis of Shark Tank in NHB/Grappling.

Pak Sao, attacking only the arms, which is opened to be countered.

B. Continued with Lap Sao again only the arms attacked. This could be countered.


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