Single hand Chi Sao

When a student first begins Wing Chun their first lesson will invariably involve them being taught Siu Nim Tao (the first form) by one of their elder Kung Fu brothers. This will incorporate learning the correct stance and then the basic arm position and movements which are all part of the Wing Chun System. Once somewhat proficient in Siu Nim Tao the student will then be taught Single Hand Chi Sao. This will be seen as the first application of the moves learnt in Siu Nim Tao.

So, what is Chi Sao Single Hand?

Single Hand Chi Sao involves two students training each other by standing at arms length of one another with one student forming a tan sao (the bottom position) whilst the other forms a fook sao and places this on the tan sao (the top position). The inactive hand is held in a fist slightly away from the body (as insiu nim tao) and should remain relaxed yet sensitive to the movement of the active hand.

The tan sao position will then roll inwards at the wrist and perform a palm strike to the mid section of the fook sao student. On feeling this movement, the fook sao will perform a wu sao so as to control the palm strike. From wu sao, the student will then punch slightly upwards at his training partner. This will be blocked from the palm strike position by raising upwards into a bong sao. On feeling his punch controlled by the bong sao, the student should relax the elbow and perform a fook sao which now rests on the bong sao. The bong sao then rotates downwards into a tan sao and the fook sao stays on the bong sao, finishing as a low fook sao on the tan sao. The process is now able to be repeated.

Why Single Hand Chi Sao Important?

Single Hand Chi Sao is extremely important to new students for the following reasons:

  • It teaches the correct stance and arm positions of each move. The inactive hand (fist) must be sensitive and ensure that the shoulders always stay square i.e. students learn to move an arm forward without pulling the opposite shoulder backwards. Students learn to move whilst maintaining structure.
  • In Wing Chun, the forearm is often referred to as “the bridge”. Students must learn to feel the four faces of the bridge i.e. the bottom of the forearm (palm side), the inner edge (thumb side), the outer edge (pinky finger side) and the top of the forearm. When the two arms touch each other it is the first time a student will experience contact and which part of the forearm should be in use on each particular move.
  • It teaches a student to always know where the centreline is and to always protect the centreline whilst not compromising structure. For example, on executing the punch from the wu sao position, the student must ensure that the position of the punch is such that it stops an opponent from running hands to the outside of the punch and always protects the face/centre line.
  • It teaches the necessary sequencing so that a student can then be taught Double Hand Chi Sao.
  • Teaching Single Hand Chi Sao is a great refresher for the student that his teaching his younger Kung Fu brother/sister. In being able to teach the stance, centre line and correct hand position it ensures that the elder student is able to refine any bad habits which may have crept into their own training.
  • It allows students to move the arms and hands whilst maintaining a loose and relaxed shoulder position. Power is not generated through the shoulders but through correct stance and hand position.
  • It allows students to get a feeling of the inside and outside hand positions and to train both their left and right side independently which in the long term ensures that one fighting side of the body is not superior to the other.

The problem with Single Hand Chi Sao is that its purpose is often misunderstood by the new student and even by their instructors. Students believe that it is used to teach them how to strike and block. They view it as an aggressive movement and rate their success on being able to perform a strong wu sao or even by being able to punch through the bong sao. This is completely incorrect.

Single Hand Chi Sao Purpose

The purpose of Single Hand Chi Sao is to teach Structure and Sensitivity!

By now a student has moved on to Double Hand Chi Sao and the Single Hand is all but forgotten. It is now a great exercise to go back to Single Hand Chi Sao, and this time perform it properly!

Firstly, the student must now have a strong stance and be able to absorb and give force through the stance and not the shoulders/arms.

The students must not be aggressive; ego must give way to the concept that they are now performing chi sao to train each other.

To perform Single Hand Chi Sao the following should be practised:

  1. When first beginning the students go into the tan sao and fook sao and make sure the stances are strong. (see the article on “the stance” which explains how to generate forward force without leaning and pushing). The students will feel a strong force (known as sticking) between their arms. It is very important to not lean into each other but to experience the force through the feeling of “floating” in the stance.
  2. The tan sao position performs the palm strike. The student must realise that by pushing forward the body is naturally going to be rocked backwards. So the student strikes not to hit the other student but to practise the feeling of exerting force through the stance and using the strength of the stance to not be pushed backwards by the movement.
  3. The low fook sao will feel the tan sao move. It is the pinky side of the bridge that feels the movement first. As a beginner, the student would now perform wu sao to block the palm. The more advanced student should feel the movement but react by rolling the fook sao upwards and towards the body via the centreline. This move is from Siu Nim Tao where the extended fook sao performs huen sao and then wu sao as the hand is then brought back towards the body. This is a sensitivity move. The palm should now be controlled but not forcefully. (To help train his partner, the palm strike student can use his stance to ever so slightly raise the palm once it is extended. This gives the blocking student a “taste” of his power. )
  4. The blocking student is now in a very strong position to perform a punch. His shoulders should be relaxed and the wrist on the centreline with the fingers upwards in the wu sao position. There will be feeling/sensitivity in the pinky side of the bridge. A straight punch can then be perfectly executed forcing the other student to pull back to form a bong sao from the extended palm strike. The student must not allow his body to move forward when bringing the arm back; this is therefore training the stance. When forming the bong sao, the student should feel the punch against the different sides/faces of the bridge, absorbing any power through the stance. The punching student should keep the arm extended and apply a slightly downward force through the stance so that the bong sao student can test the strength and position of his bong sao. Only then should the punch be converted to a high fook sao.
  5. The bong sao position the rolls downwards into the tan sao position. This should be done by allowing the faces of the bridge to be felt by the fook sao partner and by maintaining structure especially through the shoulder/elbow position of the bong to tan sao move. i.e. if the elbow collapses inwards towards the body this will allow the top fook sao position easy access to strike the body if so desired. The student in the top fook sao position will wait for the bong sao to move. All this student should be concentrating on is keeping the fook sao in the centre of the body and allowing the elbow to remain inwards whilst dropping naturally and remaining on top of/stuck to the bong/tan sao. The fook sao should not be pushing downwards but remain centred and on top of the tan sao.
  6. From this tan sao and low fook sao position the procedure can then be repeated.

Instructors should note that it is best to train students by starting them on the inside, tan sao, position. When proficient at this the can then practise the outside, fook sao, position. As students tire make them change hands so that both arms get equal training.

Hopefully following the above Single Hand Chi Sao techniques will allow the student to begin Double Hand Chi Sao with an excellent foundation and understanding of the Wing Chun System as taught by Mr Yip Man and his direct students such as my Sifu, Mr Derek Fung. There are most definitely no short cuts in Wing Chun. When my Sifu asked me to learn Single Sticky Hands again after I had more than progressed to Double I was a little taken aback. Luckily he was able to draw upon his own experiences with Mr Yip Man and in forcing me to go back to basics he was able to teach me essences of Wing Chun which I never grasped as a beginner.

For this is I am extremely thankful. To all other students, all I can say is that there is no better place to start your understanding Wing Chun than at Single Hand Chi Sao.

Written by Nicholas Samson