Chi Sau is for PEST(s)
One of the crown jewels of Wing Chun training is Chi Sau. It becomes even more valuable when you know what it is for! Luckily, it is a short list. The things you should be learning from Chi Sau are *P.E.S.T. which stands for: proper Positioning, proper use of Energy, Sensitivity, and Techniques.
*This acronym must be credited to my student Jean-Luc Le Provost, NMD
This is the first and possibly the most important concept we learn from rolling. If your body is positioned properly in relation to your opponent, one can defend and attack more effectively. Positioning encompasses much more than where your hands go. Where are your feet? Where are you elbows? Shoulders? How is your spine organized? Where is your centerline pointing? And so on. Also, all these things apply to both you and your opponent. At any given point in time, the comparison of the positioning of two opponents/partners can be translated into odds of success/failure. Learn to be in the most advantageous position.
Proper use of Energy
Use of energy refers to the play of kinetic and potential energy in the interaction between partners. Do you have unneeded tension? Get rid of it. Does your opponent have unneeded tension? Use it. Is anyone pushing or pulling without good reason? Check it or exploit it as appropriate. Is someone loading up for a strike? Where is your opponent’s weight distributed? Yours? These are instances of energy in Chi Sau and also must be considered in calculating the chances of success for any movement.
Okay…Sensitivity of what? Sensitivity to the Positioning and Energy in play between you and your opponent. What is the other guy doing? Where am I vulnerable? Where is he open? These are determined by examining position and the use of energy, of both parties, in the moment. Through relaxation and mindful practice, your detection skills can be developed to a point you will start to develop intuition about what your partner is thinking. If this sounds too far fetched think about it in a “sorta” kind of way. If you know where you are vulnerable, how to cover yourself when a movement is initiated, how to counter the most likely attacks from any given position, what the most likely attack is given positioning and energy present, could you move so efficiently that it almost seemed like you read your opponents mind? And how can that not be helpful in a personal defense situation?
Last on our list comes Techniques. Obviously one learns techniques when learning Chi Sau. But did you realize this was the least important aspect of Chi Sau? Ever know anybody with a garage full of tools that you wouldn’t trust to change your tire? Techniques are you tools. You can and should fill your “toolbox” with as many sharp and shiny tools as you can. But if you do not know where to put them into action, where and when to apply force and in what direction, you will have little success. With knowledge of proper positioning, use of energy, and sensitivity even enough of the "wrong" tools will get the job done. Additionally, the first three items of our discussion can be applied to martial arts other than Wing Chun and even daily life, thereby multiplying their usefulness beyond Chi Sau. Think about it. If you can relax, set your shoulders in an anatomically advantageous position, keep your elbows down, distribute the weight on your feet in a purposeful way, organize your spine, be mindful of limb position, tension and motion AND think two moves ahead all while someone is try to hit you in the face, how easy would sitting at your desk properly be? How much easier would the rest of your day be?
One well known Wing Chun maxim reads “Retain what comes, follow what leaves, rush in upon loss of contact.” This simple saying touches on all four main points of Chi Sau practice. “What comes” and “what leaves” refer to energy. “Rush[ing] in upon loss of contact” refers to positioning. Sensitivity is necessary to detect the above and to determine which technique(s) fit the overall situation.
Practice, Practice, Practice but pursue quality, mindful practice.
Sifu Nick Edmonds
Red Light Wing Chun