Articles, Wing Chun Wednesday



Does this mean that I think Chi Sau as a practice has no value?

Absolutely not, I think Chi Sau is a great exercise once we look in the right direction, I think it can be truly amazing, a genuine crossroads to endless possibilities

My teacher Sifu Jim Fung was a very pragmatic teacher, he taught Wing Chun as a fighting art, his training class was usually Form Analysis, Power Production and Real World Applications, he rarely taught Chi Sau, if we wanted to practice Chi Sau we were advised to turn up early and roll with our fellow instructors before he commenced teaching, this meant that to a large extent we were left to our own devices. Many of the more senior students travelled to Hong Kong to train with my Sifu’s Master, and this heavily influenced the way Chi Sau was played, Sifu would tongue in cheek call this Hong Kong Sports Chi Sau, when I asked him why he saw it this way he told me that in his opinion no one was trying to learn anything, everyone was just trying to score points on their partner, in his own early training Sifu Jim only trained privately one on one with his master Chu Shong Tin as a result he never took part in the social side of Chi Sau, he was my Sifu and to me his opinion mattered so I asked him how I should change my approach, Sifu Jim always maintained that Chi Sau was just a means to an end and not an end in itself, that the Chi Sau collective of Lok Sau, Lap Sau and Gwoh Sau where exercises to develop dexterity, learn how to free up the shoulder joint while moving it and increase range of motion, it was not meant for application, he would advise to never attack in Chi Sau and to never try to do Chi Sau if you are attacking, he would say that the essence of Chi Sau was  “Loi Lau Hoi Song, Lat Sau Jik Chong”, stick with what comes in, follow what goes out and when the hands are free strike, so what we should be looking for in Chi Sau was not a way of manipulating our partner but a way to find a position where our hands are free, if we add to this thought the maxim accredited to Chan Wah Shun “Ying Siu Bo Fa, Ying Fu Sung Yung”, which translates along the lines of structure neutralises, footwork dissolves, the only conclusion we should come up with is that we should be implementing physical movements like pivoting, shifting, stepping wherever possible, however this movement should not be to apply pressure to our partner but to find this free position where we can work unhindered.

I was fortunate in the fact that I ran a sub-school or branch for my Sifu so he would spend five to ten minutes with me {and my wife who I trained with} every training evening as he did with all branch leaders, this eventually ended up as him teaching me how to teach myself a better approach to Chi Sau.  Usually I would simply roll Lok Sau and Sifu would apply ever increasing amounts of force to my arms pushing in the shape of a strike, my task was to learn how to take that force into my body, after a few minutes we would change roles so that I could feel how he would adjust the pressure in his arms to alter the return force of my actions, at five to ten minutes a week this was no crash course by any means but as I trained with my wife who was also an instructor he would show us how to work this at home. Over the years he would give us advice on how to take this training forwards by introducing Chum Kiu concepts, Biu Gee concepts , this was not secret information often it was vague and thinly detailed he wanted us to find our own way, he once said to me “if you look closely you will see that nothing is what we think it is in Chi Sau, especially Fook Sau”, but never expanded on that thought.

Interestingly he advised us to give away all of the fancy trimmings such as Running Palms, Trapping, over arm Bong Sau moves or pushing each other around the room as he maintained that all of these ideas only come into play if we are directly in front of someone having made contact with both arms, and the only reason to ever be in that place is to play Chi Sau, most of the work he wanted us to do was about receiving and shedding force, and to understand that “outside goes in, inside goes out and nothing goes forwards”.

Does this mean that I think Chi Sau as a practice has no value?

Absolutely not, I think Chi Sau is a great exercise once we look in the right direction, I think it can be truly amazing a genuine crossroads to endless possibilitiesChi Sau is multi faceted yet so many people only look one way, things we should be learning is how to deal with the physical aspect of being pushed around, violently pushed around and not guided like a shopping trolley, then more importantly how to avoid it, how to counter it and how to reorient ourselves into a stronger position, and most of all how to do it right now.     As I say this was not secret information, Sifu would tell all the class that only one person should do Chi Sau and that person should only be defending and moving while the other person only attacked, sadly it wasn’t what many people wanted to hear, and so they did not hear it, we have all been guilty of this over the years, in more than just Wing Chun, if you doubt it ask your parents or your partner…..

The following video was from a very active training session and towards the back end of the video I am a bit loud and pumped, I apologise if I sound like I am talking AT YOU and not to you, it is not my intention.



If we can be honest, and as Martial Artists who believe that somewhere along the line we will need these skills, it is best not kid ourselves up, what I am describing makes a lot more practical sense than grind, grind, chug, chug of Hong Kong Sports Chi Sau even though it is not so much fun.




This is a topic I feel very strongly about, I want to give it more than the usual sideways glance but I realise that for most people these days time is short so it is in four pieces, this is the entre´, the main course comes next week followed by dessert then cheese and possibly port.

CHI SAU, where to from here, the context to why I think this way.

I have seen more than my fair share of violence, in all truth most of it was of my own making, I either started it or my actions inspired others to start it, very little was random.  I grew up in an era when just looking at someone was reason enough to kick on.  “WHO’  YOU LOOKIN’ AT” was a license for trouble to many people back then.

I have been involved in enough violence to know how little I truly know, I have seen enough violence to know how little there is to know, that in many ways there is nothing to know, that it can’t truly be known.  Violence is like a virus that comes back every season mutated just enough so that last years vaccine has no effect. This is the case even in the semi controlled arena of sports fighting, we have seen fighters lose a match, demand a rematch, go away for a year and study what went wrong, how they lost, how their opponent got the upper hand only to come back and lose to the very same move as if they never saw it coming.

I have been involved in the Martial Arts for more than 55 years, some styles I became really quite proficient, good enough to understand that what we train and how we train it could never work against violence.

Thinking that any martial art can be enough to overcome violence is like arguing with someone that does not speak our language and pinning all our hopes on speaking louder than them and waving our arms frantically.

We should not try to compare any martial art to violence, they are different languages, we should see a martial art as a Rosetta Stone that can give us hope of a translation and through this some understanding, the shapes are different but the meaning is the same. Even if we see violence as Egyptian and martial arts as Greek it is only the translation that brings understanding, no matter how good a translation is it is never truly accurate. We cannot claim that this is right or this is wrong, it is all just an approximation.

But we cannot deny that the message on the Rosetta Stone was always Egyptian in nature, even as we read the Greek version.

Wing Chun is not the answer to violence, but like the Rosetta Stone it can lead us to an understanding of what is going on, lead us close to parity, it matters little how we translate violence or what we translate it into at its core it is still and always was just violence and can only be connected to by other violence.

This is a major hurdle for many people, the only way to beat the thing we hate is to become it, a better version of it, a meaner more violent version of itself.  For many this pill is too hard to swallow no matter how long they train, they talk about not really doing it for the fighting, yet they all know deep down that this is the only reason for Wing Chun to exist and they know this well, this path leads to denial of the truth of violence and denial of the truth of Wing Chun, makes the training we do in Wing Chun look foolish, false, like a fake martial art.  The antidote to denial is honesty, we need to be honest about what we think, what we do and what we train.

Lt. Col.Dave Grossman writes in his book “On Combat” ..

“Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: You didn’t bring your gun; you didn’t train. Your only defence was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy.   Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by fear, helplessness, horror and shame at your moment of truth”.

The only thing we have in Wing Chun that comes anywhere near what it is like to be in a violent situation is Chi Sau, the similarity is remote at best but it is what it is, and what it is  reminds me of the tale of “The Emperors New Clothes”  if we wish it to be more than a folk tale we need to ramp it up, I do not mean turn it into a slap fest, that is as useless as it is unnecessary, it is the emotional involvement and the thinking and the tempo that needs to change, to be useful as a tool to develop fighting skill it needs to be more physical and less social.  We must stop denying the truth about Chi Sau, stop looking at it as being special, practical, a genuine option and appreciate it for what it is, or at least what it could be.


Articles, Weekend Headspin


It is my belief that the way most people play Chi Sau {my Sifu Jim Fung would refer to it as Hong Kong Sports Chi Sau}, is not in their best interest, I don’t think that it teaches functional skills that can transition into fighting, and that it is totally impractical for dealing with violence.    However I happen to think that Wing Chun is really clever so why do we have it?  Why do we have Chi Sau?

Let’s take a side step for a minute, many Martial Artists students attach elevated importance to the unarmed combat styles that various countries militaries adopt, the U.S. Marines practice Brazilian Ju Jitsu, the Israeli Defence Force uses Krav Maga, the  Red Army uses Systema and the implication is that these styles are chosen because they are so deadly. 

But this is far from the case.

Soldiers carry 2 guns, a knife, a flashlight, a tactical pen and usually travel in large groups, even special forces operate in 4, 5 or 6 man teams, and never forget that the Bad Guys all have guns as well, unarmed combat is simply not a consideration.  The reason any military has an unarmed combat program is to help bonding, develop and maintain martial spirit and to keep the guys literally fighting fit, 3 of my Uncles were Royal Marine Commando’s in W.W.2 they all wrestled or boxed in their units, but they only ever shot at the enemy.

Another very important consideration in an armies choice is that the preferred fighting style must deliver bonding, martial spirit and fighting fitness without causing major physical injury, you cannot go into battle with damaged soldiers.  In many ways a martial art style picked by any army is quite unsuited to real self defence.

According to popular history Wing Chun was originally developed and used by the Ming freedom fighters {genuine and active underground political organisations, not a social media group}  trying to undermine the occupying force of the Ching Government, this was a dangerous practice to be involved in so they needed to keep spirits high and fitness levels up because they could be called upon to use their Wing Chun to evade capture, escape or even save their lives at any given minute, this is where Chi Sau fitted in, not as a genuine fighting system but as a means to bond as a group and stay ready to act.

A lot of what people do in Chi Sau flies in the face of Wing Chun Fist Logic, but that is O.K. because Chi Sau is not meant as a component of Wing Chun, it is simply an ancillary exercise, it is only a problem when students depend on it to be more than it was intended for.

If we can see this it becomes clear that polite, social Chi Sau, the kind practiced by most schools, is of little use to any one.

Ramp it up.


Articles, Wing Chun Wednesday



 Wing Chun is a Fist Arts therefore the logic behind it is Fist Logic, which at its most instinctive level simply hits things.  Wing Chun is first and foremost about hitting  people. No matter what drill or activity we are involved in we should always measure it by the Fist Logic metrics of Simplicity, Practicality, Directness, Economy of Movement and Minimal use of Brute Force.

The five main Logics are not stand alone ideas, we cannot use one or two and ignore the rest, if we claim to do Wing Chun they must all be present.   They are “The Five Principles” and as close as Wing Chun comes to dogma.

There are sub logics that evolve from combinations of the Five,  sub logics are not so strict as the Five and allow some latitude, exceptions to the rule because reality is never like training.

Simultaneous defence and attack is a Sub Logic that is paramount to the Wing Chun Idea, where ever possible this approach is taken literally but in its wider sense it means hit at the earliest opportunity.

Another important sub logic is never using two arms to defend against one, we cannot implement simultaneous defence and attack if both arms are defending, in its wider sense though we can use two Lan Sau’s or Jit Sau’s to ward of a stick or high kick, we can employ a double Lap Sau to propel someone into an obstacle or a wall.

Once we seriously consider our actions by this metric, which means become serious and honest about Wing Chun it becomes clear that any action where a Bong Sau is used for defence is not working in accord with the Five, Bong Sau defies Fist Logic and if we can see past the theatre that is Chi Sau this means that it is not a working Wing Chun option. Thinking that Bong Sau is a viable option leads into all kinds of bad practice and misunderstanding, that infects all of the Chi Sau drills, the understanding that many students end up with from the Lap Sau drill also defies Fist Logic, and as such Wing Chun because there is a moment where we use two arms to defend against one.



Other important sub logics are to never fight force with force, to never carry our opponents weight, but Chi Sau play ignores this to a large extent as we grind, grind, chug, chug.   If we cannot see drills for what they are then they become something they are not and where never meant to be,  they become a parody that only works with friends in the training hall and they fail to deliver the intended result when it is really needed.  We need to see the seductive safety and elevated opinion of Chi Sau practice for what it really is.





There is a maxim in the military that says “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”

All Self Defence Martial Art styles suffer the same conundrum in that nothing they do has very much in common with reality, none of the training methods or drills are anything like what it is like to be attacked, there is no way around this simply because only an attack is anything like an attack, pretence is pretence no matter how well intentioned, even the Reality Based Self Defence Systems suffer the same problem, pretending harder does not make anything any more real.

Is this a problem?    Not really, not if we are aware of the learning objectives present in any of our drills, and that hopefully we do not get distracted by stuff that is really nothing more than the box the learning objective comes in.

Once we accept that nothing we or anyone else does in training is even remotely similar to what we will do if we get into serious trouble, the reality or unreality of the training becomes of little consequence,  whatever we are learning will need to be adjusted to fit the situation we find ourselves in so the learning objective ceases to be such a physical action and more of mental understanding of the desired outcome, a method to effectively navigate the possibilities presented by the scenario.   It is not what we train or where we train it, just the intention behind the action, if we truly understand this doing anything anywhere has the potential to bring benefit once we see it as an extrapolation of intent.   Chi Sau and Lap Sau are frameworks for us to work on an intention, the physical aspect of these practices is not the same as how we would use them, they are not functionally correct, if we know what we are working on it is easy to see what is real and what is packaging, it becomes easy to find the 5%.

There is a maxim in the military that says “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” .  I experienced a similar thing in my time as a sports fighter in the ring and on the mat, very rarely did anything even remotely approach what I had prepared for, and when we think that in combat sports we already know a great deal of what to expect due to the rules in play and research on ones opponent, this is a significant point often overlooked by traditional martial arts stylists who tend to believe that everything they do is a stand alone mechanism that will work in a plug and play kind of way, that it will all do what it does in training, this is why so many Martial Artists have major issues with street violence.

As a boxer a large chunk of training time is spent on things that are supportive of fighting and not specific to any one outcome, conditioning, co-ordination, slipping, dodging and footwork , set patterns that everyone knows and to be effective need to be adjusted to suit personal physiology and different opponents, a great deal of this training is never intended to be used as taught, it is the seed from which endless possibilities grow.   In the Japanese martial arts this is the function of Kata, in Wing Chun this should be the function of the Forms and Chi Sau, but it is not, these things are looked upon as being complete in and of themselves, they become venerated, unchangeable, this is a mistake.

Seeing the Forms and Chi Sau in this way, unquestionable and faultless only renders them impotent and makes it almost impossible to realise their genius.  Forms and Chi Sau { as a collective this includes Lok Sau, Lap Sau and Gwoh Sau} are Wing Chun drills.  Forms are Solo Drills, and Chi Sau is a Partner Drill, to really understand them it would make sense to know what a drill is.

A drill is a mechanism that allows us to repeat the same action over and over again so that we can become familiar with it by observation over extended time.  Drills are composed of 3 components, the mechanism that drives the drill, a context for the drill and the learning objective.   At least 75% of any drill is the mechanism that drives it from one action to another, with partner drills this includes the mechanism that allows the drill to change from one person to the other, 20% of the drill is simply placing the learning objective into a context that can be understood from our own styles point of view, that leaves the learning objective as being only 5% of the drill.

Do we readily see what we are learning in our drills?   It is very easy to get side tracked into studying the mechanism and the context and not focus on the learning objective, this is what happens to many students when they practice any Chi Sau drill but in particular Lap Sau.

A question that should be asked of any training drill is “how did I get here and what am I hoping to achieve”, this can help us differentiate between training artefacts and Fist Logic.