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20 Sensitivity Drills for Improving Your Chi Sao

Discover 20 sensitivity drills to enhance your fighting reflexes

This article was written by Steve Grogan. If you like these drills, Steve has a lot more FREE training tips and ideas on his YouTube channel, Geek Wing Chun.

Not too long ago, Sam posted an article that had Chi Sao training tips. You can read it here:

It was good article, and I highly suggest you go read it. However, there is a two-fold problem most people will face when trying to take Sam’s advice.

THE PROBLEM, PART 1

Part of the problem is this: when most of us leave our Wing Chun class and go home, we don’t have regular access to anyone else who can do Chi Sao well, or even knows what it is.

That is a huge obstacle. After all, how can you possibly get good at Chi Sao unless you’re practicing with someone who knows how to do it properly? 

THE PROBLEM, PART 2

Here’s another thing that might prevent someone from getting good at Chi Sao: the frustration factor. Let’s say you have been going to class for a while. You learn Sil Lum Tao and Chum Kiu, and you practice self-defense scenarios with your classmates. There have been whispers of a training drill called Chi Sao, but you have no idea what it is.

Then one night you go to class, and Sifu says, “You’re going to start Chi Sao tonight.” He shows you the starting roll (or Luk Sao), but you have no idea what you are supposed to do. It’s almost like Sifu snuck up behind you while you were standing by the deep end of the pool, kicked you into the water, and then ran away laughing.

If you have no idea what you are doing, you will feel lost. This will lead to frustration, which will lead to you always feeling like you are no good at Wing Chun, and maybe even quitting.

What I’m saying is: after all these years of training (I started in January 1995), I look back and think, “I wish there had been some sensitivity drills that Sifu could have let us practice, so that we had a better idea of what we should have done when we got to the real thing.”

From that thought, a question sprang up: “Was it possible that, even if I didn’t have such drills to help me when I was a Wing Chun newbie, I could find or create those drills to give to the next generation, so they don’t have to struggle as much?’

I was determined to find out.

THE HUNT FOR SENSITIVITY DRILLS

I asked my Sifu, watched YouTube videos, read books (one of which was Sam’s own How to Do Chi Sao), did Google searches, joined Wing Chun Facebook groups, browsed martial arts/Wing Chun discussion boards, and did some brainstorming of my own.

What was the outcome? Well, after a lot of time and effort, I assembled a list ofl drills that can help you develop the same skill set (in other words, sensitivity) even if the only partner you can find has no idea what Chi Sao is.

PS: For the sake of convenience, the name of each drill is a hyperlink to a video on YouTube that demonstrates how each one works.

PPS: Also, when an idea came from another person, I made it so their name is a link to their YouTube channel, if they should have one.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #1 - Defy the Clinch

Ah, yes, the dread Muay Thai clinch. Ever since the advent of MMA, people have touted the clinch as a fight ender. Once you are tied up in this, forget it; you’re done.

NEWS FLASH: No, you’re not.

By its very nature, the clinch provides you with something that every Wing Chun practitioner needs: contact with their opponent! Contact means you can feel where their energy is going. With skill, that means you can get there before they do.

If you ask your average Sifu how to get out of the clinch, their answer will usually be some copout reply, like, “Don’t get in it.” That serves no purpose other than to frustrate the inquirer because in reality, we are going to wind up in less-than-favorable positions, like the clinch. 

Telling your students simply to “avoid the clinch” does not help them out when they find themselves trapped in one, so stop it with the copouts! Check out this drill, and you will see how the clinch isn’t the “deal sealer” so many people claim it is.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #2 - A Clear Path

Students A and B face each other. Student A puts out their hands, with their palms facing toward their partner. Student B puts their fists against Student A’s hands, giving just a little bit of forward pressure, but not so much that Student A could pull them off balance.

Student A starts moving their hands all over the place. Student B must let their fists follow, no matter where Student A moves them.

At some point, Student A will let one of their hands slip off one of Student B’s fists. The goal is for Student B to feel that and strike from wherever the clear path emerged.

Make sure the students change roles.

(SIDE NOTE: That last comment is a general platitude that should be a given for any drill, so I will not bother repeating it again.)

SENSITIVITY DRILL #3 - Stop At or Past the Center

Students A and B stand within Wing Chun punching range. Student A continually punches; Student B continually blocks with Pak Sao, staying right on the centerline like a good Chunner.

However, at some point, Student B will do a Pak Sao past the center. When they do, Student A needs to react in some way. There are several options, such as punching over the top of the Pak Sao with their other hand. Watch the video for more ideas.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #4 - Wrist Grab Escape Artist

Student A grabs Student B by both wrists. Using sensitivity and relaxation, Student B must escape this trap. Once they do, Student A grabs them again, and they repeat.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #5 - Control the Head

Student A gets close enough to Student B so they could shove, grab, clinch, etc. Student B’s hands go to Student A’s head and control the direction in which it moves. The idea is simple: wherever their head goes, their body must follow.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #6 - Forced Back

Not a lot of people understand the idea of having “forward intention,” even if they are moving in reverse. They think, “How can I have forward intention while moving backward?”

This drill will show them how.

PS: Someone might be tempted to say, “In Wing Chun we don’t move backward!”

Do me a favor: don’t go there.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #7 - Lop Da/Bong Sao/Pak Down

Forgive the long name, but I didn’t know what else to call it, and the person from whom I borrow it didn’t name it either. By the way, that person would be former police officer and popular Wing Chun YouTuber, Dominick Izzo.

Students A and B face each other in a square stance. Their Man Saos are extended, with the backs of their hands touching; the other hand is in Wu Sao. 

Student A performs Lop Da, and Student B responds with Bong Sao. Student A does a downward Pak Sao to clear the line and strike.

There are a lot of ways you could add variety to this drill, but those are the basic moves.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #8 - Escort What Leaves

NOTE: The next three drills address various ways in which someone can move once you make contact: (1) away, (2) toward, (3) up, or (4) down. Having said that, I will let these videos speak for themselves.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #9 - Accept What Comes

SENSITIVITY DRILL #10 - Push Up or Down

SENSITIVITY DRILL #11 - Leg Sensitivity

It will take a while before you are introduced to Chi Gerk (Sticky Leg) practice, but I included this drill to give you an idea of what it’s like. 

Students A and B stand so they have the same leg forward with their insteps touching. Student A moves their leg away from Student B’s, and Student B must react accordingly.

Watch the video for the various ways one student can move and/or react.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #12 - Tan/Pak/Fook + Punch

This comes courtesy of the YouTube channel Enter Tai Chi.

Student A puts out a Tan Sao. Student B does Fook Sao. Student B goes inside Student A’s arm with their Fook Sao and punches. Student A blocks with Pak Sao. 

Now their roles are reversed. Go back and forth for as long as you like. Be sure to switch hands.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #13 - Man Sao to Man Sao

Students A and B extend Man Saos, touching the backs of their hands. One is the energy feeder; the other is the reactor. Student A could push toward Student B. They could also push the hand out, or they could even let their Man Sao drop away completely.

Watch the video to see how the other student should react to these various energies.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #14 - The Chi Sao Substitute

One of my favorite non-Chi-Sao-but-still-develops-sensitivity drills, this is another wonderful idea from Dominick Izzo. As was the case with drill #7, Dominick did not give this a name, but I did for the sake of making it easy to reference.

Students A and B touch their arms together. As we do in Chi Sao, one student could have both arms inside or outside the arms of their partner, or they could have one arm inside and the other on the outside. The difference here is that they don’t have to worry about using the specific Bong Sao, Tan Sao, and Fook Sao positions. (That is because, presumably, one of the participants doesn’t even know what Chi Sao is.)

Once they are ready, the participants make a game out of it. Each one tries to reach forward and simply touch the other, while also blocking any attempts to be touched.

SENSIVITIY DRILL #15 - Bong Sao/Lop Sao

NOTE: Going forward, you will realize these drills are ones that can come only from your Wing Chun class. Although the list is supposed to be drills that can replace Chi Sao, I figured it would be prudent to include videos about the actual activity itself.

In fact, since these are drills with which you will be familiar in class, I am going to forego writing up any descriptions. The only one that might need one is “Chi Sao Without Constant Contact,” but then again you can watch the video to see how it is done.

SENSITIVITY DRILL #16 - Dan (or Single Hand) Chi Sao

SENSITIVITY DRILL #17- Syeung (or Two-Handed) Chi Sao

SENSITIVITY DRILL #18 - Chi Sao Without Constant Contact

SENSITIVITY DRILL #19 - Blindfolded Chi Sao

SENSITIVITY DRILL #20 - Gor Sao (or Chi Sao Out of Range)

CONCLUSION

When a Wing Chun student finally begins learning Chi Sao, it should be a time of joy and excitement, not one of frustration. You are setting sail on an infinite sea of possibilities. While this means you are open to exploration and discovery, it also means you could get lost.

I don’t want that to happen, and neither does your Sifu. If implemented ahead of time, these drills will help you develop your sensitivity before you even learn the basic Dan Chi Sao pattern.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Grogan is the founder of the YouTube channel Geek Wing Chun, which provides free training tips and idea for people who want to get better at Wing Chun but (for one reason or another) can’t make it to class often.

There are several hundred videos full of useful information on the channel. However, if you don’t have time to browse that many, you can pick up The Lone Warrior, which condenses all of his best training tips into one tiny little book. 

You can purchase the book here: 

Did you find these Wing Chun Chi Sao sensitivity drills useful? If so, please share it with your friends.

Article by Sam Fury

Sam Fury is the creator and owner of the Survival Fitness Plan.

He has had a passion for martial arts and outdoor pursuits since he was a young boy growing up in Australia.

As a young adult he joined the military and studied outdoor leadership in college. After that, to further his skills, Sam started traveling to learn from the best in the world in various fields related to the Survival Fitness Plan including various martial arts in China, SE Asia and Brazil, Parkour in Singapore, Surf Life Saving in Australia, and others. 

These days, he still enjoys learning new things, traveling and sharing what he has learned via the Survival Fitness Plan. 

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