At its core, Chi Sao is an exercise. Like any exercise it should be working to improve an aspect of the individuals doing the exercise.
What does Chi Sao work?
Firstly, it might be better to call Chi Sao a framework rather than a structure.
Because how you approach a drill is important. Aliveness is one of those core elements that Chi Sao is cultivating.
If you are rigid and fixed in your Chi Sao, then you are killing that aliveness.
Many JKD practitioners are focused on maintaining a “structure” and are not able to look beyond the point of contact.
“Elbow up, elbow down”, as Sifu Jerry Poteet would always tell me. A simple framework.
They’re so focused on “doing” Chi Sao that they forget all about “being”. They lose sight of the exercise and what they are cultivating.
Chi Sao is about getting past the obstruction to score a hit on the person.
It is a framework in which you have moving points of contact that allow you to cultivate forward pressure with both hands. Independently.
If it is JKD Chi Sao, it should feel as though if you release your forward pressure or move off center, then you’ll get hit.
Always. Not just from one position or after you’ve done something or moved here or there. Always.
The “hit” should always be ready to release. Simple, but not easy.
Chi Sao should be a playground. It should be fun.
It’s a place to explore movement and how you can manipulate kinetic energy.
It’s a place to make mistakes.
Bruce Lee said that Chi Sao was where all 5 ways of attack merged.
It’s where you practice the strategy and tactics of manipulating your opponent.
How do you build up your ability to play inside the Chi Sao framework?
Practice the 5 energy/sensitivity drills.
JKD cultivates the practitioner in a different way than Wing Chun would. This is reflected in our Chi Sao. It is also why Bruce Lee gave his martial cultivation a different name. It’s called Jeet Kune Do, because it isn’t Wing Chun.
Practice the principles.
In 2010, I moved to Oklahoma City and opened my first school. While I was teaching JKD, I didn’t have any students in the beginning who were ready for Chi Sao. I did work the energy drills with them. These are the building blocks for Chi Sao.
Two years later, at Sifu’s memorial, I moved with two of my old students from LA. Both were quite good and had trained with me privately for years.
We jumped into Chi Sao to play.
They were shocked to find that my movement in Chi Sao had grown. “Who have you been doing Chi Sao with?” They asked me.
Nobody. And everyone.
My Chi Sao hadn’t gotten better. I had. So my ability to apply myself inside that framework we call Chi Sao was greater.
I had been working the 5 energy drills: cross energy, harmonious spring, inside Woang pak, boang Sao, and inside lop sao.
The JKD version of these drills. That’s important. Each of these elements gave me greater awareness and sensitivity that I could then apply inside the Chi Sao framework.
Applying oneself in JKD means to embody the philosophies in movement.
Like Chi Sao, these drills cultivate tactile awareness and help you learn how to shape kinetic energy. How to apply the philosophies of Jeet Kune Do to movement.
I saw one of Sifu’s junior instructors showing harmonious spring once, but he was using a Wing Chun Fook Sao. I went over and replaced the student he was working with on the “spring” side.
Bam! I hit the junior instructor.
Back into reference. Bam! I hit him again.
He was so fixated on a “structure” that he forgot about what he was cultivating.
“This doesn’t work,” I told him, indicating his hand position. “Sifu didn’t teach this.” Then I fixed his hand, so that he could counter my forward pressure. No more hits. At least not until he released that counter to my pressure, which is the point of the drill.
We Always Think Hit.
Don’t expect to get high yields from Chi Sao if you can’t handle “always think hit” in harmonious spring yet.
Work aliveness, work on finding center, work on the ways of attack, work the principles of Always Think Hit, Simplicity, Efficiency, and Longest Weapon to the Nearest Target.
Find that aliveness in the 5 energy drills and you’ll find more success when working Chi Sao.
Play, but play seriously.