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3 Reasons to train ‘Free Chi Sao’ in Wing Chun

A note on Cantonese

I use the ‘Jyut Ping’ (粵拼) Cantonese writing system as I have found it to be the most accurate. For an excellent way to learn Jyut Ping, see here. For a dictionary see here or use the Hanping Cantonese App for Android.


3 Reasons to train Free Ci Sau in Wing Chun:

  1. Fun – allows students to express the Kung Fu outside of set drills

  2. Effective – trains us to be dominant in a ruleless, close range situation

  3. Safe – low rate of injuries if monitored by a good coach

1 – Fun

Free Chi Sao Wing Chun London

Along with continuous improvement, the most important factor that determines whether someone keeps training over a long period is whether training continues to be fun. In our school the last half an hour of every class is dedicated to expressing the moves creatively. Here we train to use our moves instinctively against someone who is also adapting in response to us.

Ways to keep Free Ci Sau fun:

  1. Handicaps – if one person is getting consistently dominated, introduce handicaps (as in golf) to the more advanced trainee to ‘even up’ the exchange. One example of a handicap would be for the trainee with longer arms to have a wall behind them so they can’t step back and take advantage their longer reach

  2. Positive Constraints – ‘rules’ to guide students to focus on different aspects of fighting e.g. one trainee occasionally throws a hook, or both trainees have to use more low strikes

  3. Stay Soft (放鬆 Fong3 Sung1) – it can sometimes get frustrating training with tense trainees who are also skilled. Rather than blaming them for something they may have little control over, it’s better to ask if you can both can do Free Ci Sau slower, which will make the exchange more productive for both of you and hence more enjoyable

2 – Effective

Free Chi Sao Wing Chun London

In our view Wing Chun is designed to be most effective at standing, close range – midway between boxing and grappling ranges. We have moves in Cam Kiu and Biu Zi that work to deal with longer and shorter ranges, however these are used mainly to get us back to our preferred Siu Lam Tao range. From there we can leverage our training of Free Ci Sau to dominate this range in a ruleless situation. Just as sparring in boxing is not an accurate recreation of actual fighting, neither is Free Ci Sau in Wing Chun.

The 2 main aspects to focus on during Free Ci Sau are:

  1. Maintaining your balance while destabilising your opponent’s

  2. Hitting them without getting hit yourself – attacking and defending simultaneously

Other important aspects are:

  1. Changing instinctively – in order to take advantage of your opponent’s move or pressure

  2. Speed

  3. Coming up with solutions for a variety of situations – which can’t comprehensively be covered using set drills

  4. Staying soft – especially necessary against people stronger than you

  5. Dealing with opponents that have different arm lengths, weight and strength

3 – Safe

Free Chi Sao Wing Chun London

We have anecdotally observed a low injury rate compared to other forms of martial arts sparring and as such, Wing Chun is able to cater to a large range of athletic body types. That’s not to say that on an individual level we don’t want to become more athletic, however many styles of martial arts that have as their origin as a competitive sport often require a stronger athletic base before starting. Also, since Wing Chun is a non-competitive style of martial art you will never be training with someone who could ultimately be your opponent in competition. Therefore students are better able to view Free Ci Sau as a reciprocal learning process with their training partner, rather than always a test of their skill.

Ways to make your Free Ci Sau safer:

  1. Train at slower speeds – it’s human nature to go faster if you’re getting dominated. Ideally have a coach or advanced student call ‘reset’ to go back to rolling if things start to speed up or get messy

  2. Check your strikes – make sure not to follow through with your strikes. If you are a beginner then keep at slower speeds so that it’s easier to coordinate your moves

  3. Check your ego! – even though we are striving to do our best, allowing our emotions to get out of hand when things don’t go our way increases the chances of injuries and confrontations. Be sure to have a coach that cues people to calm down if things get heated, or to change up training partners if there is a conflict of personalities

  4. File your nails or wear gloves – if you have long nails, either cut them or wear gloves to reduce the danger of eye injuries

  5. Only use elbows with advanced students and at slower speeds

  6. Don’t use kicks – without padding and floor mats, stamps to the knee and sweeps are quite risky to use in Free Ci Sau

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