Chi Sao Made Easy

Chi Sao Made Easy



"Trapping is the art of immobilizing the opponent both defensively and offensively while you maintain the ability to be offensive."

Bruce Lee introduced me to the conceptual art of trapping and it's various aspects of learning. He felt that trapping was the ultimate way to neutralize an opponent, regardless of size, strength or martial arts style. But he also believed that in order to learn Trapping properly you had to learn it in stages. The evolving structure he showed me was CHI SAO (Sticking Hands), SLAP SPARRING, WRIST SLAP SPARRING AND PHON SAO (Trapping Hands):

I will give a broad view of Chi Sao with a short overview of Slap Sparring, Wrist Slap Sparring and Phon Sao so you can see the sequence of learning in the art of trapping.


Before I present a learning structure for Chi Saoit is important to point out that in the classical Wing Chun teaching of Trapping,Chi Sao and Phon Sao were the same thing and it took many years to develop a defined skill.There was no distinction between the two, they were one art.Which in China, was OK, because training was a way of life.

At 18, Bruce Lee was still a student, not a teacher and became frustrated after arriving in America, because there were no masters to train under. So, he decided to train training partners. This decision created two major problems. First, Chinese was his first language and it was hard to give English definitions to Chinese concepts. Second, since he was still just a student and learning trapping himself, he found it extremely difficult to communicate the innumerable option of motion without totally confusing his students. He solved both problems by simplifying the process of teaching Trapping by reducing the information into two distinctly separate levels, Chi Sao (an exercise) and Phon Sao (the application).

I have read, over the years, that Bruce Lee said that Chi Sao was not necessary to learn, that Trapping skills could be developed without it. Easily said, since Bruce already knew Chi Sao and its relationship to Trapping.It is like a millionaire telling you that money is not really important. Let me share my thoughts on reflecting what Bruce told me in my early years of training with him.

Bruce said it would be like trying to run before you can walk or trying to solve math problems before you can count. Phon Sao is totally spontaneous and relative to responding to the actions and reactions of your opponent. In application, it requires an extreme high level of skill in reading and controlling your opponent's motion. You can use your hands, wrist or arms and there is no set starting position.You can attack or absorb an attack or do both. Although, there are people who have a natural talent for learning Trapping, most do not and I mean 98% of the population.

This is why Chi Sao is a critical step to evolving spontaneous trapping skills.Chi Sao is only an exercise and teaches you to walk or count. It allows students of different sizes and strengths to become equal. Chi Sao teaches you the basics of close quarter combat and how to jam your opponent's energy without jamming your own. It establishes physical guidelines of motion that are very efficient and effective, both offensively and defensively. But most important, it offers a set procedure to learn how to control the opponent's actions and reactions within a defined area.This area is known as the Upper/Outer perimeter, where most attacks occur. This set procedure defines the stance (for stability/mobility and natural spring load base), centerline foundation ( for creating and maintaining two weapons), basic arm and hand positions (for natural defense), the rotation procedure (for defining the range of motion), blending (which enables the student to train any student, regardless of size) and attack options (filling the holes of the opponent).By having a set procedure it allows the student to repeat, repeat, repeat his moves until he has a clear understanding of all the basic concepts of trapping.

Quite different, Phon Sao does not have a specific or required engagement structure.You can engage with your hands/wrist/arms in any manner allowing you to contact and control your opponent.Unlike Chi Sao, which you can do for an hour, Phon Sao is done in quick, short bursts of one to three moves.The majority of Phon Sao moves are done in less than 5 seconds. The types of actions and reactions will be different with each student and dependent on many factors, a few of which are, methods of engagement, amount of opposing energy, angles of energy, single or multiple energy, positive/negative energy flow, speed of motion and positions relative to the centerline.It is almost impossible for the teacher to teach a proper response when the student is reacting only to the “moment”.What might be the proper response of the teacher may not be the best response for the student. his is why a foundation is necessary so the teacher and student have a common language to explore the different potential for each encounter.

Addition, Division and multiplication are all applied aspects of numbers, but you first must be able to count the numbers from one to ten.The same logic is applied in Trapping.Chi Sao is learning to count from one to ten. Phon Sao is all the applied, from addition to Quantum Physics.


Slap Sparring is the next level after Chi Sao. It is only a defensive exercisein this application.Once the student moves into Phon Sao he upgrades his slap sparring into offensive/defense drills. You deviate from the four basic positions of Chi Sao and now only use the palms of your hands in a position called Palm Phon Sao. The action still takes placein the Upper/Outer perimeter, but there is more freedom of motion and a slightly wider range of motion.This exercise allows the student to break away from the set positions of Chi Sao and start becoming more spontaneous in their defensive actions and reactions. Since you would not fight in a Chi Sao position, you need to start expanding the actions to touch rather than set positions.


Wrist Slap Sparring is the final level before Phon Sao..It is also a defensive exercise at this level and will be expanded offensively in Phon Sao.In this exercise you do not use your hands, you only use your wrist and/or forearms. This level expands to a more freestyle defensive action and broadensthe students skills to responding to any sense of touch with the opponent.

Chi Sao Made Easy

The more specific information, the easier it is to understand.
Keep it direct and simple.

It normally takes years to develop a skill in applied Chi Sao.But, if taught with a scientific structure and detailed in a simple format with practical drills, then Chi Sao can be learned in a much shorter period of time.

Types of Chi Sao - (soft, medium and heavy)The type of Chi Sao will depend on the amount of Spring Load, from light and fluid down to Heavy and aggressive.Light and Medium Chi Sao can be aggressive, but it is a more spontaneous and twitchy energy.

Wing Chun Do or DeMile Defensive Tactics teaches a soft Chi Sao. The logic is that you can easily add energy and become firmer or hard, but it is very difficult to start out hard and reduce it to softness.

Why train in Chi Sao:

An important reality in learning Phon Sao trapping, without Chi Sao training, is that the big, stronger person always has the advantage. However, in Chi Sao, size makes no difference, if learned properly.

Think of Chi Sao in three levels:

The First level is Luk Sao - level 1, introductory or basics of Chi Sao. The first level includes definition and purpose of Luk Sao, applied structure or parameters of upper torso movement, four arm/hand positions, four natural defensive arm/hand positions, defensive rotation, Body and arm Spring load, footwork, positional body movement and how to identify and penetrate weak positions (13 direct strikes) along with proper methods of sting contact and primary targets.Flowing traps that involve O’s and figure 8’s are avoided because they are too complicated at this point and easily confuse the student.

All of the above is learned in a non-combative way.The emphasis is placed on the bio-mechanics involved in each position and movement. Movements are done slowly and deliberately.

The Second level is applied Chi Sao - By now the basic positions and rotation should feel natural. The focus now is to refine Spring Energy and develop explosive speed and power when penetrating weak positions. The footwork becomes aggressive and techniques to create openings in the opponent’s defense are introduced. The basic direct strikes are now expanded into flowing traps with strikes using the “O’s” “Figure 8’s” and “Strokes” concept. The two levels of sparring are:

1. Secondary creates openings. 2. Moderate competitive aggressive.

The Third Level introduces “spontaneity” or freestyle movement.Still maintaining the basic positions, the individual is allowed to be creative in his reactions and actions.He seeks to determine his personal spring load and best options in responding to attacks.

I will list some specific areas in Chi Sao so the reader will have an overview of the elements that make up the art of Chi Sao (not in a specific order).

These are a few of the categories that make up Chi Sao:

Flip Flop Chi SaoArm Spring Energy (soft/hard)
Closed position Chi SaoBody Spring Load (light/heavy)
Stationary stancePositive/Negative Spring Load
Mobile stanceAngles of energy load
Creeping footworkRecognizing holes
Natural defensive linesCreating holes
Basic hand/arm positionsFilling holes (strikes)
Overlay hand/arm positionsDirect Offensive strikes
Blending of energyOffensive/Defensive strikes
Upper/Outer perimeterFeeding strikes (both hands)
Defensive Rotation linesNoodling defense
Soft/Aggressive rotationSpaghetti attack
Blindfolded Chi SaoFlow to joint locks
One arm Chi SaoFlow to throws
Exercises for Chi Sao (flexibility)Drills (for strength/speed)

Individuals who want to earn certification to teach Chi Sao can attend a one week immersion training camp and learn all the fundamentals of Chi Sao. Final certification is dependent on the students knowledge and teaching abilities, which will be determined at the training camp.

Contact Sijo DeMile for more information.