Forms to Fighting: How forms Improve Chi Sao

London Wing Chun Academy

Some martial arts, such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, have no structured approach for training specific techniques without a partner. Granted, Boxing and Kickboxing have the method of shadow sparring, but this is still simplistic when trying to develop an understanding of what you should be doing when someone is pushing your arm (or punch) away. How does it teach you how to respond to physical contact? 

In fact, the training methods often found in kickboxing lack clear conceptual guidelines that could help you develop an understanding of your skills. In Wing Chun there are clear guidelines set out by a collection of rehearsed movements called ‘forms’ that guide how Wing Chun could be used in given situations. So, how do you go from forms to fighting? The answer is in Chi Sao.


The Forms Provide a Framework to Apply Wing Chun      

The forms in Wing Chun provide you with a blueprint for the various theories, movements, and hand and body structures within this dynamic martial art. Generally, the forms should not be viewed as patterns of blocking or attacking actions. Instead, these training exercises are a guide in how to move your body efficiently, while developing power, strength, body alignment and structure.

In fact, the various forms in the Wing Chun style can guide your practice of this intelligent martial art. One area where the forms can be of direct replicable benefit is Chi Sao. Chi Sao (Sticking Hands) is a platform in which Wing Chun practitioners develop specific tactile martial arts skills that could be beneficial in self defence (see Is Wing Chun Chi Sao Useful for Self Defence?). Combining your understanding of the various forms and Chi Sao will give you a more effective method of understanding what to do in a self defence confrontation than Shadow Boxing.

Hence, the forms also provide you with a simple platform in which to analyse your basic hand fighting skills. This differs from the process of shadow sparring in boxing or kickboxing. Note the forms can be used as a basis of Wing Chun shadow sparring (see The Importance of Shadow Boxing for Wing Chun).


How do the forms relate to Chi Sao?

There are three forms that are key to improving your Chi Sao ability for Wing Chun: (1) Sui Nim Tao; (2) Chum Kiu; and (3) Mook Jong.

The first form (see The Wing Chun first Form: Sui Nim Tao) is the foundation of learning Wing Chun. It not only allows you to practice the basics shapes, but the dimensions, correct use of energy and strength in these shapes. Regular practice of the Sui Nim Tao also highlights the basic proportions of your body. Similarly, the second form (see The Wing Chun Second Form: Chum Kiu) allows you to practice the elements of Sui Nim Tao in a dynamic manner while incorporating greater coordination between your two arms. The Wooden Dummy form allows you to practice what to do when these shapes are compromised or displaced by force (see Training on the Wing Chun Wooden Dummy)

Unlike, Boxing, Kickboxing, or Jiu Jitsu which have no such form based training methods. Forms provide a very clear reference (or a platform) in which to act when hand fighting. For example, the Sui Nim Tao teaches that when an arm placed in the centre of your body is crushed (or displaced) then there is a clear reference to move your arm in order to adapt.

Chi Sao offers an opportunity to fine tune these concepts from the various forms in Wing Chun. The ability to adapt to changes in the centre line as derived from the Siu Nim Tao is also applied to other shapes in the Wing Chun style, such as Bong and Taan Sao. When these shapes are deformed a reaction is necessary, and this is regularly practiced in Chi Sao.

Chi Sao also allows you to test your response to extreme amounts of physical pressure against your arms. Realistically, you are likely to use your arms in self defence to stop a person grabbing, pushing, or hitting you. This will lead to physical contact with your attacker, hence he is likely to use strength to collapse your arms in other to further reach or hit you. This is where the concepts of the second form will help you.

Physical force or pressure on your Wing Chun frames (i.e. arms) can be displaced with Rotational action as practiced in the Chum Kiu form, but this has to be developed in Chi Sao for application. In cases of extreme amounts of pressure against your body or arms, then the manner in which we break stick as introduced in the Wooden Dummy form become apparent. In short, the Chum Kiu and the Wooden Dummy forms will help manage varying degrees of physical force, but Chi Sao allows you the platform in which to train this skill.


On Closing

Understandably you may find it difficult to see these ideas in a written format. We suggest that you watch our video in order to get a visual idea of how the forms relate to Chi Sao, and why it is important to practice your Wing Chun forms regularly.  Forms are essential, not only for progression or improvement of your Wing Chun skills, but also to maintain what ability you have achieved. Lastly, practicing your forms will indirectly improve your hand fighting ability by virtue of improving your approach to Chi Sao.

Now go train.



The London Wing Chun Academy is a martial arts and functional fitness gym based in North London. Open 7 days a week with gym and functional fitness equipment. Our gym provides group fitness and martial arts classes in Wing ChunSan Shou KickboxingBrazilian Jiu JitsuFunctional Fitness, and non contact Fitness kick Boxing. Visit our gym today for a taster class. Get Started Now >>

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