One of our adult students, Jen, has requested we blog about the role that sensitivity plays in chi sau/chi sao and the purpose of blindfolded chi sau play. Please note that this post refers to and quotes Ip Chun's "Wing Chun Martial Arts" book in several places.
First, check out this video from the popular show "Human Weapon" (Kung Fu episode):
The clip depicts a blindfolded Wing Chun Sifu demonstrating chi sau on his student atop the Great Wall of China.
First of all, it's important to understand that while chi sau is integral to Wing Chun training, it cannot stand alone in the place of sparring for combat or self-defense practice. However, without chi sau, you cannot practice Wing Chun, because it is largely through chi sau that Wing Chun skills are developed. It's difficult to overstate the importance of chi sau in Wing Chun. In fact, Ip Chun (Ip Man's eldest son) has written that chi sau is the "most important factor" in judging one's Wing Chun ability, and is the "bridge between forms and free fighting."
You begin the exercise from the "poon sau" roll. Here's a clip breaking down the roll:
As you can see, the poon sau roll gives practitioners a starting point. After poon sau, the movies become varied. We may teach certain sets of moves, but because you cannot predict your partner's reactions, the exercise is never repeated exactly the same. In this way, it is "free form". However, it is not like free fighting. The purpose of free fighting or combat is to "win". The purpose of chi sau is to practice. (Our school brings this same mentality to sparring practice - the purpose is to practice for the mutual benefit of both students. There is no "winner" or "loser" and no points are tallied.)
So back to the Human Weapon clip. Why is the Sifu blindfolded? Chi sau helps develop many aspects of one's Wing Chun, chief among them sensitivity and reflexes.
Practicing blindfolded forces us to rely on our sense of touch and our intuition rather than our sense of sight. Research shows that Blind People Sense Touch Faster. By practicing blindfolded, Wing Chun practitioners harness the oft-ignored sense of touch, so that when their eyes are open they can rely on two senses instead of just one for their close-range hand techniques and trapping.
As any higher-level Wing Chun practitioner knows, two senses are better than one.
-Kung Fu Los Angeles staff