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First a Receiver… Then a Generator

Tactile awareness and sensitivity developed through energy training exercises such as Chi Sao (sticky hands), the Harmonious Spring Drill, and the Boang Sao/Lop Sao Drill can help you develop a heightened sense of touch, which can be very helpful for certain aspects of fighting including not only trapping hands but also various forms of grappling.


Tactile awareness involves the detection of pressure and the direction of force from an opponent. In drills such as those mentioned above, one attaches their arms to those of the opponent or training partner and ‘listens,’ so to speak, with their forearms. Touch sensitivity enables you to ‘feel’ where your partner’s energy is going. You become sensitive to the movements and energy of the opponent’s arms or body motions, learning to interpret their ‘signals’ through sensitivity of your hands and arms. As the oft-quoted saying goes, “when the opponent expands, you contract; when they contract, you expand” to fit your movements harmoniously with theirs.


When practicing chi sao, attacks are done when you feel a ‘gap’ or deficiency in your partner’s structure, or when you can create an opening or gap in some way. An opportunity may be given to you by your opponent’s actions or created by the opponent’s reactions to your actions.


In an article in Black Belt magazine published in 1969 regarding chi sao, Bruce Lee wrote that he regarded it as “a psycho-physical training stressing what he called “constant energy flow,” and used the analogy of water flowing through a hose to describe the energy flowing through one’s arms.


When a person first begins learning tactile awareness and developing their understanding of energy it’s important that they work with a knowledgeable trainer or instructor. The reason for this is that with any form of energy training, one must first become what is referred to as a “receiver.” They need to develop the ability to feel the energy and receive information from the trainer; to develop sensitivity learn to differentiate various energies (hard, soft, fluid, stiff, etc.).


The teacher or trainer, on the other hand, functions as a “generator,” by producing and feeding the student various types of energy (in the same way a generator feeds electricity into a battery). At the same time the teacher is doing this they help the student cultivate their offensive, counteroffensive, and defensive actions as well as recognize the correct moment to use them.


For example, when practicing chi sao (sticky hands) the trainer might purposely create some form of deficiency in their own structure at various times in order to help the trainee to feel the deficiency. For example, they might push their fook sao (riding hand) position past its correct position on the centerline so that the student can feel the difference between correct and incorrect placement. Or they might allow the elbow of the riding hand to flair open somewhat so that the student can feel the gap that their attack could slide into. Perhaps while rolling their arms with a student they allow the energy in one of them to shut off for a split-moment in order to allow the student to feel it and penetrate with their own attack.


Problems can arise if two beginners who lack understanding attempt to practice tactile awareness drills with each other. They will use wrong movements and jerky actions and

their energy will most likely end up dissipated all over the place creating ‘energy leaks’ that a proficient practitioner can exploit to their own advantage. The result will be that the exercise will denigrate into some kind of clumsy wrestling match.


However, does this mean that two beginning students cannot or should not practice tactile awareness drills? Not at all. It simply means that when they are starting out, they should work a partner who has a good working knowledge of energy and is proficient in feeding it to them. Once they have a basic understanding of it, they can work on it with other students at their own level. Refinement will come through consistent practice, and over time they will progress from simply being a receiver to being a generator as well.


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