Updated on June 17, 2024

What is Saau Chui 掃捶 - a Choy Li Fut kung fu technique

Saau Chui 掃捶 is a powerful Choy Li Fut kung fu hand striking technique. It is a sweeping circular hand strike technique similar to what most of us know as a haymaker, hook punch or more closely to the boxer's, overhand punch.

The shape of the Choy Li Fut kung fu technique - Saau Chui 掃捶

Not just a haymaker’s punch

However, the technique is not just how an untrained person throws a haymaker swing.

As a trained kung fu practitioner, we will perform the forearm parry, trap or control of the opponent’s offence before whipping out the Saau Chui technique.

The combination of parry, trap or control and the circular sweeping whip of the limb makes it an effective and powerful hand technique.

Shape of saau chui 掃捶 – Choy Li Fut looping overhand punch

If we analyze the shape of Saau Chui, you will find that the entire upper limb is shaped like a sickle.

Comparison of the shape of the Saau Chui punch technique to the shape of the sickle
Side to side comparison of the shape of the Saau Chui kung fu punch technique to the shape of the sickle

The following are descriptions of the segmental positions of the upper limb and shoulder girdle to form the saau chui technique:

  1. Stabilize shoulder joint by rolling shoulder blades back, squeezing them together and downwards.

    read_more Check out the reasons why we need to stabilize our shoulders for effective technique application
  2. The upper arm is raised to shoulder height and out to the side of the body's trunk.
  3. The elbow is extended with a slight bend. The slight elbow bend protects the joint from injury, just in case the joint over-extends beyond the range of full extension.
  4. The forearm is fully pronated, i.e., the forearm is fully turned with the palm of the hand facing downward.
  5. The wrist is bent diagonally towards the thumb side and the knuckles are pointed towards the nose.
  6. Form a fist

The described positions of each segment of the upper limb should place the knuckle of the 2nd finger in an approximate position about the height between the temples, the sides of the head beside the eyes, and the ear. Each joint of the upper limb, which forms the sickle shape of the saau chui technique, is oriented so that the entire structure is at optimal structural stability.

Joints at the maximal structural stability - the close-packed position

In biomechanical studies, this is called the close-packed position. When the joints are positioned in the close-packed position, the articulating or connecting bones of the joints are in a maximum area of contact with each other. In addition, the soft tissues around the joint are pulled or stretched taut, like ropes wrapped or strapped around a joint, providing support that stabilizes the joint.

So, the combination of the maximum area of bone-to-bone connection and the tautly strapping of the soft tissues holding the joints securely in place, gives the joint maximum structural stability.

A relatable daily activity example is the knee joint’s close-packed position. It's easier to stand when we fully straighten our knees, i.e., fully extended, than when we have them slightly bent. Our knees are in a closed-packed position when our knee joints are fully extended.

Joints strength conditioning

Since our bone structure inherently has the biomechanical advantage at predetermined positions, do we need to spend time and effort in physical conditioning? Impacting the punch/hand strikes to a punching bag is jarring and requires conditioning our joint structures.

In fact, training and conditioning are very much part of the formula which helps us to have the ability to hold this posture to withstand high-impact stress on joints.

For example, the ligaments, tendons, and fascia, attach our upper arm bone to our shoulder blade bone at the shoulder joint. The soft tissue i.e., the ligaments, tendons, fascia, and muscles helps bind the bones together in the shoulder joint. They act as "adhesive tapes" holding them in position. If the soft tissue capacity is "weak", the connecting bones at the shoulder joint will be displaced out of position, which is a dislocated shoulder joint.

In other words, our soft tissues surrounding the joints, i.e., the tendons, ligaments, fascia, and muscles must be sufficiently strong to stabilize any joint. So, it is necessary to strengthen the ligaments, tendons, muscles and fascia to increase our strength capacity and to stabilize the joints and keep them in place. Otherwise, we risk having the joints blowing out sideways due to the pressure of the jarring force, in this case, from the knuckle of the punch impacting a target, or the foot impacting a hard surface during a kick.

Timing and Coordination training

Breaking it down further, the split-second timing of getting into the sickle-shaped arm-hand formation is crucial. Ideally, the sickle-shaped should form only during the impact phase of the saau chui technique.

If we form the saau chui structures “too early”, the technique will appear stiff, rigid and not energy efficient, and its effectiveness is compromised.

Conversely, if we form the sickle-shaped too late, we will not be able to deliver the saau chui - the entire formation will collapse under the pressure of the impact.

Launching the saau chui is like skilfully swinging the flail. A flail is a weapon in which a ball is attached to a wooden handle with a flexible chain or rope.

Through many repetitions, with the correct timing and coordination, we can deliver the technique with fluidity and appear effortless.

The entire arm–hand formation allows us to execute the technique from multiple angles. In most application scenarios, we can deliver the saau chui in a diagonally downward looping manner, bearing in mind that gravity is helping with the downward swing of the arm hand.

In short, we want to use as little brute muscular power as possible. Instead, we want to skillfully employ good biomechanical techniques or posture to generate and magnify high power output during the saau chui punching technique.

Power source of saau chui

Firstly, it is not commonly known that the power of a punch or any hand-striking technique originates from the lower body and the trunk. Our legs, trunk, hip and waist are the large energy reservoirs for powering hand-striking techniques.

By pushing our legs off the ground, we can channel large amounts of power through the kinetic chain of our limbs, trunk, hip and waist to effectively deliver the saau chui technique.

Can we effectively channel the energy from the ground up to saau chui technique?

We can effectively channel the energy from the ground up to the hand techniques by maintaining tension and stability in all the joints which are along the kinetic chain path. Failing to maintain tension and stability of the hip, lower back, mid-back, upper back, and shoulder joints will greatly reduce the amounts of energy transferred.

We will need good coordination skills and correct timing to activate and recruit muscles which hold the joints together. The well-timed contraction of large muscles of the legs, buttocks (gluteals), lower back, midback, and upper back forms a pedestal for our shoulders, arms and hands to drive off from when we deliver a powerful hand striking technique.

In short, we are aiming to push our body off the ground so that we can channel the ground reactionary force through our body to our hands to execute a hand technique. In kung fu, the hand technique can be a punch, palm strike, forearm strike, or elbow strike.

Read more about the importance of stance stability in delivering high amounts of power in this article:

read_moreStances - The Most Important Secret in Martial Arts Practice

Rotational energy for the saau chui punching - isolate thoracic cavity and pelvic girdle

In addition, we can add more force to the saau chui technique by adding our body’s rotation torque.

By rotating the thoracic cavity over the base of the pelvis and legs, we can increase the snap in the saau chui technique.

Without going into more details, we are concerned with achieving good thoracic mobility while maintaining good grounding through good stance.

Therefore, the beginners/foundational training regimen of Choy Li Fut kung fu, focuses on conditioning stances and trunk whipping power.

Energy flow lines of the Choy Li Fut's Saau Chui 掃捶 hand striking technique

Strategy/Principle of defence of the Saau Chui hand technique

In general, the shape or form of the technique involves a combination of one hand sweeping vertically and another hand sweeping horizontally. The vertical hand sweep is the parry, block, trap and the horizontal hand sweep is the slash or cut of the sickle-shaped hand or swing of a flail weapon.

We can change the shape or form of the saau chui slightly by changing the angles of the hand sweeps.

Essentially, we can chain the hand sweep motion into a continuous movement pattern, which is similar to a set of moving cogwheels or gears that are arranged vertically and horizontally.

The combination of vertical parry/wrist hook and horizontal slash of the Saau Chui 掃捶 hand striking technique.

However, the frequency of the technique must be “dense” 密, i.e., high volume and rapid in a short duration. By having a sufficiently “dense” of the combination technique, you create a wall of slashing forearms like the fan blades of a spinning fan.

Saau chui application in combination with other hand techniques

The saau chui technique must be used in combination with other blocking, hook and pry, trapping technique.

The following are some of the saau chui technique applications in combination with other techniques.

The Saau Chui combination variations

We can combine the saau chui techniques with footwork. By doing so, we can change direction, using the technique in multiple directions to engage with multiple opponents.

Additionally, the saau chui technique can morph into a takedown or throwing technique.

Some similar applications using the saau chui technique

Other combat arts have similar techniques as the saau chui such as boxing, kickboxing, and MMA. The boxer’s overhand punch shares similar body mechanics as the Choy Li Fut kung fu’s saau chui.

Other traditional martial arts such as karate, employs some sort of circular hook-punching technique. However, a karateka may use similar body mechanics in its execution.

Saau Chui training

Some body mechanics understanding when training the saau chui

To deliver a powerful saau chui technique, we should undergo training to learn the technique and to condition the structures or tissues that hold the joints together i.e., the ligaments, tendons, and fascia.

While in training, we aim to learn the shape of the saau chui technique. Part of the training is practising holding the proper form. As discussed earlier, holding the shape of our hands and with proper coordinated timing is technically and biomechanical significant.

Our earlier discussion about the most optimal joint structural integrity is when the joint is at close-packed position configuration.

Another goal in the training and conditioning program is to strengthen and improve the functioning properties of the ligament, tendons and fascia, and bone density surrounding the shoulder joint.

In the case of conditioning for the saau chui technique, we will need to strengthen the joints of the shoulders, elbow, and wrist.

If we bypass the conditioning phase of the training, we will risk injury. Moreover, the saau chui may not be as strong as intended.

Since the saau chui is a very powerful technique, the parts of the body involved must be sufficiently strong and sturdy to support the capacity of the technique. If saau chui technique is applied with a lack of conditioning, the potential risk of injury increases.

We would recommend training with a good Choy Li Fut kung fu coach or sifu. The sifu can guide you and help avoid pitfalls.

Some training faults and pitfalls

  1. Lacking in thoracic mobility and trunk of the body rotation during the saau chui technique delivery. As a result, most trainees will resort to compensating the technique by activating the shoulders and arms. What this leaves us is a higher risk of injury. Consequently, the leverage from the technique is compromised so, it is less effective with more effort or physical exertion.
  2. While in a fully extended elbow joint or with the elbow fully straightened, we risk hyperextending our elbow joint. We can prevent this from happening by keeping our elbows slightly bent.
  3. Incorrect technique: As discussed earlier , the saau chui technique combination has the capacity of simultaneously sealing up defence gaps and slashing the arms. Check back to the earlier discussion . If the sweep of the arms is improperly performed, the technique has openings inviting the opponent’s offences.

Training methods

The following are the training methods of the saau chui:

  1. Empty hand drills – to learn the shape and flow of technique
  2. Partner drills
  3. Pool noodles – ideal training method for children to prevent the risk of bone stress fracture
  4. Wooden dummy – not recommended for children
  5. Sparring drills

The saau chui or sweeping circular punching technique of the Choy Li Fut kung fu is powerful. By leveraging body mechanics and postures, we have the advantage of unleashing immense power in its delivery. Such immense power can be jarring to our joint structure so, we will need to physically condition and prepare our body to withstand the powerful force and prevent or minimize injury risks.

About Bamboo Kung Fu and Sifu Kin Sze

Bamboo Kung Fu teaches the traditional Chinese martial art style called Choy Li Fut. We seek to emphasize maximizing and optimizing your body mechanics leverage in executing the techniques and movements of activity of daily living. While in training, we aim to help you identify issues which impede your technical or movement performance. In the long term, the learnt knowledge or information gained will transfer into good movement habits in your activities of daily living, which will minimize injury risks.

As a practicing registered massage therapist RMT in Toronto, Ontario, our Sifu, Kin Sze, believes in first addressing the body structural imbalance issues before moving forward to increasing physical capacity for better performance.

Moving ahead toward increasing technical performance without properly addressing structural imbalances can impede and compensate technical ability and potentially increase the risks of injury more so when the technical applications intensify.

Check out our kung fu classes and build up your conditioning and core strength for kung fu performance, improve yourself for better movements in your activities of daily living and overall quality of life.