TAN SAO is one of the important hand movements in Wing Chun. To describe it as a ‘palm up block’ implies a force against force movement, which it can be if necessary but that description diminishes it’s true function which is to disperse the incoming energy from an opponent’s strike.
Tan Sao is also used in Chi Sao as a ‘Seeking Hand’ continually seeking the gap with forward intention. Tan Sao against your opponents Fuk Sao can take advantage of any weakness in the Fuk Sao to move forward in either a strike or to gain control of the opponents head or neck.
The classic defence using a Tan Sao is against a round punch, turning to face the point of contact with the Tan Sao centred and absorbing/dispersing the energy downwards which serves to reinforce our connection with the ground. In the diagram below, imagine the strike being received against the Tan Sao and the force dispersed downwards towards the ground, then returned to the opponent through the elastic Tan Sao.
The angle of the Tan Sao is important to enable you to absorb and return strike energy to your opponent. In an ideal world the angle should be 135® or midway between horizontal and vertical. Mechanically, this provides the most powerful position that uses the opponents force to reinforce your own groundedness.
If the angle is too vertical, the Tan Sao will collapse and betray your intention. If it is too horizontal it will compromise your structure and enable your balance to be taken. Similarly the Tan Sao is not held against the body, which could enable your opponent to trap you. The elbow position is best at around two first widths out from the body, providing you with the flexibility to absorb abd return energy.
When a strike is received by the Tan Sao, the energy is absorbed with an ‘elastic’ point of contact. If the energy is weak, the Tan Sao can immediately convert to a forward strike or Lop Sau or Jut Sao and followed by a strike. If the energy is strong from a forceful strike, the elastic Tan Sao absorbs the energy, connecting your bones, tendons and muscles to the ground in a spiral motion through the elbow, shoulder, hip, knee ankle pathway. This connection is then used to return the force to the opponent through the releasing of the ‘spring’ that has coiled through the absorption of the strike.
Tan Sao’s elastic nature, in combination with your grounded and centred structure enables you to absorb the strongest strikes and return them with much greater power to the biggest of opponents.
Practice, train hard and enjoy the power of the Tan Sao!