Tan Sau – 摊手 – is introduced as the first of Wing Chun's Three Poison Hands, and is used primarily to disrupt an incoming attack, redirecting and possibly trapping the attacker's arms. Tan means "spread," and is most often translated as "dispersing hand" based on the action of redirecting an attacker's incoming energy.
Tan Sau is also called "Serving Hand" based on the most common shape of the hand and arm. Often the arm is pressed forward with the palm held open and flat towards the sky as if you were holding a plate or serving tray. It is disruptive, as if you met an attacker's incoming punch by offering him a tray of hors d'oeuvres and asking if he would like to try your small cheese sandwiches.
Tan Sau is also known as "beggar's hand," as if you were extending your empty hand to ask, "Brother, do you have some spare change so I can afford Kung Fu lessons?" Collectively, Tan Sau is simply the "Palm-Up Block."
Tan Sau is also the foundation for the Tan Family of hand forms, all of which primarily use the thumb side of the wrist and the back of the hand in application. Other members of the Tan family include Jong Sau (picket guard), Ngoy Jut Sau (outside jerk) and Tai Sau (upwards wrist block), also known as Ding Sau or Hay Sau.
The emphasis on the back or thumb-side of the hand for blocking allows you to maintain control of the line of attack while displacing an incoming attack. Attempting to use Tan Sau with the pinky-side edge of the hand can lead you to cross the centerline where you cannot effectively counter an attack. Extending your Tan Sau across your centerline is also a position of disadvantage where you are in danger of being pinned and controlled.
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