RIP Hawkins Cheung

Today is the eve of Chinese New Year. A day where the cleaning should be done and cooking in progress for the annual family reunion dinner.

Coming home from the supermarket, I was thinking of how to cook the red leek for the family gathering tomorrow while looking at Facebook.

One post stood up. Hawkins Cheung had passed away on 3 Feb 2019.

Hawkins Cheung was a contemporary of Bruce Lee; both having learned from Ip Man. Though he was not as well known as the other practitioners from the same generation such as William Cheung, Wong Shun Leung and Tsui Seung Tin, nevertheless Hawkins had the skill. More importantly, he approached Wing Chun from the perspective of combat problem solving.

I remember one example of this – Hawkins said that he had a problem using Wing Chun against Karate practitioners who moved in to attack and just as quickly moved out of range. He figured that since he can’t beat them, why not join them.

So he did, and ended up with fast forward moving footwork, the principle which has become part of his Wing Chun. A reminder of his Karate learning can be found in the form of a ring that Hawkins wore.

If you happen to have a copy of the year 2000 documentary It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Kung Fu World!!! (大踢爆) you can see Hawkins demonstrate his super fast footwork in it.

Screenshots from the documentary :-

From Hawkins I learned that people who claimed to be your friend are not always so. I was learning the Wing Chun knives from him and he asked whether I knew why the person who introduced me to learn would do so. I had thought that it was a friend thing.

Hawkins said that the real reason was because he did not want to teach this person the knives. So this person (let’s call him R) introduced me to learn. Once Hawkins agreed to teach me, he (Hawkins) could not refuse to teach R.

True enough, after my first lesson R went to see Hawkins secretly and made him teach him (R) the knives. However, Hawkins was a lot smarter than he looked (he was from Hong Kong after all) because he could even predict what R would do next after learning the knives.

Hawkins anticipated that R would want to compare notes with me to see if he (Hawkins) had taught him everything. So Hawkins told me not to tell him everything. This was of course a dilemma. But since Hawkins was then my teacher I agreed to it.

And I’ll be danged if R didn’t corner me and asked me to show him what Hawkins had taught. I showed him everything, well almost everything. R was so happy when he thought that Hawkins hadn’t taught me the entire set. He was positively beside himself.

So there you go – an important lesson from the late Hawkins Cheung, one that proved to be useful down the road, better than learning any form or technique. You can think that your fellow martial arts classmate, friend, pal, buddy, whatever you think your relationship is with this person is good, close, buds – but the reality is he could be hiding a knife behind that smile.

On the other hand the teacher may not always be an angel either but then a teacher for a day is a teacher for life. If you can bond with the teacher it would be easier to suss out his character. If you can speak in the teacher’s native tongue this would be a big help. With Hawkins this was easy since both of us speak Cantonese and ate chicken feet; stuff that being Americans, R and his students would not touch with a 6.5 foot pole.

Aside from Wing Chun Hawkins had also learned Wu style Tai Chi. However, he demonstrated some Chen style Tai Chi movements to me and he looked pretty good.

An interview with Hawkins Cheung appeared in the book Martial Arts Talk: Conversations with Leading Authorities on the Martial Arts. I recommended my SKD learning group to read this because a lot of what Hawkins said in the book is relevant.

The last time I saw Hawkins Cheung he was happily doing push hands in Kowloon Park.

Rest in peace Sifu Hawkins Cheung. I can imagine the reunion in Wing Chun Heaven tonight with Ip Man and Bruce Lee.

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