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.


Neurons & Intent

A common obstacle facing Tai Chi students is differentiating intent from body movement.

When most students perform the form their intent is not clearly delineated from their physical action. This leads to the inability to use intent over reliance on strength alone.

Why is it difficult to separate intent from movement?

Reading The Body Builders : Inside the Science of the Engineered Human has given me the answer. When you think of doing something the neurons in the processing areas of the motor cortex fires and triggers the desired movement.

However, these neurons fire so fast that for most of us it is difficult to detect that length of time between the neurons firing and the corresponding limb moving. The time between neurons firing and movement beginning is but milliseconds so you can imagine how short a time this is.

Given this is the case how then can Tai Chi players train intent?

This is where the specialized intent training of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Yang style Tai Chi comes in. The conceptual models for training intent allows us to experience a time lag, at least long enough to feel when intent begins and when movement triggered by intent comes in.

In this way we can truly separate mind and body. Incidentally, this fulfils the principle of using intent rather than strength and explains clearly why Tai Chi is boxing of the mind.

It would be interesting to one day use science to study this neglected aspect of Tai Chi. Who knows what we may discover that can not only improve our Tai Chi skills but be applicable to other fields such as medicine.

Implicit Learning

Today I found out a theory that can explain why we need to keep up the practice of forms.

In the past I have read that form practice is like swimming on dry land. However, I think the reason why those who say so is because they have not broken through to understand how form training really works.

Fortunately, studies into intuition have offered us a good explanation on this. Can you guess what this is?

For the moment I will leave this question here as I continue to read why implicit learning can explain the importance of form training.

Power Generation

On rumsoakedfist there is a link to “Essence of Combat Science” by Wang Xiangzhai as translated from Chinese by Andrzej Kalisz. Click here to go to the file.

Wang Xiangzhai wrote :-

In shi li there shouldn’t be partial, superficial force, especially there shouldn’t be unbalanced one directional force. You should observe if the whole body force is round, full or not, if it is possible issuing force at any moment, if there is feeling of mutual reaction between body and surrounding air. Intention shouldn’t be broken, spirit shouldn’t be dispersed. Light and heavy are ready to be used. If one moves, whole body follows it. Force should be unified, swift and solid at the same time, round and full. There shouldn’t be anything forgotten or lost on any side.

The above is good advice to keep in mind when practicing how to issue power.

In our Tai Chi tradition we have additional requirements such as :-

a) Have defined intent to control body movements

b) Align and tune the body internally to allow power to flow like a spring gushing out of the ground

c) Prime the 5 bows strongly to enable quick conversion of energy from potential to kinetic

An example of using these three requirements is shown below :-

The First Step-3

I know some masters are reluctant to demonstrate power, claiming (whether true or not) that they are afraid of hurting the student. I wonder if this is true or they just want to hide the fact that they can’t do it well.

You can’t teach how to use a technique without showing how the power is applied or at the very least what it feels like to be tapped, even if lightly. This method of teaching is known as “feeding power” in traditional circles.

To me the concept of “feeding power” is just hands-on teaching. Nothing mysterious about it.

The First Step-2

Have you ever been taught by teachers who made it seem that fajing is something mysterious, that you need to learn some secret breathing method, knowing how meridians flow, etc in order to fajing?

You would probably be told that it takes years and maybe initiation into discipleship before the secrets can be taught. Guess what? You don’t need secrets, you don’t have to be a disciple and you don’t need years to learn how to fajing.

In fact, you just need to follow SOP (standard operating procedures) and you can do it. Of course, you can’t apply it freely but that’s just a matter of practice.

Once you keep your mind open and you follow SOP you can demonstrate the ability to fajing even on the first lesson. Below is an example taken on the first lesson :-

In fact, beginners who have not learned Tai Chi before can pick it up faster than a student who has experience. The reason is that a total newbie is not saddled by habits, prejudices, opinions and what have you that prevent them for learning properly.