Phillip Romero Interview: What is it like to study with Hawkins Cheung?

  **Please scroll down for a transcription of this interview**   



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Can you tell us about your training?

I started out in Northern Shao Lin, I also hung out with Kempo people.  It gave me a really good base and eye at what I was messing around with. Later I met someone who taught Wing Chun and didn’t care for it.   When I moved to Denver, I met some people who did Wing Chun as well and I started to learn about it.

Later I read an article in Inside Kung Fu magazine and it had a picture of Hawkins Cheung. Later I moved to Los Angles and went down to Dan Insanto’s school. At that time Hawkins was teaching out of his school.

When I finally met Hawkins Cheung it was really interesting, he  was around 5’1 (1.5 meters) and 110 pounds (49kg).  He was pushing a broom and I asked if he was the janitor. He responded “no, I’m the teacher.”  We all have a story like this.  He took me to the back, had me sign something and paid $35 USD.

It was an interesting class; there was a lot of fighting. Not the type of fighting that I would normally see.  It was really progressive.

In a previous conversation, we went into that Sil Lim Tao is also an “internal form.” Can you go into what makes it an internal form?

I don’t care what system is, all systems are Qi Gong based.  The science from understanding it is pretty unique. For the past 15 years, I’ve been looking into ALL the styles and what makes them internal. If you look at the 3 primary internal arts, Ba Gua, Xin Yi, and Tai Chi, they are all strictly internal arts.   When you breathe, you have to remember when you take in oxygen it is like anything else, when it comes together it actually statically charges.  What is blood made of? Iron.  It attaches itself to the hemoglobin .  Statically charging the Iron.

This is also where Nei Gong (internal martial arts) and iron body training techniques come into place.  Which is why you really want to use Dit Da Jiao when hitting heavy bags.  The goal of Dit Da Jiao is to seal the essence in your hands.   

For those who do not know, what is Dit Da Jiao?

Dit Da Jiao is a combination of herbs, often 15 -23 and sometimes more.  It helps heal and acts as a “seal.”  If you often train and hit
something solid, you are probe to a tremendous amount of injury. 

What types of things would I have to do to make Sil Lim Tao (the first form in Wing Chun) an internal form?

First off, when you are doing the Sil Lim Tao, just start off doing it slowly. In the opening sequence, where you work the Tan hand. Work it 10-15 mins on each side.  Pay attention to the middle figure on your palm and you’ll start to notice that your hand will start to get thick. Do it slow and remember to focus on your middle figure.  That is where the Chi gong starts.

wing chun long poleAs you advance over the years, it will get stronger and stronger.

What are some beginner tips if I never trained this way before? 

Inhale though your noise, take a deep breath all the way down into your abdomen, and exhale though your mouth. When you inhale make sure the tip of your tongue touches the pallet at the top.  When you exhale your tough drops and the air comes out your mouth.  Basically it completes a cycle.

At the same time it actives the “triple heaters” or “there dan tian’s”

How long should you train like this for?

I try to explain that you should train it for at least 10-15 mins. It’s a slow process, the more you do it, the better you get at yet. That being said, ANYONE can do it.

What about for the second part of the form, when it gets more “choppy” it becomes easy to lose that “feeling.”

You have to slow it down. Over time your find a way that it will fit you.

What about if I just train the physical?

It is common sense, just try to keep the shapes.  It is very individual. You can mix it up, you can train both the internal and the external. It really depends on what you are trying to train for.

For what I understand Albuquerque, New Mexico, where you live, has A LOT of martial artists, and you’re even located next to one of the bigger MMA schools in the country. A place where well known professional athletes go to train. How do they feel about your school being next door?

What they do is when they come in school and they see the pictures of Ip Man and wooden dummy. They know that Bruce Lee trained it and actually ask me lots of questions. They appeal to it.

The professional guys have a lot of boundaries. They don’t question you, they just say “oh this is cool.”

Why don’t you think Wing Chun is in the MMA?

It is like oil and water. MMA has rules, Wing Chun is about keeping yourself alive.  It is kind of like a snack being defanged, it won’t work very well. These guys will pick a little bit of Kick boxing or Jiu jitsu, you’re talking different sets of structures with different timings. Once you remove these structures and timings, it is not going to work well.

I understand you’re not an MMA trainer, but since you are kind of involved with the community, how would I bring my Wing Chun into the MMA?

There are 5 elements of combat, QI gong breathing, joint locks, throws, then kicking, and punching. Most people put the emphasis on the kicking and punching, but you also have to know how to trap or pin people.  For example I can punch you then do a join lock, followed by sweeping you to the ground. It is very complex, but it can be done.

Originally I thought you might say that since Wing Chun is a conceptual style, you could perhaps add Wing Chun concepts to boxing for example.

You have to learn to go down at the center of the person.  Not always work towards the side. Since you have to go down at the center, most people can’t do that well since there is a timing issue.  What people don’t understand is that these guys hit pretty hard. Again it can be done.

What was it like training with Hawkins and how does he compare to other Wing Chun people?

He is very different, he is not a very big man. He is around 5’1, he has the experience and really is a fighter.  As small as he is, he got into A LOT of fights. What he did was he perfected the combat elements so well that it is a part of him.   When he took me on he put me against guys that are 6’0 where I am only 5’7 and did pretty well against them. Then he told me to work with him and I didn’t last mhawkins chungore than 30 seconds. 

What got me about the situation is that he threw me over his back.  I landed really hard – it stunned me and dazed me. I was sitting there for like 2 minutes!! How he hit me? I have no idea.  I know there was something totally different in this. It rocked my world hard core.

When I got to know him I came to learn that he had some really unique theories toward combat. Things like time issues, angle’ation theory, how to control a fighter, he taught a lot of cool things.

I think we skipped a pretty important step, who did Hawkins Cheung train with and did he ever tell any old school stories?

Yip Man.  He was pretty close to him and there was a time period where he moved to Australia. When he was there he got into a fight against Thai Boxers.   He told me it was one of the hardest fights he ever had, the reason being that it was one against 5 people!   After the fight he sat on the curb and had to catch his breath. After the incident they totally respected him.

There also was a time period where he lived in Japan. There he took Goju-Ryu Karate and got a black belt in it.  When he came back to Hong Kong he completed the system with Ip Man. He was also very close with Bruce Lee until his death. In fact a lot of the formulations in JKD were based on both Bruce and Hawkins combined.

Any cool stories about Bruce? How close of friends were they to your knowledge?

They grew up together as kids. Bruce Lee was the person who introduced him to Ip Man. They stayed very close for years. They shared a lot of information back and forth.   We never really bothered to ask him, because it was just too personal. 

There even a few times when Bruce Lee’s mother walked into the school, who was a very nice lady and it was great to talk to her.  You would be surprised at the people who would walk into the school.

What was it like meeting her?

For me it was like meeting your really cool grandma. She came in and sat in with us. One of our classmates translated for us.   He told us Bruce and Hawkins were very close and we should really pay attention.  According to her “unfortunately my son is no longer here, but training with Hawkins is how you get through to my son.” She was a very nice lady.

One of our Facebook page questions comes: How did Hawkins focus on body mechanics, was it like Ip Man? If so, why?

His body mechanics were designed for him.  If I give you a theory or concept it is coming from me, because it is based on my body structure, but I really like the idea in a way that fits. As Hawkins would say “I can only show you the way.” You have to design it to you.  Ip Man’s structure was a lot different and you have to remember the time frame it came out of.    The ideas from Hong Kong in the 1950s, the era where Hawkins came up, is totally different from the 1900’s.  People like Hawkins are now fighting boxers, so the theories are going to change and it is going to evolve as time goes on.  He designed it to fit his body type and it changed to fit other things he was falling into.

What is the bigger problem with Wing Chun today?

Wing Chun is still trying to bash Wing Chun. We still have this really cool art. Everyone should learn to get along together and do workshops together. Also should stop to keep the influence of sport from it, keep it as an art. Although you can form it to that way if you want to. I can learn a lot from other people, I don’t have issues like that.

What was the typical class like with Hawkins Cheung? Did you get to Chi Sau with him?

He was totally interactive. It is kind of like his videos on youtube. He would start out by talking about theories and explain them. After that we would get together to train and he would walk around to correct everyone. Sometimes he would cross hands with you and give you a good half an hour.  To this day he is still very hands on.

Wow, he is not a young guy anymore.

Yea, he is in his mid 70’s. Still when he crosses hands with you it is pretty intense.


What does it feel like to play with someone like Hawkins Cheung?

A lot of people ask me this. It can feel like a piece of metal going right though you, at other times it can feel like a hot piece of metal splitting your body apart. When he throws you, it feels like you got hit by a piece of iron.  When you hit the ground it feels like you were hit by the hardest piece of concrete you have ever known.  He knows how to do things very very well.

What type of stance does Hawkins train? Does he keep a 50/50 weight bearing; more weight is on the back leg? That being said, what is your view on this subject?

Obviously he teaches a 50/50 stance, 50 percent of your weight on each leg, and it has always been that way.  He is very clear on how to utilize the structure.  What I started to learn over the years and understand the medial side of it, what he is doing is trying to take his entire skeletal system and utilize like a piece of metal. Like a honing device he locks you in, gets on that center, and can thrust you anyway he wants.

What is the training like with him? When you train with Hawkins, is it like Wing Chun Vs Wing Chun? More used for street?

It is not so much Wing Chun vs Wing Chun, as he would say “why bother with that?” What he would do and this is interesting, around 1985, a couple of guys from the American Kempo league came and wanted to do some sparing with us.  Hawkins said “sure no problem, bring them in.”  They brought these guys from South Central LA and there was 6 of us and around 8 of them.

Hawkins split us up into two groups and would call out our names.  Like “Philip you get together with him.”  You stand in the middle and we would go at it.  He would match us around the same sizes and we would go at it. Around 95% of the fights we had with these guys we won.

It sounds like you did a lot of training in the 80’s, from what I understand that was a different era for training. Back then, were there a lot of challenge matches?

  Yea, there was actually.   Back in the early years Hawkins first school was in Dan Inosanto academy. There were a lot of people coming through, lots of JKD guys, lots of people wanted to meet Hawkins because of Bruce Lee.

This one gentleman came in, whose name was Pat Strong, he studied with Bruce Lee in Chinatown.  He trained with Hawkins too and he was very well verse. We had a lot of these types of people coming though. 

With this many people coming though, getting challenges wasn’t anything unusual. We just did it.

Do you have any final training tips?

Take your time – don’t rush into it. Really pay attention to detail. Don’t focus on slaming or hitting someone. Really get to know this art and ask a lot of questions. You have to find your way in this art, when you find your way it becomes YOUR expression.

I take it back I have one more question.  I used to think you can complete the Wing Chun system very quickly, around 5 years. Although with some Sifu’s it is possible to do that and there is nothing wrong with it, I now believe it takes almost forever to complete.  When you study under someone like Hawkins, how long does the system take to finish?

You can learn the shell of the forms that is not an issue. The question is can you learn all the mechanics of it because your body is going to change? You never complete it.  To use myself as an example you start to modify it as you get older.  You are constantly changing it wing chunas you change.

Although I am not this type of person, for someone who is seeking those types of checkmarks, how long would it take to finish everything under him? For example how long would it take just to get to the wooden dummy?

With him, that’s a good question. We got to it within the first 2 years. Now, he wouldn’t even touch it with these guys.  It depends upon the person, for the guys who comes in and just want a cookie cutter effect, you are not going to get anywhere with him.  If you just let him guide you into these things, the next thing you know he will start to take you there. Even now when I go back, the last time I was there he showed us some moves with the butterfly knives that I have never seen before.  When I see other teachers, it doesn’t matter what age they are, I listen and learn a lot from them.

Is it the kind of thing where you are constantly being exposed to different things in Wing Chun, even though you are technically on the Sil Lim Tao level?

Oh yea, that is possible.

How should we contact you?

On facebook: Romero’s Wing Chun and Qi Gong Training

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4 Responses to Phillip Romero Interview: What is it like to study with Hawkins Cheung?

  1. Mike Pekor May 2, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

    BOOM!!! Another excellent interview! The more loose and relaxed Scott becomes, the more open and forthcoming the interviewee becomes! My favorite two moments “so what’s the deal… If I hit the bag once a week without jow I may not be able to get an erection?”… And then also “WAIT A MINUTE….(Pregnant pause) I know Bruce Lee obviously had a MOTHER… But did you just say Bruce Lee’s mother would show up at the school?”. LOL!!!! My favorite take-away message from this interview was Sifu Romero’s insistance tha in the end “You have to find your own way… Your own expression” within wing chun. Very liberating. Awesome questions, and awesome answers. THANKS !!!!

    • Scott May 2, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

      Thanks Mike!!!!! Trying hard – listening to lots of other podcasts to help develop my own “style”

      For those who read the interview – I tend leave out the “randomness” and keep it to just the facts 🙂 Email me if you think this is stuff I should include in the written area.

  2. kermit moss May 3, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    that was very good info.hats off to sifu good friend i was at some of those fights.back in the day thats how we got good.mush love wing chun brothers.moss wing sifu hawkins,is to me the best boxer of his time.

  3. Barnaby August 27, 2013 at 4:34 am #

    Thanks for the forum. I have been a student of Sifu Romero’s for almost twenty years now and there was plenty of stuff new to me here. Keep up the good work!

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