I am a student of Hawkins Cheung, and as this is a forum on my sifu’s site. I have some thoughts on his teachings that may be of interest to some of you. I have been with Sifu for 14 years, and he has been a great influence on me. I enjoy sharing dialogue with others that are on a true path. Here are some thoughts on the “hard way” and the “soft way” in Sifu Hawkins Cheung’s system:To consider the whole of Wing Chun, beyond the various techniques, we must look at the two sides of the W.C. character; the “hard” and the “soft”. The yin-yang, the black-white, sun-moon, etc. . . characters of the system.
From the waist up, most W.C. practitioners are relatively the same. The elbows are in more with one system than another, or leg positioning changes slightly, but basically the tan sao is the tan sao, the lop is the lop, and the bong is the bong. However, how we apply them is important to understand. Why? Because if we are not trying to understand how to apply our art more and more, we are just spinning our wheels.
The “hard” orientation to W.C. starts in the first form and stance training that we do. We train two “posts” (your two legs) in our triangle structure (yee gee kim young mah). We train to get that structure strong and supple. The entire first form is done in this stance, and if you are doing the form diligently, your stance will become strong. We generally move on to learning the fighting stance, and beginning footwork. Most often, 60/40 or 70/30 weight distribution, with the weight on the back leg. This gives us two posts to work from. In the “hard” orientation, we work to root our structure when met with oncoming pressure, or we work to uproot our opponent when we attack. We use the posts to accomplish this.
If you are at the chi-sao level, or have a lot of experience in chi-sao, you know how difficult constant incoming pressure can be to deal with. This is when we usually resort to the “hard” part. Our structures root, or respond with muscular effort to meet the pressure. Your shoulders stay down and pressured in order to hold you elbows in. How often have you walked away from a heavy chi-sao session, sore and spent from the strenuous engagement? Don’t get me wrong, this is not the only way to do chi-sao, but it is the character of the “hard” way. Many times if we are bigger, or stronger than most of our opponents, we will develop that method, or rely on that because it can be very effective against a weaker partner. The “hard” part is also effective if you know how to use your whole body as one unit, regardless of physical size.
My sifu, Hawkins Cheung, is very slight of stature, but when his structure is engaged, it doesn’t matter how big or strong you are, you are going somewhere you don’t want to go. Or, it is very difficult to move and uproot him because of his grounded structure. Kicks and punches are also stronger when the entire unit is available to the practitioner. The drawback to this would be if you met a bigger, stronger opponent, or if you are of smaller stature. Yes, my sifu can use his structure to great affect, but that as a stand alone method is a risk. That brings us to the other half of the equation, the “soft” way.
by “soft”, I mean, using less muscle to do the job. To have the skill to absorb or deflect the force, and respond without intention. Without “muscular” intention. yes, you have to use your muscles to accomplish this, but not in the usual “hard” way. In the “hard” way, we voluntarily use force to accomplish the task. We give in to the thought that “I will strike harder and faster than you”. In the soft way, we utilize the force of the opponent to tell us how to respond. When we “land” our response, hit our target, that is the only time that the muscular effort engages. We are like a good tennis player. When they swing the racket, they are relaxed. On contact with the ball, their hand squeezes the racket at that instant, and their body sets to strike, after the hit, they follow through, and relax, preparing the body to accept the next attack.
To do this takes timing, and sensitivity. The only way to attain the timing and sensitivity it takes to achieve this, is to train in the soft way. In the “hard” way, the muscles get in the way of ultimate sensitivity, and timing becomes more of a guess, or anticipation than anything else.
In the “soft ” part, the structure becomes very light in the front leg, and the rear leg carries 90% of the weight. It is used as the single “post” for your structure. Strength in its leg is important, but it must be able to move quickly, and with agility. the front leg is used for balance and direction. Kind of like a rudder for a ship. the ship itself is large, yet the tool used for steering is relatively flimsy, or light. Same as the front leg in the “soft” way. When the front leg is light, you can kick without having to withdraw the leg. Without having to “prepare”. It will rise of it’s own accord, straight to the target.
In chi-sao the benefits are obvious. Less energy is wasted, you don’t spend so much muscular effort, and your hands are lighter, and quicker. You are able to shift and adjust your footwork instantly, and the flow is greater. However, to have the discipline to maintain the work in this way is a challenge.
In this structure, the hips are crucial to mobility. They must also be supple and soft. the hips absorb the oncoming attack, and shift to adjust the line. The hips act as a seat for the body. Work at finding your personal seat. We are all different, and we must work with the body we’re given. the hands, instead of resisting the pressure, are then free to absorb, and whip around the incoming strike, to respond. The hips should be as ready to move as the legs. In the “hard’ way, the hips are used to generate power mainly, and to absorb, not to move the unit in any way. the legs move the unit, primarily, the hips are somewhat fixed. In the “soft” way, you have to be like a good dancer. Follow your partner (opponent) well, and you’ll do a lot better.
The ability to “pass the hand” is crucial in the “soft” part. When the opponent strikes, he presents his hand, we must develop the sensitivity and timing to “pass their hand”. We can do this with any of the traditional W.C. techniques; tan-sao, bong-sao, bil-gee, etc. . . or drills. The important thing is to use as little muscular effort as possible, so that you are able to flow with the force that’s threatening. If you don’t flow, you will never absorb and respond, you will just be meeting the threat with a hard muscular obstacle. In the “soft” way there are no sticking points, no resistance.
The drawback to the “soft” way is the reduction in power when you strike. However, if you can’t land the strike, or if you are struck with damaging force, it doesn’t matter how hard you can hit.
Balance is everything. The challenge is to train both characters, so you can switch back and forth when necessary. You must be able to apply pressure, and be able to disappear and adjust when pressed in return. In developing your W.C., you should be mindful of the two characters of W.C. and train to be complete in art. It doesn’t matter if you know all three empty hand forms, the dummy, broadswords, and pole, if you can’t feel what is in the techniques. Strength and size are of great benefit in most things, but they are only one half of the puzzle. Develop and train the whole, and then you will have more aces up your sleeve than the next person. When you are old and gray, you will thank yourself.
 Phil Morris, Notes on Hard/Soft H.C., W.C., http://www.hawkinscheung.com/, (May 2001)