Lee-style t'ai chi ch'uan

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Chee Soo practicing the Lee style T'ai Chi Dance

The Lee style of t'ai chi ch'uan (李氏太極拳) is closely related to a range of disciplines of Taoist Arts taught within the Lee style including Qigong, Tao Yin, Chinese Macrobiotics, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Taoist alchemy, Feng Shou Kung Fu, and weapons practice. According to practitioners, it was first brought to the West in the 1930s by Chan Kam Lee and was subsequently popularized by Chee Soo who was the President of the International Taoist Society from 1958 until his death in 1994.[1] The Lee style of t'ai chi ch'uan comprises two forms known as 'the dance' (also known as 'Flying Hands') and 'the form', I Fou Shou or 'sticky hands' technique, Whirling Hands, Whirling Arms, and various qi and Li development exercises.[2] Lee style t'ai chi is related to Martial Arts training, and there are five distinct areas of development that comprise the whole Art: [3]

  1. Physical
  2. Mental
  3. Breathing
  4. Sheng Qi 生气 (Internal energy)
  5. Ching Sheng Li 精生力 (External energy).

History[edit]

According to Chee Soo in a book published by HarperCollins,[4] the style is derived from an original set of eight movements created by Ho-Hsieh Lee from Beijing around 1000 BC, this was a time before there were any written records so we only have the oral tradition passed down from father to son to rely on. His family moved to a fishing village called Wei Hei Wei (modern Weihai) on the East coast of China in Shandong Province and settled there and practiced a range of Taoist Arts. The techniques were passed on from one generation to the next and kept within the family until the last in their line, Chan Kam Lee, traveled to London in the 1930s on business. Here, the account continues, he met and adopted a young orphan named Clifford Soo, later to be known as Chee Soo, and he passed the techniques on to him as he had no children of his own.

Chee Soo writes:[5]

The formation of the International Taoist Society
This society was formed on the foundations that were originally laid down by Professor Chan Kam Lee to cater for the interest that was beginning to be aroused, and because other members started to form their own classes and clubs, it was felt that the formation of an association would help to bind all practitioners together.
In the winter of 1953-4, Chan Lee died, off the coast of China, near Canton, when the ship that he was traveling in sank in a severe storm, and so Chee Soo was asked to take over the leadership of the Association. However, in deference to the memory of Chan Lee, Chee Soo declined to accept any title within the Association at that particular time. By 1959, groups and clubs were being formed all over the world, and they were all asking for leadership. For this reason, Chee Soo decided to accept the post of President of the Association. Since then the Association has grown from strength to strength in the British Isles, Australia, South Africa, France, Germany, Holland, Mauritius, and New Zealand.

According to a British Movietone News documentary filmed on 21 May 1970 at Guildford in Surrey - UK, Chee Soo had over 2000 students studying Wu Shu in Britain as part of the British Wu Shu Association.[6]

In 1976 a book about Lee style T'ai Chi Ch'uan written by Chee Soo was published entitled "The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan" which describes the history and philosophy of the style in detail including descriptions of each aspect of the Art with photographs and descriptions of the Lee style T'ai Chi form. Chee Soo wrote several books about the various aspects of the Lee style Taoist Arts published by HarperCollins which became best-sellers and were subsequently translated into several languages including French (distributed in Canada, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal), German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Polish, and Indonesian.
According to an interview with Marilyn Soo - Chee Soo's widow and the President of the International Taoist Society - Chee Soo moved to Coventry in the 1980s and trained a group of teachers to continue his work teaching the Lee style Taoist Arts.[7]
Since his death in August 1994 there are now several schools teaching the Lee style T'ai Chi based in the British Isles each of which emphasize different aspects of the Lee style Taoist Arts.[8][9][10][11][12][13]

The emblem of the Lee family is the Seahorse which represents Yin within Yang as it is the only creature where the male incubates and gives birth to the offspring.[14]

Verifiability[edit]

Chee Soo makes a number of claims about a 3000-year history of Lee-style T'ai Chi Ch'uan without offering supporting evidence. These are contradicted by numerous other accounts, which trace the origins of T'ai Chi Ch'uan to the Chen style from Henan province, recognise five major styles, and do not mention the Lee style at all.[15][16]

Chee Soo offers no evidence for the existence of the Lee style prior to the 1950s, or of the existence of Chan Kam Lee whom he claims was the sole surviving practitioner of the Lee-style arts in the 1930s. He claims there was an association of clubs across the world by 1959, asking for his leadership, but this is contradicted by the 1970 Movietone News documentary, which states Chee Soo was one of only 'three men outside of Beijing' qualified to teach Wu-Shu. His account of Chan Kam Lee's death is contradicted by independent evidence that there were no reported fatal shipwrecks of the coast of China in the winter of 1953 / 1954.

Qigong[edit]

Chee Soo's T'ai Chi classes invariably included Qigong or energy cultivation, and Tao Yin or breathing exercises.[17] The Lee style qigong exercises are called K'ai Men or 'Open Door'. Chee Soo wrote a book published by HarperCollins in 1983 under the title "Chinese Yoga" (later re-titled "Taoist Yoga"), which was devoted entirely to this aspect of the Arts.[18] This book contains details of Taoist alchemy energy cultivation methods involving deep breathing into the dantian or "Golden Stove" or "Lower Cauldron" in order to stimulate the flow of Chi or internal energy, circulating it through various energy centres located along the meridians and vessels which are usually associated with acupuncture and known as the Microcosmic orbit. Various types of breathing exercises are described and categorized in terms of Yin and Yang breathing [19] and recommendations are given in terms of regulating the body in accordance with the peak of energy flowing through each organ and its corresponding line of meridian depending on the time of day and season of the year.[20] There are also various recommendations for constant good health regarding the Chang Ming or Chinese Macrobiotic diet based on the underlying principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine.[21]
An important aspect of this style of qigong is that it not only deals with qi or internal energy but also teaches the practitioner to supplement their personal store of ch'i with energy drawn from the energy field of the Universe itself which Chee Soo called external energy or 'Ching Sheng Li'.[22]

Forms[edit]

The Lee style includes a number of forms comprising set sequences of movements. These movements are based upon fourteen basic stances which are named after animal movements. These stances are also grouped into sequences with names like "Drive the Tiger Away" and "The Fair Lady Weaving". The movements can be performed at various speeds and may be timed with breathing. There are two forms known as the T'ai Chi Dance which Chee Soo claimed to be about 400 years old,[23] and the T'ai Chi form itself known as 'The Form'.[24] The Dance is 185 stances or steps long whereas the Form is 140 stances split into 42 sequences.

Sticky Hands[edit]

The Lee style also includes various interactive exercises, the most important of which is called I Fu Shou or 'sticky hands'; similar to the pushing hands exercises that are seen in other T'ai Chi styles. Two people stand opposite each other making contact on the back of the wrist and move in circles gently testing each other's balance. The emphasis is on sensitivity and yielding to force.

I Fu Shou is an exercise in which two people participate. Each person tries to upset the balance of the other whilst maintaining their own stability. Contact is through the arms and hands throughout the exercise. No matter what stance is adopted, there may always be a weakness in the balance of the body whether one moves left or right, backward or forward, upward or downward, and it is by taking advantage of these six directional weaknesses that the participants in I Fu Shou try to ‘uproot’ each other - to cause the other to lose their footing. The most difficult way to do this is to lift the other off the ground, but even this may be achieved provided that one has practiced diligently and developed a faultless technique.[25]

A full description is available to read online on Chee Soo's publisher's website.[26]

Self-defence[edit]

Whirling Arms and Whirling Hands are the two exercises in the Lee style of T'ai Chi Ch'uan which are used to teach basic principles of self-defence.

Like I fou shou, Whirling Arms (Lun Pei) and Whirling Hands (Lun Shou) encourage the development of quick mental and physical reactions and a high level of sensitivity. Both are characterized, as their names suggest, by circular movements of the arms and hands.
The two arts include techniques to ward off, parry and deflect thrusts which may be made towards your body, and with constant practise you can develop the ability to recognize your partner's intentions before they are carried out. You will learn how to feel and exploit the weaknesses in their movements and postures, and in so doing you will come to understand your own weaknesses and develop greater concentration and awareness. You will build the foundations for a stronger balance, learn how to synchronize your body movements, and become much more sensitive and perceptive. In addition to all these, the control and utilization of your Ch'i energy plays a very big part in your practise.[27]

Weapons[edit]

T’ai Chi Sword
According to Master Chee Soo in his book about the Lee style T'ai Chi Ch'uan:

T'ai Chi sword makes full use of the combined techniques of Whirling Hands and Whirling Arms, but these are made more difficult by the weight and length of the sword. Greater mental concentration is required to retain complete control of the arms, wrists and hands, while maintaining perfect balance, especially in a few sequences where the body makes a complete whirl to demonstrate the 'order of the universe'....the 'Sword' form, which comprises 216 movements, has no straight lines[28]

T'ai Chi stick
Lee style T'ai Chi stick comprises a form of 270 movements.[29] The T'ai Chi stick is a staff approximately six feet long.

References[edit]

All quotes are reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.

  1. ^ Taoist Ways of Healing by Chee Soo pages 139-140 (published by HarperCollins 1986)
  2. ^ The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Chee Soo, Seahorse Books 2003
  3. ^ The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Chee Soo, Seahorse Books 2003 chapter 2 - The principles of the Supreme Ultimate
  4. ^ The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Chee Soo, Seahorse Books 2003 pages 14-15
  5. ^ The Taoist Ways of Healing by Chee Soo, Aquarian Press (Thorsons/HarperCollins) 1986
  6. ^ "Chinese Martial Arts". www.movietone.com. 21 May 1970. Story number: 95962. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  7. ^ The Tao of My Thoughts, Seahorse Books p127-150,
  8. ^ The Taoist Cultural Arts Association - responsible for publishing Chee Soo's Lee style training manuals
  9. ^ Lishi - based in Leeds
  10. ^ East West Taoist Association - based in Scarborough
  11. ^ Taoist Arts Organization - based in London
  12. ^ Lee Family Internal Arts - based in South Wales
  13. ^ Lee Family Arts - based in Hull
  14. ^ The Taoist Art of Feng Shou by Chee Soo, Aquarian press (Thorsons/HarperCollins) 1983
  15. ^ "Prior to Yang Lu Chan [1799-1872] ... Tai Chi Chuan was little heard of, being only discreetly taught amongst members of the Chen clan village." Ding, John (2003). 15 minute Tai Chi. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780007145928. 
  16. ^ Page 26 states the Chen family claim that "Tai Chi Chuan was developed in the 17th century by ... Chen Wang Ting" Wong, Kiew Kit (2001). The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan: A Comprehensive Guide to the Principles and Practice. Vermilion, Random House. ISBN 0091876567. 
  17. ^ The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Chee Soo, Seahorse Books 2003 page 28
  18. ^ The Taoist Art of K'ai Men by Chee Soo Seahorse Books 2006
  19. ^ The Taoist Art of Kai Men by Chee Soo Chapter 5 - Breath is Life (Seahorse Books 2006)
  20. ^ The Taoist Art of Kai Men by Chee Soo Chapter 6 - Hints for Good Practice (Seahorse Books 2006)
  21. ^ The Taoist Art of Kai Men by Chee Soo Chapter 4 - The Importance of Good Health (Seahorse Books 2006)
  22. ^ The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Chee Soo, Seahorse Books 2003 page 22
  23. ^ The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Chee Soo, Seahorse Books 2003 page 59
  24. ^ The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Chee Soo, Seahorse Books 2003 page 67
  25. ^ The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Chee Soo, Seahorse Books 2003 page 43
  26. ^ http://www.seahorsebooks.co.uk/book-samples/tai-chi.php
  27. ^ The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Chee Soo, Seahorse Books 2003 page 49
  28. ^ Chinese Art of T'ai Ch'i Ch'uan page 55
  29. ^ The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Chee Soo, Seahorse Books 2003 page 63

Further reading[edit]

Chee Soo wrote six books about the Lee Style Taoist Arts

External links[edit]