Chee Soo

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Chee Soo
Chee Soo beginning the Lee-style t'ai chi Form sequence Drive the Tiger Away
Born Clifford Soo
June 4, 1919
Marylebone, London, England
Died August 29, 1994
Style Lee-style t'ai chi ch'uan
Occupation Author, soldier, herbalist, martial artist

Chee Soo (June 4, 1919 — August 29, 1994) was the author of several best selling books about the philosophy of Taoism and in particular the Taoist Arts of the Lee-style. He was also a teacher of the Taoist Arts including Lee-style t'ai chi ch'uan, Qigong, Ch'ang Ming, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Feng Shou 'Hand of the Wind' Kung Fu with more than sixty years experience in Britain and around Europe and the Commonwealth countries.


Early life[edit]

According to his birth certificate, born Clifford Soo on 4 June 1919 in All Souls, Marylebone, London, he was the son of Ah Chee Soo who was a pastry chef at the Westminster restaurant. His father was Chinese and his mother was English named Beatrice Annie Soo. Although he enlisted under the name Clifford Gibbs, his mother's maiden name, in later life he took his father's name and was known as Chee Soo.

His book published by HarperCollins in 1986 called "The Taoist Ways of Healing" (ISBN 085030475X) contains some autobiographical information about his early life:

Chee Soo was born of a Chinese father and an English mother, and as they died when he was only a very young child, he was brought up in a Dr Barnardo's home, which was and still is a charitable orphanage. He started his first job, as a page-boy in a nursing home in Earls Court, West London, and in his spare time he used to go to Hyde Park to enjoy the fresh air, watch the horse riders exercising their animals, and to play with his ball. However, something happened that was to alter the whole course of his future life. One Sunday afternoon, he went to the park to play with his ball, when suddenly it bounced rather erratically, and accidentally hit the back of an elderly gentleman who was sitting on a park bench. Having recovered his ball, he went up to the gentleman to offer his apologies, only to see that the man was also Chinese. As it was a very rare thing to see another Chinese in London in those days, they began to talk together, and even arranged to meet again. So the two began to meet fairly regularly — whenever the opportunity and the weather permitted, and a very strong friendship developed between Chee Soo and the gentleman, who was Chan Kam Lee. In the summer of 1934, Chee Soo was invited to Chan Lee's class, and that was the beginning of the training that he has maintained ever since, and it was surely the ordained way of the Tao that enabled Chee Soo to start his learning of the vast range of the Taoist martial, philosophical, healing and cultural arts in this way. It gave great happiness to Chan Lee for he had no family of his own, and as he earnestly desired to keep the Taoist arts alive, he adopted Chee Soo as a nephew, and taught him the arts whenever his work and time permitted. For Chee Soo it meant that he had someone on whom he could rely, and to advise him, and teach him the fundamentals of the Taoist philosophical attitude to life and all that it meant. [1]

Military career[edit]

In 1937 Chee Soo joined the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment part of the 7th Armoured division known as the Desert rats, during World War two he was promoted to sergeant and became a troop commander. He was awarded the Military Medal after the Battle of Beda Fomm in Libya in February 1941, part of Operation Compass.[2] After his regiment were transferred to Burma he was captured by the Japanese on 19 April 1942 during the Battle of Yenangyaung and forced to work on the Death Railway as a P.O.W. where he contracted Malaria, he was later classified as a war crimes witness:

In 1939 the Second World War broke out, and Chee Soo did his share of fighting as a Tank Commander in the Second Battalion of the Royal Tank Corps, in France, in North Africa — where he won the Military Medal, and in Burma where, after a hectic battle, he was finally taken prisoner by the Japanese. He went through many periods of beatings, torture, starvation and very hard work as a member of a working party in the mountains between India and Burma. Finally, three years later, as the Japanese started to retreat from the advancing Allies, he managed to escape into the Shan Mountains of West Burma and made his way over very rugged terrain and through many jungles, till finally one month afterwards he was able to make contact with the Allies again. Three months after recuperation and treatment (for he then weighed only 84 lbs), he was flown back to England, where he was able to enjoy a long leave with his wife. After that, he was discharged from the forces and took a course in book-keeping, stock control, commercial history and sales promotion. He managed to make contact with Chan Lee again after the war was finished, and the class in Holborn was restarted. In 1950, Chee Soo, with Chan Lee's permission, formed his own class in Manor Road School, West Ham, East London.[3]

The author Rupert Croft-Cooke who was Chee's friend from 1938 provides us with some biographical details of this period in Chee Soo's life in his book 'The Dogs of Peace'.

Clifford Gibbs had got his rather grand name from Dr Barnardo's Homes, for he had been reared in one of these, the son of a Chinese father and English mother, neither of whom he had ever seen. I had known him before the war and was as proud as he was of the Military Medal he had earned as a Corporal in the Royal Armoured Corps in North Africa. He had been sent to Burma and taken prisoner by the Japanese, and suffered unspeakable tortures and humiliations because of his race, separated as he was from his fellow British. He had survived and, inwardly as inscrutable as a Conrad character, a little like Wang in Victory, he had married a blonde English girl and had an exquisite baby daughter whose godfather I became at a Sunday afternoon service in an East End Anglican church. Clifford, who went about life methodically, was severely industrious and found the means of saving for his family even in those days of grudging wages. But he had a humorous cheerful side to his character and enlivened my flat during his weekly visits between office hours and his return to Durban Street, E.15. He was an expert wrestler and had earned the Judo black belt. Only from the depths of his character emerged sometimes the exotic or oriental; in speech and manner he was very much an Englishman, and it was strange to hear from his curved lips words that might have been used by any London ex-soldier. I am glad to have had his friendship throughout those years.[4]

Teaching the Taoist Arts[edit]

After the death of his teacher Chan Kam Lee, Chee Soo went on to become the President of the International Taoist Society and taught a variety of Taoist Arts ranging from self-defence techniques to healing and spiritual disciplines such as Chinese Medicine, ch'i kung and meditation:

In the winter of 1953-4, Chan Lee died, off the coast of China, near Canton, when the ship 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 becoming 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, the Netherlands, Mauritius and New Zealand.
Our Society only teaches the Taoist arts of The Eight Strands of the Brocade’, which comprise:

Ch’ang Ming — Taoist long life health diet therapy
Ts’ao Yao — Taoist herbal therapy
AnMo — Taoist massage
Tao Yin — Taoist respiration therapy
Tien Chen — Taoist Acupressure (Spot Pressing)
Chen Tuan — Taoist diagnosis techniques
Chili Nung — (The way of occlusion)

There are two associations which are affiliated to our Society:

The Chinese Cultural Arts Association, who teach:
T'ai chi ch'uan — The Supreme Ultimate
K’ai Men — (Taoist Yoga or the Taoist form of Ch'i Kung)
I Fu Shou — (Sticky Hands)
Li Kung — (Taoist development of Li energy)
Mo Kun — (Taoist Wand for Li energy control)
Mo Hsiang — (Taoist Meditation)

Also T'ai Chi Dance, T'ai Chi Stick and T'ai Chi Sword.

and The International Wu Shu Association, who teach:

Feng Shou — (‘Hand of the Wind' Kung fu, very soft, very gentle, and very fast, and suitable for women and men of all ages).
Chi Shu — (A Taoist form of self defence with throws & breakfalls similar to Aikido).

and all the other forms of the Taoist fighting arts including those involving weapons like Tao Shu (Sword) & Kan Shu (Stick/Spear).[5]

Chee Soo, Diana Rigg and Film Stunt arranger Ray Austin worked together on "The Avengers" cult TV series

Chee Soo was also involved as a fight choreographer with the cult TV series The Avengers during the 1960s as is evidenced by publicity photographs of him with Ray Austin (himself a Black Belt third dan Kung Fu Master and pupil of Soo’s) and Diana Rigg probably taken around 1967. He brought Kung Fu before a western audience years before Bruce Lee had even been heard of.
The Guinness_World_Records site states that "In 1965, Dame Diana Rigg (UK) became the first western actress to perform kung fu on Television when the combat choreographers Ray Austin (UK) and Chee Soo (UK/China) worked elements of the martial art into her fight scenes on The Avengers. Certificate presentation was done on The New Paul O'Grady Show."[6]

During the 1970s he ran a Chinese Health and Herbal clinic in London.[7]

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. He was one of only three men outside of Beijing qualified to teach Wu Shu.[8]

Chee Soo appeared in a BBC Nationwide TV interview on 21 September 1973 where he demonstrated Kung fu self-defence techniques and inner power live in the studio with presenter Bob Wellings.[9]

In 1975 Chee Soo was filmed by the BBC at his Feng shou kung fu class in Seymour Hall in London and subsequently appeared in a documentary broadcast for schools entitled Scene:Looking for a fight. His soft style kung fu self defence class was contrasted with boxing and hard style kung fu.[10]

In 1977 he was interviewed by Brian Hayes on LBC radio and talked about Lee style T'ai Chi Ch'uan, meeting his teacher Chan Kam Lee and Reincarnation.[11]


According to an interview with Marilyn Soo who is Chee Soo's widow, during the 1980s he moved to Coventry and spent his time writing and teaching courses in Lee-style t'ai chi ch'uan and Feng Shou Kung Fu at the Alderman Callow School in Coventry (now called The Westwood School) and other locations around Britain, as well as visiting some of his students overseas in places like Australia and around Europe. Chee Soo was the author of five books published during his lifetime and one book published posthumously about Taoist philosophy.[12] [13] He died in Ebbw Vale on 29 August 1994 as a result of an abdominal aneurism caused by Deep vein thrombosis probably aggravated by several long haul plane flights during the previous two years.[14]


Chee Soo's books were first published in hardback by Gordon and Cremonesi from 1976, then by Aquarian Press (Thorsons/HarperCollins) from 1983 who published reprints throughout the 1980s which topped the best sellers listings for several years. They have been translated into various languages including Portuguese (Brazilian), Polish, German, French (distributed in Canada, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal), Indonesian, Spanish, and Italian and published throughout the world. His books are now published by Seahorse Books.

  • Soo, Chee (2003). The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Seahorse Books. ISBN 978-0-9545244-0-1. 
    First published by Gordon and Cremonesi in 1976 (ISBN 0860330370). This book was republished by the Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, Northants in 1984 (Thorsons/HarperCollins), (ISBN 0850303877) and the same edition with minor changes and a new cover is now published by Seahorse Books (ISBN 978-0-9545244-0-1). This book describes the Lee-style of T'ai chi which Chee Soo - by his own account - learned from Chan Lee who was the last member of the Lee family and who came to London to trade precious stones in the 1930s. There is a detailed history of the Lee-style and over 150 black and white photographs and descriptions detailing the Lee-style t'ai chi 'form' as well as explanations of Taoist philosophy and partner exercises such as I fou Shou or 'sticky hands'.
  • Soo, Chee (2006). The Taoist Art of K'ai Men. Seahorse Books. ISBN 978-0-9545244-1-8. 
    First published by Gordon and Cremonesi in 1977 under the title "The Chinese Art of K'ai Men" and then reprinted by Aquarian Press (Thorsons/HarperCollins) under the title "Taoist Yoga" in 1983, now published by Seahorse Books (ISBN 978-0-9545244-1-8) describes the Taoist Ch'i gung exercises and Breathing exercises taught by Chee Soo.
  • Soo, Chee (2006). The Taoist Art of Feng Shou. Seahorse Books. ISBN 978-0-9545244-2-5. 
    First published by Aquarian Press (Thorsons/HarperCollins) in 1983 (ISBN 0850303605) now published by Seahorse Books (ISBN 978-0-9545244-2-5) describes in Chee Soo's own words the Lee-style of Feng Shou or "Hand of the Wind" kung fu or wu shu self-defence training as taught by Chee Soo.
  • Soo, Chee (2008). The Tao of Long Life. Seahorse Books. ISBN 978-0-9545244-3-2. 
    First published by Gordon and Cremonesi in 1979 (ISBN 0860330680) later published by Aquarian Press (Thorsons/HarperCollins). This book describes the natural foods diet and some Chinese Medicine techniques Chee Soo taught in his health and massage classes and has now been re-printed by Seahorse Books (ISBN 978-0-9545244-3-2).
  • Soo, Chee (2011). The Taoist Ways of Healing. Seahorse Books). ISBN 978-0-9545244-4-9. 
    First published by Aquarian Press (Thorsons/HarperCollins) in 1986 (ISBN 085030475X) This book describes Taoist Healing methods including massage, acupressure and diagnostic techniques of Chinese Medicine, now published by Seahorse Books (ISBN 978-0-9545244-4-9)
  • Soo, Chee (2006). The Tao of My Thoughts. Seahorse Books. ISBN 978-0-9545244-5-6. 
    First published by Seahorse Books in 2006 (ISBN 978-0-9545244-5-6) - is a diary of Chee Soo's thoughts regarding Taoist philosophy written down over eight years from 1976 to 1984, it is a guide for those interested in pursuing the study of Taoist philosophy in their daily lives.


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

  1. ^ Taoist Ways of Healing by Chee Soo page 138 (published by HarperCollins 1986)
  2. ^
  3. ^ Taoist Ways of Healing by Chee Soo page 139 (published by HarperCollins 1986)
  4. ^ Rupert Croft-Cooke - The Dogs of Peace, W.H.Allen and Co 1973 ISBN 0-491-00864-3
  5. ^ Taoist Ways of Healing by Chee Soo pages 139-140 (published by HarperCollins 1986)
  6. ^
  7. ^ Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan - Gordon and Cremonesi 1976 page 1
  8. ^ "Chinese Martial Arts". 21 May 1970. Story number: 95962. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Tao of My Thoughts pages 127-150
  13. ^ | British Library
  14. ^ Tao of My Thoughts page 147

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