The Rising Sun School of
T'ai Chi Ch'uan

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Toronto T'ai Chi Classes at

The
Rising Sun School of T'ai Chi Ch'uan

We have no more than 8 students per instructor and you progress at your own rate. If you miss a class, you pick up where you left off the last time. We specialize in personal coaching!

Beginners' promotion:

Come to a free introductory class and find out about how to get one month of free classes!

The Rising Sun School Weekly Schedule (Toronto, Canada)

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A Favourite Quote:

"Not do...
to do...."

Master Lee Shiu-pak

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The Art of Living

"What you need is an acceptance of yourself as you are. You are like a seed. You do not know what you are going to be when spring comes - maybe a chrysanthemum, or an orchid, or just a plain dandelion. Do you want to know the outcome of the flowering that much? What about simply letting yourself be yourself during the flowering process? Be with the process and enjoy it. When the flower comes to full bloom, it is usually the last part of your life, and you are ready to go to seed. You'vbe spent all of your life looking, working, worrying, fighting for the last moment of flowering, which is going to be a glorious display. Becuase of intellectual ideas we are always aiming towards the gorgeous flower that each one of us has in mind. Most of the time we don't become that exact flower, and we are very unhappy. Life is a process, the preparing for the flowering. If seeds has goals, there wouldn't be many flowers."

Embrace Tiger Return to Mountain
by Al Huang

********

Commentary

I was at a T'ai Chi workshop once, which I had to attend as a part of my training in Master Herbalist Program in Western herbalism, in 1983. The workshop was conducted by an instructor who worked through Al Huang 's approach to T'ai Chi, which was very loose on form, very spontaneous, encouraging his students to be led by the 'inner energy'. Attention to placement and timing within this approach was secondary to a sense of inner flow. Al Huang's T'ai Chi was part of recovering his Eastern heritage as a Western trained dancer and in the 1970's he became a very popular and regular lecturer at the Esalen Institute, often co-leading workshops with Alan Watts, the American guru of Zen Buddhism and Taoism at that time. In this workshop the instructor asked if anyone had any previous experience. I answer honestly and accurately. His response was, "Well you have a lot of unlearning to do." It is unfortunate that his ignorant dismissal of what had been a deep life impacting experience through Master Lee's T'ai Chi turned me off Al Huang's work in T'ai Chi for a long time. I actually enjoyed the workshop, but emotionally I rejected the experience as superficial. There is an inherent weakness to this kind of work, in that it is idiosyncratic and the spontanaeity of it can cover up a lack any depth Still, the virtue of it is that it asks the student to listen deeply for an inner movement expressing itself through one's form and to be present in the moment of any given movement, open to its voice today. Lineage forms, even the standard forms, represent a lot of inner listening that has been formalized in a map, so that people can find there way back to the wisdom uncovered by past practitioners. Inner listening is essential if we are to have any insight and a sense of internal energy is critical to a students progress. I think the above passage places Al Huang's appraoch in a philosophical perspective that is invaluable both to T'ai practice and to living.

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" The concept of T'ai Chi only means
a way of learning how to regain balance again.
It is a way to come back to your self
from all the conflicts and confusions that we feel every day of our lives.
T'ai Chi does not mean oriental wisdom or something exotic.
It is the wisdom of your own senses, your own body and mind togther as one process."

Al Huang

You will find many T'ai Chi books and reviews at

The T'ai Chi Bookstore

 

If you have comments or suggestions email
Paul McCaughey at: taichitoronto@rogers.com

Soft...
Slow...
Smooth...

~ finis ~

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Master Lee Shiu Pak and his Times

Introduction

This has been one of the most difficult pieces of writing so far for me related to T'ai Chi. There is nothing easy about writing biographically, especially in Mr. Lee's case where information is scanty. Still, in the bold strokes appears much of what we are all about and the endless details are not what any of us tend to remember. So I take heart in the hope I have conveyed some of Mr. Lee's 'strokes of fortune'. As Sam (Slutsky) said to me once, " He always seemed to land on his feet..."

I have tried to render Master Lee's story as clearly as possible, while at the same time providing some historical context and commentary where it seemed appropriate. I have tried to reign in my admiration for the wonderful teacher and person that Master Lee was for many people and stick to what is known rather than waxing appreciatively. I am grateful to Sam Slutsky, David Bray, Alan Weis, Gene Kwok, Tom Brown, Francis Hosien, and Peter Reis, Alan Hahn, and the many former students I have met since he passed away who helped me understand Master Lee better in one way or another. Sam, who spent time with Mr. Lee in the hospital towards the end, told me some stories about Mr. Lee's early years, which he heard while they were waiting for tests and I am sure there are more that others could share. All errors are mine. Further corrections or contributions are welcome. Thanks as always to friends and T'ai Chi Family.

The Early Years

Lee Shiu-pak was born Lee Chew-ng in 1910 and died in Montreal in 1982. There he founded his T'ai Chi Family, which was for official purposes (when he certified instructors) also known as the Montreal T'ai Chi Ch'uan Society. Master Lee taught at Loyola University and Dawson College, as well as in his own rented spaces.

Mr. Lee studied at the University of Shanghai. During his time in Shanghai he studied T'ai Chi Ch'uan with Chen Wei-ming a reknowned and Master of Traditional Yang Family Style. Mr. Lee studied with Chen Wei-ming for seven years and as a senior student taught Chen's classes for the last four. At some point he took the T'ai Chi name Shiu-pak, which means "of small knowledge."

After University and the Communist Revolution

After his university years in Shanghai, Mr. Lee went on to live in a small city in Canton Province where he worked as both as High School principal and as a journalist. I was told that this was a good time in his life after University when his interest in philosophy, art and T'ai Chi Ch'uan flourished. This phase of his life ended abruptly with the Communist Revolution when he lost everything and was sent to a work camp like many educated people, away from family and friends.

During the Communist Revolution many organizations such martial arts schools were outlawed or abolished. This period of purges was a severe blow to the traditional martial arts. I have been told many teachers and styles were lost during this period, or had to go underground. Some years later the traditional martial arts were deemed to be beneficial to the people and were organized by the Chinese government into standard martial arts forms called Wu Shu. Since its inception Wu Shu has been taught and practiced more like western sports with well organized local and national competitions.

Taiwan and Hong Kong as a result became refuges for the traditional martial arts and from there a diaspora of Chinese refugees spread throughout the world. In this way, traditional T'ai Chi Ch'uan styles and many other martial arts found their way to the West. Much like Tibetan Buddhism which was outlawed by the communist Chinese in Tibet, Traditional Styles of T'ai Chi Ch'uan have taken seed and flourished throughout the world. One of the present ironies of history is that the Chinese government now exports Traditional Yang Style, as well as the government created Standard Styles, driven by the market demand in the West for Traditional Styles.

Hong Kong

Eventually Mr. Lee was released from the work camp, quite ill with tuberculosis. He was able to rejoin his family in Hong Kong and there through his knowledge of Chinese folk medicine and his practice of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, he regained his health. He rebuilt his life in Hong Kong, finding employment as the manager of a factory that specialized in hand painted toys. He did his T'ai Chi twice daily in the park and while practicing people approached him to teach T'ai Chi for the first time. It was from these first requests that his long and successful teaching career blossomed. Because people asked and wanted to learn he felt obligated to teach. It was always his practice to recognize the 'heart to learn' which he considered more important than the ability to pay. Over the years many, many people came to learn and payed what they could, which was often less than his modest fees.

Montreal

Eventually his family emigrated to Montreal, where they started a restaurant in the 1960's. Mr. Lee followed them there some time later and there he would remain for the rest of his life. What he saw and experienced during purges of the cultural revolution made him a life long opponent to Communism. In Montreal he would work with the Kuomingtang Association (Chinese Nationalists) with his writing skills in support of Nationalism and democracy, writing for their newspaper.

Academic Teaching

Sam told me that Mr. Lee said that it was Chen Wei-ming's idea to teach at the University of Shanghai, a place from which T'ai Chi could go out to the world through it's influence on the young minds. Master Lee would pursue this ideal when he taught in Montreal at Loyola University (presently Concordia U.)and Dawson College. Later the Dawson classes were taken on by Tom Brown and Sam Slutsky. Many students passed through those classes. At least three of whom that I know of, including myself, eventually went on to teach. So this ideal has had great merit over the years and disproves the common misconception that T'ai Chi is only for older people. It was the most important course of study I have ever pursued and I still remember at 17 years old how taken I was with it. These days when I am invited to Universities to lecture, I remember these beginnings and I understand the merit of offering T'ai Chi to young people first hand.

Painting

Master Lee was also an accomplished traditonal water colour painter and taught this form of Chinese art about once a year to his T'ai Chi students and friends. Where he said that T'ai Chi was characterized by "no power", I was told that the painting was charaterized by "power" and he used to get students to release their power through the brush in bold strokes. I was told that he had a showing of his work once at Place Boneventure in Montreal.

Master Lee's Four Aspects Teaching

Master Lee's T'ai Chi Ch'uan work was characterized by his thoroughness. He emphasized a multi-dimensional approach to training which was expressed through what he called the 'Four Aspects of T'ai Chi Ch'uan.' Mr. Lee's idea was that a well rounded student of T'ai Chi Ch'uan would study Exercise (Forms), Medicine (Massage and Herbs), Boxing (Martial Art) and Philosophy (Personal Development). In each area he demonstrated how the principles of T'ai Chi (Yin and Yang) apply over and over again. Master Lee's teachings demonstrated how learning one of the Four Aspects would automatically reinforce the skills and insights culled within the other three. For example, over the years it has become possible to see how the same move in the Long Form (Chop and Parry), is a stretch in the the T'ai Chi Acupressure teachings (Separate Shoulder Blade) and a leverage technique in the Boxing aspect (Cross Arm Bar). All three techniques work because according to the T'ai Chi Philosphy, one hand is Yang and while the other Yin. Similarly, a breakthrough to greater yielding in Push Hands (Boxing), often comes from a insight into one's fears of hurting or getting hurt (Philosophy). The deeper level of inner understanding and peace that comes with working this through (using Boxing and Philosophy) can then become expressed as deeper relaxation in one's Long Form (Exercise). An even greater insight might give rise to the understanding in the massage (Medicine) how the basis for most tension is in the way people become self protectively coiled, withdrawn or held, much as one does when one feels threatened in Push Hands. In both cases one has to see how the tension is unproductive and learn to trust the experience of not being in control. An essential teaching in both the philosophy of Taoism and of T'ai Chi Ch'uan is that balance depends on our capacity to let go of our exclusive agenda and move within a larger context. The richness of the Four Aspects Teaching is that it mirrors the complexity of who we are. On an inner level we learn to give way to our own capacity and need to change. This teaching presents an opportunity for us to enter into the unfolding and enfolding mystery of synergy, where the whole of a natural system, the Self in this case, is always greater than the sum of the parts. (See Four Aspects of T'ai Chi Ch'uan )

Master Lee's Form

Master Lee's Form (Yang Family Long Form)

looks significantly different from Chen Wei Mings form, especially in the pictures of Chen when he was older. In the younger Chen photos their forms are more comparable. From the depth and wisdom of Master Lee's work it is logical to infer that he had a strong foundation from Chen Wei Ming followed by a lifetime of perservering practice and study.

Our work comes distinctively through his Master Lee's form and the principled pragmatism of it's execution. Although the link to Chen Wei Ming is of some historical importance, in practice Master Lee's form is significantly different from the elder Chen Wei Ming form. When asked about this difference between their forms he said that the form he studied from the younger Chen was executed differently from what Chen did when he was older.

Also Master Lee said that Chen Wei Ming often showed additions within the form, such as five consecutive punches rather than the traditional three. Master Lee decided to include these extra punches in his rendition of the form, as they only added value and took nothing away from the original. This is also true of Chen Wei Ming's teaching a Forward Take Down sequence just after Bamboo or Spear Hand in third stage. At one of the T'ai Chi industry demonstrations where Yang Style Forms were being compared, a student of Master Lee's tradition was confronted as to the validity of this 'Forward Down' and a man emerged from the crowd and said, "We do that also" and his teacher's teacher was Chen Wei Ming as well. So in his career as a teacher, Chen Wei Ming had his additions and commentaries on Yang Cheng Fu's Long Form, as Master Lee did on Chen Wei Ming's. (See Traditional Yang Style Form Differences for more information on the variations within Yang Style)

Plumb Erect and Full Extensions

Master Lee's form, like Chen Man Ching's form, works with a completely plumb erect spine in all phases of movement , while having a completely extended slightly flexed back leg in his forward stances where Chen Man Ching's form has less extension and flexion. Master Lee's form does not have the forward leaning of the spine, which often aligns with the diagonal of the back leg, prevalent in some Yang Family traditions. Master Lee like most teachers refered to the 'T'ai Chi Classics', the literary tradition of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. In the Classics the spine is described as 'plumb erect'. This principle alone is understood and practiced very differently from one School to the next. Sam Slutsky told me once that he asked Mr. Lee about Wing Chung and the the merits of its' study. Mr. Lee's comment was that in Wing Chung the hips are thrust in such a way that is unnatural to the body. "You don't walk down the street like that.....why should you practice like that?" This comment I think for me characterizes his approach to all aspects of T'ai Chi. Master Lee's practice fit with how he lived and experienced life. I think of this realism and respect for natural alignment as his first principles and they make his system both sensible and accessible.

Medicine

Master Lee was also a "Di Da Sifu", which translates as 'hit fall doctor'. This means that as a Sifu of a martial art school, he was a specialist in the treatment of injuries. It is common in the many traditional martial arts for schools to have their own medicine system for the treatment of blows, strains, sprains, cuts, bruises and fractures, all of which might occur as a result of the training. It is a common tradition in many cultures that the protectors of a society also have some medical training, in much the same way our the police and army is trained in first aid. Master Lee attended to many injuries of T'ai Chi students, their families and friends over the years. I still meet people whose "tennis elbow" he fixed.

Master Lee developed a T'ai Chi Medicine course where he taught an integrated system of Acupressure massage, Injury medicine, and Chinese Herbal medicine for common maladies. This medicine came from a folk tradition rather than a formal College or University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Some of the prescriptions in his medicine repetoire did come from Chen Wei Ming. These medicine teachings have proven invaluable to many people over the years. For example Master Lee's "number one", the first prescription on his calligraphy handouts for the medicine course, is a linament reknowned among student for it's curative value when treating sprains, strains and even old or reoccuring injuries. Also the 'cold pills and tea' have warded off many a T'ai Chi students' cold or flu and his four simple prescriptions for menstrual disorders have helped many women over the years.

Often medicines had more than one use. One of the teas that one uses for women who have an unnatural absence of menses, which disperses Stagant Blood, can also be used for the internal treatment of Congealed Blood due to traumatic injury. In both cases, Blood congestion is dispersed and Blood circulation strengthened. This practice of folk medicine is best characterized as T'ai Chi Medicine, because it is so completely integrated into the other three aspects af T'ai Chi Ch'uan. One of the best places to learn about 'Qi' circulation, or "Air" as Mr. Lee called it, is in the accupressure massage. This awareness inevitably enters into your Formwork. When one learns the massage stretches and points, one's Boxing leverage and striking also improves.The last prescription on his first handout is not for herbs at all, but a Philosophy and Poem entitled: "Not Medicine, but Better than Medicine. How to be Strong and Happy." Master Lee said that you learned the medicine to "help other people" and he thought that this was the greatest happiness one could have.

Master Lee's Boxing

Master Lee's Boxing was a simple clear progression from the principles of form work into the neutralization principles of Push Hands and the displacement principles of full Boxing. He did not lean forward and his stance was based on a square so he could shift, turn or walk at any time. His boxing style was based first upon listening and interpreting the opponent's energy, from there yielding without sacrifice of one's centre and then returning. The capacity to return involved just about any form of striking or leverage. The pushing over of the opponents center, now prevalent in much of contemporary Push Hands practice, was only one training method with a myriad of others. In Boxing also, Master Lee's form was probably closer to Cheng Man-ching's uprightness and softness, rather than Yang Zheng-duo's forward extensions. I have found clarity of his instructions and methods to be unrivalled thus far in any published literature I have seen on the subject of T'ai Chi Boxing. Mr. Lee would often get excited about anything to do with the Boxing. He and called it "sport". If you worked on an application in free time, he would be there in a flash showing you two more. When T'ai Chi Boxing seemed like an insurmountable skill, I would remember him saying, "many times to do..", which means keep practising. His teaching about competitive boxing practice with a partner is captured in his saying, "If you (both) laugh, you win." This was his way of saying that one should have generous heart when you train with someone else. I have a strong impression that Master Lee took T'ai Chi Boxing seriously. In life he had been pushed around a fair amount by one thing or another. Loss teaches us to cherish life. One example of this was that Master Lee always gave you a feeling that you were important. I think he understood the value of life and people and was willing to defend those things near and dear. For me the greatness of his Boxing lies not in any victorious displays of his prowess, but in the stories I have heard from the people whose welfare he fought for in one way or another. If you asked, he would be there for you totally. It was this integrity and seriousness which made me sit up straight and be fully attentive when he taught anything. For me his caring characterizes the spirit of his Boxing.

Master Lee's Classes

Master Lee's classes were characterized by long lines of students moving through and then holding postures as the alignments and timing were called while Mr. Lee or instructors went around and gave hands on corrections. Beyond learning first stage, this is how we all learned the form, as a whole and immersed in the volume and detail of the 86 movements. That foundation work has served like a great encyclopedia of information whose contents have unfolded over the years of practice and study, of both myself and my peers. There is no substitution for a strong foundation.

Within his T'ai Chi classes he expressed his values and philosophy through the organizing principle of T'ai Chi Family, where elder brothers and sisters (those more experienced) help younger brothers and sisters to learn. Although there was a natural pecking order of sorts, and many social connections within the classes, there never was any elitism that I detected. He did not believe in 'inner circle or inner room' students to which the deeper secrets are taught. What he taught, he taught openly, generously and fairly to all that wished to learn. In his school anyone could rise through the work to eventually become a teacher if one had the 'heart to learn'.

Master Lee's Instructors and Training

Master Lee had a definite protocol with respect to the training of Instructors of T'ai Chi Ch'uan within his school. A student had to study for a minimum of three years and then was asked to help him teach his classes. One then taught both beginners and led the line up teaching for all levels under his supervision. He guided this training mostly in Form, but with a strong emphasis on Boxing as well. When he felt the student was ready, he set an exam in both the teaching of the form and the practice of the form and boxing methods. He then issued a certificate as an Instructor of Yang Family T'ai Chi Ch'uan. There were three generations of Instructors that I am aware of that were trained and certified by Master Lee. I received my teacher's certficate from him in 1980 after five years of study with him and was part of the third and last generation of instructors to graduate. Mr. Lee died in 1982 and I am sure many more dedicated students would have gone through to receive traditional licensure if he had more time. (See Commentary on Accreditation)

Reputation

Master Lee's T'ai Chi work was known and well respected in Montreal and beyond, where his contributions to T'ai Chi Ch'uan are still remembered. At one time he helped make a short film on T'ai Chi for the National Film Board of Canada. He brought students to New York and Toronto for demonstrations. I can still walk into a medicine store here in Toronto with calligraphy from his medicine teachings and be recognized as a student of Mr. Lee. My mother's T'ai Chi Master in Montreal who counted Mr. Lee as one of his teachers, once exclaimed upon hearing who my teacher had been, "Oh it was a great loss to the T'ai Chi community when he died," and he remembered Mr. Lee fondly. Many students of Mr. Lee who went on to study other styles have commented upon returning to his teachings that they missed his system for both it's clarity and effectiveness.

Remembering Master Lee

Master Lee greatness I think will only be understood with time. We were lucky to have known him. He devoted himself to T'ai Chi and even more to his students. He looked at T'ai Chi as a way of life and tried to create more benefit and total welfare in all those he knew. He was a generous man and a gentleman.

Master Lee set a high standard of achievement for all of us. Perhaps Master Lee's greatest achievement was the legacy of openness he envisioned and encouraged in us, a willingness to submit to the 'mercilessness' of study, as Sam Slutsky conveyed to me once. Master Lee is survived by all those he inspired to study T'ai Chi Ch'uan, his T'ai Chi family to whom he felt most dedicated. The beauty of his work is perhaps most eloquently expressed not so much through the vitality of T'ai Chi work that survives him, but rather through the friendships that that work fostered and continues to nurture to this day.

I remember a story a friend of mine told me about his T'ai Chi Master who had to return to China after many years of teaching in the USA. He went to spend one last weekend with his teacher and was moping around awaiting the inevitable parting and his teacher asked him, "Why are you so sad?" My friend answered, "Because Sifu you are going away." His Sifu said, "Why be sad? Every time you do your form I am with you."

Studying in Master Lee's tradition is a life long apprenticeship. My sense of the way in which he moved continues to mirror the both the accomplishments and the failings of my own work and I feel lucky to have had such singluarly strong influence in my career in T'ai Chi. I have met other students who have had many teachers and they are pulled along by the mirror each one represents. In the end as Master Lee said to a friend about life after one's teacher is gone, "T'ai Chi will be your teacher". Though this has proved true for me, I have also been fortunate over the years to have had a few peers who have served as mirrors and at times as a better memory than my own.

 

Master Lee is also present for me
within the spirit that draws people to the family reunions
and especially when we gather and move together.
I recognize in our diversity,
his acceptance and support as a teacher
and in that sense we are his legacy.
Whether we knew him or not,
however close or distant we might be
from fulfilling the example of his practice,
that we practice and study with the 'heart to learn'
unites all students within the spirit of his work.

 


"You, you think T'ai Chi is fun,

not really..."

Master Lee to Peter R. and myself one night
when we were goofing around in class a little too much

always kind of haunted me...