An homage to C.K. Chu

George, my stepfather, turned me on to tai chi. He knew nothing about it, but he had seen some people doing it on TV, so he tried to copy them and made up some simple movements of his own. He was already close to 80 and felt he wasn’t getting enough exercise.

I can remember seeing people doing tai chi in Central Park in New York many years ago, before it was popular. I couldn’t imagine what on earth they were doing…I thought it was so weird! But later on I found out what it was, and when George made up his own version, I thought it would be fun to give the real thing a try.

I was living in New York city at the time, and the first class I went to was taught by a Korean man. There were usually at least 12 people in the class, and he would stand in front and demonstrate the movements and we would try to copy him. After a couple of months studying with him I found that I couldn’t remember anything when I got home. I’d try to do the movements but my mind would be a blank. I kept thinking if I kept going every week that I’d remember something, but I never did.

I was talking one day after class with a fellow student and she was having the same problem. She said, “I’m thinking of changing teachers. I hear that Master Chu is really good. He has a studio in Times Square.” I was ready for a change, too, so I headed to Times Square the next week to check out C.K. Chu’s classes.

When I got there, a class was in progress so I asked if I could watch. The receptionist said sure, so I quietly entered the room and sat down on the floor in the corner. There were around eight students in the room, and each one was practicing on his or her own. Master Chu, a diminutive man in a navy blue silk tai chi uniform, was walking among them, along with an assistant. There was no standing up in front of a group and demonstrating the movements. He went around individually to each one and showed them the next move. They were all at different places in the form, so it was almost like having a private lesson.

C.K. Chu and Jackie Chan, 1996

I joined up right away, and got busy learning the Yang Short Form as taught by C.K. Chu. He was very kind, but also very demanding. Most students had a tendency to let their rear ends stick out, so he was constantly saying “Tuck! Tuck!” to get us to pull them in. I loved to watch him do the moves. It was like seeing a tree bending in the wind or a glimpsing a small animal scampering through the forest. I absolutely fell in love with tai chi and ended up staying with Master Chu for four years. I learned the form and then took the Short Form Correction class. When I had completed it and could do it quite well, Master Chu smiled and shook my hand.

When I moved down to Rio, I knew I would miss studying tai chi, so I eventually started looking for a some classes here. I went to one where the form was completely different from what I had learned in New York, and I had a hard time adapting. Then I found a private teacher and encountered the same problem. I showed him some of the things I had learned from Master Chu and he sort of pooh-poohed them. I just couldn’t find what I was looking for. C.K. Chu had spoiled me forever. Before long I decided I’d be better off sending for Chu’s video and working by myself at home, so that’s what I did.

But every now and then I really miss those classes, and especially being around a Master like C.K. Chu.


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