Category Archives: tai chi

Life-changing teachers #6: C.K.Chu


ChuThe first time I saw someone practicing tai chi, I had no idea what they were doing. It was sometime in the 70s on the Boston Common, and I thought, “What on earth is that?” In later years I took a keen interest in Asian culture, and learned about martial arts, although I had no interest in studying them at the time.

Sometime in the early 90s when I was living in New York, I was visiting my step-father George in Connecticut and he was doing some exercises that looked like tai chi. I said, “George, is that tai chi?” And he said, “No, not really, I just made it up.” Well, I thought that was pretty resourceful of him, and I mused, “That looks like fun. Maybe I’ll take some classes.”

So I did. I found Korean teacher and joined a beginner class in Yang form tai chi. It was interesting and fun, but I found that I couldn’t remember the moves. This teacher used to demonstrate them in front of the entire class and we would imitate him—that was it. After awhile, I felt I was making no progress, so I started asking around about other teachers. One of the students in my class asked me if I’d ever heard of Master Chu. I said I hadn’t, and she gave him such a glowing recommendation that I decided to go see him. She had observed one of his classes and had also decided to study with him.

I was surprised the first time I entered Chu’s spotless studio in Times Square to watch a class. The students weren’t all lined up doing the same moves. Instead, they were working individually on different moves, and Master Chu and his assistants would move among them, making corrections. I liked that approach, so I signed up right away.

In the beginner class, Master Chu taught a modified version of the Yang Short form. I joined the class, and it didn’t take long for me to discover that I was remembering the postures easily. Master Chu, a diminutive man dressed in a navy blue silk uniform, would watch the students, then help them with their moves. He was very demanding, but never intimidating. He’d constantly say in his halting English, “Tuck! Tuck”—meaning to pull in our behinds, since most of us had a tendency to stick them out!

I loved Master Chu. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and was always so relaxed…he seemed very comfortable in his own skin. He treated me kindly and always gave me a generous discount on classes, which meant a lot to me. He was genuinely interested in all his students and their progress. I’ve missed those classes since I move to Rio de Janeiro, but I’m glad I have his DVD, because I have never been able to find a tai chi class or teacher here that really suited me. It might be because Master Chu had such a profound influence on me and I can’t seem to enjoy other styles as much as his.

About Master Chu

Grandmaster C.K. Chu (1937-2013) was one of the great tai chi masters of the twentieth century. Born in Hong Kong, Chu was educated in martial arts and calligraphy as a child. He came to New York in the 1960s for college and graduate studies. He earned a masters degree in physics from Queens College and completed graduate work for a Ph.D. (ABD). Chu always said he began teaching Tai Chi to further his own training. His books were among the first books published about tai chi in English. During his 40 years of teaching Taoist arts in Times Square, Master Chu touched thousands of lives for the better.














Filed under education, my history, tai chi, Uncategorized

Do I have to jog when I’m 80?

pa-170301055sFor quite some time I’ve been seeing posts and videos on Facebook celebrating old age—advanced old age, from 80 and up to 100 and beyond—and most of them seem to follow the same pattern:

The elderly person in question (usually a woman) is either a body-builder, runs races, does yoga, or engages in some other supposedly health-giving physical activities that would be daunting even to many of the young. Then Facebookers react with a “wow” or “love” emoticon.

As someone in her seventh decade, I’m pretty sure that at least some of us “old folks” are thinking: “Gee, that’s amazing! I wish I could do that. I could never do that. How does she do that?!”

I for one, however, don’t have that knee-jerk reaction.

117864220I’ve never been athletic, despised gym class when I was in school, and would much rather read a book in a comfy arm chair than jog around the block. I do enjoy swimming, though, and tai chi, but never think of either as a sport (hey, I’m not training for the Olympics).

There seems to be an all-pervasive belief, especially in the US, that the human body should be kept in constant movement. A couple of guys I know even said this to me recently (of course they’re both athletes). Now I ask you: How could any human being stay in constant motion? It’s impossible.

The other biggie is that we live sedentary lives and that it’s unnatural. I especially love that one. Somehow the people who constantly bang that particular drum seem to forget (or maybe don’t know) that even in prehistoric times, people had “sedentary jobs”—food preparation, making tools, scraping animals hides, etc. Cro-Magnon man even invented the needle to sew skins together to make clothing.

I often think of my mother-in-law, who led a completely sedentary life, in addition to chain-smoking and eating lots of fried foods and chocolates—and who lived to be 100 years old. Friends have said, “Well, your mother-in-law must have had good genes.” Personally, I think this is nonsense, especially given what we now know about epigenetics, and how the mind controls the body. I like to think that it was the goodness of her heart, her unselfishness and interest in everyone and everything around her, that gave my mother-in-law her longevity.

In any case, I’d like to see some videos or read some articles about people who lived long, healthy, happy lives for reasons other than the fact that they spent every day at the gym lifting weights or preparing for the marathon. It’s not just about standing on your head at age 98 or running around the neighborhood into your 80s. Kudos to those (mostly) ladies for their efforts, but some of us just weren’t cut out for that!


Thanks to Rhonda Key Youngblood for this photo!



Filed under Aging, individuality, social media, tai chi, Uncategorized

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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