The 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.