TCAH: Master Chu, when did you first begin to study Tai Chi Chuan?
GSC: I began to practice Yang style under Master Lai Hok Soon in 1956 with a very close friend, Mr. Chan Ping Tim. Before this time I had learned the Wu style. I knew Mr. Wu Tai Ki, the 4th generation head of Wu style Tai Chi Chuan. He referred me to his father's disciple (I don't remember his name now). I spent many months with this disciple learning Wu style. One day Mr Chan practiced push hands with the teacher--the teacher could not push Mr. Chan & actually fell down! So we realized the teacher was maybe not that good and left.
TCAH: Why did you choose Tai Chi Chuan as opposed to other styles?
GSC: My health was very poor & everyone I knew at the time told me that Tai Chi Chuan is a very good exercise to improve one's health--as I wrote in Yang Sau Chung's book "Practical Use of Tai Chi Chuan".
TCAH: You mentioned studying under Master Lai Hok Soon--who did he study Tai Chi Chuan with?
GSC: Master Lai was working in the local Canton government at the time when Yang Cheng Fu came to Canton. At the time Master Lai was studying Pa Kua Chang under the famous Fu Gin Sung. With Yang Cheng Fu's arrival, Master Lai began studying Tai Chi Chuan with Master Yang Sau Chung--Yang Cheng Fu was not actually teaching any more at that time, he would sit & instruct his son what to teach. Master Fu Gin Sung knew that Master Lai studied Tai Chi Chuan and would often come to the training hall to observe his practice.
TCAH: After Master Lai's death you went on to study under Master Yang Sau Chung. How did you first meet him?
GSC: Master Lai and Master Yang often communicated between each other. When Master Yang first taught in Hong Kong, at a sports club called Kung Ming in Kowloon, Master Lai was his only assistant instructor. Later, when Master Lai was very sick in hospital, Master Yang came and visited him. That was the first time I met Master Yang. After Master Lai's death, around 15 of us went to learn from Master Yang. Within one year I was the only member of the group left! Training from Master Yang was very hard--he demanded a very high standard from his students. He often said "This is how my father taught me, that is why I teach you this way".
TCAH: What memories do you have of training under Master Yang?
GSC: There are a lot of memories I have of this time--there is not enough room here to recount them all! The main one is of his standard of teaching. He maintained the same quality for all students, nothing was adapted as is often the case today. He would say "If you can do this, then I will teach you. If you cannot do it, best find someone else". The other thing that comes to mind is the relationship between us. When he knew I was coming for a lesson that day, he would always sit and wait for me. He would cancel any appointments, even cancel going out with his wife somewhere.
TCAH: Are there any stories you can relate to us of this time?
GSC: Okay, my very first lesson with Master Yang, I showed him what I had learned from Master Lai. A woman student standing next to Master Yang commented that I was sinking much lower into my postures than my friend Chan Ping Tim. Master Yang nodded, which made me very pleased. I was then asked to show Master Yang my pushing hands exercises: ward off, roll back, press, push (as a senior student with Master Lai I used to practice push hands with him a lot). Master Yang again nodded, so I thought I had done a very nice job. However, Master Yang then said I lacked the most important ingredient, ward-off power (peng jing). I then pushed hands with him, and he showed me how this worked--when he applied this power I was shocked and unable to move my arms! Then I knew how much more I had to learn! Since that day I have spent a lot of time developing Peng jing through dynamic pushing hands. I emphasize this a lot in my teaching--it is the essence in all aspects of Tai Chi Chuan.
TCAH: Did Master Lai and Master Yang's teaching methods differ?
GSC: They had very different styles of teaching. Master Lai taught in the parks. He had many teaching locations. Often he could not cover them all, so I would teach at some of them. Classes were always conducted as a group in early morning, then after classes everyone would go to work. Master Yang taught individually in his own home. Generally, he divided his time to allow each student a lesson at different times throughout the day. No two students had the lesson at the same time. All lessons were taught privately--Master Yang was adamant that his students should not practice in public. He wished many aspects of the art to remain known only to a few. In this way he could be sure of maintaining high standards.
TCAH: How did you feel upon being accepted as Second Disciple of Master Yang?
GSC: Becoming a "closed-door" or "inner circle" disciple carries a lot of responsibility. It is only at this stage that the higher levels of the art are taught. One can be sure that one is receiving the true transmission. It also becomes a responsibility to ensure the continuance of this transmission, maintain the high standards set by my master and to continue the propagation of classical Yang style Tai Chi Chuan. Only in this way can the true art continue to flourish and grow.
TCAH: How have you gone about carrying such a task?
GSC: In the past 25 years, Tai Chi Chuan has come a long way in the United States. I formed the Gin Soon Tai Chi Club in Boston in 1969--not many people knew what Tai Chi Chuan was! Since then I have done a lot of educational work. Now, when you mention the name Tai Chi Chuan, people know what you are talking about. The next step is to improve the quality of Tai Chi Chuan. Although I keep my school small and private, many practitioners seek me out and invite me to conduct seminars at their schools. In this way I can continue to improve the standard of Yang style, both in this country and abroad.
TCAH: Talking of seminars, on your recent course in London, you often stressed the need to sink the chi to the Dan Tien. How is this achieved?
GSC: Many people think that as long as you keep relaxed and think about it, it will happen. This is not so. You have to make it happen physically as well as mentally, over a long period of time. There is no such thing as overnight success. This is why a beginner must seek out a knowledgeable teacher, not simply a famous teacher. When you can sink the chi, the legs become stronger, the body is stronger--you become stronger as a person.
TCAH: Many people are confused by the term chi, or internal energy. What is its meaning for you?
GSC: Chi to me is something inside our body that keeps us alive. It is the energy originating from the blood. In Tai Chi Chuan, the power is often called chi, but more properly it is jing. This is the combination of power from the tendons and ligaments with chi. This power can only be gained through persistent practice. My classmate, Master Ip Tai Tak always says: "Power training is very boring. It is like saving a penny every day". We do not look for the immediate result, we are looking long term.
TCAH: As a leading authority on Yang style Tai Chi Chuan what advice would you give to practitioners at different levels?
GSC: For beginners--be patient. Learn a few movements at a time, do not try to take in too much information at once, it just becomes confusing. Spend time practicing what you have learned already. To build a tall building begins with a strong foundation. What you have already have learned is the most important thing.
At an intermediate stage--do not hurry, spend time doing it right. It is very important at this stage to have correct posture. This will lead to correct energy circulation and set the way for future growth.
For advanced practitioner--people are into number games these days. They think, the more Tai Chi routines they know, the better it is. A practitioner should fully understand the how and why for each posture. One should spend more time to understand Yang Cheng Fu's Ten Points.
TCAH: Often there are people who practice Tai Chi Chuan for 10, 15 years and achieve no power. What advice would you give to these people?
GSC: Obviously this individual did not have a good teacher. Stop and find someone else. As I said before. you should find a knowledgeable teacher, not just a famous one. Generally a knowledgeable teacher will be someone whom very few people know of and is difficult to find.
TCAH: There are many interpretations of how Yang style should be practiced. How important is it to practice the right way? Does it matter as long as the principles are applied?
GSC: It is very important to practice Tai Chi Chuan the right way--otherwise one is wasting time and money. If you practice according to the principles, you are practicing correctly. However, there are many ways to interpret the principles. Yang style interprets them in one specific way and one way only; so if you do not follow that interpretation, you cannot truly be said to be practicing Yang style.
*This interview was originally published in Tai Chi & Alternative Health Magazine, Volume I, Issue 2, Autumn 1994. Copyright © British Tai Chi Chuan Centre