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Lee Style T’ai Chi


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How does Lee Style Form compare to other T’ai Chi Forms?

The Lee style form comprises 42 sets or 140 distinct moves. This includes the final move as a set and 5 repeated sets, including two repeated twice. In other words the Lee Style contains 36 distinctly named sets.

I have used Wong Kiew Kit’s Complete T’ai Chi Chuan book as a reference to compare the names used for Lee Style sets with those of Yang, Wu (Yu Xiang) style and Wu (Chuan You). This is not entirely satisfactory, however, the use of the same English translation at least suggests a common ancestor in the lineage of the forms. A Yang form influence is clear in some sets; play guitar (lute); Fair (Jade) Lady Weaving; Grasp Birds Tail; Brush knee Side Step; Repulse Monkey; Single Whip; Wave Hands in Clouds. All of these sequences except Grasp Birds Tail also appear in the Wu (Yu Xiang) form. Interestingly, the Wu (Chuan You) form also contains all the above sequences and a sequence White Crane Flaps Wings which does not appear in either the other Wu or the Yang form, it does however appear in Lee T’ai Chi as Crane Exercises its Wings. So Lee and Wu (Chuan You) contain eight sequence in common including one unique commonality. Of course that still leaves 28 Lee Style sequences that at least in terms of their translation are unique to the Lee Style.

The execution of the Lee Style is closer to the high stances of Wu styles than the usual deeper stances of Yang style. This very simplistic look at the description of the patterns does support the idea that there is a link between Lee Style and the other T’ai Chi styles. It is known that a number of changes and developments were made during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as Yang style became known and in particular the major variations of Wu and later Hao and Sun style emerged. Both Wu styles were also influenced by Chen Jing Ping’s Zhao Bao small form.

At the very least it seems clear that these sequences from the classical T’ai Chi lineage found their way into Lee Style T’ai Chi, either because they were added to make a connection, or because the Lee Family was drawing from the common well of martial and Taoist health arts that fed the development of T’ai Ci forms at that time. The obvious explanation is that the T’ai Chi Chee Soo learnt was from a lineage that included someone who knew one or both Wu styles or something very like them. This explanation is looking very much in the same direction as Chee Soo’s daughter suggests in her speculation about the origin of Chee Soo’s form. John Solagbade, who is now a highly accomplished practitioner in both Yang and Chen Style, and who receives an acknowledgement for help in Chee Soo’s 1977 K’ai Men book, states that he trained with Chee Soo in the 1970’s, he now calls what he learnt then “Wu Style”.

I came across one curious story on the web from someone called Mathias Volhard+. He tells us correctly that the port of Wei Hai,cited by Chee Soo as Kam Lee’s home, was occupied by the British at the start of the 20th Century and civil policing was carried out by police officers from London. He states that two officers, Gregory Chatlow and Harry Petty learnt T’ai Chi there at this time and brought it back to England. They were apparently later involved in a small martial arts society operating in London that continued into the 1930’s. I have not been able to verify any of the specific facts from this account, but if true it would place both groups in London holding classes in Chinese martial arts in the 1930’s.

Of course this still does not help with discovering the lineage of the remaining sequences, the weapons forms and other fighting arts, or the flying hands form. It is sadly, quite possible now that we may never know the true history of this body of knowledge.

+ This post appeared in 2006 and nothing else has appeared from this source. The two police offices do not appear to exist in the records and my current view is that Mathias Volhard is not a real name and the story is probably a hoax.