The Personal Web Site of Carl Pearson
The Personal Web Site of Carl Pearson
Lost History of Lee Style T’ai Chi
Chee Soo taught his martial arts over a long period of time and over his career he taught different things at different times. This page explores some of the legacy of these different periods. It is likely to be one of the most contested pages on the web site. It is based largely on what people have told me in correspondence, and most of it is based on personal accounts or individuals own encounters with Chee Soo. It is an interpretation of available evidence rather than a factually verifiable account, indeed I am happy to acknowledge that there are still people alive who know much more about this history than I do.
I have decided to share what people have told me because some of the accounts circulating now about Chee Soo and his work lack both balance and perspective.
The Break Aways.
It is well known that during the 1970’s dissatisfaction occurred in Chee Soo’s organisation and this led to a number of Chee Soo’s senior students, and later his daughter and son in law, leaving his association.
Some accounts now, I would label them “revisionist”, stress that later in life Chee Soo’s teaching became more spiritual, more focused on T’ai Chi and that he became less interested in the fighting arts. This has led some to present Chee Soo as a guru figure. There can also be a tendency to dismiss the achievements and authenticity of those who trained with Chee Soo but split from him. It is suggested that they did not receive the “real” transmission of the arts, which was instead reserved for some of those who trained with Chee Soo until he died.
This is by no means the only view. Chee’s most senior students were around when some of the splits happened and know more about the reasons and motivation behind them. As far as I can tell there is contact and respect between these individuals even if they have developed their practice of the arts in different ways.
The views I have heard from past students who decided to move on from training with Chee Soo have all acknowledged Chee Soo’s talent and ability and have also acknowledged a debt of gratitude to him. However, it is clear there came a point when some people did feel that Chee Soo was changing the Feng Shou and making it easier. Some felt the standard required for grading to a black jacket was slipping. There was a feeling that Chee Soo, who was now older, was not as able physically to teach some of the skills. It is often quoted that around this time Chee Soo is said to have stated that, “if I cannot do the moves I will not teach them”. There were also problems about the way Chee Soo ran his association, when the Kung Fu craze took off in the 1970’s the association expanded rapidly and senior students saw accreditation standards for instructors lowered to provide teachers for the rapidly rising number of students. There were also other problems. Chee Soo’s first marriage ended following an affair. There were some people who felt very let down by the way Chee Soo behaved concerning these events in his personal life and for these people this was a reason to move on. Taken together these factors appear to have led to a crisis in which the majority of senior students split from Chee Soo and went their own way.
Splits happening in martial arts organisations is nothing unusual, in fact it is common place, so we should not be surprised that it happened at times in Chee Soo’s long teaching history. In some cases individuals simply moved on in their own lives to pursue another style, or moved away to another country. A number of Chee’s ex students very rapidly came to prominence in other styles such as Yang, Wu and Chen, although some are even now reluctant to publicly discuss Chee, his style and his teaching. What is also interesting is that some of the organisations that were developed by former students of Chee are still out there practicing arts that in some cases are very similar to what Chee taught or in other cases have evolved but continue to include some of what Chee taught.
On the following page I give a few contacts and details for organisations that I believe trace their lineage back through Chee Soo.