Monday, September 22, 2008

Lee style tai chi chuan

The Lee style of tai chi chuan is closely related to a range of disciplines of Taoist Arts taught within the Lee style including Chi Kung, Tao Yin, Chinese Macrobiotics, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Taoist alchemy, Feng Shou Kung Fu, and weapons practice. It was first brought to the West in the 1930s and was popularized by Chee Soo who was the President of the International Taoist Society from 1958 until his death in 1994.
The Lee style of T'ai Chi Ch'uan comprises two forms known as 'the dance' and 'the form', I Fou Shou or 'sticky hands' technique, Whirling Hands, Whirling Arms, and various Chi and Li development exercises.
Although Lee style T'ai Chi is undeniably related to Martial Arts training, there are in actual fact five distinct areas of development that comprise the whole Art: 1.Physical, 2.Mental, 3.Breathing, 4.Sheng Chi and 5.Ching Sheng Li .


The style is derived from an original set of eight movements created by Ho-Hsieh Lee from Beijing around 1000 BC, this was a time before there were any written records so we only have the oral tradition passed down from father to son to rely on. His family moved to a fishing village called Wei Hei Wei on the East coast of China in Shandong Province and settled there and practiced a range of Taoist Arts. The techniques were passed on from one generation to the next and kept within the family until the last in their line, Chan Lee, traveled to London in the 1930s on business. It was here that he met and adopted a young orphan named Clifford Soo, later to be known as Chee Soo, and he passed the techniques on to him as he had no children of his own.

Chee Soo writes:

The formation of the International Taoist Society

This society was formed on the foundations that were originally laid down by Professor Chan Kam Lee to cater for the interest that was beginning to be aroused, and because other members started to form their own classes and clubs, it was felt that the formation of an association would help to bind all practitioners together.

In the winter of 1953-4, Chan Lee died, off the coast of China, near Canton, when th3e ship that he was traveling in sank in a severe storm, and so Chee Soo was asked to take over the leadership of the Association. However, in deference to the memory of Chan Lee, Chee Soo declined to accept any title within the Association at that particular time. By 1959, groups and clubs were being formed all over the world, and they were all asking for leadership. For this reason, Chee Soo decided to accept the post of President of the Association. Since then the Association has grown from strength to strength in the British Isles, Australia, South Africa, France, Germany, Holland, Mauritius, and New Zealand.

In 1976 the authoritative training manual on Lee style T'ai Chi Ch'uan written by Chee Soo was published entitled "The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan" which describes the history and philosophy of the style in detail including descriptions of each aspect of the Art with photographs and descriptions of the Lee style T'ai Chi form. In actual fact he wrote several books about the various aspects of the Lee style Taoist Arts published by HarperCollins which became best-sellers and were subsequently translated into several languages including French , German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese , Polish, and Indonesian.
Chee Soo moved to Coventry in the 1980s and trained a group of teachers to continue his work.

Since his death in August 1994 there are now several school teaching the Lee style T'ai Chi based in the British Isles each of which emphasize different aspects of the Lee style Taoist Arts.

The emblem of the Lee family is the Seahorse which represents Yin within Yang as it is the only creature where the male incubates and gives birth to the offspring.

Chi Kung

Chee Soo's T'ai Chi classes invariably included Chi Kung or energy cultivation, and Tao Yin or breathing exercises. The Lee style Chi Kung exercises are called K'ai Men or 'Open Door'. Chee Soo wrote a book published by HarperCollins in 1983 under the title "Taoist Yoga", which was devoted entirely to this aspect of the Arts. This book contains details of Taoist alchemy energy cultivation methods involving deep breathing into the Tan t'ien or "Golden Stove" or "Lower Cauldron" in order to stimulate the flow of Chi or internal energy, circulating it through various energy centres located along the meridians and vessels which are usually associated with acupuncture and known as the Microcosmic orbit. Various types of breathing exercises are described and categorized in terms of Yin and Yang breathing and recommendations are given in terms of regulating the body in accordance with the peak of energy flowing through each organ and it's corresponding line of meridian depending on the time of day and season of the year. There are also various recommendations for constant good health regarding the Chang Ming or Chinese Macrobiotic diet based on the underlying principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

An important aspect of this style of Chi Kung is that it not only deals with Chi or internal energy but also teaches the practitioner to supplement their personal store of ch'i with energy drawn from the energy field of the Universe itself which Chee Soo called external energy or 'Ching Sheng Li'.


The Lee style includes a number of '''' comprising set sequences of movements. These movements are based upon fourteen basic stances which are named after animal movements. These stances are also grouped into sequences with names like "Drive the Tiger Away" and "The Fair Lady Weaving". The movements can be performed at various speeds and may be timed with breathing. There are two forms known as the T'ai Chi Dance which is only about 400 years old, and the T'ai Chi form itself known as 'The Form'. The Dance is 185 stances or steps long whereas the Form is 140 stances split into 42 sequences.

Sticky Hands

The Lee style also includes various interactive exercises, the most important of which is called I Fu Shou or 'sticky hands', similar to the pushing hands exercises we see in other T'ai Chi styles. Two people stand opposite each other making contact on the back of the wrist and move in circles gently testing each others balance. The emphasis is on sensitivity and yielding to force.

I Fu Shou is an exercise in which two people participate. Each person tries to upset the balance of the other whilst maintaining their own stability. Contact is through the arms and hands throughout the exercise. No matter what stance is adopted, there may always be a weakness in the balance of the body whether one moves left or right, backward or forward, upward or downward, and it is by taking advantage of these six directional weaknesses that the participants in I Fu Shou try to ‘uproot’ each other - to cause the other to lose their footing. The most difficult way to do this is to lift the other off the ground, but even this may be achieved provided that one has practiced diligently and developed a faultless technique.

A full description is available to read online on Chee Soo's publisher's website.


Whirling Arms and Whirling Hands are the two exercises in the Lee style of T'ai Chi Ch'uan which are used to teach basic principles of self-defence.

Like I fou shou, Whirling Arms and Whirling Hands encourage the development of quick mental and physical reactions and a high level of sensitivity. Both are characterized, as their names suggest, by circular movements of the arms and hands.

The two arts include techniques to ward off, parry and deflect thrusts which may be made towards your body, and with constant practise you can develop the ability to recognize your partner's intentions before they are carried out. You will learn how to feel and exploit the weaknesses in their movements and postures, and in so doing you will come to understand your own weaknesses and develop greater concentration and awareness. You will build the foundations for a stronger balance, learn how to synchronize your body movements, and become much more sensitive and perceptive. In addition to all these, the control and utilization of your Ch'i energy plays a very big part in your practise.


According to Master Chee Soo in his book about the Lee style T'ai Chi Ch'uan:

T'ai Chi sword makes full use of the combined techniques of Whirling Hands and Whirling Arms, but these are made more difficult by the weight and length of the sword. Greater mental concentration is required to retain complete control of the arms, wrists and hands, while maintaining perfect balance, especially in a few sequences where the body makes a complete whirl to demonstrate the 'order of the universe'....the 'Sword' form, which comprises 216 movements, has no straight lines

Lee style T'ai Chi stick comprises a form of 270 movements. The T'ai Chi stick is a staff approximately six feet long.

Further reading

Chee Soo wrote six books about the Lee Style Taoist Arts

1 comment:

Daoist said...

This sounds great! I've looked around and it seems that the International Taoist Society is still running and has a website at The videos show several of the exercises and it looks like a really interesting and fluid form.