There are several styles of T’ai Chi which are all said to originate from 13 initial moves or postures. Each different T’ai Chi style bears the name of the Chinese family who developed the concepts and principles of T’ai Chi; but in their own way, or ‘style’. The Lee (Li) Style of T’ai Chi was brought to England in the 1930’s by a Chinese businessman named Chan Kam Lee (Li) from Wai Hai on the east coast of China. The name of the style may be given either as Cantonese (Lee) or Mandarin (Li).
Chan Lee established a small class in London in the early 1930’s to teach some of his friends/colleagues. In 1934 a young Chinese orphan named Chee Soo met Chan Lee quite by chance in Hyde Park when a ball Chee Soo was playing with hit Chan Lee by accident. From this chance meeting Chee Soo was invited to the London class and subsequently due to his natural ability, tenacity and hard work; he became the next person to carry the knowledge and skills of this family style on to the next generation.
Chan Lee died in 1954, at which point Chee Soo stated that out of respect to his Master he would not take any position of authority over other practitioners. However as time went on he decided to teach the Lee Family Style himself and from around 1960 he taught classes in Dunstable and London. Gradually more classes became established around the country as those he taught became instructors in their own right. Eventually his association had classes throughout the UK, France, Germany, Holland and Australia.
Sadly Chee Soo passed away in 1994 leaving a legacy of an association made up hundreds of practitioners. The highest level of instructors at that time unfortunately did not continue together due to differences in approach, knowledge, skills and understanding. Instead they each started their own new organisations which initially were separated by geographical regions but now overlap as they have each expanded.
Differences in approach are obvious as one looks across each of the association websites. However in most cases the style is taught as it was in the 80’s and 90’s when Chee Soo lived in Coventry. I attended Chee Soo’s courses in Coventry at this time (1985-1993) and know first hand exactly what was being taught and how it was being taught. The instructor of the class I attended in Leeds at this time based his methodology precisely on this way of teaching. As a foundation of the basics of the style this was an adequate methodology to allow practitioners to advance to a foundation level. However when I trained with other instructors in Coventry who were taught before the 80’s I found that they practised with an understanding that was far deeper and superior to my own; and that it was almost as if we practised different arts. It was only when I sought out these high graded Masters and started to learn from them that I realised how little I knew and that there was far, far, more to learn, based on Chee Soo and Chan Lee’s earlier teachings. It was after 12 years of practice with my initial instructor that I moved on to start to discover the true depth and meaning behind all of the exercises and movements which made up the system I loved so much.
In 1995 I joined the Taoist Arts Organisation which had been set up by Tony Swanson, one of the highest graded students of Chee Soo. Tony had trained with Chee Soo in London since 1968, several nights a week and on Chee Soo’s regular weekend courses. His knowledge and expertise in the arts is profound and it is incredible to see what he can do and hear him explain how it is actually done; and I mean this in every aspect, every exercise, every form – truly an outstanding and awe inspiring practitioner and teacher. Tony’s wish from the inception of his organisation was to get our style recognised at the highest level as one of quality and substance which ranks equally with the teachings of the other family styles. He did this by joining the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts and allowing the heads of other Chinese Styles to scrutinise his ability and his art. The outcome eventually, was that Tony became the Chairman of the BCCMA and practitioners of our style have been ranked among the best in the world.
I would say to all practitioners of the Lee Style that life is a learning journey; and that you should always seek to progress in your knowledge of the arts, we should not be limited by association or organisation. There is a definite, precise methodology, of how our techniques work, how the form works, how we move, how we express energies and how each art links entirely to each other driven by the same principles of movement, relaxation and use of energies. It is never too late to deepen your knowledge and understanding, please accept this as an honest and open welcome to all.