My Story with Sifu

A long winding road brings me to this page. I must confess I had no idea I was beginning it when in 1978 I first walked up the long flight of stairs in the little building on Sixth Avenue which housed The Tai Chi Chuan Center. I could never have known how my body, my mind, my whole life would be changed. When I rounded the corner on the landing and walked into the room, Master Chu had just begun to lead a group of his students in the Tai Chi form. I remember stopping in my tracks. I had never seen anything so powerful and so beautiful before.

Immediately thereafter, when I first attended class with Master Chu I was impressed with his complete lack of pretense. He was totally informal and available to his students, and he had a great sense of humor. I had tried several martial arts styles in the past but I was really put off by the repressive structure of the classes and the militaristic attitudes of the instructors. This school and this teacher were completely different.

I came to tai chi chuan as a typical American who was feverishly trying to stay in shape with weight training, isometrics, calisthenics and all the other types of hard body systems. Every now and then Master Chu reviewed my stiff, tense physique and gave me a poke followed by a big laugh, “You look like a piece of concrete! You can’t move!” Tai Chi changed all of that, as it did the chronic low back problem I had been struggling with for years.

The atmosphere of the school was contagious for me. I took all the classes I could afford and though I never fought in tournaments, I trained with Master Chu’s champion fighters every week. Those were some awesome guys to be around.

I will hold myself back from going on at length about the virtues of true Tai Chi Chuan “soft style” fighting, but let me at least draw this analogy: Imagine two powerful bulls squaring off and charging into each other, force on force. That is “hard style” fighting. Now imagine a matador working another charging bull with a cape, moving with the animal just out of reach of the attacking horns, “sticking” to him until the exact opportunity arrives to lunge with the sword. That is “soft style” fighting. The skilled Tai Chi Chuan fighter is a mighty and beautiful thing to behold.

Master Chu’s champions were grounded in a secret discipline which he taught only to them and the people who trained with them. Nei Kung was the source of the speed, flexibility, striking power and super human endurance which put them several cuts above the hard style traditionalists they would encounter in tournaments.

In the early 80’s, however, Master Chu decided society at large needed this fantastic source of energy and conditioning to heal and help all people and so he began conducting classes for the general public.

By this time I knew Master Chu fairly well and he was aware that I was an aspiring writer. In 1983, he asked me to help him draft a letter related to a complicated business entanglement. I agreed to do it and between the two of us we crafted a highly effective response to the matter which resolved the issue completely. Master Chu was very pleased. Soon after, he approached me with the idea of assisting him with a much bigger project.

Beyond the classes and workshops that he was now holding in Nei Kung, Master Chu wanted to put on paper a record of his synthesis of this remarkable system. He wanted to delineate it exactly, clearly, in an understandable and precise way. He wanted to write The Book of Nei Kung. This had never been done before in either English or Chinese, ever. He offered me the full range of classes at the school free in exchange for helping him put this knowledge into English.

For the next two years I took virtually every class I could during the week and every Saturday Master Chu established the following routine for us: From the early morning until noon I attended the training classes with the other students. At noon, a light meal was ordered in, and then the rest of the day, he and I worked on the book. My job was to pick his brain and record, reference and make sense in English out of all of the various concepts and principles he spoke on. I soon found my western mind stretching across a cultural as well as a linguistic divide.

Throughout, Master Chu