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Lee Style Tai Chi

Lee style tai chi consists of a range of Taoist practices that include Tao Yin (Respiration Therapy) Kai Men (Taoist Yoga), Tai Chi Chuan Forms, I Fou Shou or ‘sticky hands’ technique, Whirling Hands, Whirling Arms and various Qi and Li development exercises. Lee style tai chi consists of five main tai chi forms. They are;

Tai Chi Form which consists of 140 movements which are broken up into 42 sequences – each having individual names, such as “Single Whip”, “Brush Knee and Side Step” and “Crane Exercises its Wings”.
Beginners generally learn the first 50 movements as a Short Form which is broken up into 15 sequences.

Tai Chi Flying Hands form (once called tai chi dance) which is a larger and more expressive frame consisting of 184 moves.

Tai Chi Sword requires a greater sense of balance and control due to the weight of the sword and the demands of the movements. This form consists of 164 movements.

Tai Chi Fan is a relatively short Form of 86 movements requiring greater flexibility, dexterity of the hands and wrists.

Tai Chi Staff  or stick requires greater control of the central core movement to perform this form well. It contains 160 movements.

Lee style tai chi training has five distinct areas of development that comprise the whole Art: 1.Physical, 2.Mental, 3.Breathing, 4.Sheng Qi (Internal energy) and 5.Ching Sheng Li (External energy).

Lee style tai chi was first brought to the West in the 1930s by Chan Kam Lee. It was then made popular by the incredible Chee Soo who was the President of the International Taoist Society from 1958 until his death in 1994. After Chee soo died the International Taoist Society ceased to continue as there was division among the three remaining most senior students. The most senior and experienced student was Master Tony Swanson who’s martial arts experience now spans some fifty years. Master Swanson trained under Professor Chee Soo from 1968 until Chee Soo died in 1994. His understanding, experience and level of expertise in Lee style tai chi has developed from forty four years of personal commitment and study of the Lee Family System of Taoist Arts.

Lee Style Tai Chi is commonly known as the Yin and Yang Style, as everything within it is in complete harmony and in perfect balance.

Lee Style Tai Chi – History

Lee Style Tai Chi Is possibly the oldest style of tai chi in existence today. Chee Soo said in his book entitled The Chinese Art of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, that Lee style tai chi derived from an original set of eight movements that was created by Ho-Hsieh Lee who lived near Beijing around 1000 BC. Chee Soo said that Ho-Hsieh Lee was in his middle fifties when he took his family to a fishing village about 200 miles East of Beijing called Wei Hei Wei now known as Weihai on the East coast of China in Shandong Province. The Lee family are said to have settled and remained in that area right up until 1934.

The family had always been Taoists and practiced the Taoist Arts. These included Tai Chi Chuan and its various forms including Tai Chi Stick, Tai Chi Sword, Tai Chi Knife and more recently Tai Chi dance now known as Tai Chi Flying Hands. It is said that they also practiced Feng Shou Chuan Shu (hand of the wind boxing), Chi Shu (a throwing art considered a form of Chinese Aikido), Chiao Li (Taoist Wrestling), Kai Men (Taoist Yoga), and Tao Yin (Respiration Therapy). They also adhered to the principles of Chang Ming, the Taoist way of long life through dietary principles of eating in harmony.

All of these Taoist principles and techniques were kept within the family and were traditionally passed on from one generation to the next. It eventually came down to the last three children, one daughter and two sons, who had the responsibility of keeping Lee style tai chi chuan and the Taoist arts alive. However, it was only the eldest son Chan Kam Lee who did this.

Chan Kam Lee was the oldest of the last three children of the Lee family. He was an unmarried businessman who finally brought the Arts and lee style tai chi to England during his travels to London on business in the 1930s. He worked as an importer of precious and semi-precious stones in Holborn, London which was the world centre for this trade at that time. Chan Kam Lee started a small tai chi class in Red Lion Square in 1933. It was a chance meeting in 1934 that brought Chan Kam Lee and Chee Soo, then named Clifford Soo, together when Chee Soo was 14 years old and playing with a ball in Hyde Park. The ball struck a man sitting on a bench who turned out to be Chan Kam Lee. It was very unusual during that time to see another Chinese person in London. As a result, they began talking and struck up a strong relationship. Chan Kam Lee adopted Chee Soo as his ‘nephew’ and passed Lee Style Tai Chi and other Lee family Taoist arts teachings to him, as he had no children of his own.

In the winter of 1953-4 off the coast of China, near Canton, Chan Kam Lee died when the ship that he was traveling on sank due to a severe storm.

Grand Master Chee Soo

Chee Soo (4th June 1919 – 29th August 1994)

Chee Soo was born Clifford Soo on 4 June 1919 in All Souls, Marylebone, London. He was the son of Ah Soo who was a chef at the Westminster restaurant. His father was of Chinese origin and his mother was English named Beatrice Annie Ah Soo formerly Gibbs.


Grand Master Chee Soo – ‘The Archer Prepares’ from the T’ai Chi Form

In his book ‘The Taoist Ways of Healing’  Chee Soo talks about his early life: Chee Soo says; he was born of a Chinese father and an English mother, and as they died when he was only a very young child, he was brought up in a Dr Barnardo’s home. He started his first job as a page-boy in a nursing home in Earls Court, West London. In his spare time he used to go to Hyde Park to enjoy the fresh air, watch the horse riders exercising their animals, and to play with his ball. However, something happened that would alter the whole course of his future life. One Sunday afternoon, he went to the park to play with his ball, when suddenly it bounced rather erratically, and accidentally hit the back of an elderly gentleman who was sitting on a park bench. Having recovered his ball, he went up to the gentleman to apologise, only to see that the man was also Chinese. It was a very rare thing to see another Chinese person in London in those days, so they began to talk and even arranged to meet again. They both began to meet fairly regularly or whenever the opportunity and the weather permitted. A very strong friendship developed between Chee Soo and the gentleman, who was Chan Kam Lee.

In the summer of 1934, Chee Soo was invited to Chan Lee’s class, and that was the beginning of the training that he maintained ever since that time right up until he died in 1994. It was surely the ordained way of the Tao that enabled Chee Soo to start his learning of the vast range of the Taoist martial, philosophical, healing and cultural arts in this way. It gave great happiness to Chan Lee for he had no family of his own, and as he earnestly desired to keep the Taoist arts alive, he adopted Chee Soo as a nephew, and taught him the arts whenever his work and time permitted. For Chee Soo it meant that he had someone on whom he could rely, and to teach him the Taoist Arts and fundamental philosophical attitude to life.

After Chan Kam Lee died in 1953-54, Chee Soo was asked to take over the leadership of the Association. Chee Soo declined to accept any title within the Association at that time out of respect to the memory of Chan Kam Lee.

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 that time the Association grew from strength to strength in the British Isles, Australia, South Africa, France, Germany, Holland, Mauritius, and New Zealand.

Chee Soo wrote several books about the various aspects of the Lee style Taoist Arts published by HarperCollins. These books included The Chinese Art of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, The Taoist Ways of Healing and The Tao of Long Life. These books were quite a success and as a result were translated into several languages including; French (distributed in Canada, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal), German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Polish, and Indonesian.

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.

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 different schools teaching Lee style Tai Chi. The most successful of these schools is run by Chee Soo’s most senior and respected student Master Tony Swanson who is the founder and technical director of the Taoist Arts Organisation.

Master Tony Swanson

Tony Swanson started training in martial arts in 1962 with Judo, attaining a brown belt, and Wado Ryu Karate with Tatsuo Suzuki, reaching 2nd Dan. He started his training in the lee family system with Professor Chee Soo in 1968 and trained continually until Chee Soo’s death in 1994. He studied all the martial systems taught by Chee Soo which included; ‘Tai Chi’ and its various forms and weapons, ‘Feng Shou’ Kung Fu and its various forms and weapons, ‘Chi Shu’ locks and throws, ‘Kai Men’ Taoist Yoga, ‘Tao Yin’ Respiration Therapy and also  Tui Na/An Mo massage.  On Chee Soo’s death, Tony set up the Taoist Arts Organisation to carry on the teachings within the Lee family system in their original form. Tony is currently writing instruction and teaching manuals covering all aspects of the Lee family system.


Master Tony Swanson Performing ‘The Stork is Aroused’ from the T’ai Chi Form

Master Tony Swanson’s knowledge and deep understanding of the Lee family system of martial and health arts is unsurpassed. This knowledge covers all aspects of many Lee style Kung Fu and Tai Chi forms and their martial applications, as well as weapons and Tui Na/An Mo massage and manipulative therapy techniques for correct body posture alignment. He also has a deep knowledge of Taoyin (respiration therapy) and Kai Men (Taoist Yoga). Master Tony Swanson is the founder and Technical Director of the Taoist Arts Organisation and is also the Chairman of The British Council of Chinese Martial Arts.

The Taoist Arts Organisation is an ITEC registered college. It has two NVQ Assessment Centres not only covering NVQ Sports & Recreation Level 2 in Chinese Martial Arts, but also Training and Development with other various qualifications. Tony Swanson is an OCR qualified Assessor, Internal Verifier and is currently going through External Verifier training. He has NVQ Level 2 in Sports & Recreation in the context of Chinese Martial Arts.

The Taoist Arts Organisation has had tremendous success in competition both nationally and internationally. These competitions are;

Qingda Semi-contact sparring performed on an 8x8m matted area. Accumulation of points is by kicking and punching the opponent – using no more than 10% of your power. Points are also scored by either taking your opponent to the floor or pushing him/her out of the area. Bouts are 3 two minute rounds.

Sanshou A full-contact version of Qingda – Sanshou competition is performed on a raised platform or Lei Tai (very much like a boxing ring but without the ropes). Our Sanshou athletes are trained to a very high standard of physical fitness. Bouts are 3 two minute rounds.

Tui Shou (Push Hands) Competitors test out the effectiveness of the T’ai Chi principle elements within a 6m circle. Combining the elements of Peng, Lu, Chi, An, Ts’ai, Lieh, Chou and K’ao athletes try to out-manoeuvre one another scoring points by forcing their opponent out of the area or by making them lose balance.

Shuai Chiao This is a form of Chinese Wrestling combining the techniques of Tui Shou (above) with throws and take-downs. Performed on an 8x8m matted area scores are gained when your opponent has at least 3 limbs on the floor or is forced out of the area. Contests are a duration of 3 two minutes with a 30 second break in between.

For a full list of the rules of each discipline go to the TAO website and click on the relevant links.

Lee Style Tai Chi

Lee style Tai Chi is an ancient art consisting of slow graceful movements for health and self-defence. It doesn’t look particularly powerful as a self-defensive art, but looks can be very deceiving. When applied correctly by an adept, Tai Chi is probably the most powerful, yet energy efficient martial art there is. As with all true forms of tai chi, Lee style tai chi does not rely upon physical strength for its effectiveness. Its strength comes from correct body structure, posture, and whole body movement with co-ordination of body, arm and hand movements.

Sensitivity techniques are also taught to help students feel their opponents’ balance so they can utilise their opponents’ postural weaknesses to their own benefit. This has the effect of uprooting the opponent, causing them to lose their balance. This makes the opponent an easy target for further strikes, kicks, locks, holds, take downs or throws.

Lee style tai chi is suitable for both men and women of all ages. Lee style tai chi is both a self-defensive and health enhancing exercise that has a non-physical, relaxed and gentle approach that is ideal for all levels of ability.

Li style Tai Chi contains all of the basic principles of Tai Chi Chuan

  • Whole body action
  • Central core movement
  • Use of the 8 energies and the 5 attitudes
  • Utilisation of the 6 harmonies
  • 10 basic principles of external posture
  • Push hands
  • Whirling hands
  • Whirling arms

Li Style Tai Chi has a variety of Forms

Lee Style Tai Chi Form Consisting of 140 movements in total, broken up into 42 sequences – each sequence lasts for a number of individual moves and has its own individual name such as “Single Whip”, “Brush Knee and Side Step”, “Crane Exercises its Wings”.

The short form consists of the first 50 movements broken up into 15 sequences.

Lee Style Tai Chi ‘Flying Hands’ A larger frame and a more expressive Form of 184 moves.

Lee Style Tai Chi Sword Consisting of 164 movements, this Form requires a greater sense of balance and control due to the weight of the sword and the demands of the movements it contains.

Lee Style Tai Chi Fan A short Form in comparison, consisting of 86 movements. This form requires good dexterity of the hands and wrists.

Lee Style Tai Chi Staff This Form contains 160 movements and requires greater control of the central movement.

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