Monday, July 07, 2008

Master Choy

Occasionally I am asked the question how much of an influence t'ai chi ch'uan has had on me. It has had an effect on my aikido certainly. When I started Aikido in Santa Cruz in October of 1969, I'd had a little over a year of shotokan karate. My particular make up at the time was rather linear. I mean my thinking patterns, my movement patterns, everything was rather straight and rigid. Aikido was something that challenged all that.We did a lot of energy work, centering, and meditation, which I found almost like life's blood itself. I still vividly remember my first aikido class. Robert Frager started the class with an exercise to let people tune in to the energy field around them. I still haven't ever been the same person I was before that class. I felt very at home with the energy. The actual movements in class were a totally different matter. My very linear sense of things did not translate well with my new inner sense of things. In fact the two seemed at war. There was a deep inner sense of peace and calm that would not translate into movement through the body. Some of this was just me at that stage. Some of it was probably the karate. So I decided to try t'ai chi ch'uan. In the aikido club I met Steven Malamuth, who was a t'ai chi instructor as well as an aikido student. In the spring of my senior year after 2 quarters of aikido I started t'ai chi. I learned the short form from Steve. It gave me something besides seated meditation that allowed me to slow things down and get into the energy. Later I was to leave Santa Cruz and go onto graduate school at UC Davis. The t'ai chi allowed me to have a practice I could do daily, since the aikido club there was restricted to one or two days a week.

Anyway, when I went to Davis I started going to San Francisco to study with Master Choy. He was very deep. Quite an unassuming individual, his movements were exquisitely beautiul and at the same time very deadly. He emphasized that t'ai chi practice was for health and personal development first, but he clearly knew the martial aspect as well. After being in Japan for most of 1973, I returned and went to visit Master Choy at one of his weekend club practices. I brought Mary Heiny with me and he allowed her to sit in and watch the practice. After the practice I asked her what she thought of Master Choy. Mary at the time had just finished an intensive 5 year period of training in Japan, which included seeing Osensei for his last year or so, and she had just received her 3rd degree black belt. She said she had never been so impressed with any person in a striking art. She felt Master Choy had taken Osensei's concept of katsu hayahi into a striking system.

Master Choy could fold space and time. His movements defied a certain logic. It was as if he could worm-hole his way with a punch or kick. You might see it start, then it would be in and you would pick it up on the way out. I remember once at a public demonstration he asked me to attack him. Probably because I had a karate background. I came at him with a left back fist and intended to follow that up with a right reverse punch. My backfist hit nothing but empty air. He literally disappeared. When the right reverse punch came he suddenly re-appeared to the right of me with his fingers right at my throat. It happened so quickly that I didn't see what he did. Yet somehow I knew he had gone singly whip creeps down(pictured above) and from that position had shifted to plane cross hands. I just knew. The feeling memory of it is still vividly in my consciousness. And this was only of of many instances where he literally "stopped the world".

After some reflection(and some years to reflect on) my sense of things is that much more than t'ai chi's effect on me and my development was Master Choy's effect. He mentioned several times to me that he had had an enlightenment level experience. While practicing he felt his body disappear. His English, while adequate, was not up to a detailed explanation. But then again, maybe no words are. He said he described his experience to other t'ai chi masters and taoist meditators and was told that he had succeeded in perfectly balancing the yin and yang. He told me that when he was younger he was into bodybuilding and harder forms of kung-fu. But he continued to practice t'ai chi because he learned that it somehow aided his other stuff. But after his experience he found he no longer needed the harder forms of conditioning. He said his hands retained their strength with out weights or other forms of apparatus. And he had a totally different sense of speed, what I tried to describe earlier. By the way, some pictures of him when he was in his younger more physical phase were quite impressive. He looked like Bruce Lee on steroids!

Meeting Master Choy was important to me because he was a living example of the fact that a more meditative inner approach could be effective martially. When I was younger that was more important to me. Once over lunch he talked to me about the importance of mind and will. But he said that they both mixed and became "Shen", which is spirit. The character is the same as that in Japanese for kami. So like Ueshiba Osensei, Master Choy was apparently a bit of an alchemist himself.

The following video was taken in the early '70s in San Francisco. There was a Chinese YMCA on Sacramento street and on the first and third Saturday morning of each month he would host a club meeting for people who had completed the form and were now refining their practice. For most of the video I am to Master Choy's left. Can you recognize me?



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