Thursday, January 27, 2011

My First Tai Chi: Sophia Delza Wu Style

The very first Tai chi style I learned was Sophia Delza's Wu style. A big "Thank You" to Rick at Cook Ding's Kitchen for posting Taijiquan Pioneer: Sophia Delza which brought to mind how I started on the Tai chi road...

I first learned of Tai chi from reading The Massage Book by George Downing which I picked up in 1982. I remember this well because this had something to do with a girlfriend. (That's another story...)

When I started college in the Fall of 1983, I saw a Tai chi class offered as a one credit course through the Religious Studies Department. The instructor was Prof. Neville, one of the department's professors and one of Sophia Delza's students. So I excitedly signed up for this!

The class met twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday from about 3:30 - 5:00 p.m. in the dance studio which I really enjoyed; a nice place and time to unwind. The entire form was taught in the Fall semester. I remember:
  • The emphasis was on learning the form, learning "coordination points" and appreciating the elegance of the gestures.
  • The length of the form left me feeling relaxed and energized. (I never realized a similar feeling with any of the "short forms" I later learned.)
  • We had to write a paper on how our experience with Tai-chi helped us better understand Chinese philosophical cosmology.... or something like that.
  • There was the concept that you should finish the form where you started. If you don't, then your ego is either too big or too small (taking too large or too small of steps). Balance.
In that Fall class, one my classmates was a student of Karate. In talking with him, he demonstrated how a lot of Tai chi moves were similar to karate and so to him Tai chi was one kind of kung-fu. This piqued my curiosity in Tai chi as a martial art.

Still being new to the area and not knowing what else was around, I signed up for the "advanced" Tai chi class the following Winter semester. This class focused on postural fine-tuning but never got into any martial aspects. While I enjoyed the "space" and feel of the class, I became disappointed with the focus. I also took my first and only Judo class that Winter term.

As I settled into college life and the area, I started looking for nearby martial art schools. In those days, SUNY Stony Brook was literally in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Long Island, NY. Sure, I checked out dojos in New York City, Brooklyn and Queens, but to a cash-strapped college student, the class rates and schedules and the nearly two-hour train, subway, bus, walking commute and fares each way made this option prohibitive for long-term study. I looked for something more affordable and closer.

And no, I never considered transferring to another university just to be closer to one of those dojos.

Sometime during the following Fall term of 1984, I saw a flyer in the student Union for the Long Island School of Tai Chi Chuan which advertised Tai chi as a martial art. I checked it out. The rates were less than half of what the dojos in the city were charging and it was a close 10 minute drive and the lineage looked reputable; Cheng Man-ching, William C.C. Chen. I attended a free introductory class and it all looked good to me. And so I switched from practicing Sophia Delza's Wu style Tai chi to learning Yang style Tai chi.

Of course, there are lots of stories from my time with the Long Island School of Tai Chi Chuan. Maybe in another post.

Finally, regarding my blogger Bio, because this Wu style was not martially-oriented, I chose to not include this in my "About me" and opted to say I began my "martial journey" with Judo. (If I wanted to continue past the yellow belt in Judo, I would've had to attend the instructor's dojo in Queens. So I "switched out" of Judo to Tai chi.)

And that's how I got started in Tai chi...

For further reading:
T'Ai Chi Ch'Uan (Wu Style : Body and Mind in Harmony : Integration of Meaning and Method) by Sophia Delza (1986). Introduction by Prof. Robert C. Neville.

The T'Ai-Chi Ch'Uan Experience: Reflections and Perceptions on Body-Mind Harmony by Sophia Delza (1996). Edited by Prof. Robert C. Neville.

Guide to the Sophia Delza Papers, 1908-1996 at the New York Public Library

The New York Times Obituary from 1996.

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