Good evening Howard, I hope you are well. I just wanted to say thank for such a wonderful spring course over the weekend. It was a privilege to meet with you and to have the opportunity to learn from you. I have been so very fortunate to have had a tremendous introduction to the Arts from Susan and I was both keen and a little apprehensive to attend the Spring course to further my knowledge. I can't speak highly enough of the wonderful welcome and support received from all of the attendees. As a beginner to be made so welcome and to learn so much was a wonderful experience. There were many highlights of the weekend with every day yielding many new discoveries. I was amazed and left with a great sense of achievement having successfully passed my first Feng shou grading.
Thank you again, take care and very best regards. Craig - Newcastle Upon Tyne
Tai Chi Awards
Tai Chi Practise
What a privilege it was to teach such dedicated students from England, Scotland, Ireland, Malta and Switzerland
Flow Flow Paterns
Defence Against Kick
Hi Howard, This years Summer Course was something special. Thank you passing on your wealth of experience and knowledge to us all I feel my T'ai Chi and Feng Shou is about to take a leap forward once I assimilate the enhancements you highlighted. That means I will have to practice the things you shared of course. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who came for creating a great atmosphere. I sensed a lot of genuine kindness and mutual support and feel blessed to have been part of such a great experience. I always look forward to training on the monthly courses but do you think it would be an idea to have a winter course as well because, 12 months is a long time to wait for the opportunity to immerse yourself in the arts for 5 whole days. I enjoyed meeting and training with new people who came from abroad. I hope to see them again next year. Best Wishes, Susan Bird - Sunderland
Hi, Howard, Just got back to Malta from holidaying in the UK, so I’m sorry not to have been able to send in my feedback for the summer school sooner. “ A fantastic opportunity to meet and be a part of this wonderful, Tai Chi family where goodwill, help, support and a goodly dose of humour was the order of every enjoyable day. I learned so much; not only about the aspects of Tai Chi but also about myself.” Thank you, Howard, for your dedication and continued support. I’ll definitely be back! Christine Duffield - Malta
Dear Howard, I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed the summer course this year. It was perfectly pitched for everyone including those who were relatively new to tai chi as well as the more advanced students. We all gained so much knowledge and insight thanks to your calm and patient instruction and guidance. It was truly a master class in every sense. Practicing for so many days surrounded by such wonderful generous people was an honour. It is a great testament to you that you have created such a family feeling of support and encouragement amongst your students. Attending the summer course buoys me up for all the practice times when I am alone at home albeit with your excellent on-line training course. I was greatly honoured to achieve the second Tengchi grading but I know that it is only thanks to your dedication and that of my teacher in Edinburgh, Angela. Thank you so much. Thanks for everything as ever - I am looking forward to next year's course already. All the best, Geraldine Jones - Edinburgh
Dear Howard, Thank You for this beautiful week. I received more than expected, I will Look at the platinum Silver level you sent me closely. Best Wishes to You and Gisela - Bernard Noel - Zurich, Switzerland
Hi Howard, Thank you for a really enjoyable summer course. The content, people, atmosphere were all good. I learnt a lot and hope I remember some of it! Regards, Pat - Ossett
Hi Howard, Just wanted to say thanks again for a great Feng Shou day on Friday, sorry once again not to attend both days as planned. It is really great to take part in a proper Feng Shou class. I can't wait until Thomas is old enough so I can start going to Mark's class again, but that is a while off. I think I would be a lot further on if I attended a weekly class but I suppose I am learning to be patient, there is no rush. Anyway, great to see you and Gisela, take care and see you again soon. Best Wishes, Kate - Dewsbury
Hello Howard, Just wish to say a massive thank you for another amazing Tai Chi / Feng Shou summer course. Once again, due to your vast wealth of knowledge, experience and generosity you delivered a course jam packed full of valuable information and insight, together with priceless 'hands on' practice. I particularly enjoyed what was essentially a masterclass in the Lee style short form, moves 1 to 50. I am sure everyone will have gained significant benefit from this and a better understanding of some of the finer details that will help us to improve and refine our practice. In addition, I also enjoyed working with the other experienced students, as everyone always tries to help each other wherever they can and helping the several new students who showed great focus and enthusiasm throughout the week. Indeed, congratulations to all those who achieved gradings in either Tai Chi and or Feng Shou. Of course it would have been nice to do more, more, more but as the old saying goes "you cannot get a quart in a pint pot".
Looking forwards to the next training day already. Very best wishes to you, Chris Heczko - Rotherham
Hi Howard, I really enjoyed the Summer Course last week. It was good to catch up with you and lots of old friends. There really is a supportive almost family feel to the course. People are really helpful to each other and happy to share their knowledge. At the same time new people also feel welcomed. It was good to refine my Tai Chi, practice dance and sword and do some more Feng Sau. As always it is good to benefit from your deep knowledge of the Lee Arts and to have the chance to practice with you and other advanced instructors. The Tuesday to Saturday timetable worked well for me. I have booked to come to Scarborough for the courses in October, November and December, and when you fix the summer course dates for next year they will be straight into my diary. Thanks again, Kind Regards, Carl Pearson - Coventry
Hi Howard, Just getting in touch to firstly tell you how much I enjoyed this years Summer Course. Met a great bunch Students and Teachers and once again learnt much more about our Lee Style from the course. I would just say the ‘wonderful atmosphere’ on any course always starts with your good-self. It’s always a real pleasure to come and train with you. Hopefully, I will have one on my Duddingston class coming down with me to the Summer Course next year, so I would be obliged if you could let me know as soon as you have finalised the dates for next year. Thanks again for sharing your formidable skills and knowledge. I look forward to learning even more when we see you up here in Edinburgh in November. Thank you again for sharing your extensive knowledge of our art and for your excellent practical guidance. Best Regards, Jim Anderson - Edinburgh
Hi Master Howard you asked for some feedback at first l was over whelmed by all the black shirts and the energy in the room, my teacher Margaret charmed me down and made me realise that they were part of a family and we all help each other. I must thank her for giving her time up instead of getting helped herself as she was only there for the day (I get it Margaret I do). I have a better understanding of our unique Tai Chi style with all the help I received I improved my quality enough to gain two grades. I feel fortunate and privileged to be able to train along side you Master and my thanks to all who helped me over the five days of training which put a lot of strain on my knees but I enjoyed it. My father said remember three moments in a journey realising I was part of a family seeing Chris getting his well deserved blue belt and the sunrise in the morning tops it off. My best wishes to all the family around the world and at home. Victor Denton - Sheffield
Hi Howard, I just wanted to say thank you for the training yesterday, I really enjoyed it, especially the daoyin exercises. I have learnt a lot and come away with a lot to practise, such as making sure my knee is not turned in on my dragon stances. At first I wasn't sure how to correct it but Mark told me to think of it like the riding horse stance, where you push your knees out rather than bending forwards, and now I get it and can feel (and see) the difference. I just need to remind myself of it every time now until it becomes automatic. Thank you for all the refinements on the dance as well. It is such a great day at Scarborough as the people are all really friendly and everybody is happy to show you something you don't know. I suppose that's because the majority of people who attend (or at least attended yesterday) are running a class, so more than happy to teach others.
Anyway, take care for now and hopefully we will see you for one or two days on the Summer course.
All the Best Kate - Wakefield
Dear Howard, Thank you very much for the two enthralling days. Varied , interesting and very useful. It was really good to finally meet Gisela. Best Wishes, Robin. Horbury, West Yorkshire
Hi Howard, Enjoyed Saturdays course, learnt a lot as usual, it’s amazing how much I don’t know. But as they say the pleasure is in the journey not the destination. Regards Les - Barrow in Furness
Dear Howard, I'd like to thank you for Saturdays training day, it is great to be amongst so many wonderful practitioners of the arts. Gary - Hull
Hi Howard, Thank you for a great Easter Course. It was wonderful to be back and always so much to learn. You always have some gems of information and instruction that change how something feels. I fully expected to be exhausted after a busy week at work, drive to Scarborough then two full days. Instead I came away invigorated and with that hunger to learn more that comes with immersing myself in Tai Chi and Feng Shou days and being able to forget the stresses and busyness of every day life. It was great to see everyone again too.
It's so important particularly as a teacher to get to the courses and be a student again, to challenge ourselves and be inspired. It is not always easy to make the drive as by the time Friday comes I've done a 52 hour week between work and classes. I was in the loft at 10pm on Thursday night getting an overnight case and packing and sorting out food to take. Then I drove on Friday after teaching two sessions. The rewards of being on the course always far outweigh the journey to get there and back. When I was driving back it struck me that over the many years and trips to Scarborough I've also been blessed with the most awe inspiring skies on my journey home. There is something very magical and liberating about being in the car on your own, singing along to great music and driving into an expansive dusky horizon of ever changing cloud patterns. Last night I saw the sky change through shades of colour which we don't have words to describe. I wished I'd had a dash cam to record it but I knew filming it would never truly capture that beauty. What a wonderful gift. Thanks again for a great course. Angela - Edinburgh
Master Chee Soo on TV showing his London class demonstrating Chi Shu.
Chee Soo was hired as fight choreographer for original series of the Avengers.
Chee Soo, Diana Rigg and Film Stunt arranger Ray Austin worked together on "The Avengers" cult TV series
Chee Soo had over 2000 students studying Wu Shu in Britain as part of the British Wu Shu Association, and was one of only three men outside of Beijing qualified to teach Wu Shu.
I asked Susan Bird to write an article on why a women would practise self defence. Susan has been a student of our amazing arts since 1991. It is indeed a very rare thing to have a woman practise continually for this length of time, I personally found her thoughts fascinating. Read on because I think you will too...
Feng Shou – some ideas from a female perspective..
It was a friend’s birthday dinner and we were all sitting around a rectangular table, a mixture of male and female. Across the table was a lady, with whom I wasn’t acquainted, she seemed pleasant and quite gregarious. My friend, whose birthday it was, mentioned that I practised Kung Fu to this lady, so I explained a little about our style being suitable for women as it didn’t rely on brute strength etc... I then added that I thought it was a good idea for all women to have some self- defence skills. To my amazement, she declared, in a loud voice, that she thought I was talking “complete utter rubbish!”. After a pause I asked her what she would do should she have the misfortune to be in a situation when she needed to defend herself. She replied simply and loudly, “By using my mouth!! I would talk to them or shout for help or I would be able to stop them with my powers of persuasion.” Considering her statement carefully, but moreover not wanting to enter into a potentially heated discussion with such a formidable orator at my friend’s birthday celebrations, I simply agreed that talking would be the ideal solution if at all possible and then promptly changed the subject turning to speak to a friendly chap on my right. There are some people you simply can’t reason with.
Of course, ultimately, she was right, fighting is the last resort and if we do have to fight it could be argued, we have indeed lost. However, until a person is placed in a threatening situation, none can truly say how they will react. Our sense of survival is strong in all of us. In that lady’s experience she had never encountered a situation where she needed to use anything more than her verbal skills. If we consider that 45% of women in the UK have experienced some sort of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, though this figure relies on reported incidences, one site suggests the figure may be closer to 70% worldwide, then she is, indeed, one lucky lady. It’s a bit tricky to have a conversation if someone has grabbed you suddenly from behind placing their hand over your mouth. It is my sincerest wish that her opinion, based on her personal experience, never has to change.
Recently, and in stark contrast to the lady above, an old lady came along to my T’ai chi group for the first time. We were doing a bit of sticky hands, and, I was showing her a little of what we teach, when she told me and a student, that she wished she had learnt self-defence years ago. She explained that as a shop owner she had been attacked four times, and on one occasion had to open up the shop, the very next day after a robbery and assault, on her own. How profoundly different can one person’s experience be from another? I wondered, presumably she had come to T’ai Chi for the usual exercise and relaxation reasons, why then hadn’t she taken up self-defence classes after the first incident?
Here lies the rub. Why do many women and girls still avoid self-defence classes or martial arts, even if they have been attacked or subject to violence?
Why do many women and girls prefer to learn T’ai Chi than Feng Shou? Why are there so few women in martial arts, especially in the higher grades? Or, perhaps more probing, why do so few women continue to practice a self-defence art?
The truth is I do not know. Perhaps the answers are complex, both individual and universal, but, here are a few of my ruminations on the matter.
Fighting is largely seen as a man’s domain, though it is fair to say that this is changing. Women are breaking into the field of boxing for example, think of Nicola Adams, reigning champion in the Olympics in 2012 and 2016, and there have always been some women practicing martial arts though perhaps not known. When I first started Feng Shou well over 2 decades ago, the class was largely dominated by men, there were few role models around at that time.
There is a lot of violence against women in the media but few fight back in any effective way, portrayed very much as the victim, though of course there are exceptions. Where a woman does fight back, think “Kill Bill” or “Salt”, the female has gone through the most extreme brutal violence, somehow survived and has some even more tragic past. Is it possible that this repeated exposure to the victimisation of women or the inevitable tragic ending of a woman who does fight back, becomes some kind of social straight-jacket? From a young age girls are socialised into behaving in a certain way and, in the main, discouraged from fighting and even some forms of physical activity, if it is seen as unfeminine. Therefore, generally speaking, learning to “fight”/ defend themselves can seem alien, unfeminine and sometimes unacceptable culturally.
Perhaps people don’t always separate a violent act from one of self-defence. Sometimes what a person is capable of when confronted with a violent situation, when we need to protect ourselves, might be unacceptable to the person’s psyche. Do we not like to think of ourselves as nice people? Nice women.
Many martial art clubs promote competitive fighting, well let’s leave that to the peacocks shall we?
Susan wearing the red belt sparring with Mark Kirby
Why do I practice Feng Shou?
Originally my motivation, even though I had encountered at least four violent and several frightening situations by the time I was 22 years old, was actually unclear. Thinking back, perhaps it was because I had defended myself from a gang attack, whilst in a phone box, to such an extent that they had ran away, therefore I didn’t feel the need. Perhaps my attackers thought I was too much trouble? Or perhaps they were just messing????? Or maybe there was a random police car passing by, I couldn’t see past all the faces? It was extremely frightening but I also remember feeling annoyed because my Mum, on the other end of the line, was panicking able to hear terrible banging and shouting. To this day I do not know why they left though I can still remember the look of menace change to that of disbelief, then fear, on that young man’s face. So on the one hand I was kind of pleased and relieved to have defended myself, I had had a lucky escape, whilst on the other, being in shock and absolutely horrified at what I was capable of when in fear of my life. In reality, I didn’t want to think about it, ever.
When I started training in T’ai Chi, back then if you wanted to train with Howard, then you had to attend his Feng Shou (Kung fu) class first before you could learn T’ai Chi – so really I had no choice but to learn it. Everything seemed so unnatural, very daunting, I didn’t ever want to have to fight again. Preferring to focus more on T’ai Chi as it seemed less scary, Feng Shou still had a draw.
At that time several aspects of self-defence that Howard discussed struck a chord. The first was something along these lines;
A hunter (attacker) will seek out the weakest and if a person believes themselves to be a victim (prey) then they are, that will be their fate. How true this is on many levels.
So I set out to learn some skills, to become strong internally and to hopefully never have to fight again. If I did, however, the idea of having the ability and skills to defend myself in an effective, but, not necessarily harmful way also appealed. To be able to have some control over my reactions was something very important then and still is now.
The second thing;
It’s necessary to put ourselves in situations we do not feel comfortable with in order to develop.
Training in Feng Shou can feel very awkward at first because it might be a completely new skill for a female in particular. Learning to be comfortable enough to train in close proximity with another person requires a lot of trust. Practicing self-defence in a controlled and safe environment where we have the opportunity to develop our skills, is a valuable experience I continue to be truly grateful for.
The third thing;
When we develop our sensitivity we will be able to sense trouble before it arrives and thus avoid it completely or diffuse it before it manifests. This is the ultimate goal I feel, and, in a way, relates on this level back to what the lady at birthday party was saying, by default.
The fourth thing;
The arts followed the way of the female, there was a lot of talk about being soft and gentle but to be honest, although I liked the idea, didn’t really believe it nor did it seem that everyone followed the way to my untrained eye. Though it did seem to work somehow for other advanced students and instructors - it was all very confusing – just learning the sets and forms was challenge enough when starting from scratch. The idea that this style didn’t rely on bulking muscle and was suitable for females, children and older people suited me as I wasn’t particularly fit. In contrast to some other styles, how can softness possibly ward off a hefty strike? Well you have to practice and practice becoming softer and softer but with substance. I have found Feng Shou to be the structure within which we become softer and our touch lighter and yet your opponent feels you to be stronger. Once we embrace the physicality of training and importantly lose our fear, being soft within becomes natural, yin within.
The practicality of training as a novice can be quite daunting. For example, learning to strike effectively can be difficult. It might feel so very alien, to be encouraged to strike at someone’s face and uncomfortable to have a hand aiming at your own during rollaways. Also, getting your partner to strike properly in return is a tricky balance to achieve. You see most people are nice and they find even feigning a strike difficult, quite often they target the air next to your face. Once you have both established a rhythm in rollaways, you have to ask your partner to aim for your face, slowly of course. I spent many years training with such nice people that when it came to a real strike, my ward-offs proved ineffective, having learned to ward off a miss. Once you find a partner who can strike properly in a controlled way, the techniques you are learning are more effective and really only work from a committed strike. That’s great isn’t it because the skills you learn are truly defensive and, as such, not born of aggression. There is a world of difference between this approach and some base applications of martial arts like cage fighting.
Feng Shou then could be said to be the loving practice of non-violent self- defence. Because we have to learn to control our reactions, careful not to cause harm, but training effectively so that your partner can develop too, it in essence, becomes a spiritual experience based on trust and cooperation. These days I have grown more confident in my practice and my reasons to train have changed from one of ambivalence (denial) and fear to that of pure joy and excitement. Practising Feng Shou is such an empowering and fun experience. To be awarded a Black jacket, something I didn’t dare dream about, and, because I had initially, virtually no understanding of, or ability in, the skills needed, did not even believe possible. I have been very lucky to have been able to train with Howard and all the other instructors and students over the years, their patience and guidance have been so important.
Even if you have little or no experience of self-defence training I would encourage anyone who is practising T’ai chi to learn Feng shou; they are totally intertwined and understanding both disciplines enhances your experience. Where T’ai chi helps relax and revive, Feng shou invigorates and delights. In an ideal world we can use our intellect and verbal skills to reason our way out of most situations and our sensitivity training helps us avoid difficult, possibly threatening situations, but Feng Shou will give you unparalleled understanding of yourself , if you dare open the door to who you really are.