• Steve Gray / Starjumper 7

Masters of the Way - Madam Gao Fu

Updated: Jun 5

Madam Gao Fu was my Chen Tai Chi teacher. She was a student Feng Ziqiang, and an Official National Living Treasure of China.

When the great Maoist cleansing of the masters of China was underway, her husband, who was a Tai Chi master, was sent to prison and tortured to death. She was sent to prison just for being his wife and she was also tortured, due to which she had eternal back pain. She said when she was in prison she had nothing else to do, so she started practicing Tai Chi - a lot.

After some years she was let out of prison and provided with an apartment, but even up to modern times she was given no address and allowed no telephone, this was so that no one was able to contact her except for 'the Party'.

Some time after getting out of prison she was officially declared to be a National Living Treasure of China. However since she had no means for people to contact her the only students that she got were high level party officials, and they weren't actually interested in Tai Chi. They just wanted to be able to put her name on their resume. Faced with this, she was actually very happy to be able to come to Seattle and teach students who really wanted to learn.

I really loved Chen Tai Chi. I love the smooth circular flowing, the changes between large and small circles, slow and fast. The way the form itself evolves like a spiral. And Madam Gao Fu herself was just a treat. She was the sweetest little old grandma type you can imagine, just so nice and calm. I think she was in her upper eighties when I was her student, but despite her age, she had a wicked short range explosive punch that would cause most little old ladies to shatter themselves into little pieces.

Gao Fu told her last class, which I was in, that her master, the notorious Feng Zhiqiang, had written a book about their Tai Chi but she had never read it because she was with him in person. Upon moving to Seattle, she read the book. She told us she had been doing it all wrong, and this time she was going to teach it right! Can you imagine, she was a National Living Treasure of China and she was apologizing for having done it wrong. I don’t know how she changed her teaching, but it was fabulous, and you just can not beat that way of moving for the pure joy that it gives. If she did add much to her teaching, then her previous students missed that, but from what I’ve seen, some of her previous students do the form absolutely excellently.

Each week we would learn a new movement, then go home and practice it. The next week we would review the move a few times and she would go around the room to give feedback to each person. The whole class had to do the move and then stand in the strenuous low standing posture for ten or fifteen minutes as she went around to each person. She would stand three feet in front of them and have them do the movement while she stared at them like a predator. She would then correct even the tiniest mistake the person had made. She always had some correction or advice for each student, but I’m proud to say there were a couple of times when she watched me and just nodded her head before going on to the next person, and she didn’t do that to any of the others. We all had to stand in a typically low posture while she was going around the room. It was very painful in the beginning, but truly amazing how fast it made your legs stronger, just the thing for mountain climbing.

Gao Fu’s health became poor and she knew she was going to pass away. When she went back to China to die, I had only learned half of her Chen form from her. But I learned this part very well, mainly because she was such a good teacher but also because I had so much background in the way of moving … due to my previous Tai Chi and the Chi Kung. Andy told me the first part of the forms embodies all the principles of the way to move, so if you practice that enough you can “get it” just as well as doing the entire form. It’s such a long form that the first half is plenty, the main thing being that I learned the underlying principles of how to move well and am able to share them.

From the book - A Lineage of Dragons -


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