Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 219
Master Choy – A remembrance
A long forgotten incident emerged recently. I thought you might enjoy hearing a bit of history relating to Master Choy and my early Tai Chi studies that occurred around this same time of year in 1972.
Master Choy asked if I would accompany him to Chinatown, in San Francisco, to witness a fight he was to take part in, and possibly back him up. So that you can understand why this remains with me, let me fill you in on the background leading up to this event.
I started my studies with Master Choy in 1968. I was a hippy living in the capital of hippydom, San Francisco. It was the summer of love, the peak of a time of revolution, not just in S.F., but the U.S. and the entire world. I had just returned from a trip around the world, searching for answers to the age old problem of how to break free from the bondage of the past (I was a depressed, conservative television director), and find purpose to this life. I hadn’t found any answers yet, but I was still alive and looking.
I found Master Choy (long story) and began my studies. Within a short time, he recognized my dedication and interest, and brought me along quite quickly. By 1972, I was joining him in public demonstrations, going out to lunch with him and his wife, and spending time in his home.
To say I was unprepared physically and mentally to go to Chinatown, a truly dangerous place at night, to participate in a gang related fight, is an understatement of large proportion. I was basically a chicken shit when it came to fighting. I had never hit anyone out of anger, and did all I could to stay out of possible confrontations, on any level. Add to the fact I was afraid of getting my face smashed in, I couldn’t imagine smashing anyone else’s face in.
Master Choy’s challenge fight was partially due to students like me. The Chinese community, and especially the martial arts community, was very conservative and extremely closed to outsiders. Chinese martial masters very rarely shared with others, and especially not hippies. The sight of these “long hairs” running around Chinatown, obviously stoned, ogling their daughters, was too much. Add to this, the interest these outsiders had in learning their secrets, and trouble was inevitable. Bruce Lee, one of Master Choy’s friends, also had a long standing problem with the “elders”.
Master Choy was also conservative in most ways. In the classes, he would look around with a fatherly, disapproving look, and make cutting motions with his fingers, meaning cut the hair and beards. He would also end most classes by saying, “no smoke the marijuana, no take the LSD.” The funny thing was that Master Choy was the darling of the hippie community. Almost all of his students fit the role of hippie. When I look at early pictures of myself in his class during this time, I see lots of hair (face and head), a long, flowery shirt, love beads, and sandals – the whole outfit. I smoked pot at the time, and I only made the mistake of smoking before class one time. It was a disaster. I thought I was really in the “groove”, but when I went to practice the next day, I realized I didn’t remember much at all.
For several months prior to this incident, Master Choy was obviously having some troubles. He was down. I didn’t inquire, thinking it none of my business. It seemed to grow worse. One day his wife pulled me aside. She shared with me that Master Choy has been receiving anonymous phone calls at all hours of the night, telling him to quit teaching hippies, or he would be sorry. She said this has been going on for quite some time.
Master Choy, a short time later, finally told me about what was happening. He said he at first tried reasoning with the caller, and when that didn’t yield results, got angry. He said he would “fight it out” if necessary to resolve the issue. The calls continued, until the final threat came. The caller said that Master Choy’s family would be killed if he did not stop. This, of course, really shook him up. Master Choy was a martial artist, used to going out in the streets in Hong Kong, and fighting to hone his skills. He wanted to confront this problem face on, to deal with it in a direct way, and work it out man to man. But this anonymous threat to his family, that he couldn’t control, was too much. He worried. His teaching was his life. It paid the bills and brought his life satisfaction and purpose.
Finally, the caller said he would meet in a place in Chinatown and have it out. Master Choy agreed, and that set up the incident I am telling you about. So Michael Howden (another senior student) and I agreed to meet Master Choy at a specific place at 9:45 in the evening of the following day.
Let me again describe my thinking at the time:
*I am, at my core, a peace-loving hippie who had never really been in a fight.
*I had no real training in the martial arts. We never did sparing. Occasional push hands. Not much in the area of applications. Meditation through movement.
*Chinatown was a dangerous place. People got shot and killed on a fairly regular basis.
*Master Choy’s family had been threatened with murder.
*I have to support Master Choy. He is my teacher, mentor, and helped pull me up from a very low point in my life.
*I am really scared.
When I say it was a cold, foggy, winter evening in San Francisco, with foghorns in the background, I’m not making it up, and it added to the dread I was feeling. We met Master Choy at the specified place and he told us not to worry, watch and learn, and be ready to back him up if needed. My mind raced, my eyes flitted in all directions as we walked to the alley, which was the agreed upon place.
We got there a few minutes before 10. Master Choy sized up the situation, decided the safest place for Michael and me, and waited. And waited. And waited.
By 10:30 we decided it was a cruel joke. Master Choy, who had pumped himself up in order to resolve this threat to him and his family, really came down hard. He thought he had a way to finish this, and now he thought it would go on, and he worried about his family. We went back home, each with his own thoughts.
I, on the other hand, was so relieved on most levels. I did worry about Master Choy and his family, but I must admit, my survival was foremost in my mind. As it turned out, the calls stopped. Master Choy never found out who or why the calls started and stopped. He continued teaching for 24 years more in Chinatown with no more problems. The hippies turned into yuppies. Life goes on.
I still don’t fight, but I do play push hands, winning the Grand Championship at Taste of China in 1994. I went to visit Master Choy after my win, and he was so happy to visit and share stories. His Chi Kung practice had become very important to him, and he shared with me what he had been working on. We parted, comrades in Tai Chi teaching and practice. He passed away soon after my visit. He started me on my life’s work. I am forever grateful.