A Taoist in New York.
Written by Lars Bo Christensen, translated by Knud Erik Andersen.
Since 1956 there have lived an Taoist and Tai Chi master on the Manhattans Upper West Side i New York.
Da Liu moved to the States in 1956 because of the political revolution in his native country. He became a Tai Chi teacher at The UN's Chinese institute and was absolutely one of the first Tai Chi pioneers in the West. Da Liu began practising Tai Chi in 1928 with Sun Lu-Tang in Kiang Su in East-China. Later during the Japanese occupation he was forced to leave and went to the Southeast provinces. Here he studied with many famous masters. It was here he went from practicing Sun to Yang style, which he have been teaching for more than 40 years in New York.
I visited Da Liu in the month of July 1991. I looked in the Manhattan's yellow pages, and to my big surprise there was a lot of Tai Chi schools. But none of them attracted me very much. Then I saw a notice about Da Liu, whom I knew very much from his books, which have been able to buy in Denmark for many years. Also I remembered that Bill Dockens from Sweden, had studied with Da liu.
It didn't succeed in finding his class, because there were some changes due to the summer holidays. Instead I found one of his students who have been practising with him for 18 years, Luis Ortega. It struck me that maybe Da Liu had been a student of Cheng Man-Ching, due to the pictures of him, and Luis's form confirmed my impression. But this wasn't quiet so. Because Da Liu's Yang style teacher was Li Li-Chou. He was the president of the Shanghai Tai Chi Association and it was here Cheng Man-Ching was their Vicepresident.
Li Li-Chou was one of the greatest Taoist masters at the time and he had adopted the Yang Style in his practise. So he wasn't also a student of one of the famous Yang families, and in that area it might have been a tradition to practise the Yang Style in this manner. Maybe this explains, why Cheng Man-Ching deviant from the form made by Yang Cheng-Fu.
Luis heard about our Tai Chi Magazine and agreed to arrange an interview with his master. New York is extremely hot and moist during the month of July, it was 100,4 Fahrenheit, and moist so you became damp.
And yet I wore some long pants and a nice shirt, so I was presentable.
Da Liu was extremely kind and it didn't take long before I had great sympathy for the little old man. He lived in a big apartment, which he had had for more than 30 years. He turned on the airconditioning and asked if I could take the heat. He hadn't been outside the States since he came there, but he knew where Denmark was and that the summers were cooler there. I asked him the questions I had prepared. He answered willingly, but without any great interest. When I was finished, he took over. He put a videotape in the VCR and while I saw this, he walked around in his seven room flat and found books and tapes and explained me a lot of interesting things, without me asking. He knew of the Tung family and had a ragged copy of Tung Ying-Chieh's book.
I asked about the coherent between spiritual practise and martial art. To this he said "It's one and the same, true martial art is with Chi (Qi). I can push people far away with my thumb. It comes from within". Luis confirmed that master Liu often pushed people with a little twist in his thumb, just to show it's not necessary to have big muscles. On the video he showed me, which were more than 10 years old, and he was a young man at the age of 77, he was teaching one of his students classes, how to use Tai Chi. Here he showed an impressive 'one inch punch' against a piece of paper, which were held for him. It flew several feet(try it yourself). He also pushed every one in the class "gently" toward the wall from about a distance of two feet. Only with the thumb, but it was clearly they were shaken, especially the guys, who was push the hardest.
On the video his class was doing the sword, pushhands and four corners. Even though there were some difference in the form, was these forms very like the ones I know. I asked Da Liu if he knew Cheng Man-Ching, because I knew he had taught in New York for some years. He did, actually I sat in Cheng's old room on his old bed. Also T.T. Liang, who is a famous student of Cheng,
had lived there while he lived in New York. So you can say they have had a Tai Chi shared house. But otherwise he lives mostly isolated. He has only minded his teaching and written books.
And it has been to quiet a few. Ten whereof the famous one is 'Tai Chi Chuan and I Ching'. It has been sold in more than one million copies and been translated to five languages. I have read many books on Tai Chi and related subjects, and I have to say that Da Liu's raises upon many others. Da Liu have written about other things than Tai Chi 'Tao of Chinese culture' etc, a translation of the I Ching, a book on healing exercises and one on meditation. He showed me a new book on the Tai Chi sword, and it was surely the best on the subject up till now.
Da Liu doesn't teach the 'Dao'(knife), he doesn't feel it's soft enough to spiritual practise, but he has learned it once. But in return he teaches the sword 'Chin', which is much softer. He showed us a real 'Dragon well Sword'. It wasn't very big, but very beautiful and a good workmanship. It had a carved slice of jade to weigh down the the silktuft and it was surprisingly light. "The sword they call 'Dragon Well' today, are dipped in water from the Dragon Well. But they are mad in an factory. This sword is handmade and hardened in water from the Dragon Well".
I asked Da Liu if he sees any difference between students from the East and the West. "I see a difference in the past and the present. In the past people had the time and energy to practise. The hippies were alright, they didn't work so much and had the time to learn Tai Chi". Da Liu teaches his own short form, which he feels is more suitable for the busy Americans. He does teach the whole form, but only to those who practise persistently. Da Liu looks like an old man, but my wife and I did Pushhands with him, and he was certainly not fragile. As my own Master Kai-Ying Tung, he was extremely clear and controlled the conversation, so nothing negative or unnecessary did sneak in. At the same time he came with some very personal remarks, which indicates his great knowledge. Da Liu is also teaching Tai Chi i meditation, I Ching and Chinese astrology.
When a person like Da Liu who have practised Tai Chi for more than 70 years, has worked with meditation and the understanding of life through the I Ching and the Tao Teh Ching and have written books about almost everything on the subject, personally known a lot of the old masters, such as Sun Lu-Tang and Wu Tunan, apart from this he has heard or read almost everything, gives it a special feeling that they are not only interested in the materialistic things. At one time Da Liu asked if I wanted a cup of tea, I said if he was gonna get some, then I loved some. I didn't want to let an old man make me some tea. Later he came with the tea in a mug with a print of New York on it and to keep it warm he used a minifrisbee. It wasn't an old lacquered bowl with a decorated lit. Ain't you gonna have some? I asked. "I don't drink" he said, "don't you drink tea"? "I never drink fluid, but I do eat from time to time. I can circulate the fluid inside my body, try and listen". Then I could clearly hear how the water ran down his throat, so he had to swallow all the time. I had heard about Taoists who could do this, but never thought they was for real. I myself eat a great deal and have to drink much fluid to sort out the waste products and to prevent drying out. I told him that I might have been eating to much myself, but he dismissed me by saying "no no, you are young", which calmed me a great deal. I had spend a great deal of my vacation to buy and consume a great deal food. When you are spending a long time in a city like New York, where you can get anything and where everyone tries to gain more, it was a nice experience to meet a person like Da Liu.
©1999 Knud Erik Andersen