Chee Soo

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Early days

Chee Soo T'ai Chi Dance - Archer position
Chee Soo and students at the T'ai Chi Summer Course, Alderman Callow school, Coventry, July 1990.
Chee Soo, Ray Austin and Dame Diana Rigg publicity shot for The Avengers cult TV show circa 1967.

According to his birth certificate, born Clifford Soo on 4 June 1919 in All Souls, Marylebone, London, Chee Soo was the son of Ah Chee Soo who was a pastry chef at the Westminster restaurant. His mother was Beatrice Annie Ah Soo formerly Gibbs.[1] His grandfather was a retired farmer called Chee Hoy. Although he enlisted under his mother's maiden name as Clifford Gibbs in later life he reverted back to his Chinese name of Chee Soo.

Chee Soo was born of a Chinese father and an English mother, and as they died when he was only a very young child, he was brought up in a Dr Barnardo's home, which was and still is a charitable orphanage. He started his first job, as a page-boy in a nursing home in Earls Court, West London, and in his spare time he used to go to Hyde Park to enjoy the fresh air, watch the horse riders exercising their animals, and to play with his ball.
However, something happened that was to alter the whole course of his future life. One Sunday afternoon, he went to the park to play with his ball, when suddenly it bounced rather erratically, and accidentally hit the back of an elderly gentleman who was sitting on a park bench. Having recovered his ball, he went up to the gentleman to offer his apologies, only to see that the man was also Chinese. As it was a very rare thing to see another Chinese in London in those days, they began to talk together, and even arranged to meet again. So the two began to meet fairly regularly — whenever the opportunity and the weather permitted, and a very strong friendship developed between Chee Soo and the gentleman, who was Chan Kam Lee.

In the summer of 1934, Chee Soo was invited to Chan Lee's class, and that was the beginning of the training that he has maintained ever since, and it was surely the ordained way of the Tao that enabled Chee Soo to start his learning of the vast range of the Taoist martial, philosophical, healing and cultural arts in this way. It gave great happiness to Chan Lee for he had no family of his own, and as he earnestly desired to keep the Taoist arts alive, he adopted Chee Soo as a nephew, and taught him the arts whenever his work and time permitted. For Chee Soo it meant that the he had someone on whom he could rely, and to advise him, and teach him the fundamentals of the Taoist philosophical attitude to life and all that it meant.

The War

In 1939 the Second World War broke out, and Chee Soo did his share of fighting as a Tank Commander in the Second Battalion of the Royal Tank Corps, in France, in North Africa — where he won the Military Medal, and in Burma where, after a hectic battle, he was finally taken prisoner by the Japanese. He went through many periods of beatings, torture, starvation and very hard work as a member of a working party in the mountains between India and Burma. Finally, three years later, as the Japanese started to retreat from the advancing Allies, he managed to escape into the Shan Mountains of West Burma and made his way over very rugged terrain and through many jungles, till finally one month afterwards he was able to make contact with the Allies again. Three months after recuperation and treatment (for he then weighed only 84 lbs), he was flown back to England, where he was able to enjoy a long leave with his wife. After that, he was discharged from the forces and took a course in book-keeping, stock control, commercial history and sales promotion.
He managed to make contact with Chan Lee again after the war was finished, and the class in Holborn was restarted. In 1950, Chee Soo, with Chan Lee's permission, formed his own class in Manor Road School, West Ham, East London.[2]

The formation of the International Taoist Society.

This society was based on the foundations that were originally laid down by Professor Chan Kam Lee, who started the first Chinese Taoist Arts School in London in 1930.
Chan Lee died in the winter of 1953-4, when his boat sank in a fierce storm off the coast of China, and it was then that his nephew Chee Soo was asked to take over the Presidency of all the Taoist Arts that were being taught. In 1958, Chee Soo set up coaching classes with the object of training qualified teachers, and county, area and regional coaches. Over the years these have proved very successful and there are now classes and clubs operating in many parts of the world, besides those that exist in the British Isles.[3]

The Avengers

Chee Soo was also involved as a fight arranger with the cult TV series The Avengers during the 1960s as is evidenced by publicity photographs of him with Ray Austin and Diana Rigg probably taken around 1967. He brought Kung Fu before a western audience years before Bruce Lee had even been heard of.

According to a British Movietone News documentary filmed on 21st May 1970 at Guildford University in Surrey - UK, Chee Soo had over 2000 students studying Wu Shu in Britain as part of the British Wu Shu Association. He was one of only three men outside of Beijing qualified to teach Wu shu[4]

During the 1970s he ran a Chinese Health and Herbal clinic in London.[5]

Coventry

According to Marilyn Soo who is Chee Soo's widow, during the 1980s he moved to Coventry and spent his time writing and teaching courses in T'ai Chi and Kung Fu at the Alderman Callow School in Coventry (now called The Westwood School) and other locations around Britain, as well as teaching his students overseas in the Commonwealth countries and around Europe.[6]

Writings

Chee Soo was the author of five best selling books about the various aspects of the Taoist Arts. He first started writing down his ideas when he had a revelation on 21st December 1976 and over the next eight years he wrote his thoughts down whenever he had available time. His first book was published by Gordon and Cremonesi in 1976 entitled The Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. This was republished by Thorsons and then HarperCollins in 1983 and went on to top the best seller list. Taoist Yoga (originally 'The Taoist Art of K'ai Men' first published in 1977 was released by Thorsons the same year followed by The Taoist Art of Feng Shou a guide to the Taoist self defence techniques of the Lee style. The Tao of Long Life originally published in 1979 was also published the same year then The Taoist Ways of Healing in 1986. All Chee Soo's books are currently in print and are published by Seahorse Books and available at their online store. In 2006 Seahorse Books received a manuscript of a previously unpublished title The Tao of My Thoughts a diary of Chee Soo's thoughts regarding Taoist philosophy written down over a period of eight years from 1976 to 1984 currently published in hardback from Seahorse Books.

Wales

He died in Ebbw Vale on 29 August 1994 as a result of an abdominal aneurism caused by deep vein thrombosis probably aggravated by several long haul plane flights during the previous two years.[7]

References

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chee_Soo
  2. The Taoist Ways of Healing by Chee Soo page 138
  3. The Taoist Ways of Healing by Chee Soo page 139
  4. http://www.movietone.com Chinese Martial Arts
  5. Chinese Art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan - Gordon and Cremonesi 1976 page 1
  6. Tao of My Thoughts pages 127-150
  7. Tao of My Thoughts pages 147