History and Background

Below is a photo essay of some of the history of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan and its connection to Edmonton.  It begins with Master Mak Ying Po who studied with Tung Ying Chieh in Hong Kong and China. Master Mak also taught in Hong Kong before initially moving to Saskatchewan. He then brought his Tai Chi to Edmonton in the early 1970s. Master Mak ran a well-known store, The Wee Supermarket, in central Edmonton. The Wee Supermarket was a combined business and residence and so after closing for the night Master Mak would hold Tai Chi class in his home upstairs from the Supermarket, some people in the living room and some people in the hallway. Unfortunately, there are no known photos of the Wee Supermarket.

Later, Master Mak taught Tai Chi through the Alberta Tai Chi Chuan Association at the Tai Chi Studio on Kingsway Avenue. Many many students went through the Kingsway Studio. There are stories to be told about the diversity of personalities who learned and benefited from Master Mak’s teaching. Hopefully some day some of those stories can be collected. After Master Mak’s retirement, Master Andy Wong then took over the teaching at the studio along with teaching at many other organizations around Edmonton.

Below are some photos of Master Andy Wong, Master Mak and Tung Ying Chieh (all photos copyright by Andy Wong).

 

 

 

 

 


 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Article on Master Mak from the Edmonton based Interface Magazine

Vol 2 (3) March/April 1979 used with permission from its author Ray Switzer


History of Tai Chi

MAK
YING PO: A MASTER AND HIS ART

Forty-five years ago Mak Ying Po, a student of
economics at Shanghai University, was introduced to the art of T’ai
Chi. Living in the home of a friend whose family was able to afford
the luxury of having a teacher of T’ai Chi Chuan come into their house
and instruct the children, he would often see the family practicing
the slow, flowing movements. Thinking them strange, the young Mak was
not inclined to take part though often prodded by his friend and even
invited by the instructor to join in.

After several months had passed, members of the
family graduated into a more advanced stage of the art and learnt to
“push hands”, an exercise done in pairs which involves one partner pushing
while the other absorbs the force of the push, wards it off and then
returns with a push himself while the other absorbs the force. And so
it goes.

Master Mak with the Tai Chi Spear at the Kingsway Studio

In order to show the folly of trying to resist
such a push and also to demonstrate the great internal strength developed
through the persistent practice of T’ai Chi, the instructor, one day
uprooted a student and effortlessly pushed him clear across the large
room. Young Mak, who happened to be watching, was astonished. Previously
having had no interest whatsoever in the martial or fighting arts, the
gracefulness and the power that the teacher portrayed in this manoeuvre
finally won him over. The instructor, Tung Ying Kit, was to become one
of the most highly acknowledged masters in all of China. To really appreciate
what a timely opportunity this was for Mak Ying Po, we will have to
look into the history of T’ai Chi Chuan.

THE HISTORY OF T’AI CHI CHUAN

How and when this art developed is somewhat obscure.
The most popular account of its genesis is the tale of a Taoist monk
who witnessed a fight between a serpent and a crane. The snake, by shifting
its body at the right moment was repeatedly able to avoid the stabs
from the crane’s beak. From this, the monk developed a method of dealing
with attack that stressed sensitivity, flexible movement and intuitive
timing. Thus, T’ai Chi evolved both as a martial art and a system of
movement linked with the Taoist philosophy of yin and yang.

The two main styles that exist today are the
Yang and Wu, named after the two families that propagated them, the
Wu being an offshoot of the Yang. Throughout the centuries, very few
outside the closely knit family circles were permitted to learn the
art which was taught in a very secretive and exclusive fashion. The
Yang style had been passed from father and son for many generations
and most of the well-known tales and legends about T’ai Chi involve
these great masters.

Yang Ching Po was the first to popularize the
art and shed its secrecy. Because of his efforts and those that followed
him, T’ai Chi is now the most prevalent form of exercise in China. Today
in that country, people can be seen practicing it in the early morning
before work, in the parks at lunchtime and in their gardens under the
evening light.

Probably the two best-known students of Yang
Ching Po are Cheng Man Ching, who came to America to spread the art
of T’ai Chi and who died there recently and Mak Ying Po’s master, Tung
Ying Kit, who apprenticed with Yang Ching Po for twenty years and died
in Hong Kong in 1965. Of all of Tung Ying Kit’s many students, the most
prominent are his own son, now living in Hawaii, his grandson in Los
Angeles and Mak Ying Po who resides in Edmonton.

A MASTER COMES TO EDMONTON

Mak Ying Po, who after seeing Tung Ying Kit’s
demonstration at his friend’s home in Shanghai, stayed with him for
thirty years, learning T’ai Chi in the traditional way while supporting
himself as a banker. Separated from his teacher during the war, he was
reunited with him in Hong Kong in 1946 where he helped teach at his
new school. In 1964, although continuing to assist Tung Ying Kit until
his death, Master Mak began to teach on his own. He left for Canada
in 1968, settling first in Saskatoon. In 1970, he moved to Edmonton.

It is by virtue of the fact that
Master Mak preferred not to live in one of the larger American cities
that we are blessed with one of the most qualified T’ai Chi teachers
in the world. From him we, in Edmonton, have the opportunity to learn
the pure Yang Style in its perfect form, as it has been passed down
in the traditional way through generations.

BENEFITS AND REFINEMENT OF
THE ART

Many books have been written about T’ai Chi but
none profess to be a manual of the art. The movements are traditionally
learnt by rote from a teacher and, as yet, there has been no substitute
for this approach. The full form, lasting about twenty minutes, takes
about four months to learn but receiving corrections on the various
moves is a continual source of discipline and inspiration.

The subtleties of the art and the enjoyment in
refining the movements can only be experienced by the devoted student
but as a form of physical exercise, the benefits of T’ai Cjhi can be
felt in a relatively short time. Karlfried Durckheim points out in his
book, Hara – The Vital Centre of Man, that Western people tend to be
top heavy. Musculature is developed and bound up in the arms and shoulders.
Posture, for most of us, is taught as “shoulders back, chest out and
tummy in”. It is precisely this stance that which enables an 85 lb.
Japanese Judo expert to so easily take control of a 200 lb. American
“strongman”.

The Orientals have long recognized that man’s
true center of gravity lies in “tan t’ien” (located just below the navel
and slightly inward) and all movement, though directed by the mind,
should emanate from this center. Lower back problems and stiff shoulders
are just two of the maladies that arise when our postural orientation
is taken away from the tan t’ien. In T’ai Chi, the body is taught to
regain its most natural psychological expression and, in so doing, internal
organs are strengthened, circulation is increased to all cells of the
body and we experience the feeling of having our feet planted firmly
on the ground and the increased mental clarity which this condition
affords.

Master Mak’s humble and vital manner gives to
his students and all who meet him inspiration towards a more noble quality
of human existence. The Chinese population of Edmonton see in him one
of their most outstanding citizens and through the classes he has offered
at the Edmonton Art Gallery, University of Alberta, Dickinsfield Library,
Chinese Elder’s Mansion, and the Unitarian Church, many Edmontonians
from all walks of life have been introduced to T’ai Chi. It is his hope
that that T’ai Chi might come to be practiced as widely here as in his
native country and to this end he initiated the Alberta T’ai Chi Chuan
Association in 1975 and with the help of Chinese Businessmen, the Alberta
T’ai Chi Chuan Culture and Recreation Club in 1977.

When asked what advice he could give to an aspiring
student, Master Mak’s consistent reply is: “Determination, humility,
practice and patience create greater interest, greater health and a
long life”. T’ai Chi requires very little space, no special dress code
and can be practiced by people of all ages. Could it possibly, then,
come to replace coffee and gossip as our traditional break at the office?
It’s rising popularity in North America indicates this possibility and
if the youthfulness possessed by Master Mak Ying Po in his sixty-fifth
year is an indication of its merit, then our society has much to gain
by looking into this ancient system of movement for relief from our
anxiety-ridden enviroment.