By Tem Horwitz - Founder and Publisher of Cloud Hands Press
‘The form is lousy!’ H.H. Lui announced, then laughed in his inimitable way. At this point, I had been studying this ‘form’ with him for 20 years, and this judgment might have been devastating to someone else, but I understood that what he meant was that the form was empty. What was important was how it transformed the person doing Tai Chi Ch’uan. The form without humility,
empathy, or joy had no meaning. He joked about people who had spent their whole lives learning how to punch through walls, how to break boards, how to sustain kicks to the groin, how to pick up iron balls with one hand. No wisdom there. ‘Ha Ha! Can pick up 50 pound iron ball after a lifetime of daily practice. Ha Ha!’
In olden times in Chicago, there was no one teaching Tai Chi to the general public. The theater department of Columbia College had decided to perform a play based on ‘Fanshen’ or “A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village,” and the director set us about the task of finding a Tai Chi teacher. We encountered H.H. Lui in Chinatown and brought him to work with us on this performance. He was happy to expand his teaching, but – I learned later – was leery of romanticizing Maoist China. When I discovered his apprehensions, I responded defensively and sought to justify the performance, much to his subtle irritation, and he remarked, “I have eaten more rice than you.”
Indeed, he had. He was the last generation with a classical Chinese education and a modern Western education at his Lingnan University. He had survived the war living in a cave and working as a banker, but after the war, his moderate nature did not comport with Chinese Communism. He and a friend escaped mainland China in a barrel, arriving first in Hong Kong and ultimately in Chicago. He worked for an insurance company at a modest level, but as he said, the company was sold many times over the years and he was the only one who retained his job. He was always willing to do the work modestly and cheerfully, willing to do the work no one else wanted or was willing to do. The Watercourse Way. All of his bosses were dismissed, but he remained.
It was a revelation to him that a 45-year-old in the U.S. was considered old in the work place. So different from China where a 45-year-old was thought to finally be mature and capable enough to accept substantial responsibility.
He taught at the Dance Center of Columbia College, where we brought him to instruct all of us in Tai Chi Ch’uan. Subsequently, he ran a full program of daily classes. After I was fired by the director along with the rest of the dancers, he encouraged us to set up our own dance and performance center. He gave us its name, MoMing, after a beautiful lake in China. Until his retirement, he taught at both Columbia College and MoMing as well as at Cloud Hands, a center for Tai Chi Ch’uan that he encouraged me and my wife Susan to found. Of course, that’s also where I got the name for this publishing house.
H.H. Lui’s aphorisms, at first quaint and charming, came to be seen by us as a practical guide to life. NPNB—no practice no breakfast. Follow the watercourse way. Softness in the end overcomes hardness, so learn to be soft. He had lived through his own Warring States Period, and learned the wisdom of Taoism as a way of living and surviving in the world.