Professor Clifford Chee Soo
“The following is as I heard it from Professor Clifford Chee Soo over the years that I trained with him, and is given merely as background information.” – Harmony Arts Principal, Peter Glenn
Chee Soo was born in 1919 to an English mother and Chinese father. His father died in 1925 and his mother died in 1927. After his mother’s death he was sent to a Dr Barnardo’s Home, where he spent the rest of his childhood.
When he was 14 years old he was working in a nursing home in Earl’s Court West London as a pageboy. He liked to go to Hyde Park to watch the horses and to play football during his time off. It was on one of these visits that he accidentally hit the back of an old gentleman sat on a bench. He picked up the ball and went to apologize, and to his surprise the gentleman was Chinese: in those days it was rare to see Chinese in that part off London. His name was Chan Kam Li, and they began a friendship that was to lead to Chan Kam Li adopting Chee Soo as his nephew and teaching him the Li Family Taoist Arts.
During the War, Chee Soo was in the Royal Tank Corps. Up until then, he had been known as Clifford Gibbs. The orphanage gave him his birth certificate so that he could join the army, which was when he discovered that his real name was Clifford Chee Soo.
He fought in France, North Africa and Burma. It was in Burma that he was captured by the Japanese, who were going to execute him for being Chinese, but the other soldiers in Chee’s command insisted he was a British soldier and their commander. Although they did not execute him, he was severely tortured.
He spent three years in a prisoner-of-war camp, building roads in Burma. He and a Ghurkha friend would supplement their diet of a hand full of rice a day by picking herbs and hiding them as they worked. The two of them managed to escape, spending several months travelling through jungle to get to allied lines.
When they were met by the Americans, the Americans didn’t believe that they had escaped from the Japanese and were going to shoot them for being Japanese spies. They were imprisoned until their papers came through from the British Army. After his release, Chee Soo returned home to London in 1945.
After the War he began to practice the Japanese martial arts Judo, Aikido, Kendo and many others. He obtained high grades in all the Japanese arts he practiced, and he trained with and was a friend to many Japanese Teachers, such as Kenshiro Abbe and the Otani Brothers.
Chee Soo was a founder of MAC (Martial Arts Commission) and the BKFC, (British Kung Fu Council). The BKFC is now the BCCMA (British Council for Chinese Martial Arts).
In about 1953 Chee Soo stopped teaching the Japanese Martial Arts and started to teach the Chinese Martial arts. He gave all his classes the choice to move with him or to stay with the arts they were practising.
After Chan Kam Li’s death in the winter of 1953/4, Chee Soo was asked to head the Association left by Professor Li. Chee declined at first out of respect for his Teacher but after repeated requests, he finally agreed, and continued to promote the Li Family Arts up to his death.
Chee Soo later changed the name of the Association to The British Wu-Shu Association, which was to become the International Wu-Shu Association. He also headed The Chinese Cultural Arts Association, which with the International Wu-Shu Association, came under the one banner of The International Taoist Society.
Professor Chee Soo passed away on the 29th August 1994 aged 75.
The Li Family had always been Taoist and had practiced the Chinese Taoist Arts for thousands of years. It was Ho-Hsieh Li who created the Li system of Harmony Palm – Ho Hsieh Chang or we know it today Tai Chi Chuan. The original Li Family Form consisted of only eight movements, which where added to by Ho-Hsieh Li himself and then subsequent generations until no more could be added. The form today consists of 42 sets which add up to 140 single movements.
When Li Ho-Hsieh was in his middle fifties he took his family and settled down in a small fishing village called Wei Hei Wei, in Shandong Province 200 miles east of Beijing, and they remained in that district up to around 1930.
Until this time, the Li system of health and martial arts had always remained a family system, passed on to just members of the family. They practised together, as it was natural that the parents instructed their children, who taught their own children and so on.
It came about that the last three children; one daughter and two sons had the responsibility of keeping the Li Family Arts alive. Unfortunately only one son managed to do so, and his name was Chan Kam Li, the eldest of them.
Chan Kam Li was a businessman who dealt in precious and semi-precious stones. He opened a small office in the Holborn district of London, which was then the world centre of the gem trade.
In 1930 he started a small class in Red Lion Square, Holborn, to keep himself fit and to benefit a few selected close friends. Chan Kam Li’s business took him all over the world and wherever he went he taught his family system.
It was in 1933 that Chan Kam Li took pity on a small Chinese orphan boy in London, called Clifford Gibbs (Clifford Chee Soo), later Chan Kam Li adopted Chee Soo as his nephew, and taught him the whole system of the Li Family Taoist Arts. Some of these included Feng Shou Ch’uan Shu (Hand of the wind boxing), Chi Shu (energy Art or Breath Art), Chiao Li (Taoist Wrestling), the Li family Tai Chi Chuan, K’ai Men (Taoist Nei Kung / Chi Kung), Tao Yin (Respiration Therapy) and an array of weapons.
Chan Kam Li died in the winter of 1953/4 when his ship went down in a severe storm off the coast of China, aged 89.