A Brief History of the Twin Cities T’ai-Chi Ch’uan Studio

Twin Cities T’ai-Chi Ch’uan Studio (TCTCC) began in the fall of 1981 when a group of friends decided to study T’ai-Chi to prepare for a bicycle tour of China. They found a teacher, Jonah Friedman, who was teaching T’ai-Chi at the People’s Center on the West Bank, near the University of Minnesota, and began classes in the art studio of one of the students. Jonah initially taught a Yang-style T’ai-Chi that he had learned through Mr. Ho at the University of Minnesota, which was limited to a solo form and a sword form.  But soon after, Jonah began studying with Master T.T. Liang.

The Teachers

Master Liang, whose form we follow today, was born in China in 1900 and came to the United States in 1964 with his teacher, Professor Cheng Man-Ch’ing.  Professor Cheng studied with the third generation of the Yang family and was invited by the United Nations to bring T’ai-Chi to the United States.  After living and teaching in New York, Master Liang settled in Boston and taught there until he retired and moved to St. Cloud in 1981.  But word of his move spread, and Master Liang acquired new students, including Jonah, who then began teaching Master Liang’s Yang-style form.

Sifu Ray Hayward is from Boston and began studying karate in 1973.  In 1977, he was given a book written by Master Liang, which piqued his curiosity.  But Master Liang didn’t advertise and was difficult to locate.  One day, however, Sifu saw Master Liang on the street, and, recognizing him from the photos in the book, approached him.  Sifu was so taken with Master Liang, he asked to be accepted as a student.  Thus began their twenty-five-year association, and in 1984 Sifu moved to Minnesota to continue his studies with him.  After his arrival, Sifu Ray taught with Jonah, as well as his own classes in East River Flats Park.  In 1985, when Jonah moved to Taiwan to study with Wang Yen-nien, Sifu Ray became the principle instructor of our studio.  Sifu Ray is one of only two certified disciples under Master Liang.

Sifu Paul Abdella began his martial arts training in the Twin Cities when he was 10, starting with judo under Sensei Stan Williams.  In 1977 he studied with Sifu Doug Anderson, who taught a blend of eastern and western styles by combining Southern Chinese Kung-Fu with western boxing and street techniques.  Sifu Paul was initially introduced to T’ai-Chi through his teacher, Doug, and as soon as he saw the form, he knew he wanted it in his life.  In 1982, he began studying with Master Liang, Sifus Ray and Paul became workout partners, and, in 1990, Sifu Paul began teaching in our studio.

Sifus Ray and Paul continued their studies with Master Liang until his death in 2002. They’ve also studied with Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi, from Chicago, who taught Hsing Yi, Pa-Kua, and Liu Ho Pa Fa.

The Studio

In 1984, the studio moved to its own space at 2500 University Avenue, then moved to the basement of its present location at 2242 University Avenue, and, in 1993, moved to its present space on the second floor.  This last move greatly increased its size; the studio space alone increased from 1600 to 2400 square feet, with additional space for dressing rooms, office, and storage.  An additional feature of the new studio is the suspended wooden floor made of Douglas fir.

1993 marked other innovations for the studio.  First, we gained foundation support and were organized as a not-for-profit.  This allowed the school to offer classes at reasonable rates and maintain a fulltime teaching staff, which, in turn, enabled it to increase the number of classes it offered and the number of students it served.  Since 1994, the year the school began tracking membership, student enrollment has steadily increased from 46 to 149 per month.

Another innovation was the studio’s quarterly newsletter, Wu-Dang, named for the mountain home of the legendary founder of T’ai-Chi, Chang San-feng.  Published quarterly, Wu-Dang features articles on T’ai-Chi practice and related topics and announces schedule changes, upcoming events, and student milestones.

Our school’s logo, designed by Sifu Ray, is on the banner of our newsletter and on the t-shirts.  It is comprised of two parts: the emblem in the center, and the Chinese characters on either side.  The emblem represents a saying about the three internal styles: “Hsing-I goes through the center, Pa-Kua goes around the center, and T’ai-Chi stays in the center.”  The Chinese characters, drawn by Master Liang, represent Sifu Ray’s Chinese name, Shu Kuang, given to him by Paul Gallagher.  This is a translation of his English name, Ray, to a commonly used term in Chinese poetry “shu-kuang,” which means the first ray of dawn, or more opportunities, “Hopeful Conditions.”

Our altar, located on the east wall of the studio, was officially opened by Master Liang in October of ’93.  Our altar shows our connection to and our respect for the Yang family T’ai-Chi Ch’uan style, our lineage.  Master Liang’s blessing of our altar demonstrates his permission for and recognition of our studio.   The altar allows the virtue of the lineage to flow into the school, and the school’s respect and appreciation to flow back to our ancestors.

The Teaching

From the time Sifu Ray started teaching in 1984, classes have focused on the promotion of health, self-defense techniques, and spiritual development, but the number and kinds of classes has increased over the years.  In 1984, the class schedule listed classes in the solo form and two-person form, push hands, weapons and advanced weapons, as well as classes in Taoist healing arts.  Today, the studio also offers classes in a wider variety of weapon forms, including saber and sword; a variety of fighting forms, including Pa-Kua, Hsing-Yi, Praying Mantis, and Eclectis; two-person forms; and meditation.

Over the years, the studio has offered a variety of seminars on t’ai-chi and related martial arts with different masters including, Master Liang, Master William C.C. Chen, Grandmaster Choi, and Sifu Heinz Rothman.  There have also been seminars in Taoist meditation with Loretta Robb and Paul Gallagher.

We have held seasonal retreats since the beginning.  But since 1999, there has been a summer retreat at The Shattuck School in Faribault.  Each retreat has a different theme, such as designing your own T’ai-Chi practice, understanding the landscape of your body, and exploring Taoist meditation. Starting late Friday afternoon and going until Sunday afternoon, the weekend includes rounds of T’ai-Chi, along with lectures and practice emphasizing the retreat’s theme.  Meals are provided in the school’s cafeteria, and there is time for students to practice on their own or with partners, read, or ruminate under the many beautiful trees.

Each year since 1985, we have celebrated the Chinese New Year with studio members, our families and friends.  The evening includes demonstrations given by students, teachers and special guests; an award ceremony to recognize achievements and contributions; and culminates with a Chinese banquet.

In 2003, the school celebrated its tenth anniversary as a not-for-profit studio. This milestone was commemorated with demonstrations by students, teachers, and invited guests, including Diane Cannon and Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi; presentations and awards; a Chinese banquet; and a memorial to Master T.T. Liang.

At our 2007 Chinese New Year celebration, we commemorated Sifu Ray’s thirtieth anniversary as a T’ai-Chi practitioner, and he was honored with tributes and gifts from the board of directors, disciples, and colleagues.

Twin Cities T’ai-Chi Ch’uan Studio, which began with a group of friends, continues as a community.  A large percentage of students have studied for more than five years, many for more than ten and some have been with us for decades, committed to the pursuit of T’ai-Chi as a lifetime practice, and our school remains “dedicated to promoting the art of T’ai-Chi Ch’uan for one and all” (Wu Dang, vol. 1, No. 1).