The tai chi lineage of Internal Gardens begins with the late Grandmaster Jou Tsung Hwa.
Born in China and relocated to Taiwan during WWII, Jou Tsung-Hwa was a college professor of mathematics and author of over 30 math textbooks. At age 47, he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and prolapsed stomach. Although doctors were able to treat his pain, the medical community at that time had no cure.
Jou took up the practice of tai chi chuan (taijiquan) upon the urging of his close friend. In a few weeks, he manifested some small improvements, prompting him to continue. After just three years of steady practice, his stomach reversed its condition to normal; and within five years, his heart returned to perfect health.
Jou moved to the US in the early 1970’s to earn his American PhD in mathematics at Rutgers University, NJ. While at Rutgers, he openly practiced tai chi. Curious students prompted him to teach tai chi on an informal level, which finally led to a teaching assignment from the university, teaching tai chi as part of the physical education program. As time went on, tai chi became a growing part of his life, eventually eclipsing mathematics as his primary focus. As his interest in tai chi grew, so did his conviction that true tai chi – the traditional tai chi as practiced by the art’s founders – had become a lost art.
Part of the reason was due to tai chi’s intricate history. To further complicate matters, the parts of tai chi that survived were incomplete. This led to a perpetuation of incomplete teaching. And what few books on tai chi chuan (taijiquan) were available at the time were woefully inadequate and taught little or nothing of tai chi’s deep energetic essence. As a college professor, Jou decided he could do something about the latter problem. He began writing a textbook on tai chi. It took over a decade to complete the project. Afterwards, he self-published the first edition of The Tao of Tai Chi Chuan. Today The Dao of Taijiquan is in its 7th edition with translations in six languages. Together with its companion books, The Tao of Meditation, and The Tao of the I-Ching, The Dao of Taijiquan is still considered by many to be THE definitive textbook on the art of tai chi.
By 1984, Master Jou, completely gave his life over to the pursuit of tai chi mastery. Beginning in the late 70’s, he founded an event called the “Zhang San Feng Festival” (now renamed: “Tai Chi Gala” – see: http://www.TaiChiGala.com), named for the legendary founder of tai chi. This tai chi event brought together healers and teachers from the fields of tai chi chuan, qigong, meditation, bagua and xingyi – to give presentations and demonstrations for the holistic healing and martial arts community. By its height in 1998, it was drawing several hundred people from all over the world. At the same time in 1984, he purchased a 103-acre farm in Warwick, New York and named it the “Tai Chi Farm.” There he began a school and retreat center to research and teach tai chi.
For the next 14 years Master Jou taught tai chi at his Tai Chi Farm. During that period he began to radically alter the way in which he taught and practiced. He continued to refine the tai chi forms, adding back lost internal tai chi principles. By the late 1990’s the changes he incorporated into the forms made them radically different from what is practiced in the world today that they are sometimes referred to as “Master Jou’s New Frame” to distinguish them from his earlier work. The irony is that Master Jou never considered his changes to be new or original. He felt it was more likely that he was simply “re-discovering” what had been lost from original tai chi chuan (taijiquan) with the passage of time, simply bringing the classical tai chi forms closer to their original states.
Throughout the 1990’s he maintained a steady practice with a minimum of 3-5 hours a day. In addition, he spent hours doing conditioning exercises, even when taking long drives or watching occasional TV. He’d figured out ways to do developmental work wherever he could, from attending various lectures and demonstrations to standing on line at the supermarket. Over time, he gained a reputation for developing ways to practice tai chi in some form or other, nearly “24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
In the final decade of his life, Taoist meditation played an increasing role, to the point that it began to replace other activities, including much of his sleep. Eventually he slept an average of only three hours a night, meditating the rest of the time. All this work bore fruit as he began to develop uncanny sparring and push hands abilities that drew spectators from all over. He could comfortably spar with people less than half his age. He also became seemingly unbeatable in push hands (a pre-sparring and energy-sensing tai chi exercise).
In 1998, trajedy struck. At the height of his health, martial skill, and spiritual development, Grandmaster Jou Tsung Hwa, at age 81, was instantly killed in an auto accident. His death was a shock to the tai chi community.
As the former apprentice to Grandmaster Jou Tsung Hwa, Shifu Loretta M. Wollering ensures that Internal Gardens School of Classical Tai Chi is dedicated to the preservation and continued promotion of Master Jou’s principles- and classically-based teachings.