A site honoring the teachings of Kuo Lien Ying and the magical time that we were able to learn from Si Fu

Portsmouth Square 1965-1985

Don Porter's Biography

   Born in New York, 1948. My Dad was a surgeon/ professor at a large university hospital in northern Manhattan. We lived in a little old Dutch town in the north east corner of New Jersey in the hard wood forest. A little like growing up in Marin. So I grew up playing in the woods, but taking trains in to see art museums, book stores, hang in the city for the day. My mother was a great believer in daily exercise,” Break a light sweat everyday, and you’ll be happier, healthier”.  So we’d take breaks from studying and go ice skating, swim teams,  tennis, soccer, whatever, just something to get outside in some fresh air, get your mind off your worries, and get your blood circulating. My grandfather was a retired classically trained (Annapolis) naval officer, and we spent many hours talking about naval history, strategy, what made a good officer. Many days of little soldiers all over the room recreating battles, going over strategies, etc. Before I knew him he had a gym on the back of his house and taught local kids boxing.  So Tai Chi brings together my Dad’s interest in health, my Mom’s belief in daily exercise, and my Grandfather’s interest in strategy, and self defense.

picture to come

I didn’t have the problems Roger speaks of at school, although later at prep school some kids were brutally beaten regularly, but the bullies didn’t try it on me. However, I did grow up just outside NY, and the nightly diner conversation often had reports of friends mugged, knifed, and shot,   basically at the ends of their shifts going to their car. So violence had two faces to me, the occasional emotionally unbalanced kid who was so unhappy with himself he beat on people to make himself feel alright, and the much more dangerous anonymous street violence.

   I started college as a double major in Physics and Chinese studies. Chinese history, culture, and politics. Reading Buddhism, Taoist tracts, the different dynastic paintng styles. I still have my old copy of Monkey that I was assigned( now that’s some fun homework!)  After a couple of years I shifted to lit and art ( studio and history), and came out as an artist. After a couple of shows I went to grad school in London studying architectural history, nature symbolism/ philosophy as expressed in ancient garden forms, sacred geometry( from ancient greek, Pythagoras, to the origins of gothic, to chi flowing in the earth and structures). It was very interesting and exciting. I did study Tai Chi briefly from a woman who’d grown up in Beijing. Not quite two years in (5 trimesters), I ran out of money, came back to the states.  Visited a friend in Arizona, and found myself in San Francisco. That was 73. Went back to yoga (Iyengar and Kundalini). I’d heard about Sifu Kuo and in the summer of 74 went down at 5am and watched. A pool of light in the darkness, people focused, quietly running, sweating, breathing hard, and others moving  slowly,  settling in to their stances. Interesting. I went back to the east coast while my sister gave birth to my nephew ( that’s how I know I got my years right), and came back after the holidays, started in Feb 75.

   I started in Tai Chi. I wanted to ground out. 5am 7days a week for 3 and a half years. I asked to be Sifu’s student. I’ve got to say aside from everything else, Sifu gave me the tradition/habit/structure of daily early morning exercise. Warm ups, stretches, set work , and standing. Over a lifetime this stuff is huge, even if you’re injured you can enjoy the early morning air, quiet, and energy, meditate. Thanks Sifu. After three years you could pick something else, I did staff and Tan tui ( he taught me tan tui mostly down in the garage,?, go figure). Sifu taught me fast then. Shao lin changed my body. For a while there I felt like I was approaching being an acrobat. Cartwheels, handstands, put in the work, get the results. Later I learned Cha Chuan from Bing, and Randy helped me with my staff. Thank you Bing, thank you Randy. They both were open to, welcomed Sifu Kuo’s students dropping by their classes.

   After I left I kept up Sifu’s sets on my own. They have continued to be the core of my daily exercise every day ever since (33 years).

   I studied from other teachers (press here)

I’ve tried to get some depth of knowledge about internal tai chi and hsing i. I went roots going multiple Chen style trying to get back to the source. I mean, what is the root move of single whip, wave hands, etc. After all is said and done, I think Sifu Kuo’s tai chi sort of does a great case of stating the core, stripped of stylistic flourish and extremes. It’s martial practicality has saved it from the excesses of style. No extreme lock to lock joint spirals, no double or triple folding to hide the core moves. Simple but sophisticated, I believe it’s a class act, just like Sifu.

Whether you like your tai chi 17th century(Chen) or 19th century ( Yang Pan  Ho)( or for that matter Yang Cheng Fu, Tung, Wu, Sun, whatever) be grateful for what you’ve got. Cherish it. We’re all like the people in that old movie Farenheit 451, who each committed a book to memory to keep it alive. Kung fu is a living tradition. We strive to understand/test/preserve what we can that’s important from the past. A living athletic/martial/cultural catalyst from the past to enrich our lives. We’re lucky Sifu washed up on our shores running from the political excesses of his time to find a little peace. I think we’re all the better for it.

These days I live in the country. I do my daily morning practice. I still do Sifu Kuo’s tai chi that I’ve done every day all these years. I teach a small number of people privately.

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