Moy Style – Fung Loy Kok “Taoist Tai Chi”
One style which stands alone is the so-called “Taoist Tai Chi” invented by the late Moy Lin Shin (Lin Shin Moy) of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This style is not generally recognised as an authentic style of Tai Chi, but it is notable due to its popularity in many non-Chinese countries, especially in Canada.
Moy is known to have briefly studied Yang Style Tai Chi in Vancouver between 1969 and 1970 before moving to Toronto and developing his own style. Over the next several years he modified the style with an emphasis on stretching, twisting and deep knee bends. Most teachers of traditional tai chi believe that he strayed from the elements and principles of traditional taijiquan. He also taught a version of Liu He Ba Fa (Lok Hup Pa Fa) to which he applied the same peculiar style of movement as “Taoist Tai Chi.”
Moy Linshin may have learned Tai Chi in Hong Kong before emigrating to Canada in the late 1960’s. But there is no source for this information aside from his own claims. He claimed to have learned from the Ching Wu society. But he was the only original source for these claims (which have never been independently verified.) The routines he taught have very little similarity to the routines passed down from the Ching Wu Society.
Early video footage of Moy performing Tai Chi in Toronto in the early 1970s shows movement similar to novice students of traditional Yang Style, particularly the Yang/Wu style taught by an older generation of teachers who studied with Yang Chengfu or Yang Sauchung. He is known to have briefly taken classes with the highly respected master, Raymond Y.M. Chung of Vancouver, before moving to Toronto. But he is not believed to have ever credited Chung.
Moy moved from Vancouver to Montreal, where he attempted to start a tai chi school. But he was discouraged from doing so by established teachers who publicly questioned his lineage and credentials.
Moy later moved to Toronto, where he established a branch of the Fung Loy Kok Taoist Temple, which he and his brother had created in Hong Kong in 1968, and began teaching taiji as a means to fund the temple. Later he founded the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Canada as a means to help fund the temple. He was not widely recognized as an expert at that time. But with few people teaching tai chi in Toronto at the time, he was a powerful early influence in the promotion of tai chi in Canada.
Sources who were close to Moy at the time, say that he came under pressure in the early 1980’s, from his Hong Kong associates, to make the Taoist Tai Chi Society more profitable. This led to several changes in the Taoist Tai Chi Society and in the marketing of the art. Many teachers split from the organization at this time, and went their own ways. Some developed splinter groups, but many, taking advantage of the immigration of tai chi masters from China and elsewhere, switched to other more traditional styles.
One of the changes made was the elimination of reference to the martial context of tai chi. This was believed to be necessary in order to garner financial support from Chinese charities, which would not condone supporting martial arts schools. (This is thought to be due to the association that many Hong Kong Chinese had long seen between large martial arts schools and organized crime.)
Unlike the other schools of Tai Chi, Taoist Tai Chi Society students have often been discouraged from researching other styles, or interacting with other schools. The Taoist Tai Chi Society also has one of the highest attrition rate of any school. Reports from former Taoist Tai Chi instructors are that more than 90% of the students quitting within a few months. Former instructors of the Taoist Tai Chi society say that this attrition rate did not concern the founder.
The claims that Moy was a master, or that he “put the tai chi back in tai chi chuan” have caused a lot of eye-rolling among the wider tai chi community, as has the remarkably short time required to become an instructor in the Taoist Tai Chi Society. (Student have become teachers with only three months of regular classes.) Many are also disturbed by the cult-like attitude found in the organisation. But the heavy marketing done to promote the Taoist Tai Chi society did a great deal to introduce thousands to tai chi. Many of the people who once learned “Taoist Tai Chi”, including this author, have since gone on to study traditional tai chi.
In spite of the many criticisms of the style by traditional teachers, many people claim to have benefited from the practice of “Taoist Tai Chi”. One reason for this may be the style’s emphasis on stretching and twisting. While some traditional tai chi masters may deride the “Taoist Tai Chi” routine. To some it seems that Moy took all the mistakes typically made by beginning tai chi students, and made those mistakes part of the style.
Some refer to the style as “20 minutes of choreographed yawning.” But this very same quality may improve the circulation of blood and lymph, as well as provide a beneficial myo-fascia release which could produce many positive health benefits. People with allergies, arthritis, and other illnesses affected by the accumulation of antigens in the body may get relief from their symptoms due to the improved toxicity levels and nutrient circulation. Some suggest that the large attrition rate makes suspect any claims about the benefits of “Taoist Tai Chi” since the number of those claiming to have benefited are so few compared the many who have dropped out.
The claims of the above benefits are also found in traditional styles, which do not subject students to such extreme stretching. It is the degree of stretching, twisting and leaning that concerns many traditional teachers. Some point out that, unlike traditional routines, the “Taoist Tai Chi” routines get the stretch by moving through improper ranges that can aggravate back, knee, neck, and shoulder problems. It is not difficult to find traditional instructors with experience correcting the problems encountered by former students of the “Taoist Tai Chi Society.”
Whatever the case, the Taoist Tai Chi Society has many fans and devotees, and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Most traditional teachers are accepting of this fact, pointing out that, while some teachers think that there are many negative side effects to practising some exercises, many also think these side effects are often far less severe than the side effects of widely accepted drug treatments.
Also, it is understood that no school is right for every student, and no student is right for every school.
As a doctor of sport medicine once said, “There are no bad exercises. There are just some exercises that are not appropriate for some people.” Ultimately, it is the student who must decide.