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Master of Ancient Discipline Retains Youthful Vigor
by Maria Army, Journal Correspondent
Tibetan Tai Chi master Liu Siong learned the secret of youth in the mountaintop Shao-Lin Temple outside Peking more than half a century ago. Today the temple is a museum and the discipline is no longer taught - except in Liu Siong's Albuquerque studio.
The one-time consultant for the Kung Fu TV series - his blind great uncle was the model for the old priest in the show's flashbacks - moved to Albuquerque to relieve a chronic sinus condition.
The attachment of martial arts expertise didn't come easily. The 69 year old half Chinese, half Dutch teacher - whose Dutch name is Willem Reeders - remembers life in the temple as vigorous. "We were underfed, under-slept, and overtrained," he says, arching his eyebrows.
Rigorous as it was, today his youthful appearance, strength, and flexibility reveal the benefits of his continued training. He and his wife, Marilyn, pause between classes to talk about some of their students who have overcome some daunting physical problems with the help of Tibetan Tai Chi. One student lost the use of his legs after being run over by a truck. A year after the accident, he began training with Liu Siong, and now, after three months of training, he walks to work every day.
A woman survived a diabetic coma because her lungs were stronger as a result of her training. Before her five months of training, she was always short of breath.
In Tibetan Taichi, practitioners perform various graceful, rhythmic movements to draw cosmic energy for cleansing and invigorating - rendering the body constantly youthful.
"The arms," says Liu Siong, "act as antennae. You are in a kind of meditation as you work out. (After a while) you don't feel the floor."
"Tai means exercise, Chi means life force or power." adds Mrs. Reeders, "so they're power exercises."
As a boy of 12, Liu Siong journeyed annually from his native Indonesia to the temple for 100 day intensive training sessions in martial arts and philosophy. He then became one of six children chosen every 12 years to learn the ancient art of Tibetan Tai-Chi. Liu Siong's temple experiences are the basis for the television series Kung Fu, for which he was a consultant. In Kung Fu, a young Oriental traveling through the American West frequently remembers life as a child trainee in a Chinese Temple.
He moved to Albuquerque in 1972. He taught tai chi in his home until a year ago, when he opened the Garuda Tibetan Tai Chi studio.
As far as Liu Siong knows, no Tibetan Tai Chi masters remain in China because when the Communists took over in 1949, the priests and students scattered. The Communists turned the temple into a museum and renamed it the People's Temple.
Liu Siong knows of only two students of Tibetan Taiji in North America, and they don't teach, because they never finished the training. "Even the Tibetans aren't doing Tibetan anymore," he says of the oldest form of tai chi.
Liu Siong began his training at age 4. His great uncle, Liu Siong, Sr., was 80 years old when he began teaching his nephew. Himself a former student of the Shao-Lin Temple, the elder Liu Siong saw to it that his nephew, as the eldest son of the family, received training there. So at age 12, in the early 1930's, Liu Siong began his yearly trips to Peking.
There, he learned martial arts, anatomy, philosophy, meditation, mind control, use of the elements (fire, water, wind, earth), acupuncture, Buddhism, and Tibetan Tai Chi.
Because the temple priests observed the strictest silence at all times, Liu Siong to this day cannot say why certain things were done. He doesn't know why metals weren't allowed in the temple, but he knows students' head were shaved bald with pieces of glass. He can't say why he and five other students were chosen to train in Tibetan Tai Chi. He knows that at the end of the 12 year training period, only two students, including himself, were still training.
In the early 1940's, he was swept up in the war with Japan and then the Indonesian Revolution. He fought on two fronts until 1955. Had it not been for his knowledge of martial arts, he doubts he would have survived the hand-to-hand combat he frequently encountered "in the jungle, in the houses, in the city - everywhere!"
When the Dutch quit Indonesia after losing the revolution, Liu Siong, who was born in East Java, Indonesia, was surprised to find himself "repatriated" to Holland because his father was Dutch. Three days after arriving there, he applied for a visa to the United States and eventually settled in New York. He supported himself teaching Kung Fu.
While in New York, Liu Siong's memories of his temple training proved invaluable to the writers of the television series Kung Fu. The program, which ran on ABC from 1972 to 1975, included frequent temple scenes in which the young boy trained in the ancient wisdom and martial arts of China.
Liu Siong told the writers of walking on rice paper to perfect one's balance. "If you put too much pressure, it rips, or if you put your foot down wrong, it rips." He told them of picking up a large hot cauldron of burning coals with the forearms, leaving a long burn on the inside of the arms. The network's writers elaborated on this practice by showing the actor's arms branded with an outline of a dragon on one arm and a snake on the other.
"That's baloney," says Liu Siong. "You don't get dragon there and snake there, you get burn."
The blind temple teacher in Kung Fu was based on Liu Siong, Sr., who was also blind. And the young boy? "That would have been me," Liu Siong says, smiling.
He admits that he did not tell the network writers everything he knew about the philosophy and cosmology learned at the temple, things he refers to mysteriously as "the known and the unknown."
When Liu Siong started teaching in Albuquerque, he did not advertise, took few students, and was difficult to find, says Marilyn Reeders, who had to search him out. She had learned of him from three different sources, and finally figured out everyone was talking about the same teacher.
Liu Siong is adept at aikido, ju jitsu, judo, kendo, shotokan karate (6th degree black belt), and a variety of kung fu styles. He has a working knowledge of 81 weapons. He is a 7th degree black belt in budozn soundje kempo, the fight system of the Buddhists. He was recently named Grand Master - and indication of the highest level of expertise possible - by the Chunghwa Kung Fu Hui, an international federation of kung fu practitioners.
Even though she has studied with him for 10 years, Marilyn Reeders holds her index finger and thumb an inch apart and says, "I have this much knowledge. I'm trying to at least, of what I know, know well, but out of all the things he learned (in China), I know this much. Everything else is gone."
Is Liu Siong concerned that the art will pass away?
"What can you do about it? That's the way it is. It's something you cannot change. You can't feel bad."
In the meantime, he will continue to teach his unique art in Albuquerque.
The posting of this article conforms to the academic fair use standards. It originally appeared in the Sunday, June 1, 1986 issue of the Albuquerque Journal, p8, section D.
Story of the Month (from www2.rpa.net/1mmr/news.htm)
Many of the lessons taught in the Martial Arts are taught through stories. Here, once a month, I will put a martial arts story that either holds lessons for us to learn or sometimes will just be interesting. These stories will mostly be about Master Reeders and others in this unique system that Master Reeders taught. However, sometimes it will be just a story with martial value. So read and learn, or just enjoy.
Sifu George Reyngoudt
Master Willem Reeders learned his Kuntao from Liu Siong, the brother of his Chinese grandmother, Hap Kiem. Uncle Siong was a renowned master of the martial arts and well-known in Indonesia for his Kuntao. He was also a Shaolin priest and taught the guardâ€™s of the Weiling estate Gung Fu. Being the first male born to the Weiling Family, Uncle Siong taught the young Willem the family Kuntao. Uncle Soing was blinded in his later years when he was attacked by a number of assailants (possible assassins from China but other say they were a group of Silat fighters). One of the attackers threw broken glass in his eyes (a low deceitful act that was no doubt done to minimize master Liu Siongâ€™s abilities to defend himself) and blinded Uncle Siong. This only made the situation deadly and it is stated that Liu Siong killed all of the attackers in flurry of lethal techniques. This did not slow the old master down in any way, as he was known to have a very powerful spirit.
During these years, young Willemâ€™s uncle, Liu Siong trained his nephew in both Shaolin Chuan Fa and Kuntao. Uncle Liu Siong told his nephew Willem, if a practitioner of another system confronts you, it is best to know that system so you can fight against it. Liu Siong also encouraged his nephew to learn all the martial arts that were available to him. Master Reeders had met Ernest â€œNesâ€ De Vries in Siam during World War Two and became good friends. Nes De Vries was a student of Mas Djut, who was a Pukulan Master. Being good friends, Master Reeders and Nes De Vries shared some of their fighting techniques with each other. Ernest de Vries did not care much for the Forms (Kata) of the system and was more interested in fighting. According to Master Reeders, Nes De Vries was a fierce fighter and few could match his skills. Master Reeders felt much the same way about Forms and loved learning useful fighting techniques. Nes De Vries taught Master Reeders much of the Pukulan Pak Serak fighting system. Nes then introduced Master Reeders to his teacher, Mas Djut and the two studied together with the Pukulan master. Through Nes De Vries, Master Reeders met the de Thouars brothers, William, Paul, Maurice, and Victor. The de Thouars brothers were the nephews to Nes De Vries. Also during this time, Master Reeders learned a number of other Indonesian fighting systems of Penjak Silat from several other masters. Some of the masters were Leo Sjel, Lion De Riearere, Theo Schrijn, the Soverbier brothers, Puk and Mancho, Tji Petjut, Abu Saman, and Suro Djawan. Master Reeders later studied Shotokan Karate, Judo, and Shorinji Kempo at the Budokan in Japan.