Sifu Leonard Tolbert

Leonard “Larry” Robin Tolbert
born as Leonard Lamarr Robinson
Dec. 1, 1953 – March 9, 2012


In his own words
A Tai Chi Chuan Journey
In 1980 I started studying Tai Chi Chuan with a man named Charles Coker originally from Pittsburgh PA. I was a student of external Martial arts at the time. And Charles asked me if I would be interested in learning something different. I was interested because he assured me it was also an Chinese art. Thus I began my journey down the Tai Chi Chuan Path that I follow to this day. After teaching me the form of his teacher he directed me to his teacher Chu Yung-Kwo. Mr. Chu as his students affectionately call him took me in and taught me his Tai Chi chuan. One of Mr. Chu’s students was a woman name Judy Crow who teaches Mr. Chu’s Tai Chi Chuan to this day, and who I consider a dear friend for the last 27 years. When you look at Judy Crow you see the affect of Tai Chi Chuan. For all these years she has taught all that wished to learn, with love and kindness in her heart. I look to her as an example of steadiness and loyalty. If you want to know what Mr. Chu taught go to Judy Crow she has stayed true to his teachings. That is more than I could say about myself. I have studied with a number of teachers and learned a lot about Tai Chi Chuan. There is one thing I realize I’m not done learning, nor will I ever be done learning. I have had a number of teachers who tried to teach one so limited in comprehension of this great art of life. I am grateful a couple of nuggets have dropped in my lap. What has been enjoyable are the people I been able to meet over the years. Because of this I have always tried my best in passing on the Tai Chi Chuan to the best of my ability.
When I first started to learn Tai Chi Chuan I thought I knew what I was doing because I was a long term practitioner of Northern Shao-lin Kung-fu, It couldn’t be that different, Boy was I misguided, and may still be to some degree. I still remember going to a Tai Chi Chuan demo in Scranton, PA. years ago and thinking this is what Tai chi Chuan really looks like. So began the search for real Tai Chi Chuan. What is funny is that I was looking for outward rather than inward. I saw how smooth and even the chuanist in Scranton moved, that I established this as my goal in Tai Chi Chuan. Wrong again. It’s so funny now that I look back on it, how much folly was involved in learning Tai Chi Chuan. My Yang Style Master was an expert in so many martial arts it was hard keeping up with him. He looked at my movements and immediately informed me that I was not aware of the ten essentials of Taijiquan. I assured him I was aware of the mystical aspects of Tai Chi. He told me what he taught was not mystical, but practical knowledge about the body and how it should be used while performing Taijiquan. He first informed me on the essential of holding the body correctly. It was he that spoke of Straightening the head, the empty neck, sinking of shoulders and elbows, and correct positioning of chest and lifting the back and relaxation of the waist,and of the pelvis girdle, how the lumbar and coccyx are to be held,roundness of loins, solid and empty stance, using the mind instead of force, coordination of upper and lower parts of the body, harmony between the internal and external parts, Importance of continuity, and tranquility in movement. I just learned an important lesson recently about student teacher relationships. I was at a friends Tai chi class when they mentioned eye-hand connection. I’ve always been taught that the mind leads the body. While you perform the exercise the eyes lead the hand thru the mind. The mind leads the chi and one way it does that is through the use of the eyes. The instructor of the class told them to to look at the ground ten feet in front of your body. I have no problem with that when the posture has you looking forward, such as with drawl and push in the Yang Family style or White Stork flaps it’s wing in the Wu family style.The Wu family style teaches to look 25 feet in front to the ground. When the instructor told the class to look ten feet in front on every posture I mistakenly disagreed which the instructor simply remarked that there were three ways of looking, but one of the students told me to shut-up which I promptly did realizing how wrong I was to disagree with their instructor during the class. If that happened to me during my class I hope I would be able to respond as relaxed as the instructor responded. I can not be upset at the student because she was defending her teacher, even though she did not need to.
September 7, 2007


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