Teaching the Art of Tai Chi Amid Bustle of Times Square for Five Decades

Carol Chu, owner of CK Chu Tai Chi in Times Square, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the school founded by her late husband CK Chu. She’s been running it for the past decade plus.

| 25 Mar 2024 | 12:47

”We say if you can do tai chi or meditation in Times Square, you can do it anywhere,” said Carol Chu, owner of CK Chu Tai Chi.

Located on the second floor of 156 West 44th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue, the school was founded by Carol’s husband, the late Grandmaster CK Chu, who opened it in 1973.

Carol, 82, a Middle Village, Queens native who now lives in Forest Hills, first met CK when they were both students at NYU. CK, who earned a PhD in physics, was working as a college professor and teaching tai chi on the side when he decided to open his own school.

CK Chu Tai Chi, which has been operating in Times Square for 50 years, teaches tai chi, the martial art form which increase strength, flexibility and balance and reduces stress and anxiety. Students there train in four of its core disciplines: Eternal Spring Chi Kung, the Tai Chi form, Nei Kung, and Meditation.

When CK died in 2013 from cancer, Master Hyland Harris, who started training with him in 1992 and whom he considered his best student, took over as lead instructor per his wishes.

”My husband would have been so very happy to see all that Master Harris has done to keep the practice alive and well,” Carol said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the school pivoted to hosting classes virtually. When they were getting ready to reopen, they found water damage and realized the center needed to be renovated. A student organized a GoFundMe, which raised over $12,000 for the repairs, a testament to how much the institution means to those who have trained there.

”There are many students who contribute to making the school work,” Carol said. “They’re each an important part.”

In September, the school, which has had celebrity students like John Lennon, Greta Gerwig, Elaine May and Twyla Tharp, celebrated its 50th birthday with a party at Golden Unicorn restaurant in Chinatown–and honored the vision of its founder, CK.

”That was kind of crazy at the time, but here we are, 50 years later, celebrating our 50th anniversary,” she said. “He did well.”

How did you meet your husband?

We were both students at NYU in Washington Square College. He was a physics major and I was an English major. He actually went on to complete the PhD program. As we became a couple and had four kids, I switched to Queens College and majored in East Asian studies.

Do your children help with the school?

Oh yes, too much so. We have four daughters. They’re always being called on to help out with book or DVD production or various things. Even grandkids are exploited [Laughs]

When did he open the school?

He opened the school in 1973. After he finished his degree, he was teaching physics at various schools including Brooklyn Tech and Queens College. Because he got back pay from the Board of Education, he had enough money to set up his own school. He had been teaching tai chi on the side in Manhattan and Queens. But he got some money together and decided to set up his own school, primarily to expand his knowledge of tai chi and improve his practice.

Explain in your own words what the practice of tai chi is.

I guess people have the image of people moving their arms and doing dance-like movements in the park. And it is that; it is a beautiful art form. It’s a kind of moving meditation, but it’s also serious martial art. There’s a lot of misconceptions that people will say, “How can it be a martial art? You’re practicing it slow. If you’re going to be attacked on the street, that’s not going to help you.” But to know tai chi better is to know that it can be done fast also and throughout our 50 years, we’ve had students enter a lot of tournaments and win 1st place around the world, from Signapore to Madison Square Garden. We also offer Taoist Meditation and Eternal Spring Chi Kung, which is more for elderly, and easier to do than our main bedrock exercise which is Nei Kung, that’s a very old practice that is traditionally done in conjunction with tai chi and it’s just good for everything, strength, mind, discipline and breathing.

You moved locations, right?

Yes, three times. 1117 Sixth Avenue is where we started, on the second floor. Then they razed the building at that time, and then we moved to 125 West 43rd Street, that was in 1990. And we moved to our present location, 156 West 44th Street in 2000.

How has the neighborhood changed since you opened?

Well, the negative thing in terms of the school is that it is more touristy and because of COVID and the press, they emphasize we have the National Guard here, crime with migrants, which, I think, is exaggerated. But anyway, people from out of the city say, “How can you manage to take the subway every day?” I say, “I’m in Times Square, I don’t see this. I’m not afraid.”

To learn more, visit www.ckchutaichi.com