The forgotten history of two trailblazing women who spread Tai Chi around the world

Gerda Geddes (left) and Sophia Delza were both modern dancers who encountered Tai Chi while living in China during the 1940s. In time, they spread the Chinese art around Europe and America. (Photo of Gerda Geddes courtesy of her daughter, Harriet Devlin / Sophia Delza image courtesy of the NY Public Library)
Sophia Delza practicing tai chi. (Image courtesy of the NY Public Library)

Global Appeal

Sophia Delza was featured in Popular Mechanics in October of 1960. The magazine was one of the few publications to (occasionally) feature eastern martial arts at the time. (This ran a full six years before Bruce Lee appeared on the Green Hornet television show)
After studying with the Choy family in Hong Kong during the 1950s, Geddes would eventually teach Tai Chi for decades within Europe. (Photo courtesy Harriet Devlin)
Both Geddes (left) and Delza traveled to the East while their husbands held work positions in Asia. They both discovered Tai Chi unexpectedly while living there during the 1940s and ’50s. (Photo courtesy of Harriet Devlin / Sophia Delza image courtesy of the NY Public Library)

Parallel Lives

Master Choy Kam On’s family played an integral role in bringing tai chi to the West. In addition to teaching Geddes (after his father passed) in Hong Kong, the younger Choy taught Yang tai chi for many years around San Franicsco’s Chinatown. Quietly known for having stunning martial abilities, one student described his abilities by saying, “Master Choy could bend space and time.” (Photo courtesy of Jack Wada)
Sophia Delza: actress, dancer and forgotten martial arts pioneer. (Photos courtesy of the NY Public Library)
In August of 1964, Ed Parker (back row, center) orchestrated his inaugural Long Beach International Karate Tournament, in Southern California. In addition to holding competitions, it brought a wide array of notable martial artists from around the world to demonstrate, including a 23 year-old Bruce Lee (first row, second from left) who angered many in attendance with a presentation that was highly critical of the culture’s status quo practices. Parker’s event was a watershed moment for the martial arts in America, and signaled a looming popularity that was soon to follow. (Bottom Row, Left to Right: J. Pat Burleson, Bruce Lee, Anthony Mirakian, Jhoon Rhee. Back Row, Left to Right: Allen Steen, George Mattson, Ed Parker, Tsutomu Ohshima, Robert Trias. (Photo Courtesy of Ed Parker Sr.’s IKKA/KamIV, Inc.)

Hard Appeal, Soft Endurance

From left: the event program from Ed Parker’s inaugural Long Beach International Karate Tournament in August of 1964; a few months later, respected Los Angeles-based kung fu master Ark Wong was the first Chinese martial artist to appear on the cover of Black Belt Magazine. During his interview, he directly articulated his willingness to train students from all walks of life. (Long Beach Program courtesy of Barney Scollan / Black Belt cover courtesy of Ben Judkins/Kung Fu Tea)
Sophia Delza teaching class in New York City. (Photo courtesy of the NY Public Library​)
Gerda Geddes teaching a class late in her career. (Photo courtesy of Harriet Devlin)

SF Bay Area Author & Journalist

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Charles Russo

Charles Russo

SF Bay Area Author & Journalist

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