5 missing pieces

Many taijiquan classes lack 5 important elements necessary in order for taijiquan to function as a martial art:
  1. Neigong (whole-body strength)
  2. Martial concepts (what combat constitutes and how to do it effectively)
  3. Chin na (the art of seizing)
  4. Shuai jiao (take downs)
  5. Jing (whole-body power)
Without these 5 components, taijiquan is lacking something and may not work in combat.


the world beyond?

so many movies and tv series address the theme of there being another reality just beyond the reach of 'ordinary' folk
films ranging from the harry potter series to the last witchhunter or constantine or the matrix all tease the existence of something more

it is a very common theme
the yearning for something beyond the mundane
a sense that there is more to life than work a house a family holidays a pension a dog and then death

people occasionally have a 'mid-life crisis' - a reaction to the perceived limitations of the life they have carefully crafted or accepted
others indulge in fantasy beliefs - unicorns and auras - chakras and qi

but this yearning is founded on a truth
there is more than your job your house your possessions
it is not to be found in shangri-la or a monastery or a fairy dell

those who lack wisdom are convinced that they are truly awake
 they think they understand what is happening
 they think that the king is really the king
 and the servants are really servants
 (chuang tzu)

taoism and zen are about seeing the actuality of life
the really real
this is not some make believe world where hogwarts exists but rather the actual world that we are encouraged not to notice

why are we blinded?
a distracted person is anxious greedy confrontational and competitive
they spend money and accumulate
they buy insurance and indulge in one-upmanship

meditation is about rooting your consciousness in the immediate
in the moment
and seeing rather than looking

often taijiquan students are amazed by what they find themselves able to do
by simple biomechanical insights and skills
how a slight adjustment can significantly increase or drain power

lao tzu even wrote a book about it
as did chuang tzu and so many others

taijiquan is about discovering the is-ness of reality
and using it to your advantage
in everyday life and in combat

the journey is a fascinating one
and as lao tzu pointed out - you don't need to go to china to find reality - because it is already right in front of you

"welcome to the real world neo"


Other definitions

Temper is more than just anger. It has other definitions:
  1. Improve the hardness and elasticity of steel by reheating and then cooling it
  2. Serve as a neutralizing or counterbalancing force
  3. Tune a piano so as to adjust the note intervals correctly
Consider what these words indicate.



If you have lost your temper, what is it you have lost?Balance.

Emotions are the biochemical reactions experienced by your body in response to stimuli.
In order to re-gain your temper, you need to let these bodily chemicals settle.

The main thing to do is to stop. Do not perpetuate your loss of temper.
Negative emotions have a harmful effect upon the body and can lead to long-term physiological and psychological damage.


Working with others in class

If you cannot maintain emotional balance when working with other people, you become a liability.
In martial arts training, you may be roughed-up, struck or thrown to the floor.
These events can cause alarm.
Even so, the student must retain composure.

Losing your temper when practicing vigorous partner work with other people means that you no longer have your partner's welfare in mind.
You are thinking only about yourself.
This makes you clumsy, careless and potentially reckless.


Calm down

If you need to be by yourself for a little while, and cool down, then go somewhere quiet.
But avoid brooding.
Instead of festering and stewing, blaming and raging... be more constructive.

Why are you acting like this?
What is it that annoyed you so much?
Are you possibly over-reacting?
Could you be the one who is at fault?
Is it worth fighting about?



Seeking to win and one-up another person can set you down a path that leads only to destruction.
Things will not and cannot always go your way.
It may be wiser to seek common ground.

'Give and take' is a healthy, adult approach.
Cooperation is far healthier than conflict.
Aim to work together.
Work with the other person, not against them.



In martial arts practice, it is necessary for a student to remain composed at all times.
The maxim is simple: master self before attempting to master others.
Self defence practice trains the individual to cope with stress and danger. To keep a cool head.


Morning song

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
 The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
 Took its place among the elements.

 Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
 In a drafty museum, your nakedness
 Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

 I'm no more your mother
 Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
 Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
 Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
 A far sea moves in my ear.

 One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
 In my Victorian nightgown.
 Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square
 Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
 Your handful of notes;
 The clear vowels rise like balloons.

 (Sylvia Plath)

Do not brood

Brooding is very unhealthy.
It perpetuates your loss of temper and can lead to an unpleasant outburst at a later time.
You could over-react to a minor irritation.
You may be snappy or curt, off-hand or abrupt.

The thing to remember about brooding is that other people can see that you are brooding.
The surliness is not a secret.

It is far healthier to talk about whatever is troubling you.
Attempt to broach the subject gently and tactfully, without sounding opinionated, defensive or judgemental.
Seek to convey your feelings rationally.


Does tai chi involve physical contact?

Yes it does.

Tai chi students explore qigong, form and partner work.
Qigong and form are solo training methods. Partner work involves training with other students.

Physical contact is necessary
in order to receive feedback (tense/relaxed/connected etc) and to practice the tai chi skills.

Some tai chi schools may offer non-contact classes but we do not.


A disagreement can be a good thing.
It can lead to the airing of an issue. 

Hearing both sides - different perspectives - can be healthy and beneficial.
It can lead to a greater understanding and perhaps a resolution.

Be open-minded.
Putting yourself in the other person's shoes may help you to recognise that your own actions may not have been ideal.



You do not have to agree with everyone else all the time. Why should you?But allow that you may not be 'in the right'.
It may be you that is at fault. Or maybe no one is at fault?
Your loss of temper may be due to your embarrassment at being wrong.
Instead of conceding your error, you become defensive and hostile.
That is called 'pride', with a touch of arrogance.


Negative thoughts

Loss of temper is a psychological reaction; it is caused by your thoughts.

This means that you have a choice concerning your own behaviour.
It is not necessary to lose your temper.

Try meditation, contemplation or reading book about your problem. Find constructive ways to avoid conflict.


Losing your temper

Losing your temper entails a loss of control.
The emotional reaction to a situation overrides reason and you act in an irrational, hostile, perhaps even violent manner.
Rash, ill-considered action can lead to undesirable consequences.


Sifu Waller's classes

Our classes are a forum for discovery. They operate as workshops for experimenting with tai chi.

If you want to just come along and copy, you are in the wrong school.

We want you to undertake your own journey of creation.
You need to be burning with imagination and curiosity, playing with every aspect of the training - honing, adapting, changing and learning.
Making it yours.
You cannot wear somebody else's shoes. Be yourself. Do not try to be somebody else.

What is temper?

People typically associate the word 'temper' with anger. A person with a bad temper tends to get angry easily.

In the 'heat of the moment' you may say or do things you later come to regret...


An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.
(Edward De Bono)


Bruce Lee maintained that our physical movements must express our innermost selves.
The passion and intelligence of a person should be discernible when they move.

A tai chi form reflects the awareness of the student; a beginner's form will look uncertain whereas a master's form looks confident and alive.

You must move as though surrounded by danger, yet unmoved by the threat.
The form should have dignity and grace, composure and power. 

Tai chi as a creative process

Whoever invented, developed or adapted tai chi did so in order to accomplish certain requirements.
Perhaps they sought to counter specific weapons or allow for group attacks?
Maybe certain movements simply felt better if performed differently?
We will never know.
As a student, the challenge of tai chi does not lie in the past but in the immediate.
We gain an understanding of the tai chi through the doing of it, through the creative application of the forms and drills.
How we perform the tai chi and what we do with it must be relevant to our time and our culture.
We do not live in medieval China.
People will most likely not attack you with spears, swords and metal fans.

What we do with the tai chi must be pertinent to now.
It is essential to breathe life into our practice and discover what lies at the root of tai chi. 


 The internal arts are by nature against showmanship.
 Public demonstrations are a contradiction in terms.
 Hidden skills are meant to be concealed.
 Not paraded.

One day Banzan was walking through a market. He overheard a customer say to the butcher, "Give me the best piece of meat you have."

 "Everything in my shop is the best," replied the butcher. "You can not find any piece of meat that is not the best."

 At these words, Banzan was enlightened.



There is always the possibility that there is a simpler way to do something.
Even if that is not always the case it is always worth investing some thinking time and creative effort in trying to find a simpler approach.
(Edward De Bono)
The lightness of your step relates directly to the lightness of your energy,
emotions and thoughts and vice versa, though lightness does not mean airiness.
Every footstep must make intelligent contact with the ground.
The soles of your feet are important receptors which collect information from the ground.

(Barefoot Doctor)

Credibility problem

The lack of parity within the tai chi community means that the general public are unlikely to change their opinion regarding tai chi as a martial art.
 With so many approaches; martial and non-martial all called 'tai chi' it is quite a mess.

 By researching and studying various styles, people can easily understand the differences between tai chi approaches.
Realistically, is the average person interested enough to do this?


Is it time to free the healthy from restrictions?


No matter who your master is or how good they may seem, their art must follow tao.

Tai chi is performed in a taoist way. It follows the teachings of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu.
Understanding tao is as important as being taught good quality tai chi.

Studying tao will offer you new insights and deepen your understanding of what tai chi is about.


Leda and the swan

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By his dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
How can anybody, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins, engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

(W B Yeats)


Some people subscribe to the view that a student is defined by their master.
They believe that the student cannot exceed the instructor.

This is a 'lineage' approach and amusing when you consider people such as Einstein or Mozart.
Clearly Einstein exceeded the sum of his teacher's expertise; he is considered to be one of the most powerful thinkers of all time...
What was his physics teacher called?

Every good teacher wants the student to exceed their own limitations.



When the spine closes, it must open again and when the hips is turned one way, it must return again.
When the weight moves to one leg, it must shift back to the other.

These constant changes are at the heart of the form.
They are a necessary by-product of the way in which we use the body in tai chi.
Everything must come from and through the body, like a wave travelling through water.


swords and other weapons?

the value of swords in taijiquan is a debatable issue
in terms of self defence they are useless and illegal
but all weapons used in taijiquan do serve a function albeit not the most obvious or apparent

knife drills train whole body movement
swift changes and strong thrusts

stick and sword drills strengthen the arms and the back
the wrists in particular benefit
especially when training with a rattan stick

nimble footwork comes from the 2-person cane
eye to hand coordination increases
there is risk
the very real chance of being hit

sabre is about solid grounded footwork whilst building up to hefty chops and deep thrusts

jian is light sly and sharp

walking stick is playful and varied
with continual shifts of the weapon
all parts of the weapon are employed and the strikes are unpredictable

the small stick drills are small circle
economic and tight
exceptional wrist flexibility is required
as with the 2-person cane there is no opportunity for distraction or carelessness

weapons teach dexterity
ambidextrous body use
coordination of hand mind feet and body

they furnish the exponent with a deft grasp of physical objects
after all - weapons are inert - they are given life through your skill
through your movements


Our form must not be random.
The movements are designed to twist and turn the body to avoid incoming punches; to store power and then release, before storing once again.

Randomness is wasted motion; we seek the opposite - optimal body use at all times.
You should never move without purpose or resort to feints.

The form has its own unique rhythm.


 The internal arts hide their  secrets in the open.

 Your inability to comprehend them is a reflection of your own occluded nature.
 To unlock tai chi, you must change yourself.

 If you are not discerning and scientific in your study, years may be spent practicing material that conflicts with the Tai Chi Classics, and does not really follow the way of tai chi.

Led astray

In your quest for martial power, it is very easy to be led astray.
Gimmicks, short-cuts and secrets will promise you everything you desire.
The danger lies in the fact that you are inexperienced.

Your quest is based on your perception of what is important, of what is necessary.
To a more experienced student, those same concerns may seem irrelevant or misguided.


Your body

People are seldom comfortable with their own bodies.
A variety of outside influences make you unaware and physically awkward.
Bad habits and postural faults lead to a limited sense of feeling.
Tai chi aims to re-unite you with your body.

2-person form

Tai chi people usually work at one speed: slow.
Slowness is good for developing muscle tone, balance, control and accuracy; but will fail in combat.

If the art is to be viable in self defence, we must vary the pace constantly; stillness, motion, pauses - with no apparent rhythm.
This should not be a random process, however, for like the dancer, we must be guided by the rhythm of the movement itself and our partner.
2-person form trains broken rhythm in a pseudo-combat scenario.

Martial classes

Within classes that teach tai chi as a martial art there are many interpretations as to how the art should be applied.
 There are differences of style, perceptions of relaxation, sensitivity and softness.

 One class may teach karate-esque practice that bears little resemblance to the art outlined in the Tai Chi Classics.
 Another class may be ultra-soft and subtle.


Rhythm in combat

Combat is never neat and tidy; the pace will switch abruptly from total stillness to a sudden burst of speed.
Your rhythm must follow the way of the opponent; changing as they change, endlessly combining stillness and motion.

It is important that your solo training reflects this; uneven and never predictable.
The subtle shifts and changes found within form will produce a less predictable rhythm when faced with an opponent.

Even pace

Dancers understand rhythm but few martial artists have any idea at all.
It is very common for the form to be practiced at a steady even pace, with each movement timed by the breathing.

Yang style is different and if you seek to impose regularity on the form, you miss the point.
An even pace trains predictability, and that is the last thing we want.

Our way

There are many aspects of the syllabus that will be different to how other schools approach the material.
Every school has its own agenda and focus, and the way in which tai chi is practiced will reflect the character of the master as much as anything else.

We are keen to avoid the 'cult of the personality' and feel that the master should remain in the shadows rather than the forefront of the class.

Our syllabus follows martial science and the Tai Chi Classics, rather than the opinion of one individual.



He sat up slowly, and around his left side
all his long life's muscles ached.
His death was torn from him like caked
gauze. Rising was as hard as having died.

(Frederic Will)

Feeling rhythm

When you practice the form, you find that the movements have a certain duration.

The combination of waist, spine and weight shift lend each movement its own pace and unique character.
A long, sweeping movement could never be delivered using fa jing and a short, abrupt movement would certainly require it.

As your experience grows, you learn the rhythm of the form itself.
You must blend the rhythm of the form with the rhythm of your own body; and the synthesis of the two is your form.


Train your tai chi in desolate, quiet places. Undisturbed. Look for stillness and tranquillity.
Go outside early in the morning and you will find it, regardless of where you live.
Do not draw attention to yourself.

If tai chi was designed to be 'performed', why is it an internal art?
Why are the applications hidden within the form?
Why not show them openly?
Why is the whole-body strength commonly known as 'hidden strength'?

Think. Switch off your TV. Stop following the herd. Think for yourself.


If you went to a dojo to study aikido then in all cases you should encounter a martial arts class.
 Naturally, there may be significant differences in teaching and style, but all classes should be teaching combat.

 Now, consider this in reference to tai chi.
When you go to a tai chi class what exactly will you  encounter?

Qi fantasies

Chinese movies have long depicted qi as being an energy force projected through the hands, like lightning. This is obviously fantasy.

Unfortunately, some tai chi instructors have pretty outlandish ideas concerning qi, qigong and tai chi.
They use words like 'etheric', 'aura', 'visualising golden light'... be wary.


21st Century urban combat?

The 21st Century has different concerns to the 16th Century. We must allow for the realities of the modern urban environment.
A self defence practitioner needs to be upright, agile, adaptive and realistic. Your opponent will probably be armed and they will most likely have friends.
Things change. Time moves on. Your art needs to be a response to the needs of the present day.
Ideally, some of his training will take place in a dojo, a "place for following the way" with a smooth, raised wooden floor and an absence of decoration or other distractions.

This preference for seclusion and privacy in the engagement of a serious and meaningful activity is, like the budoka's preference for a simple and unadorned training weapon and uniform, a sign of his style and commitment.
(Dave Lowry)


A rehearsed combat demonstration may well look exciting, but what does it show?
 Does a would-be new starter earnestly expect to be undertaking that level of training from the onset?

Rehearsed combat proves nothing and ultimately shows nothing.
Real life assailants will not attack in a known pattern, using known angles of attack or styles of assault.
The melee of unrehearsed combat is less entertaining; more frightening and significantly less polished.

Bad instructor

Beware of exciting demonstrations.
Is this what your are going to be taught in the immediate future or is it a preview of master-level material?

If your instructor is a show off, then you are in for some problems. They have sold out.
You are not a student. You are the audience.

Decline the role and find somebody who is unselfconscious. You need an instructor who puts your progress before their own ego. 


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever Gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the Captain of my soul.

(W E Henley)

No rules

In real life, you are likely to face situations different to those encountered in the training hall, dojo or boxing ring.
Remember that a classroom environment is a controlled situation.
There are rules.

In the street there are no rules at all...


The world has gone mad.

Television has turned the planet into a soulless mass of brain-dead zombies.
Look around you. Listen to what people are talking about these days.
Are they vital, alive, happy?
Or are they greedy, small-minded and selfish?
Obsessed with material possessions and shopping?

Most people are more interested in their mobile phone than they are in other people.

Seeking popularity, celebrity and fame is hollow. Performers paint their faces and dress in costumes.
They do whatever they need to do in order to please their fickle, demanding audience.

Zen, tao and tai chi are certainly not about this...


Modern tai chi in China is all about performance art. This is what tai chi has evolved into.
Global tai chi is in danger of following this same trend.
In most cases, tai chi is merely a pretty dance with marginal health benefits.
Perfect poise, choreography and suppleness are prized above substance, self defence and pragmatism.

Tai chi chuan is a martial art. It is not dance. Tai chi chuan is about self defence. It is not about looking pretty and entertaining people.

A martial artist has no desire to demonstrate their skills or prove themselves. Why should they?
They are humble and quiet, reserved and cautious.
It states in Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu that advertising your skills will only invite conflict. 

What is the purpose of a demonstration?

 When somebody gives a public demonstration, it is important to ask for their motive.
 Usually it is to promote the class.

 Often, public demonstrations are rehearsed, practiced, choreographed.
 The aim is to provide an entertaining spectacle.

This does not capture the nature of the art we practice, nor does it reflect our values as a school.



Our syllabus is very versatile.
It offers a wide range of skills, including kicks, punches, grapples, floor work, weaponry, joint manipulation, kinetic projection...

There is also a significant health component, and very little risk of injury despite vigorous taijiquan work.


People who seek attention are insecure. They are needy and weak.
The audience serves to flatter their vanity and bolster their low self-esteem.

A tai chi person is not like this.
They are quiet and calm, detached and integrated. The notion of performing is reprehensible to them.
Entertainment is all about the ego, about showing off. A 'whole' person has no need of such nonsense.

Martial artists have always trained their skills in private.

The need for secrecy is paramount. You do not share your abilities with strangers.
Even today this principle is still valid.

Representation of skill

 To demonstrate skills effectively, a student must be thorough and convincing.
 Half-hearted taps, touch contact and point scoring is not acceptable.
 The outcome needs to be unequivocal.

 There must be no rehearsal, preparation or warning.

 The student is required to 'in the moment'; ready to deal with whatever occurs.
 This is something worth having.
 A skill that you can use in real life.


Unless you are training a very specific application against a particular type of attack, it is unacceptable to request certain kinds of attack i.e. a right straight punch.
You must learn to deal with whatever comes your way.
What comes out comes out.

The defender may be aiming to apply shuai jiao, chin na or jing.
But the attacker has no rules, no restrictions.
They must simply attack with vigour and meaning.

In your face

Not everybody wants to watch you do tai chi.

If somebody wanted to see a tai chi exhibition, then they would attend a demonstration.
Most people simply do not care about tai chi. Why should they? It does not interest them at all.

Watching you perform is probably not going to be the highlight of their day. They may even find it irritating. Especially if you look smug and conceited. They just want to walk the dog or look at the sea.

Be careful not to force yourself on others.
Train in quiet places, where you can mind your own business and not attract attention. 



Martial arts classes involve a deeply personal journey in which you must vanquish your own laziness, lack of commitment, inaccuracy and fear.
Along the way you gain superlative combat skills.
However, this takes a lot of time.
It takes patience.
And character.

If the art is misrepresented from the onset, students will quickly grow bored and leave.

The eye of the beholder

 Spectators see what they want to see. 
 What pleases them. 
 What meets their expectations.

 Very few members of an audience would be capable of watching with a discerning eye.
 Not many spectators would understand the nature of what they are being shown.
If you develop the sensitivity that is vital in this arena you will feel his energy and be able to go with it as opposed to against it, that way his strength and power will add to your technique.

(Geoff Thompson)

What is it about?

The desire to be noticed is not a healthy one. It speaks of an inner gulf. Of a sense of worthlessness.
Why would you want fuss and attention?

A martial artist has no craving for such nonsense. They just want to train. To get on with the practice.

One of the dangers with competition and exhibitions is that people have different values.
Although the Tai Chi Classics have clearly defined parameters, many exponents choose to disregard them.
When you set aside taoism and the fundamental precepts of tai chi, you distort the art to suit your own ends.

Competition forms are pretty external sequences, that may be aesthetically-pleasing but are internally bereft.
Partner work competitions rapidly degenerate into a brutal match of strength.

What motivates you? Are you wanting to be 'the next big thing'? Your face on a magazine cover? Why?
Can't you simply be?

Treat this as a koan and ask yourself what all your ambition is really about.



A complete martial art is not about fighting.
 Therefore, the strategies and tactics are geared towards completion of the event.
 Force is never blocked.
 Struggling is circumvented.
 If something does not work, it is immediately  discarded.

An entirely different mentality is required.

 The student must think about the art as a martial art, not as a sport.
 The aim is to evade and escape, not to win prizes or accolades.
 The opponent may attack from an unexpected angle, they may be armed, they may not be  alone and they will not stop when you have had enough.

 Your repertoire must be varied and extensive. Your skills must be honed and comfortable.
 Students must use their bodies intelligently and skilfully, employing optimal body mechanics to ensure the best 'effort to reward' ratio.

We do not perform public demonstrations

Why not?
 Tai chi is not a performance art. It was not designed to be a spectacle. It is not meant to be entertaining to watch.
 Stunts, feats, acrobatics... these are not what  tai chi is about.

 In truth, a demonstration might well appear to be quite boring.

Public perception

If you told a member of the public that you were studying aikido, karate, ju jitsu or kung fu, they would instantly assume that you were learning a martial art.
 There would be no debate.

 If you tell somebody that you are learning tai chi chuan, the response might be quite different.
 Not many people think that tai chi is a martial art.
And in most cases they are correct.

Taoist examples

There are two examples from Chuang Tzu that beautifully illustrate the folly of showing off and/or competing.
The first is Monkey Mountain and the second is The Need To Win.

In both cases, the exhibitionist is hampered by their ego and self consciousness. It proves to be their downfall.

Counterpoising these examples is The Stink Tree in which the value of being insignificant is praised.



Group dynamics and evasion strategies cannot be codified into a step-by-step guide.
You must learn to go with the flow, responding and adapting to the needs of the situation.
This takes patience and practice.

If you lose your composure, you lose everything.

You need to work with punches, kicks and grapples. It needs to be varied, confusing, unsettling and unpredictable. A melee.

Martial art or fighting art?

Dave Lowry maintains that not all so-called 'martial arts' are actually martial arts.
 'Martial art' literally refers to a combat system that has been tried in battle/used by professional warriors/soldiers. 
 Such an art was intended for self defence and the training methods should reflect this.

 A lot of contemporary arts are 'fighting arts'.
 They may have been designed as a sport, fighting bouts/competitions or for their aesthetic value.
A fighting art may be very functional and effective, but (strictly speaking) it is not a martial art.

The voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

(Marcel Proust)
You are isolated and in an extremely dangerous situation.
The only way out is to retain one's composure and wait.

(I Ching)



Detachment is best - you do not want to give the attacker anything to hold onto.
Tai chi chuan is about emptying your centre, denying the attacker any form of purchase.
Be like water.
Cold, flowing, irresistible and yielding.
Remove any opportunity for successful counter-attack and do not show any form of emotion.

Do not speak, swagger or give any sign of ego.

Continuing mind

'Zanshin' is a Zen term meaning 'continuing mind'.
It refers to the condition of ongoing awareness necessary in self defence.

If you are daydreaming and not 'in the moment', you are vulnerable and incapable of spontaneous action.

The women of Rubens

Giantesses, female fauna,
 naked as the rumbling of barrels.
 They sprawl in trampled beds,
 sleep with mouths agape for crowing.
 Their eyes have fled into the depths
 and penetrate to the very core of glands
 from which yeast seeps into the blood.

 Daughters of the Baroque. Dough rises in kneading-troughs,
 baths are asteam, wines glow ruby,
 piglets of cloud gallop across the sky,
 trumpets neigh an alert of the flesh.
 O meloned, O excessive ones,
 doubled by the flinging off of shifts,
 trebled by the violence of posture,
 you lavish dishes of love!

 Their slender sisters had risen earlier,
 before dawn broke in the picture.
 No one noticed how, single file, they
 had moved to the canvas's unpainted side.

Exiles of style. Their ribs all showing,
 their feet and hands of birdlike nature.
 Trying to take wing on bony shoulder blades.

The thirteenth century would have given them a golden
 the twentieth- a silver screen.
 The seventeenth had nothing for the flat of chest.

For even the sky is convex,
 convex the angels and convex the God-
 mustachioed Phoebus who on a sweaty
 mount rides into the seething alcove.

 (Magnus J Krynski)



Children, when was
 Napoleon Bonaparte
 born? asks the teacher

 A thousand years ago, say the children.
 A hundred years ago, say the children.
 Nobody knows.

 Children, what did
 Napoleon Bonaparte
 do? asks the teacher.

 He won a war, say the children.
 He lost a war, say the children.
 Nobody knows.

 Our butcher used to have a dog,
 says Frankie,
 and his name was Napoleon,
 and the butcher used to beat him,
 and the dog died
 of hunger
 a year ago.

And now all the children feel sorry
 for Napoleon.

 (Miroslav Holub)


Learning to strike somebody and learning how to take a strike are essential.
Being hit can really mess you up.
Clever self defence tactics and techniques may fall to pieces when you are actually taking hits.
It is imperative that you know how to relax and roll with the punch.

Developing your own striking ability is critical. Without it, you cannot hope to defend yourself.
You need to make each blow count.
Range, timing, distance, accuracy and penetration must be practiced relentlessly.
A bag or focus mitt is not the same as a person. You need to strike real people.
Do not pull your punches. Let them land. Feel whether or not you are receiving adverse feedback.
Learn to control your power, your commitment and your intent.

Punching thin air may train the body mechanics behind a strike but tells you nothing about your ability.

Martial arts

The genius of ancient  martial arts systems cannot be denied. They are tried are tested. They have endured.
Whether or not they are viable in modern times is down to the school, the  master and the syllabus - rather than just the art itself.

A pragmatic self defence syllabus must take into account the century we are living in.

The internal arts codified into a self defence system a long time ago.
People fought in muddy fields and wore body armour. Low stances were necessary for stability.
If you look at the sparring part or the technique part of it, you have to be here and now and pay attention or you are going to get hit.

You can do forms and visualise and all that kind of stuff - that's really good when you train on your own. But when you are with other people practicing techniques, it gives a 'live' quality to the training.

(Tim Cartmell) 


The last belt deals with highly-technical biomechanical concerns, consciousness, teaching approaches, syllabus design, spiritual inquiry, martial theory & practice and Eastern philosophy.
All forms and drills must be dismantled; their component parts understood and applied comprehensively.
It is reserved for exponents who are capable of teaching other instructors.


What constitutes realism?
Risk, danger, threat, unpredictability. There must be some concern that you may be harmed.

Attacks need to be unrehearsed.
The assailant can punch, kick, grapple.
They can be armed.
They can have friends.

The key feature is this: the attack must be vigorous enough and threatening enough to trigger the defender's nervous system.
It is not necessary to injure anyone.
But the attacks must feel serious and create a genuine emotional, psychological and biological response in the defender.


I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.

I would be friend of all - the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.

I would be faithful through each passing moment;
I would be constantly in touch with God;
I would be strong to follow where He leads me;
I would have faith to keep the path Christ trod;

Who is so low that I am not his brother?
Who is so high that I’ve no path to him?
Who is so poor, that I may not feel his hunger?
Who is so rich I may not pity him?

Who is so hurt I may not know his heartache?
Who sings for joy my heart may never share?
Who in God’s heaven has passed beyond my vision?
Who to hell’s depths where I may never fare?

May none, then, call on me for understanding,
May none, then, turn to me for help in pain,
And drain alone his bitter cup of sorrow,
Or find he knocks upon my heart in vain.

(Howard Walter, S Ralph Harlow)

How water began to play

Water wanted to live
It went to the sun it came weeping back
Water wanted to live
It went to the trees they burned it came weeping back
They rotted it came weeping back
Water wanted to live
It went to the flowers they crumpled it came weeping back
It wanted to live
It went to the womb it met blood
It came weeping back
It went to the womb it met knife
It came weeping back
It went to the womb it met maggot and rottenness
It came weeping back it wanted to die

It went to time it went through the stone door
It came weeping back
It went searching through all time and space for nothingness
It came weeping back it wanted to die

Till it had no weeping left

It lay at the bottom of things

Utterly worn out          utterly clear
(Ted Hughes)


Does your martial art cater for the realities of self defence?
 Are you learning to respond to multiple attackers?
 Will your opponents be armed?
 Do they carry knives or other improvised weapons?
 What will you be wearing? What kind of footwear?

 Be honest about what you are expecting to do with your art. 
 Is your art up to the needs of self defence? 
 Are you training the necessary   skills?


The higher dan grade features very hard material, demanding a major commitment from the student.
In addition to teaching, the student must also work through another black belt of intensive martial skill.
The expert belt contains twice as much material to work through as any previous belt.



When someone is roughed-up in class, do not make a fuss.
It is not a big deal.
Apologise if you were too rough. Make sure they are ok. But then move on.

It is not an incident. It does not require a lengthy discussion or finger-pointing/blame.
Do not take it personally or make plans to 'get them back'.

Superfluous apologies are also unnecessary, and ultimately border on the ingenuine.
Get on with the training.


If a belt contains too much material, then the student becomes demoralised and feels to be getting nowhere.
If a belt is too easy, they do not feel to have earned the belt.

It is necessary to find a balance.
A good rule of thumb is this: each belt should each be notably harder than the previous one.
Also, the standard expected of the student should increase relative to belt.
The student should be assessed on all material learned to date, not just new material pertinent to their current belt.

Everyday quiet

Practice being cat-like throughout your everyday life.
Can you hear your footsteps?
Does your clothing rustle?
Are you making noises that advertise your presence?

You need to be ghost-like in your silence.
The aim is to avoid pushing the air in front of you.Think about what that means. 


Chopping up the syllabus

Belts should serve to chop up the  curriculum into manageable chunks.
 You cannot teach everything all at the same time.
 Knowledge requires context.

 A taijiquan student learns basic qigong first of all.
 These teach the student how to stand, move and work towards employing their entire body in every action.
 Simple partnered exercises come next, followed by the beginning of the most basic form.
 Self defence considerations are taught last.
 The first three belts follow this path of development.

 The next belts continue to develop qigong, form, partner work and self defence; introducing more sophisticated considerations.
 Greater skill and experience is required for each new belt.

Monkey & snake

Be monkey-like or snake-like rather than bear-like.

 Make your tai chi lithe and agile, not lumbering and obvious.

Walk like a cat

New students with Sifu Waller commonly drop deep into the floor and stomp around like an elephant.
 If your footsteps are loud, the groundpath is in your feet, not in your hand.

Your footsteps need to be as agile and light as those of a cat.
Imagine Kwai Chang Caine in the old Kung Fu TV show walking on rice paper?

 If your noises advertise your movements, they are way too loud. Noisy footwork and clumsy habits reflect your lack of sensitivity.
Slow down. Stop rushing. Let your scattered mind settle.
Ninjutsu, a secret Japanese art until recently, either was strongly influenced by or originated from tai chi. Many of the concepts, terms and movements are more than coincidentally similar to those of tai chi.

(Robert Chuckrow)
How I long to see
among dawn flowers,
the face of God.



Confidence without self?

Self consciousness involves  thinking and thinking prevents action.
 To apply tai chi successfully, you must allow thinking to subside and immerse yourself totally in the experience.
 Move with the  happening, respond as part of the moment.

When you cease to worry about your 'self', confidence no longer  matters.
He sees no other way open to him except ceaseless practice.

(Eugen Herrigel)


One response to being roughed-up is to become aggressive.
This is not the answer.

Aggression is a sign of emotion.
It indicates that you are upset and are compensating by using anger and force.
Clearly this is not tai chi.
When an archer is shooting for fun
He has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind
Or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind.

His skill has not changed,
But the prize divides him.
He cares.
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting –
And the need to win
Drains him of power.

(Chuang Tzu)


Asking for it

Provocative behaviour will draw attention to yourself.
Wearing your martial arts costume, sweatshirt or lapel badge all call attention to what you do.
Similarly, macho behaviour only demonstrates an inner weakness. An insecurity. Your fear.

Keep your skills quiet and subtle. Avoid being noticed.

Can you learn self defence by itself?

We cannot teach self defence as an independent concern.

Self defence is part of the taijiquan syllabus.
Without a wide variety of inter-related kung fu skills, self defence simply will not work.
We teach self defence in the manner in which we approach combat - 'internally'.


A seasoned martial artist does not fear being hit.
They accept it as part of the training.

Inexperienced students flinch away from being hit or refuse to play the attacker earnestly.
This indicates fear.
Sincerity requires commitment.
If you are not willing to face your fears, they will overwhelm you.

Being hit or thrown to the floor will never feel nice. It is not supposed to feel good.
However, when it is all said and done all you will suffer is a few bumps and bruises.
And all that worry, anxiety and doubt will only have served to hold you back and slow down your progress.

Belt factory?

No belt should be issued too readily.
To give a belt to an unworthy student insults the individual and brings shame to the school.
Each belt should carry with it the expectation of a higher standard.
Black belts in particular must be awarded cautiously; and only to students who can truly express the art and have put in the necessary years of practice.

If an art offers many belts, then it should be because the syllabus is lengthy, sophisticated and requires a step-by-step approach to learning.
Not because it is a gimmick.



We emphasise the importance of not 'sparing yourself' when applying the tai chi in self defence.
If you hold back, the skills will not come.
The real lesson here is that the student cannot hold onto their 'self' in self defence, they have to let go and be caught up in the moment.

Training methods such as melee assist with this process.


When faced with violence, most people panic.
Panic is an adverse reaction to unexpected events.
Instead of going with the flow of what is happening, the mind begins racing and composure is lost.

When you are caught off-guard by an assailant, what is going to happen?
Your stomach is churning, your thoughts racing and your vision has narrowed.
Do you earnestly expect to remember techniques from a self defence course?


It is important to make an example of your attacker, to let them know that they have made a mistake.
Your strike or grapple needs to be psychologically and physically disturbing; the attacker must experience anxiety.

Other would-be assailants will pause and think twice if you are successful.
If they falter and hesitate, they are doubtful and fear you.

Real life

Most people falter in the street because the shock of being roughed-up totally unnerves them.
They literally 'go to pieces' and freeze.
This is no good at all because it prevents you from acting in your own defence.

When assaulted, you will be startled and surprised.
But you should be capable of recovering your wits immediately.

Other arts

One art is usually enough to satisfy even the most ardent student.
 Only the keenest person - with a willingness to commit a significant amount of time - should consider learning two arts simultaneously.
The more you know, the longer it will take you to practice it.

If you are planning to train more than one  martial art, make sure that they are compatible.
Hui Tzu said to Chuang:

I have a big tree
The kind they call a stink tree.
The trunk is so distorted,
So full of knots,
No one can get a straight plank
Out of it. The branches are so crooked
You cannot cut them up
In any way that makes sense.

There it stands beside the road.
No carpenter will even look at it.

Such is your teaching-
Big and useless.

Chuang Tzu replied:

Have you ever watched the wildcat
Crouching, watching his prey-
This way it leaps, and that way,
High and low, and at last
Lands in the trap.

But have you seen the yak?
Great as a thundercloud
He stands in his might.
Big? Sure,
He can't catch mice!
So for your big tree. No use?
Then plant it in the wasteland
In emptiness.
Walk idly around,
Rest under its shadow;
No axe or bill prepares its end.
No one will ever cut it down.
Useless? You should worry!
(Chuang Tzu)
You cannot put a big load in a small bag,
nor can you with a short rope,
draw water from a deep well.

Have you not heard how a bird
from the sea was blown inshore
and landed outside the capital of Lu?

The prince ordered a solemn reception,
offered wine to the seabird
in the Sacred precinct,
called for musicians to play
the compositions of Shun,
slaughtered cattle to nourish it.
Dazed with symphonies,
the unhappy seabird died of despair.

How should you treat a bird?
As yourself or as a bird?
Ought not a bird to nest in deep woodland
or fly over meadow and marsh?
Ought it not to swim on river and pond,
feed on eels and fish,
fly in formation with other waterfowl,
and rest in the reeds?

Bad enough for a seabird to be surrounded by men
and frightened by their voices!
That was not enough!
They killed it with music!

Water is for fish, and air for man.
Natures differ, and needs with them.

(Chuang Tzu)



We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer --

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. 

(T S Eliot) 

In being without desires, you experience the wonder.
But by having desires, you experience the journey.
Yet both spring from the same source and differ mostly in name.

(Lao Tzu)


Tao Te Ching, The Art of War, The Book or Five Rings and I Ching all offer excellent principles.
These are what you need in self defence.

Scour your art for underlying precepts of body use, relationship and strategy.
Since joining the class I've developed, or rather realised, an anxiety/fear of knives and knife attack... the first time Sifu Waller held the rubber knife to my throat with the mock intent of a realistic attacker he challenged me to defend myself. I froze up and was 'cut'. The defence against a knife material is 21st century self defence at its most relevant.
(John K)


A beginner cannot hope to feel confident about their tai chi; they do not possess the  skills and experience to apply it successfully.
 Realising this is essential.
 The only way for a student to gain confidence is to practice with commitment and patience.
 You must put yourself at the mercy of the system and train it diligently.

 Self defence involves a gradual process of development.
 Subtle nuances of ability are added to your repertoire,  then explored under increasingly unpredictable circumstances.
 The student must learn to stand in the face of threat with nothing but their tai chi to rely upon.