Peter Southwood's tips #2 Prioritise the fundamentals

By regularly training the fundamentals every day, the student lays the necessary foundation quickly and can constantly ensure that they remain stable and strong.
Neglecting the basic material leads to weakness throughout the practice.


What about tradition?

If you are a Christian, give to the poor.

If you are not, why let marketing and commerce bully you into feeling guilty for not buying presents? People are just trying to make money out of you. They want you in debt.
They want you spending more than you can afford. Your greed finances their greed.

If you recall the Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol you may remember that celebrating Christmas traditionally entailed giving gifts to the poor.
This is seldom the case these days...

There is nothing miserly about rejecting consumerism.


5 stages

There are 5 stages to learning any form:
  1. The pattern
  2. Internal strength
  3. Application
  4. Shen
  5. Natural
With the advent of tai chi sport forms emanating from modern China, many modern practitioners never proceed past stage 1.
Indeed, few people even realise that there is more to form than the outward show.

The sad part about this is that the pattern is essentially incorrect unless augmented by the other 4 stages.


Sifu Waller presents a non-macho, common sense approach to tai chi and self defence that is quite surprising in its clarity. His site is well written, sincere and open. Somehow he manages to share his thoughts without getting on a soapbox or selling himself or his own (unique) school. Also, he's offering this invaluable on-line resource for free! He seems to be entirely free of the tai chi politics commonly encountered these days and that is a refreshing change...



Fast-track teachers

Beware fast-track taijiquan teachers.

A friend of mine got a Lee Family pamphlet through the post inviting her to qualify as an instructor. According to the leaflet she could become an instructor in less than two years with only one lesson per month commitment.

I was convinced that she was joking. What are these people teaching? How than they call it taijiquan?

In our syllabus it takes most people two years to complete the beginners syllabus, let alone teach the class!

Two years. It has to be a wind-up. Doesn't it? Doesn't it?



The second form is actually a sword form using movements derived from the Yang Cheng Fu form.
This heavy weapon offers a notable workout.
It develops upper body strength, whole body movement and wrist flexibility. Students learn how to extend their energy through the blade.
The sabre was designed for use against multiple opponents.

We do not teach the sabre as a self defence tool.



Our school motto is simple: Adapt, change & improvise.
It captures the essence of (applied) tai chi and baguazhang, and encourages an open, flexible attitude to life.


Non-Christian Christmas?

If you are not a Christian, what exactly are you celebrating over Christmas?
Why are you wrapping up all those presents, sitting through family meals and over-indulging?
For what? In aid of what? Tradition? For the sake of it? Why? It is far less expensive not to bother.

If you are having Christmas in order to over-eat, get drunk and indulge yourself, what does that say about your character?



Your self defence skills are explored through a series of stages:

  1. Chin na leverage principles

  2. Escapes

  3. Basic grappling drills
    - monkey paws
    - pushing hands
    - pushing legs
    - yielding exercise
    - yielding basic skills
    - central equilibrium
    - floor work

  4. Shuai jiao (take down)

  5. Small san sau

  6. Dying ground

  7. Silk arms

  8. Yielding/chin na

  9. Countering punches, kicks and grapples

  10. Penetrating defences

  11. Being hit

  12. Gravity striking

  13. Yielding/chin na & countering

  14. Countering a knife

  15. Escapes/knife

  16. Freeform

  17. Misplacing the bones

  18. Projections

  19. Disarming

  20. Form application

  21. Pao chui

  22. Cavity press

  23. Dividing the muscle

  24. Sealing the breath

  25. Gangs/multiple opponents


Individual meaning

'Meaning' is something attributed to phenomena; it is our way of making sense of life.
When considering any aspect of life, we examine the components and extrapolate a meaning.

The danger with this is that we can imbue anything with meaning, even when it no longer has any bearing on the original purpose.

Now consider 'Christmas'...



Tai chi works in a way that is completely opposite from many forms of dance, specifically ballet. It seems that more and more people interested in dance and movement are turning to Eastern forms of movement as they search for a richer and more supple expression.

(Liz Koch)


Baguazhang addresses the experience of combat in a different way to tai chi.
The student avoids direct confrontation by circling around the opponent or by encouraging the attacker to circle around them.

Momentum and flow are used to overcome strength. The aim is to draw the attacker out of their centre and off-balance.


Self defence?

When most people think of taijiquan they don't think of self defence at all.

Some people have sentimental visions of large groups of people engaged in harmonious dance and expect to learn those same skills in the first lesson. Others want you to take their problems away; perfect health and a trouble-free life.

It would be so much easier if the public perception of taijiquan reflected the true nature of the art. Studying taijiquan without neigong and self defence is like buying a car that has no engine.



What I really like about the class is it’s friendly atmosphere with excellent teaching and a clear syllabus that means everyone makes progress. It’s challenging but accessible. Everything is explained to the level you want and obviously Sifu Waller really demonstrates what is possible in the art.



San da: what can you do?

Students are welcome to use tai chi, baguazhang, chin na, shuai jiao or any applications from our syllabus.

Skipping around, fearfulness, an unwillingness to commit or external tactics will all be considered redundant and pointless.

This is an exercise in initiative, in feinting, luring, provoking commitment, evasion and countering.


The long haul

The study of the internal arts is the work of a lifetime.
And so he sets off on a path to mysterious destinations. He does so in spite of observations by others that such a way is naïve, outmoded or idealistic. He goes because he knows others have gone before, because the unchanging direction of the way attracts and calls to him.

He goes because he is compelled. He sets out on a journey of a lifetime because he senses that this way is the one to lead him to a place very much worth the going.

(Dave Lowry)


Conditioning the body

We can address balance and connection once the muscles soften, the joints relax and the body opens.
The psoas muscle needs to lengthen naturally; this will aid in strengthening the body without tension, as well as providing stability.

Qigong and neigong serve to internally work and support the body as you perform tai chi.
From this foundation, you learn how to move in a tai chi way.
The form and self defence training exercises explore this unique way of moving.

Each new exercise offers an opportunity for you to increase your physical awareness.
It is an inward journey of subtlety and relationship.
The conditioning and awareness training encourages your mind to soften and your body to grow in new ways.


8th dan

Partner work
Challenge – full circle qigong (30 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - Attitude & etiquette

Long Yang form (section 1)
Stick drills (intro)Yielding basic skills
Challenge - form challenge (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - Attitude & etiquette
Assignment #3 - The Sword Polisher's Record: The Way of Kung Fu
Leg stretches (set 1)
Monkey paws
Psoas exercises
Pushing legs
Single pushing hands 

Challenge – standing qigong (4 postures) (20 minutes x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - Attitude & etiquette
Assignment #3 - There Are No Secrets

Knife drills (intro)
Leg stretches (set 2)

Tao yin/Taoist Yoga

Challenge - knife 
drilling (30 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - Attitude & etiquette
Assignment #3 - The Essence of Tai Chi Chuan - The Literary Tradition

Chin na applications
Form applications
High circle qigong

Horse stance
Long Yang form (section 2)
Long Yang form (section 3)Martial concepts (intro)
Monkey paws (stepping)

Qigong development 
Single pushing hands (stepping)  
Challenge - chin na applications (60 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge - form applications (60 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge - form challenge (section 2) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - form challenge (section 3) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - horse stance qigong (5 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge - qigong development (40 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

Assignment #3 - The Book of Five Rings
4 directions with a partner (no contact)
70/30 stance

Broadsword drills
Countering/pushing peng
Double pushing hands 
Form posture qigong (70/30)
Penetrating defences 
Pushing peng exercise

Pushing peng (partnered)
Pushing peng (striking)

Qigong on one leg
Silk arms
Small san sau
Standing post with arms
Stick drills (3 sets)
Stretches & joint work

Challenge - broadsword drills (30 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - double pushing hands (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - mirrored form (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - penetrating defences (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - silk arms (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – small san sau (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - stick drills (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - The Way of Chuang Tzu 
Assignment #3 - The Art of War

Countering punches, kicks & grapples
Dying ground
Everybody falls
Floor work 
Qigong revision
Shuai jiao applications - subject to fitness
Yielding/chin na
Yielding/shuai jiao - subject to fitness
Challenge - floor work endurance (10 mins)
Challenge - shuai jiao applications (60 mins x 12 weeks) - subject to fitness
Challenge - yielding/chin na endurance (10 mins)
Challenge - yielding/countering endurance (10 mins)
Challenge - yielding/shuai jiao endurance (10 mins) - subject to fitness
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 -
 The New Lao Tzu
Assignment #3 - Tao of Being

3-tier wallbag
13 energies
Being hit
Breath meditation
Da lu
Form applications (section 1)
Freeform triangle
Gravity striking
Loose striking
– yielding/shuai jiao
– yielding/chin na
– yielding/countering
Neigong (1-10)
Sabre form (regular & mirrored)
Silk arms (peng)
Small san sau (peng)
Speed striking
Challenge - 13 energies (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - da lu (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - sabre form (regular & mirrored) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - section 1 form applications (120 mins x 24 weeks)
Challenge - silk arms (peng) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - small san sau (peng) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - The Book of Life
Assignment #3 - The Inner Way
Assignment #4 - Sword & Brush

2 person cane form/drill (regular & mirrored)
4 ounces exercise
5 bows
5 elements stepping
8 powers striking
Countering a knife
Floor work (control)
Form applications (section 2)
Improvised weaponry/knife
Long Yang form (round version)
Meditation on emotions
Neigong (11-20)
Obvious power (ming jing)
Pushing hands development
Reverse breathing
Challenge - 2 person cane form (regular & mirrored) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - improvised weaponry (5 minutes) 
Challenge - section 2 form applications (120 mins x 24 weeks)
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - The Little Zen Companion
Assignment #3 - Moving Zen
Assignment #4 - Tai Chi Secrets of the Ancient Masters

5 animals
5 centres
Crude fa jing
Form applications (section 3)
Holding down the pillow
Meditation on body sensations
Moving with kwa
Neigong (extras)
Newton’s Laws of Motion
San da stage 1: freeform application
Silk arms (jing)
Small san sau (jing)
Spiral body
Staff form (regular & mirrored)
Challenge - 10 minute freeform application endurance challenge
Challenge - sections 1, 2 & 3 form applications (120 mins x 48 weeks) 
Challenge - silk arms (jing) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - small san sau (jing) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - staff form (regular & mirrored) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - 
36 Strategies
Assignment #3 - Steal My Art
Assignment #4 - Zen in the Art of Archery

5 challenges
5 elements striking (part 1)
6 balanced pairs
Freeform grappling
Full syllabus revision
Leverage principles (misplacing the bones)
Projections (set 1)
Shuai jiao: footwork
Shuai jiao: elbow & bump
Shuai jiao: mutual arising
Shuai jiao: use of legs
Shuai jiao: throws
Silk arms (combat)
Small san sau (combat)
Walking stick form (regular & mirrored)
The way of the bear
The way of the bird
The way of the monkey
The way of the snake
The way of the tiger
Challenge - 5 challenges
Challenge - projections (set 1) (30 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge - silk arms (combat) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - small san sau (combat) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - walking stick form (regular & mirrored) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - The Art of War (Cleary/Shambhala)
Assignment #3 - The Complete Taiji Dao
Assignment #4 - The Tai Chi Journey
Assignment #5 - Blink
Assignment #6 - Commentaries on Living volume 2
Assignment #7 - Curious

5 elements striking (part 2)
60/40 stance
Balance, rhythm, timing
Cold jing
Entry methods
Fa jing
Flowing chin na applications (misplacing the bones)
Flowing shuai jiao applications
Full syllabus revision
Heavy bag
Jing/leverage principles (misplacing the bones)
Projections (set 2)
Reflex drills
Small san sau against a knife
Small stick drills
Small stick flexibility drills
Straight sword form (regular & mirrored)
Wu nien
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Challenge - knife attackers (5 minutes) 
Challenge - reflex drills (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - projections (set 2) (30 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge - small stick drills (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge - straight sword form (regular & mirrored) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
Assignment #3 - Free Yourself From Back Pain
Assignment #4 - How to Win Friends and Influence People
Assignment #5 - Tao Te Ching (various translations)
Assignment #6 - The Way To Love
Assignment #7 - The Willpower Instinct

5 pre-emptive methods
Becoming the centre
Being in the back
Combining chin na, shuai jiao & jing
Dividing the muscle
First hand/second hand
Full syllabus revision
Hidden power (an jing)
Large rhythm, small rhythm
Latent movements
Neigong (21-30)
Penetrating defences against a knife
Projections (set 3)
San da stage 2: freeform combat
Shih (martial advantage)
Shuai jiao against a knife
Silk arms against a knife
Sparing yourself
Yielding/chin na against a knife
Challenge - projections (set 3) (30 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge - shuai jiao relay (5 minutes) 
Assignment #1 - Q & A
Assignment #2 - Who Moved My Cheese?
Assignment #3 - The Pavement Arena
Assignment #4 - In the Dojo
Assignment #5 - Mindwise
Assignment #6 - Outliers
Assignment #7 - The Road Less Travelled
Assignment #8 - Your Erroneous Zones
5 elements striking (part 3)
Bone marrow washing
Cultivating sung
Dying ground (expert) 
Energy drainage
Fa jing (variations) 
Form application (power) 
Form in self defence
Full syllabus revision 

Kinetic pathway
Large san sau
- 20 qualities
- incorporation 
Open & close
Overwhelming attacks 
Pao chui form
Pre-natal breathing
Reeling silk 
Sealing the breath
Small circle
Tortoise breathing
Unite upper & lower
Yin body
Challenge – large san sau 
(120 mins x 24 weeks)
Challenge - mass attack (5 minutes) 
Challenge - non-cooperative relay (5 mins) 
Challenge – pao chui form
Assignment #1 - interpret a koan
Assignment #2 - write a poem
Assignment #3 - 
The Art of Chinese Swordsmanship: Manual of Taiji Jian
Assignment #4 - 
The Book of Tea
Assignment #5 - Keep it Simple
Assignment #6 - The Power of Internal Martial Arts
Assignment #7 - 
Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain: The Essence of Tai Ji
Assignment #8 - 
Back to Beginnings
Assignment #9 - Chuang Tzu in a Nutshell
Assignment #10 - 
Tai Chi Theory & Martial Power

2 person cane form/drill
Adapt, change & improvise 
roadsword drills dismantled
Dim-mak (dim-su/incapacitation)
Eastern philosophy
Form application (cane)
Form application (pao chui)
Form application (sabre)
Form application (staff)
Form application (straight sword)
Form application (walking stick)
Kinaesthetic awareness
Knife drills dismantled
Large san sau dismantled
Long Yang form dismantled
Martial theory & practice
Neigong dismantled 
Pao chui form dismantled
Partner work dismantled
Penetrating defences dismantled
Power generation
Pushing hands (all variations) dismantled
Qigong dismantled 
Sabre form dismantled 
Silk arms dismantled
Small san sau dismantled
Small stick drills dismantled
Spiritual inquiry
Staff form dismantled
Stick drills dismantled
Straight sword form dismantled
Striking methods
Syllabus design
Taijiquan principles
Teaching methods
Walking stick form
Whole-body movement


Scientific analysis

The opposite of exploring 'natural responses' to attack is when you respond in a contrived manner. You deliberately limit yourself to a certain drill or movement and practice that.

Your partner attacks with a variety of strikes and grapples, whilst you carefully think your way through each response. Be slow and thoughtful; contemplate what you are doing and why. Do not rush this. Do not lose your whole-body response at any point.

Be aware of where you are leading your opponent and what the effect of each counter-strike will be.

This type of work helps you to practice form applications and drills against a wider range of attacks, and the results should feed into the natural responses training.

Remember that scientific analysis, form applications and partner drills are all contrived. Natural responses training is what you will use in self defence: it is the proof of where you are. What comes out, comes out.

If you are faced with a legitimate threat and take time to think, you will fail. The tendency to do this can be removed through melee training, in which the thinking time is removed by the immediacy and variety of the threat.


Mild stretches

Taoist Yoga is a gentle way to exercise the body:
• Simple to perform
• Easy to learn
• Improves balance
• Stress-relief
• Meditation exercise
• Encourages a calm mind and composed emotions
• Energises
• Does not strain the body
• Strength-building
• Emphasis is placed upon allowing rather than forcing
• Improves skeletal alignment and poise
• Low-impact
• No exotic/strenuous postures
• Can be practiced by most people


Small san sau - 2 ways

Small san sau is taught in two ways initially:
  1. Sequence
  2. Combat concerns
The 'sequence' is just the pattern of movements: the framework.
It must be performed quite well.
Small san sau is introduced in green belt and students complete the basic sequence during the blue belt syllabus.

The second learning stage takes place at purple belt.
Students learn how to use the set in actual combat.
Subtle changes and corrections enhance the set, making it much more versatile and functional in combat.

Traditional instructor

When Sifu Waller studied with Peter Southwood he was required to stand for 40 minutes a day (every day) at 5:00 AM.
Standing was followed by moving qigong, drills and then two hours of form training.

He was given very little verbal tuition.
The training was primarily learning through doing.
Every qigong exercise, partnered drill and all 8 forms had to be studied thoroughly before Peter Southwood was prepared to share any in-depth knowledge.
Neigong and application had to be earned.

Peter Southwood used the Confucian teaching method: he showed you the example once and expected the student to go away and practice it.
Only the diligent student was shown more.
There was a significant onus upon the individual figuring things out for themselves.
Corrections, tips and pointers were only offered when a pattern of committed practice had been established.

Sifu Waller used to ask students to stand for 40 minutes at the start of class.
There were many grumbles and complaints, but most people actually felt better afterwards.


(i) If they are your instructor

If the person is currently teaching you, then you call them Sifu (No Surname).

(i) If they are not your instructor

In Chinese martial arts you call the instructor Mr Surname or Sifu Surname if they are not your teacher.

To refuse to call an instructor Mr Surname or Sifu Surname is considered to be very arrogant and disrespectful.

Prove yourself

If a student wants to be considered for lineage, they need to approach Sifu Waller and persuade him that they are serious enough.
Sifu Waller will assess the student and determine suitability. 
Lineage is for the instructor to decide, not the student.
The instructor must be confident that the future of the art resides in capable hands.


Whole-body strength

Almost every beginner struggles to understand the application of strength in tai chi.
They wrestle with the subject, believing that they cannot reasonably apply the system without tensing their muscles and using force.

For each and every tai chi movement, the muscles of your body must work in unity to produce the effect.
Not just the shoulders or arm.
Not just the waist.
You must feed power through the frame using every muscle of the body combined.
This is far harder than it sounds but well worth the effort.

Your muscles must never tense. They need to remain soft and loose, with a subtle stretch.

Learning new habits/responses

Once your body has begun to lose the old habits, it is ready for something new.
Neigong is concerned with instilling physical patterns that strengthen the body from the inside out.
Partner work examines the relationship between your body and someone else's.
The challenge is to maintain good posture and composure whilst performing complex activities.
This encourages your body to take the skills into your daily life.



In olden times people studied to improve themselves.
Today, they only study to impress others.




Peter Southwood is an exceptionally tight-lipped, secretive instructor. He follows the Chinese tell-you-nothing approach assiduously. The only person he shares his insights with is Sifu Waller. Everone else gets the public face, the not-so-good oil.

(Michael Dutton)

How can you tell?

You may occasionally see groups of people performing tai chi in public.

How do you gauge the quality?

Look to the Tai Chi Classics for guidance:

Do not assess the tai chi on the basis of personal preference:

Opinion is worthless.


Partial artists

As a teacher, it is disappointing when students start a martial art and never get past the beginners syllabus.
There are ten beginners belts to pass.
Everyone can pass them if they commit time, effort and patience to the task.

A Way of Being Free by Ben Okri



Most martial arts classes have a rather high turnover of students.

Why is this?

People are simply not prepared for the journey ahead and they quit at the slightest hurdle.

For many, it is purely a matter of patience - they are unrealistic about their own capacity to learn.
With others, it is the fear of stepping into the unknown, of losing control.

A lot of people are just downright lazy...


A school

An internal arts school is different to a night school course or a keep fit class.
Its mandate is far broader.

With a keep fit class you can attend intermittently, and train as much or as little as you like.
It makes no real difference.
The student is just a number in the register.

With a tai chi school you are expected to have a different attitude.
There is a detailed syllabus offering a clear pathway of progression, and a specific code of conduct.
Students are asked to train between classes and attend regularly.

Individual progress is monitored and supervised by the instructor.


Tai chi

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art famous for its excellent health benefits.
Our school practices the Yang Cheng Fu approach.

Sifu Waller has been teaching tai chi since 1995.



Modern culture encourages egotism.
When a beginner demonstrates arrogance in a tai chi class, it is the duty of the teacher to quash this.

Many people are unwilling to recognise that they are at fault.
Rudeness, cockiness and selfish behaviour are entrenched and familiar to them.
Letting-go is not an option.

Real zen

Zen is not concerned with pageantry or symbolism, jargon or esoteria. It is an exploration of what is. The ability to see what is right in front of you, without opinion, conception or artifice.

There is nothing stunning, extraordinary or remarkable taking place.



Your mind must be calm and your emotions composed.
Meditation helps with this. It teaches you to be detached yet totally present.

Training the mind is more important than training the body. The mind leads the movement.
A rigid, fixed mind is a weak mind. We want flexibility above all else.


Too busy

We are encouraged to lead active busy lives and this is not necessarily good for your health.
It is essential that we take time to rest.

Rushing around puts both body and mind in a state of anxiety.
Stress occurs when the demands you place upon yourself become too great.

Are you allowing people to put upon you? Are you taking on too many responsibilities?

Unless you are willing to see that your life may be too busy you are unlikely to be concerned and act.
Slowing down or stopping is the first step to getting some rest.


Natural approach

In modern times there is a great dependency upon Western medicine.
People seek to solve health problems quickly using medication or surgery.
These methods may fix the immediate problem but the underlying cause is seldom addressed.
Eating habits and poor body usage are often the cause of poor health.

The holistic approach is to work with the natural processes of the body, to improve body awareness, to learn new habits and steadily grow a healthier, more resilient body.


Tai chi

You cannot take the tai chi movements and use them in the same way as karate, ju jitsu, kickboxing or wing chun.

Tai chi is unlike mainstream martial arts. It relies upon softness, sensitivity, gravity, neigong and change.
Conventional strength is not used at all.


Natural responses

If you simply follow drills and deliberate patterns, there is no way to gauge what will emerge in reality. Random attacks - incorporating a variety of punches, kicks and grapples - test your ability to respond spontaneously. The drills should be playful and fun, but the attacker must strike with the intention of making contact.

Afterwards, you look at areas of weakness and doubt. Focus upon the gaps and deficiencies: consider what you did wrong, why it didn't work and what you need to do in order to improve your response. Your partner should help you with this, along with your teacher (if required).


Mind & body

Tai chi exercises are designed to unite mind and body. Through their combination we have movement with intent.
Mind and body work together in harmony.
Every tai chi exercise trains mind and body to work as one.



Blocking is not used in tai chi

Although blocking may successfully prevent a punch from hitting you, it does not stop you from being hit.
It merely transfers the force of the blow to another body part.

Rather than a damaging strike to the face you receive a jarring blow to your arm.
This is preferable to a facial strike, but is hardly the most effective solution.



Occasionally, Sifu explains something and gets this "Oh, if!" look off a new student. 

His only option at that point is to demonstrate. 

He believes in being scientific and offering immediate and decisive proof of all aspects of his syllabus. 

Sifu aims to demonstrate everything gently but will increase power relative to the demands of the situation.

Magnum PI tai chi?



Open or closed centre?

If you hug a tree and bring your fingers too close together... you will feel immediate tension in the shoulders, chest and back.
The arm muscles will also tighten.

The hands need to be in front of the shoulders, otherwise your body will stiffen.


How you feel

I wake at 5 and I train for a couple of hours. This is my first training session of the day. My body feels lively, nimble and sung. Everything drapes. But not in a heavy, oppressive way. It is a deep relaxation that is quite hard to qualify verbally. My mind is at ease and there is a deep warmth throughout my body.

Soon, I will lie down for 20 minutes, then read for half an hour. This sense of inner stillness will spread and settle. Composure and quietude will be present all day long.

Later, there will be more training. Vigorous drills, baguazhan and qigong. I will walk. I will teach. But nothing will disrupt this sense of ease.

I don't care whether you train karate, brazilian ju jitsu or another style of tai chi. This is how it feels to train what I train. That is what matters to me.



Tai chi is something like 80% wrestling and 20% striking. Does pushing hands look like boxing or wrestling? Wrestling!

 The reason why the originators of the internal styles gravitated toward the grappling portions of their art is that you can practice grappling moves 99% the same as they will be used in a street fight.


 (Tim Cartmell)

Sifu Waller's home training

This has been Sifu Waller's daily routine since 1992:
  1. Strength-building
    - balls & grips
    - self-massage (100+ exercises)
    - 3 circle qigong (15 minutes)
    - ba duan jin (8 exercises)
    - reeling silk (6 exercises)
    - 16 elbows
    - moving qigong (15 exercises)
    - leg stretches: day 1 or 2
  2. Baguazhang
    - 8 palm changes (clockwise & anticlockwise)
    - 8 mother palms
    - 6 direction changes
  3. Drills
    - small san sau
    - silk arms
    - 5 pre-emptive measures
    - pushing peng/double pushing hands/da lu/penetrating defences/reflex drills
    - 3-tier wallbag
  4. Weapons
    - knife drills
    - small stick drills
    - stick drills (Monday - Saturday)
    - broadsword drills (Sunday)
    - sabre form (regular & mirrored)
    - 2 person cane form/drill (regular & mirrored)
    - staff form (regular & mirrored)
    - walking stick form (regular & mirrored)
    - straight sword form (regular & mirrored)
  5. Tai chi chuan
    - pao chui
    - Yang Cheng Fu form (regular & mirrored)
  6. Hard qigong
    - full circle qigong (2 postures)/qigong development (2 postures)/form posture qigong (2 postures)/high circle qigong/qigong on one leg
  7. Cool down
    - stretches & joint work (10 exercises)/psoas exercises (5 exercises)

  8. Meditation
    - constructive rest position
    - guided relaxation
  9. Reading/study



A piano student trains their basics constantly.
They are expected to master these.

As the student progresses, the fundamentals become increasingly technical.
Only through significant refinement can skill be achieved.



Your wage is represented as a number. You deduct various other numbers from your wage and the figure diminishes.
It is quite easy to look at your bank statement and see £40 deducted here and £300 deducted there.
If you were to actually hand over the money physically, you may see the situation differently.

Counting out £300 in cash is altogether different from seeing a figure on a credit card bill.



Zen is concerned with what actually exists. What is right in front of you.
In this sense, it is not in any way philosophical.

Reality can be experienced directly.
It is tangible.
The danger with thinking too much is that it serves to distance you from what is real.



Passing the beginners syllabus is a major step forward in your progress.
We will not give you this belt for nothing.
Expect no charity.

No belts will be given without good, strong passes.

If you do not pass your grading first time, persevere.
It will take you as long as is needed. Be patient, but show tenacity also.

It is important for each student to recognise that you are only as good as the skills you can manifest.



A vegetarian is someone living on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with or without the use of dairy products and eggs (preferably free-range).

A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea, or slaughter by-products such as gelatine or animal fats.

(The Vegetarian Society)


The Way of Energy by Lam Kam Chuen

Aggressive approaches

Anger and aggression should not be used in martial tai chi.
These unpleasant emotions strain the body (especially the heart) and dump adverse chemicals in the bloodstream.

Taijiquan self defence is intended to be used without stressing the body, without exerting, without becoming excitable or forceful.
Stay calm and composed at all times.
You'll live longer.



Taijiquan does not deal with abstract concepts.
In self defence, failure to evade an attack means that you will be compromised, hurt or injured.
There is no room for abstraction.
We must deal with the really real.

A punch is not theoretical. It is tangible. So is the pain when you fail to deal with it successfully.



Martial arts

Martial arts students need a weight bearing skeleton, a free psoas muscle and open hip sockets to perform well. There is a tendency to lock the psoas muscle in a defensive posture and fatigue the muscle by keeping it in a chronic contracted state. This limits the movement of the leg, encouraging the use of the lumbar spine for kicking and stops a person from performing effectively.

(Liz Koch)


Small san sau tips (for the keener student)

If you want to get good at anything, the answer is simply: PRACTICE.
There are no shortcuts, gimmicks or secrets as such.

Small san sau tips:

- drill it daily, at least 3 times
- on a weekend/occasional/or daily, drill for up to 15 mins non-stop
- drill slowly and smoothly
- use a 'jong' (door frame, edge of door, mirror) in order to gauge positioning
- pay particular attention to accuracy
- make every movement count
- allow no redundancy
- stay calm/composed but be alert and ready
- the eyes lead the movement
- on occasion, drill at high speed but be mindful of the knees; do not torque or twist
- try to partner with somebody as often as you can
- solo training is for accuracy, partner work is for softness and applicability


- use gravity not force
- never push
- let your limbs fall
- use 'moving qigong' skills to power your movements
- feel the rhythm: the circularity, flow, timing
- coordinate hands and feet
- lead from the centre
- move out of the way of the incoming blow
- rely on peng
- keep your elbows dropped; no higher than 45 degrees
- ask your partner to attack at full speed
- ask your partner to attack at full power & full speed

Break each movement down:

- how does it work?
- why does it work?
- what gaps do I have?
- which targets am I offering?
- are you rushing?
- consider the timing
- look at how much the attacker is committed
- is the attacker compromised by your defence?
- where am I striking?
- can I apply chin na as a follow-up?
- how easily can I flow into a different follow-up?
- will this work against a knife?

I learned this set from Peter Southwood in 1990.

Small changes have been made to encourage softness, 4 ounces and flow. Also I wanted to amplify the effect of the movements using gravity and create chin na opportunities.

Small san sau is great fun, and a nice pre-cursor to silk arms, penetrating defences and pao chui.

There is no shortcut

Building up your strength takes time, practice, commitment and patience.
In truth, you may not even realise it is happening.

Tai chi training is not strenuous or stressful.
You undertake regular training and let the mild exercise build up layers of strength.

A spiritual life

There is something simple and wholesome about a life spent cultivating grace, awareness and calm.
It is an almost monastic existence.

You practice, study, contemplate, meditate, experience insights, and reflect.



The word 'meat' distances people from the reality of eating living creatures.
It reduces animals to 'livestock'.
There are many animal-related euphemisms: meat, bacon, beef, veal, lamb, mutton, pork, ham...

Being honest and seeing the truth is important.



It is not easy to commit to daily training.
Your mind will resist.
There are many pleasant alternatives.

Yet, over time, the habit of training takes hold and your body begins to experience unexpected strength and mobility.
Eventually, you reach a point where you could not imagine ever missing your daily training.


Tai chi for health & fitness

If you have no interest in learning tai chi as a martial art, you are quite welcome to attend lessons as a tai chi for health & fitness student.

You will be taught a physically and mentally challenging curriculum, but no self defence at all.
Partner work will be limited.

Classes will focus upon flexibility, suppleness, relaxation, mobility, strength building and boosting your energy.


High repetitions

High repetitions dull the mind.
Aim to train little and often instead. Be thorough, accurate, aware.

Cultivate familiarity and ease.
You want your movements to be natural, relaxed, smooth and controlled.


Individual insights are best

When a student has faith in the material, they give themselves over to it. The quiet unassuming students typically make great progress without fanfare. They quietly become skilled without vying for attention.

Rob in Newcastle has made radical progress in the last 6 months, partly due to private lessons, workshops and regular lessons, but mainly down to an insight he had.

He realised that his use of muscular tension stemmed from his fear of being hit and hurt.

Once Rob accepted that he may get hit, and stopped anticipating the outcome, he started to relax. By relaxing, Rob became more receptive to the immediate moment and could respond more calmly and effectively.

A personal obstacle had been removed, and Rob's taijiquan became stronger and more adaptable. He also had the added advantage of being composed.

Other students noted the change in Rob and respect the quality of his training. Our top student (Jason) invited Rob to train with him between classes.


Peter's syllabus is a mystery

Peter Southwood's repertoire is not something he's ever published or formally talks about. I think I know what he can do then he does something I was unaware that he knew. I've seen his sword, pao chui, YCF, small & large san sau, applications, self defence, broadsword, cane, stick, staff, knife, qigong, neigong, bagua, dim-mak, chin na, shuai jiao and fa-jing. 

I suspect there's more but direct questions aren't replied to. Peter just blinks and ignores the question. 
I once saw Peter's book of neigong and know for a fact that Sifu Waller has it now.

(Michael Dutton)

Example instructor (level 1) questions

Question: What is 'peng'?

Take into account:

- your own notes
- syllabus/training notes Sifu has provided
- the website
- books you have read
- lesson experience
- your own insights

Explain peng in detail, from an introduction to the principle, through to its cultivation and ultimate application.


Piano student

A piano student takes one private lesson a week.
During that lesson, there is no practice. Just tuition.
Between lessons, the student is expected to practice for at least an hour a day.

Should the student neglect their practice, it is immediately evident.



I enjoyed the depth and knowledge of tai chi on your website and appreciate the study and hard work it represents. While many of your observations regarding tai chi instructors, classes and practitioners may be perceived as somewhat negative or harsh, I believe that those seeking tai chi will be spurred on to seek the deeper art instead of just emptily waving their arms.

 I especially appreciated your comments regarding tai chi Competitions. I detest the shoving matches that pass for push hands, and the flowery forms and displays of gymnastic flexibility that seem to impress the judges. I generally suggest that my students go to a competition to compare and contrast what they see there, between various competitors and in class. They usually note the lack of the yielding principle and the ostentation, and egos, and are somewhat shocked.

 I have found that most authors who have a negative view on most of what is being taught in tai chi classes are only interested in pushing down others to point out their supremacy. Definitely not so with your site. Instead of insisting that people travel great distances to learn from you alone, you post a helpful guideline for students to be aware of when evaluating a teacher or class. That’s great! Like you, my teacher, George Ling Hu, often said that the particular style did not matter. Rather the focus should be on the tai chi principles and they should be evident in your practice, not just a list you recite. In my 21 years of practice I have seen the truth of this and applaud you pointing this out.

 I will add a link to your site on my local website so that my students and others in the Houston, Texas area can access your impressive store of knowledge.

 Thank you. Sincerely,

 (Greg Illich)


Piano & tai chi

If you want to learn any skill thoroughly and convincingly, you need to put in an awful lot of time.
Whether you are seeking to learn Spanish, cook like a gourmet chef or play the piano, it is just the same.
Practice, practice, practice.

There are no shortcuts...


A bubble

In taijiquan peng refers to an unusual quality of integrity that is formed by creating a loose network of body parts.
It is akin to having a bubble around your body; except that the circumference of the bubble is your body itself.

Should any part of the bubble be pushed, it will yield and move. However, the overall structural integrity remains intact and resilient.

There is no resistance.
No pushing back or physical tension (contracted muscles).


At first, even this simplest of all things - just standing still for a few minutes - may seem impossible when you try it. Thirty seconds may seem like an eternity; five minutes may be agony. The boredom may drive you crazy. These reactions are simply the evidence of the constant tension in your nervous system and proof that you need this exercise.

 (Lam Kam Chuen)



Chinese grappling/wrestling is called 'shuai jiao'.
It is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of approaches.

Shuai jiao is not to be confused with Western styles of wrestling.


Colwyn Bay

We returned to Colwyn Bay. This time Peter Newton was hosting a Yang Jwing-Ming visit. Sifu, Peter Southwood, Michael Dutton and myself had travelled down together. Dr Yang was demonstrating push-hands with successive students of Newton and becoming exasperated by their limbo-dancing antics. He called out for a new student. Peter volunteered Sifu and he reluctantly stepped on stage. A vigorous push-hands followed with Dr Yang laughing out loud in delight. He stopped to tell the entire gathering how impressed he was with Sifu's skill and proceeded to use Sifu as his practice partner all weekend. Peter had a small smile on his face. This was the nearest I'd ever seen him to showing pride in his greatest student.

(Shaun Ullah)


 Taoism must be thoroughly examined, explored and understood.
 An extensive and prolonged period of study, research, contemplation, meditation and application is necessary.

 Taoism informed taijiquan, baguazhang and zen.
 Omitting this study from your training is a major error.
 The principles and practices of taoism represent the foundation of your art.


Example instructor (level 1) questions

Question: Class enthusiasm is poor:

- no one is interested in workshops
- people do not even reply to e-mails
- grading is met with indifference
- students typically will not train at home

When faced with such enormous apathy and indifference, how do we address this?

What does the martial arts (or tai chi) community suggest?


Shadows & secrets

The ancient Chinese martial arts are veiled in mystery.
Each school teaches its own unique approach to the experience of self defence.
Historically, the training methods and applications of the different schools were closely guarded.

The most secretive and inaccessible were the neijia schools.

How an instructor should train

Sifu Waller's home training routine may seem like quite a lot of training.
However, consider it in terms of time:

  1. 1-2 hours of strength-building & qigong
  2. 30 minutes of baguazhang
  3. 15 minutes of drills
  4. 30 minutes of weapons
  5. 30 minutes of tai chi empty hand form
  6. 20 minutes of meditation
  7. 30 minutes of study
Considering the complexity of each individual topic, this is not a lot of time for an instructor to commit to his own development and progress.

Regular students should not be training like this.


Taoist mystic?

 Taoism has a long history of mystics, alchemists and magicians.
 There are many colourful accounts of oddball recluses who studied arcane practices in order to gain great skill and wisdom.

 At the heart of the teachings is the desire to attain an altered state of consciousness.
 To see the world through different eyes.
 Taoists aim to become a "real human being"; in-touch with reality is a tangible, earthy way.
 They avoid fame, worldliness and repute; remaining in the shadows, in secret and aloof.


Why do students go bad?

Why do students go bad? That's easy. They're jealous and they're lazy. Without exception. 

I can't think of a single resentful ex-student who wasn't lazy and arrogant. If it's true of my karate class, its probably true of your tai chi group too...

(Andrew Clarke)


Shoulder joint discomfort

Incorrect peng will cause discomfort in the shoulder joint.
If there is a tangible sense of mild pain, it must not be ignored.

Poor bodily awareness and an insensitive nervous system can mean that an inexperienced student may not even feel discomfort initially.
Be mindful.

Taijiquan does not cause pain in the body.
Any indication of pain is caused by a prior health-problem or incorrect body use.
Correct your posture repeatedly until discomfort is removed.


Class members

Regular students may choose to join the school and work through a structured training program.
They become formal class members.

Benefits of membership:
  1. work through the curriculum
  2. grade every 3 months
  3. request bespoke tuition
  4. seek training guidance and advice from Sifu Waller
  5. take private lessons
  6. attend class functions
  7. attend workshops
  8. attend bootcamp


A = number of years spent training
B = number of days in a year spent training
C = number of hours per day spent training

A x B x C = how many hours you have trained (approximately)


Mind, body, spirit

Instead of feeling apart from what is happening, we feel the physics of the movement, the kinetic flow.
Our own body and our self-consciousness is lost in the event itself.
There is no more self or other, just movement, just sensation/feeling.

When your mind/body/spirit integration is complete, you act so unconsciously that you no longer really feel the movements as such.
It is spontaneous and natural. It just happened.


Instructor training courses (members-only)

There are 3 instructor grades in our school:
  1. Level 1
    - training takes place during 3rd dan
  2. Level 2
    - training takes place during 6th dan
    - 10,000 hours of practice required

  3. Level 3
    - training takes whilst working on 7th dan 
Having completed each level of instructor training, the student is given a certificate qualifying them to teach our syllabus.



Martial tai chi runs the risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Over-emphasising the martial denies the student the necessary foundation in the important health aspects of the art.

Coordination, relaxation, whole-body movement, breathing, improved blood circulation, neigong and qi are all essential for health.

Ditching the health training may lead to long-term problems.

Sword and Brush


Swimming is an activity that can either create structural problems or release them depending upon the way it is taught and practiced. Professional swimmers are known to develop shoulder tendonitis and kyphosis. Overriding head/neck righting reflexes (as occurs when the head is repeatedly turned but the body does not follow) eventually result in overdeveloping shoulder muscles, pinching nerves and distorting the rib cage.

(Liz Koch)



Of all the people who begin the discipline of tai chi, only a handful will continue past a year or so. Humility, compassion, lack of ambition, non-aggression, spontaneity and silence are not qualities that our societies value. There is no more difficult journey than the journey to the self.

(John Lash)


Higher & lower peng

When the peng needs to be higher, the elbow does not lift.
Fingers to the ceiling, elbow to the floor.

When the peng needs to be lower, the elbow remains where it is and the fingers go lower.
Maintain open kwa at all times.


Offensive jing

It is important to remember that peng is actually an offensive jing.
Correct application is not passive.
You should aim to uproot the opponent using peng, and potentially take their balance entirely.

Skilful use of peng should provide you with a rounded pliable framework that can penetrate defences.



Correct alignment of the body will enable you to use your body with less effort and greater strength.
Counteracting the force of gravity is a key consideration.

The vertebrae and joints must be free to move in a fluid, smooth manner.

Physical tension and bad muscular habits impede the ability to move spontaneously and freely.
Tension is the enemy of movement.
The more tense you are, the less you can move.

The Art of War

When Sun Tzu speaks of invisibility, he is speaking about moving without attracting the attention of your opponent:
  1. Concealment
  2. Covert
  3. Disguise
  4. Espionage
  5. Hidden
  6. Misdirection
  7. Secrecy
  8. Stealth
Sun Tzu wrote a whole section on spying.
From a self defence perspective this is very useful.
You do not need to become a spy, but you can learn how to avoid being noticed.


Understanding the instructor?

One of the problems for students is that they fail to recognise just how massive the syllabus really is, and that a master level 7th dan instructor is operating at a level that they cannot understand.


Invisibility in combat

The main two methods of invisibility in self defence work are:
  1. Cold jing
  2. Being unseen by the opponent
Cold jing is the act of striking without any discernable build-up. It must be a spontaneous, whole-body action.

There are many ways to remain unseen.
By evading the line of force - without blocking - you gain an interval of time in which to act.
Concealment, misdirection, feinting and luring can be used to keep the attacker doubtful and hesitant.
If you only employ 4 ounces of pressure at all times, then the attacker cannot feel your actions in advance.
Stepping, evasion, listening and sensitivity all provide opportunities to disguise your direction and intentions.
Unorthodoxy, unpredictability, improvisation, adaptation and change make your actions difficult to anticipate and respond to.



In his book There Are No Secrets, Wolfe Lowenthal spoke of students who employ a curious mixture of muscular strength and yielding in order to defeat other beginners during partner work.

Lacking the skills of softness, yielding and connection, they cannot manipulate gravity skilfully and employ a kind of cheat. Lowenthal explained that these internal/external tactics are typically used by people who want to bully others and will only work against other beginners.


Gaining power

In order to use the skills of taijiquan, the student must gain power. Without power, the art will not work.
You cannot force a result.

Great patience is necessary. Hard work. And time.
Exerting, straining and talking are unnecessary. Just be gentle and endure.

Work through the structured syllabus.
If your instructor has effortless power, then persevere and those very same skills will become yours.



I came across your (excellent) tai chi blog by doing a Google blogsearch. I'm adding it to my blogroll.



Seek what they sought

Research the root material: taoist/zen literature, martial theory, self defence, physics, biomechanics.
Study the taijiquan classics, skills and principles thoroughly and comprehensively.
Do this over many decades, and do it daily.

Slowly, an understanding of the art will grow.
Adhere to the principles and train only what works.


The last beginners drill

To complete a basic understanding of the beginners syllabus, a student must learn the small san sau 2-person set.
It features simple street-style attacks intended to strike vulnerable targets.
The set teaches the student how to evade and counter skilfully, whilst offering tantalising bait and limiting the attacker's options.

It teaches strategy and timing, positioning and framework.
Peng, stickiness and jing must also be employed.

A student of the small san sau needs to be adept at Yang Cheng Fu form section 1.
Many of the form postures feature in this 2 person set.
If a student has neglected to practice form, they will struggle to learn this set.


Punching & palming

Contract when you punch, extend when you palm.
Contraction and extension are the natural action of your muscles.

The action only occurs on contact.
Do not exaggerate this or your will tense-up.


Beyond the ordinary

In order to function beyond the use of ordinary strength, you must study what seems inconvenient and then work to make it efficient.

(Kuo Lien-Ying)



A common desire for student is 'power'.
Students who possess almost no coordination or sensitivity seek to expel great energy discharges and defeat a whole room of assailants.

The real power of taijiquan does not lie in how much, how far or how many... but rather in the 'how'.

If you want to employ effortless power, be prepared to do a lot of work.
Behind the mystery and the fancy oriental words is a very clear series of steps for you to work through.
There are no secrets as such.

The apparent power of taijiquan is all about balance, timing, awareness, presence, composure and perception.
Real things. Tangible things. Things that anyone can be trained to cultivate.


Question to Sifu Waller re shuai jiao

Question: Are you offering competitions?

Answer: No. Our school emphasises self defence training. This is the capacity to successfully survive an assault. There are no rules when someone attacks you. They could be alone or in a group, or they could be armed.

The shuai jiao we explore stems from possibilities suggested by the form: escapes, floorwork, defence against weapons, punches, kicks & grapples, and group scenarios. The training involves various forms of take down.

We are not fighting with anyone. We are not competing. Your aim is to finish the attacker rapidly and decisively.