Self defence

A tai chi school would not be a tai chi school without combat.
Tai chi, however, is not about fighting - it is about self defence - and the two are rather different.

Fighting is about contesting yourself against another, besting them in combat and perhaps obtaining a prize.
Self defence is about escaping harm - using the minimum degree of effort and commitment.
There are no prizes or runners-up in self defence; if you lose in a real life confrontation, you could die.

Class practice must skirt the edge of reality; tasting the danger without running the risk of serious injury.



The danger with abstraction is that it blinds you to the dangers of over-spending.
You are seduced into spending money you do not have.

This process is not an accident.

It has been cynically planned and implemented by financiers of various kinds.
Everyone wants a piece of the action.
You are the 'mark'.
These massive companies want a piece of your money.

Through your carelessness, and the process of abstraction, you have been distanced from the reality of your finances.

When your house is re-possessed, you realise that numerical abstraction may have hidden the reality from you - but reality cannot be ignored.
Crippling debt is the outcome of confusing the menu with the food.


What is advanced?

Students often have funny ideas about what 'advanced' means.
In our world of video games, special moves and Jet Li films, people have some startling misconceptions.

In some taijiquan circles, a student is regarded as being advanced simply because they can remember a weapons form or demonstrate a few self defence applications.
This is absurd.

Being advanced at taijiquan requires far more than this.



Your tai chi is only as good as you make it.

People are not always happy with the reality of their situation.
We teach the material, we revise it with you, we offer you practice partners and we pressure test your understanding.
But only you can do the work.

This is not what most people want to hear.
Internal tai chi skills cannot be purchased. You must use your mind and your body. And you must practice.


The worst in you

It may well sound corny to speak about 'the dark side'.
However, any balanced person recognises that there are aspects of our character we should be concerned about.

Martial arts can potentially bring out the worst in people.
They speak to the anti-social aspects of human nature: violence, cruelty, pain, ruthlessness, anger, aggression, force and fear.


Twisted students

Not all martial arts students are well-balanced people.

Some revel in the violence and the pain they can inflict. They are eager to cause suffering and will encourage you to do the same.

These people may be charismatic, exciting people, but their message is ugly.
Instead of seeking to avoid conflict, they embrace it. Rather than side-step violence, they seek it.


Wrist and shoulder

The relationship between the shoulders and the wrists is an important one to explore.
You must avoid interfering with the natural movement of the human body.
If you can move the hands in harmony with the shoulders, you will not cause unwanted tension in the shoulders and arms.

Consider the angle of the wrist joint...

Is it horizontal, with the palm facing forwards or down?
Is is vertical/diagonal, with the palm facing towards the body or away?

The angle of the wrist will determine where the hand must be held:

- if horizontal, the hand must be outside the shoulders
- if vertical, the hand must be inside the shoulders


Tai chi is good for your health

Tai chi is characterised by a gentle internal coiling and twisting of the body.
The soft, relaxed movements help to reduce bodily tension, whilst the martial art focus gives purpose and intent to the practice.

This is an ideal form of exercise for people who suffer from illness or simply want to improve their health.
Stronger muscles and bones, combined with greater flexibility of the joints, will improve body usage beyond the class.

Standing and moving qigong exercise addresses the stability of the physical structure and promotes the flow of qi.
The syllabus places great attention on the way in which the body operates.
This significantly improves the health benefits.

Since tai chi is performed slowly, there is little risk of injury or discomfort when practicing this type of exercise.



Every counter begins with soft meeting, using wardoff.
Wardoff allows you to make contact without banging or jarring.
Without wardoff, contact is external.

Qualities of wardoff:
  1. keeps the distance
  2. ‘feeler’
  3. soft meeting
  4. springy
  5. ‘hug tree’ qigong posture
  6. exists within every taijiquan posture to some extent

The use of wardoff will feel imperceptible to the attacker, with the defender skilfully moving into another jing immediately.
There is no one-two rhythm. The moment must flow.


Tai chi exercise

Some styles of tai chi have deep stances and movements that may put strain on the body.
You must find a class that offers a way of moving that feels comfortable for you.

If you have knee or back problems, look for a class that uses higher, smaller stances.


No control

Letting your repressed feelings rise to the surface is not necessarily such a good thing.
You become more intimate with traits that belong in the recesses of your personality, rather than the forefront.

Once you let anger, aggression and violence out of your subconscious you will never be able to put them away again.
They always existed in you, and once you have indulged them they will be harder to ignore.

Violence is seductive. The ability to inflict pain excites people. They feel strong. Empowered.



I wake, get dressed and clean, then I train. It is damp and cool outside. The darkness of early morning is soothing and calm. Few human noises intrude. After 2 hours or so, I rest. I let the floor support my body and I drift. The floor is relaxing and my body is grateful.

Afterwards, I eat a small meal of fresh fruit and drink more water.

The pile of books I am reading offers another opportunity to slow down and be present. I do not read quickly or ambitiously. But slowly. Savouring the words and contemplating the meaning. My mind is increasingly calm.

I shave off my hair, shave and shower. Dress in clean clothes.

The washing-up takes quite a while to work through. I clean the kitchen counters and the floor. There is a sense of quietude and order that arises from simple work. Chaos is replaced by clarity.

Soon, I will walk, work and train some more. But for now, I enjoy the company of my wife and the ease that comes from having trained and rested.

This is how I begin my day.


Getting rest

Good sleep, healthy food, exercise and fresh air are essential for rest.
Tai chi helps you to be calm and to appreciate the value of relaxation.

Allow yourself to slow down and become still inside; let tranquillity replace agitation.



Does your week actually end?
Or do you spend all seven days in relentless activity?

If you spend at least one day per week doing nothing in particular, you will feel refreshed and relaxed.
A day of rest is important.
When you spend your weekend doing very little, you return to work on Monday feeling alive.

Last Friday feels far away.



Your tai chi is only as good as you make it.

People are not always happy with the reality of their situation.
We teach the material, we revise it with you, we offer you practice partners and we pressure test your understanding.
But only you can do the work.

This is not what most people want to hear.
Internal tai chi skills cannot be purchased. You must use your mind and your body. And you must practice.


What is stress?

Stress is a condition of anxiety caused by the inability to cope with a situation.
A person feels to be under pressure and they become upset.
They are often encouraged to see themselves as being a failure when the pressure becomes too much.

Modern living is directed to a large extent by business and money.
Companies regard everything as a commodity to be exploited and often apply this same attitude towards people.


Under pressure

In our tai chi we regard partner work as stress management.
You are faced with situations that test your ability to remain loose and relaxed at all times.
The training develops a growing awareness of your own body, mind and emotions.
Composure is paramount.
Simple activities encourage the student to become lost in the event rather than planning and worrying.

Tai chi requires the student to respond calmly to the demands of the moment, to be sensitive to the relationship they have with the world around them.


Common solutions

The usual antidote to stress is relaxation.
Some people take up exercise, go on holiday, take prescription drugs, overeat or drink alcohol.
Sometimes, solutions are simply distractions and fail to deal with the stress at all.

None of these 'solutions' really addresses the problem, which is the inability to cope.


Rest & relaxation

Rest is not the same as relaxation.

Whilst relaxation can take many forms, rest is more straightforward.
When you stop doing altogether, you rest.

An example of rest is sleep.

Tai chi chuan exponents

You may encounter many different people in a tai chi school.
The martial path has 6 tiers:
  1. Student
  2. Lineage disciple
  3. Instructor
  4. Expert
  5. Master
  6. Grandmaster
Every practitioner begins at the first level.
Levels 2-6 require a much deeper degree of commitment and practice, and will not suit most people's lifestyle.
It may be useful to determine what level an instructor has reached.



If you really want to see the world around you, you need to be present.

Being caught up in thoughts, opinions, beliefs and ideas is not so good.
The mind needs to stop judging, assessing, evaluating, comparing and measuring.

Simply be here and now.

Tai chi master

Mastering tai chi requires the following:

• A lifelong commitment to the furtherance of the art
• Spontaneous demonstration of every and any aspect of the art
• The ability to train other people to become tai chi instructors
• An embodiment of the principles outlined in the Tai Chi Classics
• Highly accurate rendition of every exercise/form/drill/application
• Extensive knowledge of every facet of every subject in the syllabus i.e. 'jing'
• An in-depth understanding of every facet of the exercise/form/drill/application
• How the exercise/form/drill/application links to other aspects of the curriculum
• The ability to dismantle and explain how and why the different components operate
• Grace, ease, subtlety, sensitivity, nimbleness, appropriateness, simplicity are all a given
• The willingness to train disciples to acquire every aspect of the teaching and perpetuate the art themselves
• Unselfconscious, skilled and utterly effective application of the art in combat employing chin na, jing and shuai jiao
• The ability to develop, improve and deliver a thorough, fully differentiated syllabus suitable for all ability levels and all ages
• The ability to dismantle and explain how and why every form posture operates and how it can be applied in at least 7 different ways
• Comprehensive theoretical knowledge and the ability to discuss and explain how taoism, martial theory and actual practice all tie together
• The ability to apply the tai chi principles (yielding, stickiness, peng, jing, composure, connection, 4 ounces etc) in every situation with absolute ease and certainty


Lessons are for...

Lessons are for tuition, corrections and partner work. Practice should be done at home, between lessons.

Red belt

A student is awarded their final dan belt (red) when they have completed the advanced syllabus.



Strain slowly leads to damage over time.

Prolonged imbalance can result in injury as the small strains gradually wear away at the body.
Like cracks, they cause very subtle damage.

Most people impose very slight strain on their bodies all day long.
Hunching over a computer.
Sitting badly.
Reaching to do something rather than stepping closer.


The Power of Internal Martial Arts by Bruce Frantzis


Writing something down does not make it so.
Language and books attempt to solidify reality, to capture the complexity of existence in words.
Can this be done?
Truth is too vast and complex to be verbalised. It is everything that is happening simultaneously, everywhere, all at once.

Knowledge is profoundly flawed. By its very nature it is partial and incomplete.

Once we see that information is simply a pointer indicating the way/the direction, we can treat it appropriately.
Rather than live in awe of knowledge we must see it as it is: limited.

Words detailing the knowledge and skills of long-dead tai chi people do not capture any facet of how that person performed the art.
Narrative is dead. tai chi is alive. It is made manifest by the living, breathing, changing person.


Fa jing Peter

Peter was obsessed with the idea of fa jing.

He was utterly stiff and unaware of it and so desperate to “fa jing” somebody.

He’d pick a move at random and ask me to fa jing it for him so that he could see how the body mechanics worked.

Every lesson involved a battle to master fa jing. I never figured out why…