Peter Southwood's tips #1 Little & often

Lengthy training sessions may suit some students, but many people have quite low attention span and find tai chi to be potentially boring.
Counter this by doing short stints and varying the work.

The average adult can typically only manage 40 minutes sustained practice without rest or variety.


Invisibility literally means to be unseen, unnoticed.
In modern times invisibility is associated with fictional stories involving magic cloaks or scientific devices.

In the martial arts it is about stealth and secrecy.



The framework must be accurate and strong.
Without the necessary angle and positioning, much of the power is lost and the student will tend towards tension in order to compensate.
It is important to test the posture (with a partner) to ensure structural stability and softness.
The aim is to be pliable like bamboo rather than brittle and rigid.
Adhere to the standard tai chi postural guidelines.

Why should an instructor train so hard?

Many people who teach an art of some sort find that they neglect their own practice, and focus instead upon their students.
This is foolish.

The Tao Te Ching teaches: Master self before attempting to master others.
As an instructor, if your own training is lax, you are not doing the art (or yourself) justice and your skills will be mediocre and unrefined.



A martial artist gains significant strategic advantage by remaining invisible.
When assailants do not know that you possess combat skills, they are not concerned by you.
They are apt to be over-confident.

Traditionally, the martial artist was trained to be modest and bland.



Modern culture encourages the individual to parade themselves publicly, to broadcast their skills and draw attention.
This is not what The Art of War and The 36 Strategies recommend.
It is not good to be noticed.

Anonymity is a common taoist theme.
By remaining humble and quiet, unremarkable and unnoticed, a person can proceed through life freely.
Drawing attention is perceived as being unwise because you cannot determine whether the attention is good or bad.


Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old

It is not necessary to follow the same approach as your teacher.
Many teaching methods are antiquated.
You may well find better ways to learn, apply and use the art.

But be careful.
Are you preserving the essence or are you losing it?



Signs of power

Skill is not some secret; it is evident in every movement, every nuance.
The untrained eye may not see, but the power can be manifested tangibly at any time.

Indications of power:
  1. Appropriateness
  2. Composure
  3. Ease
  4. Flow
  5. Grace
  6. Sensitivity
  7. Slowness
  8. Softness
  9. Smoothness
  10. Subtlety



External martial arts can be learned by pushing. The internal arts cannot.
The harder your push, the less progress you make.

Little and often is the key. Mild and easy. Nothing forced, nothing difficult.
Yes, your body must work hard... but it is your mind that leads the work. Start with your mind: it is your greatest tool and your biggest obstacle.

Softness, 4 ounces and pressure, internal strength, jing and martial strategy must be comprehended by mind and body working in harmony.


How to cultivate invisibility

Remember that your aim is not to make an impression.
You can accomplish this by looking at various ways to lessen your presence:

  1. Attire
  2. Deception
  3. Keep to yourself
  4. Possessions
  5. Slow
  6. Soft
  7. Sound
  8. Talk

Small san sau

Small san sau is a 2 person unarmed set. Street attacks versus tai chi. It was designed to encourage economy of movement. It employs postures from throughout section 1 of the Yang Cheng Fu form.

This challenging set is the first big hurdle at the beginning of the intermediate syllabus. Learning this set will enable a student to pass their 5th belt: blue belt (part 1).



16 treasures

 The 16 treasures are key skills that underpin the entire system.

No competition

We teach shuai jiao for self defence, drawing applications from the form.
There are no competitions, weight categories etc.

All students are expected to apply shuai jiao in self defence as they proceed through the syllabus.



It is easy to see taijiquan as being filled with secrets but this is not the case.
A students own incapacity to see actually prevents progress; there is no need to deliberately present obstacles.
Secrets are unnecessary.

The knowledge is there, but people do not see it.


Against a kick (borrowing)

A skilful application of peng is against a kick.
This can only be used when the kick is aiming to hit you above the waist.

Absorb the incoming force using peng - adjusting your body and bowing the back to store energy.
Release the stored energy vigorously using push.
Avoid any form of blocking.



I often quote tai chi instructor Sifu Waller, who has a great way of stating taoist principles succinctly. His website includes extensive writing about taoism and related subjects.
 (Dave Nicolette)


Learning takes time

Is taijiquan an arcane discipline, with inscrutable mystical roots - accessible only to the initiated?
Anyone can access the art, but you need to go somewhat deeper than just words.

You cannot reasonably expect to immediately understand the inner workings of taijiquan.
It takes time, a thorough program of study, and lots of practice over many years.


Weapons work in our curriculum

Sifu Waller is currently teaching:

· Knife drills
· Countering a knife
· Escapes/knife
· Chin na against a knife
· Improvised weaponry/knife
· Small stick drills
· Stick drills
· Broadsword drills
· 2 person cane form/drill
· Sabre form
· Staff form
· Walking stick form
· Straight sword form 

You can work your way through all of the weapons.


Hard-style attitudes

The problem with combat taijiquan schools is that they are often replacing weak tai chi for health & fitness with something worse: karate-style taijiquan.
It is difficult to see the sense of this. In attempting to solve one problem, they are merely creating another.

Taijiquan is not karate and should not be trained like a hard-style martial art.
Recognise the importance of passivity, of softness, of yielding.
These are not hard-style attitudes. They are fundamental taijiquan approaches.


Small circle

Practice your peng extensively against different types of attack.
Determine the necessary frame size-to-waist turn ratio in order to employ peng appropriately for your height/size and inclination.
Explore the effect of different considerations:

  1. 3-D
  2. 70/30 stance
  3. Waist to weighted foot relationship
  4. Range
  5. Angle of attack
  6. Type of attack
Ideally, you want to find and take the balance immediately upon contact. A very small waist turn will lead the attacker upwards, severing the root.



Without peng, the small san sau will not work.
You need inherent peng in every posture and manifest peng when counter-attacking.

The simple 'evade and attack' methodology of the small san sau makes it quite easy for a student to address peng from the onset.
There are no unpredictable attacks.
Correct countering will ensure ample opportunity to test peng.
If your peng is present you will immediately destabilise the attacker using the neutralising arm, and further their instability with the counter-strike.

The absence of peng will be evident through blocking and crumpling, and the use of unnecessary force.



Can you move without making footfalls?
Without rustling your clothing?
Without the content of your pockets jangling?
Can you avoid pushing the air in front if you?

Even if your footsteps are quiet, the vibration from your step can carry through the floor.
Be mindful of this.

Use every opportunity to practice being quiet.
Listen to your breathing and your movements, to your everyday habits. Do you clatter and bang, or are you silent?
Use external sounds to mask your own movements.
Practice constantly.

Try walking on different terrain.
See how different types of footwear serve to mask or advertise your presence.

Go to quiet places whilst the world is asleep and learn the meaning of quietude.


Broadcasting yourself

The need to broadcast stems from insecurity.
By marketing your lifestyle and accomplishments you are seeking approval and envy.

Resist the urge to parade your accomplishments.
Showing-off only attracts unwanted attention in the form of jealousy and resentment.
Chuang Tzu argues that it is foolish to advertise your wealth or your skills.


Small san sau: pace

Initially the set must be practiced very slowly.
Do not speed it up until you can perform the set without thinking or planning in advance.
Slowness encourages control.

Premature application against full-power strikes will only cause the defender to panic.
It will also promote unwanted postural tension.

Train slowly, carefully and thoroughly.
There is no need to deliberately increase the pace.
The set will get faster as you become more confident and your timing improves.



Few students who quit a class re-join again later. The reasons/excuses why they left often still exist.
You cannot step twice into the same river.

We only accept students back who left gracefully...



Versatility is the key to good self defence.
Choices, options, variables, possibilities, opportunities and nuances offer you creativity.

Self defence is not to be found in any form or drill.
They only represent material.

Your ability to defend yourself must transcend the lessons.
It must extend into your everyday life...


Mild stretches

Taoist yoga is a gentle way to exercise the body:

• Simple to perform
• Easy to learn
• Improves balance
• Stress-relief
• Encourages a calm mind and composed emotions
• Energises
• Does not strain the body
• Emphasis is placed upon allowing rather than forcing
• Improves skeletal alignment and poise
• Low-impact
• Can be practiced by people of all ages


New approaches to taijiquan must be considered in light of their purpose.
There is a danger of arrogance, naivety, impatience and vanity on the part of the inventor/teacher.
Is the teacher seeking to put their own personal stamp on the art?
Do they court controversy?
Are they advanced enough to determine how to improve the art?

Many people seek a shortcut to the skills of taijiquan.
Committing hours to mindful, patient, careful practice does not really sell the art to many modern students.
A snappier, hip shortcut may be widely appealing.

But one question remains: if you remove all the qualities that make the art taijiquan... is it still taijiquan?


Shaun Ullah

Shaun was a student of Peter Southwood for 3 years: training both privately and in weekly classes.
He trained at home (solo) for 2-3 hours every day.

Shaun became Sifu Waller's first indoor student in 1994.
He studied with Sifu Waller every morning of the year for 5 years, along with attending classes, workshops and seminars around the country.
He also practiced with a large number of students between lessons.

Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper


Bouncing Phil

Phil liked to bully the other students. He didn’t openly bully. It was a kind of sly bullying. He was really polite and friendly about it.

His voice was kind and thoughtful, sensitive. He was such a nice man but he loved to bully other students and would duck out the way when it came to demonstrations.

Once, after we’d all been working at throwing, Phil pretended that he’d already been thrown. He only wanted to give, not to receive.

It was a mistake to lie openly.

After he’d been thrown, one of Phil’s victims said, “Phil really bounced off the floor that time!”