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.


Contracting & extending

If you fail to contract/extend, your striking limb will be flaccid and bounce-off.
There may be some risk of wrist injury.

If you exaggerate and tense-up, the strike will affect the opponent more but the strike will not penetrate.
Much of the force will feed back into you.

Most inexperienced people make a total mess of this and just tense-up. At that point, they are no longer training taijiquan.

The New Lao Tzu by Ray Grigg