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?