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.