Personal trainer?

Your instructor is not a personal trainer. They are not in 'the service industry'.
They are not obligated to please you or give you what you ask for.

Tai chi cannot be taught piecemeal. You cannot pick and choose how and what to study.

Instructor levels

There are 5 levels of Tai Chi Instructor in the UK these days:

  1. Tai Chi for Health & Fitness Teacher
    - 10 years experience
    - these are the majority
  2. Tai Chi Chuan Instructor
    - equivalent of 3rd dan black belt in any martial art
    - 10 years experience
    - these people are less common
  3. Tai Chi Expert
    - 20 years experience
    - 10,000 hours tai chi chuan practice
    - 10 years teaching experience
    - fewer to be found
  4. Tai Chi Master
    - 30,000 hours tai chi chuan practice
    - 20 years teaching experience
    - pretty rare
  5. Tai Chi Grandmaster
    - extremely rare

Peter Southwood has graded Sifu Waller as being a Tai Chi Expert based upon his practice quality and experience.


Adapt, change, improvise

Intelligence is all about awareness. About seeing and moving with what is happening.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

(Charles Darwin)

In self defence, it is not enough to learn by rote and then churn out techniques.
This simply will not work in reality.
You need to proceed with no techniques, no formulas, no methods.

Intelligence is not about planning or being prepared in advance.
It is about 'thinking on your feet', making the best use of what is available and being capable of instantaneous change.
Appropriateness is entirely contingent upon your ability to keep adapting, changing and improvising.
You do what is necessary, and you keep on changing as the situation demands.



Those who lack wisdom are convinced that they are truly awake;
they think they understand what is happening;
they think that the king is really the king,
and the servants are really servants.

(Chuang Tzu)


Security & confidence

Self defence is the practical application of your art. This means that you should be capable of handling:
  1. Punches
  2. Kicks
  3. Grapples
  4. Multiple opponents/gangs
  5. Armed assailants
  6. Unexpected attacks
  7. Going to the floor
It is necessary to maintain composure, stay calm and apply a wide variety of pragmatic skills in combat.

These skills cannot be learned overnight.
You need them to work spontaneously and comfortably.
You must pressure-test them with different situations and variables.


The instructor does not exist to please the student.
Their role is to teach the system, and to re-shape the student into somebody capable of performing the art.

The student is incapable of seeing where this journey will lead or what steps are relevant and necessary.



The self defence approach taught by Sifu Waller aims to incapacitate the attacker.
We are not interested in 'beating' anyone up or winning contests.
Self defence is all about escaping injury, not causing it.

If you can escape without inflicting pain, that is good. You have nothing to prove to anyone.
Self defence is not about payback or vengeance.


Finding out for yourself

Figuring things out for yourself is an important component in learning.
An intelligent mind does not have to be 'told'.

You should have the capacity to make connections and associations, have insights and discover things for yourself.


Learning from mistakes

People frequently fail to learn from their mistakes. They just keep on doing the same thing again and again and again.
There is far more to intelligence than acquisition. We must be alert.

If something does not work, it is necessary to determine why it failed and try something else.
This capacity to change is a key factor.
A dull mind is doomed to repeat the same error continually. An intelligent mind adapts and moves on.



Learning is a complicated process.

People tend to think of learning in a very formal way. They go to school, college or university and they learn.
Or they are taught something at work.

Setting time aside in order to learn is a wasteful use of our brain. Ideally, we want to be learning all day every day.
This is not about making time to study. Or 'bettering yourself'. It is about absorbing things informally.
Instead of sitting down and studying, we can learn things constantly - by interacting, by observing.

You do not even need to try.
There is a difference between looking seeing, listening and hearing.
A healthy mind is like a sponge. It learns constantly. It is passive but receptive.

Learning is not simply proceeding from a condition of 'not knowing' to 'knowing'.
That is merely acquisition, the collecting of information.
What good is that?



Boycott Christmas?

If you have no desire to waste hundreds of pounds on pointless gifts - in a celebration of greed and obedience - then you could boycott Christmas altogether...

Is boycotting Christmas the answer?

Well, it is one option. But there are others.

Why not consider a return to the essence of Christmas?

Give to those who are genuinely suffering and in need.
Give freely and without any need for gratitude or recognition.

Re-discover Christmas through your kindness and your generosity...


Letting go of anxiety

What is anxiety?
Is it not a state of worry in which the mind considers various future possibilities and attempts to avoid problems by anticipating what will happen?
Let go of anxiety.
Worry comes from fear of failure.
If you fail, so what?
What is the worst thing that can happen?
Be spontaneous.
Be alert and alive, capable of moving in any direction without anticipation.
Respond to what is happening in the world, not to the worries of your mind.



Whether an application works or not depends entirely upon whether it is the right thing to do at the time.
If you think about what to do, it is already too late.
After practising form applications and drills, the student must forget everything in the face of an attack and just move.
The body will know what to do.


Your own study and experience, during which you ponder silently in your own mind, is the main source of improvement.

 (Yang Jwing-Ming)



The role of qigong in the internal martial arts

Taijiquanbaguazhang and xingyiquan use forms to practice combat movements, build strength and gain agility.
The forms are highly intricate, with many different levels of skill.

Yiquan (mind fist)/dachengquan (the great accomplishment) - an offshoot of xingyiquan - does not use forms.
Instead, it uses static standing qigong postures in lieu of form.

Xingyiquan uses form(s) for power development.
Dachengquan uses standing qigong.
See the difference?

What should a tai chi school do?The answer is somewhat self evidentisn't it?
Taijiquan is not dachengquan.
It uses forms, not standing qigong postures.
Read The Tai Chi Classics... There is no mention of standing qigong but a whole lot of information about movement.



If you slouch and the instructor told you not to slouch, most likely you would over-compensate.
This now creates a new problem; equally as bad as slouching.

Habits are deeply ingrained.
When wrong feels right, your own nervous system will provide unreliable information.
You gauge how your body feels in terms of what is familiar, rather than what is correct.



To learn, a person must let go of what they already know and be prepared to embrace the unknown.
Everything that you know is in the past. The unknown cannot be known.

Learning must begin by letting go.
There is nothing to be afraid of; it is natural to be uncertain, to have doubt, to be ignorant.


7th dan

A 7th dan exponent wears a red belt with a black changshan.


Corrections are not criticism.

An instructor corrects the student because they care about the student's progress.
Suggestions, possibilities and alternatives all serve to broaden your horizons and open the mind to new possibilities.
A reminder encourages the student to remember the basics, to focus upon the underlying

The student should be grateful when corrected, because the correction offers an opportunity for change, for improvement.



The training methods taught in class were designed to gently encourage you to use your mind and body in a different way.
Your existing habits will actually impede you.
Instead of performing an exercise comfortably, you will find the drill awkward... until you relax and do something unfamiliar.
Slowly, you learn to recognise the benefit of moving in the internal way.

Obviously, this process takes time.
It also requires the student to engage physically and mentally with the art.



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.



This 'disconnected' approach is also evident in our educational system which still over-emphasises examination results at the expense of real learning. Our children are fed vast quantities of discrete and often unrelated information which they must parrot back on demand. They are drilled and judged on their performance in a series of disconnected topics.

(Michael Gelb)


Being corrected

One of the obstacles facing a student is the experience of being corrected.
A good instructor can easily illustrate how one methods works and how another method does not.
It is their duty to help you to recognise the difference.


How can you do right when everything you do and feel is wrong?

This is a good question.
The trick is to relax; physically, psychologically and emotionally.
Relaxation will not remove your bad habits, but it will help your mind and body become more receptive to change.


Niwa (pure place)

The training hall is a place where you can relax, have fun and learn.
It is not a place of violence and machismo.

The challenge of learning tai chi chuan removes conflict, macho urges and aggression.
A student learns how to move in a graceful, balanced, harmonious way whilst maintaining composure at all times.


Spiritual component

Tai chi chuan practice does possess a spiritual component.
This may be experienced through studying taoism and zen, along with meditating, and practicing qigong, the form and application.

An earnest student of tai chi chuan becomes calmer, more harmonious.
They have a sense of deep connection with all things.

Individual priorities

Not everyone wants to commit themselves to weekly lessons and daily practice. Nobody says that you should.
It is important to do what feels right for you.

Similarly, you must not resent the progress of others in the class who are dedicated and skilled.

Each student is free to proceed at a pace of their own choosing.
If you want to attend once or twice a month, that is fine providing you accept that you will need plenty of revision and your progress will be slow.


Form application: one posture

We look at one posture of the form at a time, with attention upon the ‘power’ component. How the body movement reveals martial possibilities.

Visualise attacks, and potential counters. Pay attention to timing, distance and positioning.

Do not change the posture to suit an application.

Do not be hampered by thinking that the final position is the posture.

Do not distort your new awareness by exaggerating the posture during form practice.

Remember that form application is not about self defence.


Train as often as you can manage

Concentrated practice in the early stages of an endeavour dramatically improves the value of future practice.

(Michael Gelb)



How long does it take to learn to play the guitar? How many lessons are needed to speak Japanese? Obviously it depends upon your purpose.

 Do you want to be the next Segovia or Clapton, or just to play a few simple tunes? Do you intend to translate haiku, or are you simply preparing for a two-week vacation?

 Although the skill of your teacher and your talent level will certainly influence your progress, the duration and intensity of your study will be determined ultimately by the level of expertise that you seek.

 (Michael Gelb)


I am writing to say how inspiring I find your website and blog. Calm and inspiring.
 I only found it last week but I hope to be a regular visitor from now on.



Body trauma

Our reaction to disturbing events throws our bodies into chronic imbalance. We tend to hold the 'memory' of a traumatic experience in a particular part of the body. This muscular memory in time becomes part of the total pattern and is incorporated into an individual's use of himself.
 (Michael Gelb)


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


Getting it right?

Students occasionally ask: "When will I get it right?" or "Is this right?" after only a few short months of training.
This may seem like a reasonable question. 

Unfortunately, the student is yet to realise that they are missing about 99% of the syllabus.
Given that there is still so much to learn, how can even the most simple exercise be correct?
Everything must be refined.
Again and again and again and again.

This process of correction and refinement may seem tedious to a new starter but it actually becomes enjoyable as you progress.
Students want to be corrected.
They want to improve their training.


Workshops & private lessons

Workshops are an excellent way to receive corrections. Smaller groups mean more time spent with the teacher.

Private lessons entail extensive tuition and thorough ongoing assessment.
It is very difficult to hide faults in your practice when training directly with the instructor.



At some stage a diligent student may become capable of self-correction.
This is a major step forward in terms of progress.

It does not mean that correction is unnecessary.
Rather, it indicates that the student has begun to take responsibility for the quality of their own practice.
They are now capable of determining to some extent what is correct.

Awareness, self-evaluation and the ability to see other possibilities is essential.
The ability to self-correct will speed-up the learning process.



Attention is very different from what is usually called concentration.

 Concentration is usually associated with a state of over-tension manifested by a furrowed brow and interference with breathing, almost as though one were trying to hold everything in place so as to be able to focus totally on a certain aspect of one's surroundings.

 (Michael Gelb)



The straight sword (jian/tai chi sword) is the main weapon for the expert to learn.
The form is lengthy, detailed and demanding.
Once learned, it must also be mirrored.
Students begin with a wooden sword, then work onto a lightweight steel blade, and finish with a real sword (unsharpened).

The expert also learns how to apply fundamental drills against a knife.


Students practice broadsword drills and the sabre form.
This heavy weapon offers a notable workout.

It develops upper body strength, whole body movement and wrist flexibility. Students learn how to extend their energy through the blade.


No corrections

Students who fail to receive corrections throughout the syllabus inevitably go astray.
This cannot be avoided.

Emphasising the wrong material, misunderstanding the significance of certain principles... inaccuracies... slowly it all crumbles to dust.
A slight error grows over time and leads to a monstrous deterioration.

Only the instructor can see the entirety of the curriculum, and see how it all fits together and operates.

A small error in principle at the beginning of training will have greater consequences as time goes on.

 (Yang Jwing-Ming)


Bad posture

Many runners run with extremely bad posture.
Their elbows are stiff and locked (often raised)... shoulders are lifted... the body is stooped... and weight is bearing heavily down into the knees.

This would be bad posture for any form of exercise.
It causes serious fatigue and adverse wear and tear on the body.



Although most people seem to believe that they understand what proper posture is, they generally apologise for not having it themselves.

 (Michael Gelb)


New starters work through the first 8 qigong exercises.

Lessons are divided into: 30 minutes qigong, 30 minutes form and 30 minutes partner work.


A healthy brain

Our syllabus challenges the brain in a wide variety of ways: promoting neuroplasticity.
Students are required to develop their memories, biomechanical sensitivity, spatial awareness and coordination.
There is a study component to the class which enables the individual to reflect, contemplate... and gain a deeper understanding.


On edge?

Most of us experience a sense of being 'on edge' or jumpy. This is really a habitual over-reaction to our environment. One way of deepening your understanding of this is to experiment with habitual patterns of reacting to a familiar stimulus, such as a door-bell or a telephone ringing.

 (Michael Gelb)



Every posture has its nature, meaning and purpose, and must be researched and studied before it can be really understood.

 (Yang Jwing-Ming)



There is more to life than earning money, buying things and seeking prestige.
What good are the 'finer things of life' when your health is poor and you feel stressed all the time?
Many people live unbalanced lives.


Sifu offers baguazhang to the keener beginner...
Approach cautiously.
Bagua is great fun but also terrifying and utterly confusing for the attacker.

Baguazhang involves a lot of shuai jiao and chin na; and both of these skills are extremely arduous on the body.
Shuai jiao allows you no time to prepare yourself or breakfall.
You just hit the floor.
Chin na involves joint manipulation, seizing and painful strikes to sensitive points.

Shuai jiao and chin na coupled with the weird angles and spiralling associated with bagua produce a pretty dangerous training regime.
Tensing-up only makes things worse.
There are some things that you simply cannot control. Bagua falls into this category.

Yes, train it early if you want to, but bear in mind that you need to complement this with a very serious qigong routine.
Look after your body.
Without strong progress through the mainstream syllabus, doing bagua is foolish.



Some schools of taijiquan regard the discipline as mere choreography. Students are taught a pattern and then another pattern. They skitter across the surface of taijiquan without ever looking beneath the ice.

What they would see might just shatter their ignorance. The immense complexity of the art is astounding. There are not enough years in a lifetime to truly understand all aspects of the system.


Poor health

Ask yourself:
Do you sleep well?
Are you clumsy?
Is your life hurried and rushed?
Do you have time for yourself?
Is your back aching or stiff, especially around the base of the neck and the shoulders?
Are your moods erratic?
Do you get headaches a lot?

People come to accept the lack of balance in their lives and do not imagine that there can be another way.

Alternative health

Going to the gym, running and swimming is not for everyone - tai chi chuan offers an alternative.
The training is not physically demanding at first but gradually grows in difficulty as you progress.
All you need is motivation.


Violence is unnecessary

We believe that self defence should be taught in an environment of fun and mutual respect.
People are more likely to be laughing than wincing in pain. They are too busy enjoying the cleverness of taoism and tai chi chuan.

Nobody is paying to get beaten up.



Everyone who starts tai chi chuan approaches the art with some sort of baggage: whether physical or psychological.
The habitual actions and thoughts, the misconceptions, preconceptions and expectations are all present from the very first lesson.

Shedding the accumulated impediments of a lifetime will be an arduous but rewarding experience.
Like dropping a rock you never knew you were carrying.


Finding your centre

It is common for people to over-commit themselves, to do too much.

We encourage people to find their centre, to become integrated and calm.
Students begin to see things differently and the benefits extend throughout their lives.

You can find peace in the simplest of activities.


Barriers will fall

A beginner must set aside conceit, competition and violence.
You focus upon play. You lighten-up. You realise that the class is a fun place to be.
You cease to be fearful and uptight. You begin to let-go and relax. You start to behave more like yourself.

This process of letting-go usually takes people a few weeks.


The acknowledgement

The instructor provides the student with an acknowledgment of succession, along with photographs posed in the traditional manner.
Other private gifts will also be exchanged.
It is important to note that the acknowledgment is conditional and that all gifts and proofs of succession are conditional.

Breathing room

Removing the unnecessary creates space and freedom.
You have room to move, to breath.
To be.


Stimulate your brain

You are required to explore, to think, to discover and to practice.
Our syllabus is complicated in content but simple at heart. You must engage with it fully if you want to claim the art as your own.
We will give you that chance. But don't worry. There is no pressure.


"I don't have time to practice"

People make time to watch TV but they do not exercise.

Setting time aside to practice is a matter of choice.
Everyone has the same number of hours in their day. You choose how to spend those hours.
No one is short-changed.

Playing the victim is pointless. You have a choice.
If you do not want to practice, be honest with yourself.



When things are left alone, they settle of their own accord.
People become silent, calm and still.

Your body will do the same if you let it.



The benefit of strenuous practice lies in an enhanced ability to see all things as they really are.

 (Dave Lowry)



All movement is generated using the entire body.
This removes any need for flamboyance.
Subtle curves, spirals and stickiness - combined with a skilful use of peng - provide the necessary in-roads to penetrate defences and incapacitate the attacker.

Every action involves every body part moving as a combined network of strength.
This provides a pliable, yet powerful means of utilising the body in combat and everyday life.

To accomplish this, a great deal of internal strength must be cultivated.
Patience, practice and long hours of dedicated work over many years is required.

Buying a sword (1) - waster

Begin with a wooden sword (waster).
This will give you an initial feel of the weapon and can be used in partnered drills safely. 


Social events

There are a couple of social events each year that couples/friends can attend.

Meeting people out of class can really help you to get along with one another.
We are not interested in competitiveness and rivalry. We want fun, mutual respect and friendship in class.

More weapons being revealed

During the last 12 months Sifu has widely demonstrated all of his weapons forms to students. He has previously withheld these from students until they reach the required grade.

What has changed?

Leigh, Sylvia, Jackie and myself have all shown a real enthusiasm for the weapons training; prompting Sifu to be more eager to share.

Also, he has sought to whet the appetite of the keener student with glimpses of what is to come.

As with so much of our syllabus, Sifu has no reason or incentive to show future material to beginners. What would be the point? We couldn't do those forms yet. To be shown more advanced material as a taste of things to come is an exctiting opportunity afforded the keener student.


Art moves through 3 stages:
  1. New
  2. Classical
  3. Baroque
Many modern tai chi forms are baroque; separated from functionality and true purpose.
Not in our school.
There are no wasted movements. No crowd-pleasing displays.
The art is 'classical': simple, direct, focussed and effective in combat.

Steal my art

Stuart Alve Olsen’s book Steal My Art is about his experiences learning tai chi chuan from T T Liang.

Liang would not simply give the art away to people.
He expected his students to be like thieves: sneaky, cunning, observant and resourceful.

Sifu Waller uses this same attitude.
We provide detailed lessons, a website and handouts. But these things do not contain the complete art.



I know from my own experience that the master knows you and each of his pupils much better than we knows ourselves. He reads in the souls of his pupils more than they care to admit.

(Eugen Herrigel)

Art of War

When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of its momentum; when the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey; it is because of timing.

(Sun Tzu)


Nobody is perfect

You cannot force progress in tai chi chuan. To even try is self-defeating.
Remember what you can. Practice as little or as often as you want to. Decide for yourself.
Let it unfold as it will.

Give up trying to master anything. Drop the images and fantasies you harbour.
Perfection is a condition of untouched naturalness.
It cannot be achieved through any form of trying or doing.
Let-go of your ambitions and relax.



Composure is emotional balance.
The ability to remain emotionally stable in the event of crisis or stress can be a valuable quality.

We encounter many things in life that might upset a person. Tai chi chuan teaches us to slow down and remain calm.

Wanting to be a better instructor

It is important for an instructor to understand the art well enough so that they can perform if effortlessly themselves and also be capable of dismantling it so that someone else can reach that ability level.

Sifu Waller passed a post-graduate teacher training course in order to understand how to teach.

There is so much more to teaching than being able to do the material yourself.
You must be capable of breaking the material down.
The syllabus needs to be offered piece by piece so that the knowledge grows incrementally and the student can understand it for themselves.


The advanced level is for people who have committed a significant chunk of their lives to the study of the art.
Teacher, scholar, innovator.

To reach this stage, all aspects of the syllabus must be comprehensively understood.
Every lesson should involve countless connections and associations from throughout the curriculum.
The exponent should be capable of spontaneously teaching any level of the syllabus without preparation or preamble.

The art should be at their fingertips: both theoretically and demonstrably.

A person training at this level must pass on what they have learned.
They should also add to the wealth of knowledge with their own insights, discoveries and contribution.


This higher dan grade is for instructors.

To become an expert, a student must show skill across a wide range of topics and an ease of application.
The baguazhang palm changes are now applied extensively, chin na is explored thoroughly and jing is finally given precision and power.

The large san sau 2-person set and 'pao chui' form offer a significant learning curve; with tai chi chuan versus tai chi chuan.
A high degree of sensitivity and agility is required.

The straight sword is examined in detail.

All aspects of the training are infused with neigong; bringing qigong to conclusion.
The student demonstrates significantly greater skill with form and self defence application.
Many drills are dismantled and re-examined, and the entire syllabus must be revised and reconsidered.

Reading and study is now much more in-depth.


Negative emotions

Negative emotions are biologically harmful and can make you ill.
When you become angry, your body is flooded with hormones and adrenaline; you enter a 'fight or flight' mode which is only intended for extreme situations in which your life is endangered.
'Fight or flight' puts your body under duress.

Tai chi chuan encourages a person to change the way they think in order to reduce the likelihood of becoming angry.


In order to escape from danger, one need only take the line of least resistance, just as liquid spills from a vessel over the lowest point of its rim.
Concentrate only on escaping.

(I Ching)



New starters often believe what they see in the movies. It looks so exciting...
They want this for themselves.
The student expects to walk away with awesome skills within a few weeks. After all, the man on YouTube can do it... why can't they?

Unfortunately, the student is typically unrealistic. They seldom consider:
  1. Their own level of fitness
  2. Their capacity to learn
  3. The scope of their ambitions
  4. How much work lies ahead of them
  5. How long it will take to learn the desired skills
Learning a martial art is not like buying a product in a shop.
You make it happen. You do the work.
Not the instructor.

It is common for a new starter to commence class with excited ambitions, only to falter almost immediately.
Martial arts schools expect a high turnover of beginners.
Few students have the resolve to endure the journey.
Most people never make it past the first step.

Buying a sword (2) - lightweight steel

 Try a lightweight metal sword once you are familiar with the wooden one.

 Do not invest in an expensive weapon at this stage.
 There is nothing more embarrassing than a low-ability exponent wielding an expensive blade.

 Trying a heavy sword prematurely may lead to injury. Be patient.


Play & explore

Yes, people are roughed up a little. People are struck. People are taken to the floor.
Martial arts cannot be practiced without physical contact taking place.
Yet, no one takes offence. No one bullies. And no one is embarrassed, hurt or made to feel useless.

The mood of the class is one of fun and exploration.

Instead of strutting around pretending to be Bruce Lee, our students are like scientists; amazed by how the art enables them to evade and counter with such seeming
The simplicity and the wider implications of the tai chi chuan cause wonder, not fear.

Friday fast

Fasting on a Friday helps us to gain clarity and calm, shrink the stomach and reduce hunger cravings. It also detoxes the body.

We like to go without food from Thursday 6:30 PM approx through to Friday evening meal. We only drink filtered water: warm or room temperature. We put masking tape on the fridge and cupboard doors as a reminder.

Starting incorrectly

A form cannot be taught correctly to a beginner.
It is taught in accordance with the students ability to learn.

Beginners are physically incapable of the sophistication required to practice the form correctly, so a cruder version of the sequence is taught at first.

Once the exaggerated sequence has been learned, it can be made smaller and subtler.
Most movements will be altered as the student progresses and their body becomes more receptive.


Getting in your own way

I went on to find that the solution to many seemingly difficult tasks is not to 'try harder' but to leave oneself alone.

 (Michael Gelb)

External strength

'External' strength uses local muscular tension to perform an action.
The elbows and shoulders are involved. Typically, the stronger, faster person has an advantage.
If something fails to work, you just push harder.

Most martial arts use external strength. It is easy to learn and effective.



Many studies have proven that 'exuberant play' is the most effective learning medium.
Students are free to relax and explore at their leisure.

The paradoxical physics associated with tai chi chuan emphasises the importance of relaxing and letting-go.
Play encourages this.


The weapons forms, baguazhang and partnered drills found in our syllabus encourage nimble footwork.
Students become playful, agile and responsive.
Through sensitivity and listening skills they learn to adapt, change and improvise with ease.

There are three methods that we employ to effect the opponent:

  1. Chin na
    - cavity press
    - dividing the muscles
    - misplacing the bones
    - sealing the breath
    - seizing
  2. Jing
    - projections
    - striking
  3. Shuai jiao
    - escapes
    - floor work
    - take down
    - throwing
Our aim is not to advertise our intentions, so all movement must be immediate and spontaneous.


5 stages

There are 5 stages to learning any form:
  1. The pattern
  2. Internal strength
  3. Application
  4. Shen
  5. Natural
With the advent of tai chi sport forms emanating from modern China, many modern practitioners never proceed past stage 1.
Indeed, few people even realise that there is more to form than the outward show.

The sad part about this is that the pattern is essentially incorrect unless augmented by the other 4 stages.


The journey is unique to each individual.
We all come to the practice from a different place and have our own reasons for walking the path.

Those who persevere with the training gain a quiet sense of accomplishment.
An inner surety and confidence takes root.
Such people grow as their
art develops and continue a journey that will change every facet of their lives.
They achieve something remarkable each day, re-awakening an inner joy as they continue their training.



If you feel the need to force something, consider it further.
Force requires resistance, conflict.

Find the way of least resistance instead.
Learn to interpret situations appropriately, and move with the flow.

Form appearance

Sifu Waller's Yang Cheng Fu form looks very understated:
  1. Stances quite high
  2. Knees only slightly bent
  3. Reliance upon internal power
  4. Not much actual arm movement
  5. Waist movements no more than 45° turn
  6. Very subtle spirals, circles and angles - led by the centre
  7. Focus upon shen, one-pointedness and martial application

Buying a sword (3) - real sword

 As your strength increases and you become familiar with the form, explore a heavier weapon.
 If you can find an unsharpened blade, this is perhaps the wiser purchase initially.

 A genuine sword weighs between 1-2lbs; which is quite heavy when held in front of you.
 Compensating for the weight will require you to connect throughout your body.
 The blade makes it necessary to be both relaxed, alert and precise; you cannot afford to be cut.

 A good sword can cost quite a lot of money and needs to be handled skilfully and maintained carefully.
 The balance of a quality sword is entirely different from a  cheaper weapon.



Tai chi chuan is not going to cure every ailment but it will make you feel good.
Increased mobility, flexibility, sensitivity and balance contribute to making a person feel energised and happy.
This form of exercise offers an improved standard of living for people throughout their lives.

However, there is a catch and it is a pretty big one.

Your overall quality of life, health and wellbeing will dramatically improve for as long as you do the training.
If you stop practicing the art, the benefits will fade.



Sifu Waller had a kind of internal arts open-house in the late 80's/early 90's, with students from all kinds of martial arts calling at his house. He met them at work, in classes, in bookshops, at workshops. They came and they trained. Shaun Ullah converted his living room into a dojo of-sorts, complete with wallbag, heavy bag and weaponry. This was a time of great sharing and discovery, with Sifu Waller at the centre yet taking no credit.

(Michael Dutton)


"Sifu Waller's tai chi and bagua makes me think of this quote:

The equivalent process to seeking the "Holy Grail" in internal arts is the ability to move more slowly than your opponent and consistently win.

Slower speed that wins out requires three types of speed coming together simultaneously:

1. Timing.

2. The signals required to maintain some level of conscious power.

3. The ability to release the internal gears of your body, which, if they freeze up, can create a momentary mental gap that breaks the connection between you and your opponent.

This method is referred to in the tai chi classics in the form of a question:

"How is it possible that an old man can defeat a group of younger men?"

Obviously, elderly men, even the most talented, are not physically capable of moving at the speed of young men. Virtually, by definition, the elderly move with slowness, and yet those old men internal arts masters by slipping in between the gaps, are justifiably well-known for defeating younger and faster men.

(Bruce Frantzis)

No matter what I do, he defeats me. He moves slower than I do and yet I am incapacitated immediately."



A martial art should already be 'complete'

Unlike fighting, self defence requires the student to finish the opponent off decisively.
There can be no drawn-out combat.

The exponent must be capable of rapidly, spontaneously switching tactics and skills.
Trading blows is time-consuming.
It is necessary to adapt, change and improvise constantly.

Skill in all three areas of combat are necessary: chin na, jing and shuai jiao.
In self defence, the situation is unpredictable and there are no rules.
You must incapacitate the attacker immediately.



Your life constitutes a one-way journey from birth to death. The beauty of life lies in its fleeting nature.
In Japan, the cherry blossom symbolises the poignant realisation that we will bloom for only a short time.
Our mortality should not be ignored.

Rather than pine for more life, be inspired to use what you have, to live it well.
If you consider your life to be passing every day, do you really want to waste it watching television each night?
If you are idle and bored, 'killing time' - ask yourself why? Every moment takes you closer to the end.
Make those precious minutes count for something meaningful. When you die, will you have regrets?


Peter Southwood's tips #4 3 times

High repetition may be a favoured by many martial artists but it can lead to a serious lack of concentration.
The practice can become sloppy and careless.

When drilling any form, martial drill or set, the recommendation is to simply do it 3 times through.
Each time wants to be a little slower than the previous repetition, or a little faster, depending on what you are emphasising that day.


If you are seeking gratification, you will naturally find what you desire, but do not let us call it truth.




Everyone is different.
Everyone has their own agenda.
Some people are easy to work with, whilst others are not.

One student may try hard but continually fail.
Another might be totally lazy but have a knack for the art.
Occasionally, a student neglects their training and blames the instructor for their lack of progress.

An instructor must find a way to help everyone fulfil their potential.



Focus on a topic, learn it and then move onto the next one.
Be patient with yourself.



A complete martial art is not about fighting.
Therefore, the strategies and tactics are geared towards completion of the event.
Force is never blocked.
Struggling is circumvented.
If something does not work, it is immediately discarded.

An entirely different mentality is required.

The student must think about the art as a martial art, not as a sport.
The aim is to evade and escape, not to win prizes or accolades.
The opponent may attack from an unexpected angle, they may be armed, they may not be alone and they will not stop when you have had enough.

Your repertoire must be varied and extensive. Your skills must be honed and comfortable.
Students must use their bodies intelligently and skilfully, employing optimal body mechanics to ensure the best 'effort to reward' ratio.

Form collecting

If all you learn is a lot of forms, you just become a good dancer.   

(James Wing Woo) 


Set realistic learning goals

Each grade involves only a limited number of topics, exercises and drills.
Aim to pass a couple of new items every time you grade.
Look to existing skills.
Correct any mistakes, remove gaps in your knowledge.


Meaningful form

The forms must be made alive and useful.

 (Yang Jwing-Ming)



Most people do not like the idea of exercising every day. They feel cheated because the body deteriorates and ages naturally.

The leisurely-oriented attitudes of modern life is responsible for many of the problems we are now encountering.
We are rearing a world of spoiled, lazy children and child-like adults.
Easy is not necessarily better.

Obesity, depression and mental illness are on the rise globally, as people sit back in their chairs and do less each year.
In some cases - cleaning, laundry, ironing, washing dishes, gardening are all being done by other people.
Time is freed up, but to do what?



Correction requires humility and the earnest recognition that you have much to learn.
It can be tempting to resent your instructor.
After all, they have the skills, they have the knowledge and they make it all look so easy.

But remember; those skills were earned by hard work, money, time and sacrifice.
Skill cannot be given. It must be taken.

Your instructor is giving you the benefit of their own experience.
They are offering numerous opportunities for learning.
Are you stealing their art?



Impatient people push for results.
Yet, who are they really pushing, who is suffering the pressure of their impatience?
They are.

Pushing is a form of exertion.


Most schools have some sort of class etiquette. This may seem a bit stuffy or formal.
Yet, rules are necessary in a class.
It is easy to get carried away. It is easy to be injured or cause injury.

By remaining composed, loose and friendly - safety can be encouraged.
Play, rather than fight.
Aggression has no place in our school.


Your safety, their safety

The advantage of boundaries is that everyone benefits.
You are protected from harm.
Other people are protected from you harming them.

Without clearly defined boundaries, a martial arts class cannot operate safely.


Tai chi

Tai chi is about changing our internal environment so that life becomes a joy to live and not a burden to drag into old age and death. It is about helping your body to let go of the past and your mind to slow down and cease churning. Tai chi encourages your internal focus to shift toward cherishing and remembering all that is wonderful in your life. It predisposes you to look forward to ways to make life better, rather than remembering how unsatisfying it has been.

Most importantly, tai chi gives us the ability to realise a greater human potential in ourselves and to have genuine compassion for others. Tai chi, with its gentle strength, moves us closer to feeling more truly alive.

(Bruce Frantzis)



The role of the instructor in a martial arts class is crucial.
In addition to teaching the class, they often write the syllabus, run the school and decide how to approach the art.
Their personality is imprinted on everything they do.

Unlike a school teacher - who implements someone else's curriculum and follows someone else's rules - a martial arts instructor is more like the captain of a ship.



Being courteous to other people ensures a more pleasant training environment.
People are less prone towards abusive behaviour, swearing or insults.

The slight formality of a martial arts class encourages good character.

You behave with dignity and show respect to people who are placing their trust in you.


Chinese new year preparation is a time for buying new clothes and getting your h



Chinese new year preparation is a time for buying new clothes and getting your appearance tidied up.



Qigong is intended to condition your body, to develop stamina and endurance.
But be wary of trying too hard.

If you find that your body is aching considerably and you feel really tired, you are doing the exercise incorrectly.
Let-go of your tension and relax into the posture.
Imagine that your arms are on strings or resting on something.



When your partner loses his root his mind will be scattered and confused, and this will provide you with a good opportunity to attack.

 (Yang Jwing-Ming)



Beginners wear themselves out training qigong and partner work with too much tension.
Remember to use only the minimal amount of
strength; use only what is necessary to hold your limb in place.
Anything more is wasted.


How does your partner/wife/husband address the instructor?

This is the protocol: non-class members/strangers should call my husband Mr Waller or Sifu Waller (unless they're personal friends).

A partner/spouse/family member of a student should call our instructor "Sifu" - just as a student would - because of the partner/spouse/family member being a class member.

In Chinese culture this is considered friendly because it acknowledges their indirect association with the school.


Disciplinary measures

It is rare for a martial arts school to impose disciplinary measures.
But they do need to exist in the event of misconduct.

If a student becomes unruly and refuses to follow instructions, everyone is put at risk.



It is important to remember that a martial arts class is not modern in nature.
When you enter the training hall, you must leave modern culture at the door.
You are partaking in a tradition that has continued for centuries.


Office life

Office life is fraught will a variety of health problems that stem from air conditioning, fluorescent lighting, flickering computer monitors, lack of fresh air and apathy.

Sitting at a desk all day is not good for your body and working at a computer is worse; especially a laptop.


You & the computer

The computer serves you, not the other way around.
Sit so that the monitor and keyboard are directly in front of you.

Make sure that the monitor is not too close.
You should not have to
stretch to use the keyboard or twist your torso to any degree.

When you feel bored, tired, restless, stiff or have sore eyes - get up and take a
If your employer will not allow you to get up, find out your rights.
The more tired you get, the more you neglect your body and poor posture will only tire you further.

Do not ignore your body; you need it beyond the


Martial tai chi

Karate or taijiquan?

Karate is an effective, dangerous martial art. But it is very different to taijiquan.
When you train taijiquan as if it were karate, you are no longer training taijiquan, you are training karate.

If you want to be good at taijiquan, you must train taijiquan.
You must utterly adhere to the taijiquan principles and every text/treatise/book inspired by taoism.

Whole-body movement

Your entire body - from the feet, legs and waist to the fingers - must work like a unit, and move as if threaded together, like a soft whip.

 (Yang Jwing-Ming)


Fasting is a traditional method of eliminating toxins and gaining spiritual clarity.
 But it must be approached with caution.

 How you begin a fast, how you break a fast and what you do during (or don't do) during a fast are all considerations.
 Fasting affects your body in quite significant ways.
 If you are interested in fasting, then do some research beforehand; find out if it is the right approach for you.

 During your fast, drink filtered water, avoid driving and try to rest.


Training for the first time

The main consideration is this: go slow and easy.
Do not push anything.
Do not force anything.

Allow things to happen nice and slowly.
Developing coordination, balance, martial insights and sensitivity will take time.



Rachel handles the registration of students in class and undertakes a limited degree of tuition.

She makes many suggestions pertaining to the organisation, procedures and practices in class.
Rachel is responsible for locating venues, filming, answering e-mails, running the Newcastle Tai Chi blog and YouTube pages.

Her creative input has resulted in many positive changes for the school.


How to become a lineage student:

  1. 3rd dan black belt
  2. At least 6 years of unbroken training with a given instructor
    - this should include both public & private classes
  3. Bai shi ceremony
    - the student makes a pledge in which they commit to preserving the art, training hard and learning all aspects of the curriculum
    - other conditions will also be met (relative to instructor/school)
    - the instructor embraces the student as part of their own family
  4. Study & practice
    - the real work now begins, with the lineage student training very hard to learn the remaining syllabus material
    - this period of study and tuition usually continues for the remainder of the instructor's lifetime