In order to become skilled with a weapons form, you must have some sense of how to use it.

Beginners always train with lightweight sword, and this is necessary. However it can give the wrong impression to the student.
A lightweight sword (strictly speaking) is not a weapon.
If you bashed a wushu sword or a cheap steel sword against a real jian, the blade would bend and be immediately useless.
Flashy twirls and flourishes, and over-extended arms are impossible when the sword has some weight.

Cane and staff forms do not need to be trained with an oak staff.
The rattan stick is the weapon. It is tough, flexible, durable and fast.
Oak is slow, heavy and unwieldy.

If you want to practice sword forms with some sense of realism and work through the 5 stages, then you need to use a heavy weapon at some point.

Christmas feedback

Greetings Sifu Waller: I like your Xmas views.

Margot & I decided no presents for each other this year.
Well that is not strictly correct. I give Margot $210, she gives me $210.
We then pool the $420 & send it to India where a Tibetan Buddhist Monk's father will have an operation and regain his sight.

I think I am starting to get that Christmas feeling again.




Seek expert guidance from a trained professional

Do not entrust your wellbeing to an amateur.


Rise & shine - tai chi-style...

Sifu wakes with the sun and the birds and has no real need of an alarm clock.

He wakes with dynamo-like energy and is already training before I can pry my eyes open and consider the possibility of getting out of bed...

A lifetime of early mornings and nearly 40 years of martial arts training has programmed Sifu to rise and shine no matter the occasion. Sifu is so seldom ill that for him not to wake with zeal is a bad, bad sign indeed.


3 years to grasp the basics

Traditionally, at least three years of dedicated training were required before a student could be considered to have acquired a rudimentary knowledge of tai chi skills.

(Zhang Yun)


Not so Christian Christmas

If Christmas is intended to celebrate the birth of Christ, how come its a commercial holiday?

Jesus said, "Take everything you have and give it to the poor."

The modern Christmas is not very Christian.

Slow & boring?



Finding a tai chi class may sound like a simple enough proposition, but there are many considerations to take into account.

Many classes purport to be teaching tai chi, but are really offering tai chi-style exercise.
Often the instructor only knows a few warm-up exercises and a short sequence of movements.
They move their arms around and the class copies.

Synchronised arm waving is not tai chi. No matter how pretty it looks. Or how nice it feels. Or how popular the class is.

Choose your class carefully:


Key factors

Learn what the key factors are:
Apply these - as best you can - to every activity in class.


Time served?

Some martial arts award belts for 'time served'.
This is preposterous.
A beginner is a beginner no matter how many years they attend class.
Awarding a certificate of attendance is meaningless. It is not worth the paper it is written on.

If you want to move past the beginners grade then there is only one answer: pass belts and move on.


Bad tai chi

Not all tai chi will help your body.
Some classes are very badly taught and will actively damage your body.
Be careful when choosing a tai chi class; there are many well-meaning amateurs teaching these days.


Slow down

If you rush, you will make a mess of things.
Tai chi chuan is synonymous with slowness; keep this in mind when you practice.
Being slow enables you to notice things.

Your body will not adjust to new activities as quickly as you would like it to.
It is necessary to give yourself time, to be patient.

You cannot force an outcome.

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)



Partner work is an excellent way to develop the awareness required to feel and understand tai chi.
Exercises such as pushing hands can be practiced very softly so that the subtlest pressure and tension can be felt immediately.

There is no competition involved; no rivalry or aggression.
Students are primarily concerned with cultivating internal skill and maintaining appropriate body use.

Christmas approaches

The Western world goes mad with greed every Christmas. Why? What is the point?
If you must buy, why not buy from charities?


Flowing chin na

Once the principles are familiar, students will learn how to flow from one chin na to another.

The ability to flow from one chin na to another has distinct advantages:

  1. It enables you to persist with your intention of inflicting injury
  2. You remain sticky
  3. You maintain in control
  4. You demonstrate your skill
  5. You can inflict a wider variety of damage without risk of an effective counter



A new starter must learn how to relax their muscles and utilise skeletal alignment to their advantage.
Habitual muscular tension actively prevents optimal alignment.
Tense muscles lock the joints and impede natural, healthy skeletal use.

Letting-go of tension and trusting the skeleton requires a leap of faith, and here is where the difficulty lies.
The student must stop doing what is comfortable and familiar, and try something entirely new.

Hence the catch-22:
- in order to use the skeleton properly a person needs to relax and allow the joints to open and the spine to settle
- relaxation requires confidence and confidence assumes security
- the unfamiliar promotes insecurity/fear and fear keeps the body tense



What will you be doing on December 25th?
Will you be opening presents you don’t need, eating too much food and going through the motions for another year?
How about the people who cannot afford Christmas?

Very few people actually appreciate how wealthy they are and how much we take that wealth for granted.



It is common to see new students attempting to jump ahead: trying out more complex skills prematurely.
This may be the result of enthusiasm.
Or it may be impatience.

Whatever the cause it usually results in failure.

Skills take time to cultivate, explore and understand.
There are no quick fixes, no shortcuts, no sudden enlightenment.

The danger with ignoring the step-by-step learning process is that you begin to follow the dictates of your own ego, rather than the direction of the instructor.
You are imposing your own agenda.
What you value and regard as being important is unlikely to coincide with the values of your teacher.

Be simple and methodical.
Follow every exercise and drill step-by-step.
Do not deviate.
Do not add or remove anything from the instructions provided by your teacher.

If you were capable of doing a more complex application, you would have been shown it in detail.


What if you're small?

I'm small in stature and don't weigh a lot. This makes heavy weapons practice a problem.

The oak staff strains my shoulders, and the real jian and sabre used by Sifu Waller (at over 2lbs in weight) are unworkably heavy.

So, what do I do?



The opportunity

Sifu Waller offers every martial student the opportunity to become a lineage student.
The student must meet certain criteria:
  1. 3rd dan black belt
  2. A good level of skill
  3. A pattern of ongoing progress
  4. A nice relationship with both the instructor and other students
  5. No attitude problems/ego/arrogance
Suitable candidates will be told what lineage training entails.


Peter Southwood's tips #7 Intense sessions

If you have a week off, train in the afternoon and evening as well.
The benefits of a really hard training session will echo throughout your art.
A hard week of intensive training affects what you do thereafter.


'External' shuai jiao

Not all shuai jiao practiced in the world is internal.
It is often taught as an external martial art in its own right, akin to judo.
Force, tension and aggression are used. There are even fighting competitions.

This is not what we teach.


Why bother with heavier weapons?

They make you use your body a lot more.
You must compensate for the weight of the weapon - without tensing up - and still move in a lithe, nimble, strong manner.

Unless you work with a heavy sword, you are essentially 'playing'.
A lightweight wushu sword doesn't tax you much.
You can perform any manner of fancy moves that would be downright impossible and non-viable with a heavy weapon.

In a very real sense, a genuine sword grounds you: in terms of connection and in terms of its functionality.


Running does not necessarily in and of itself improve posture that is already poor and constricted. It often exaggerates problems due to the substitution of inappropriate muscles. The repetitive inappropriate development of the musculature (as in body building or weight lifting) often leads to diminished sensitivity. Stress occurs in the knees and lower back, encouraging injury.

 (Liz Koch)



There is a story about a king who wanted an artist to paint a bird.
The king asked the artist how long it would take him to produce the painting. The artist said "One year."
A year passed and the king called upon the artist.
The artist promptly proceeded to paint the bird whilst the king watched.

The king asked, "Why did you tell me that it would take you a year?"
The artist took him into a room. The room was littered with practice paintings, sketches of birds and research material.
The year of preparation enabled the artist to paint the bird spontaneously.



In addition to recovery from injury and illness, regular practice of qigong  promotes a feeling of dynamo-like energy, lessens the need for sleep, reduces the tendency to become sick, and makes the whole body physically resilient and strong.

 (Robert Chuckrow)


Locks and holds

Many martial arts employ locks and holds successfully.
They are an effective way of restraining an opponent and/or damaging the body.

Unfortunately, locks and holds require commitment.
If you hold somebody, you are committed to maintaining the hold using sustained strength.
At some point you must let go and your opponent is free.

We do not use locks and holds.


Begin with a clear idea

Every exercise, drill or form posture (pattern of movement) has a simple purpose.
Determine what this is and start from there.

Many drills are training a wide variety of skills simultaneously.
Do not be put-off by this.
Focus on the most basic, simple concern and work on that.

If in doubt, ask the instructor for clarification.


Keen to learn broadsword

I'm dead keen to learn broadsword but Sifu wants me to complete the Yang Cheng Fu form first.



Sifu is very playful, friendly and enthusiastic - but unfortunately like a bear cub or some other animal, he's prone to inadvertent roughness. 




What is self defence?

Self defence is the ability to protect yourself from harm: physically, mentally and emotionally.
It is not about fighting.

Life presents us with many situations that can be unpleasant:
  1. Verbal abuse
  2. Problems at work
  3. Personal relationships
  4. Hostile/dangerous motorists
You may feel helpless, afraid, angry and frustrated.
Discover how to keep a cool head, avoid conflict and cope with hostility.


Beginners class

We offer beginners classes that anyone may attend.
New starters and students with different levels of commitment are all welcome.

Whilst there are grades and belts, the onus is very much upon individual progress and achievement.
You can train as hard or as casually as you like.



Quite a few karate and wing chun students say that their teacher does a bit of taijiquan as part of the syllabus...

An alexander technique teacher in Bradford once admitted that she taught taijiquan as a cool-down despite having no knowledge of taijiquan whatsoever. Shame on you, Heather.

There is more to taijiquan than moving slowly.

Fundamental principles: whole-body movement, reeling silk, never tensing your muscles, circularity, not pushing, not striking-through, softness, yielding and looseness.

Do any of these factors apply to karate?



A student needs a sense of perspective.
It is good to recognise the purpose of the beginners belts and to commit time to really understand and appreciate the lessons they teach.

Ambition is fine, providing you compliment it with hard work rather than just talk.

Not every person wants to tear through the belts and gain power.
Some students are content to plod slowly along, quite happy in their study.
There is nothing wrong with taking your time.


Peter Southwood's tips #6 Weekend sessions

Take advantage of the weekend morning to get a good 3 hour session of practice completed early in the day.
Train everything that you neglected during the week.



Not many students will get to be lineage students.
It is not a matter of playing favourites. It is a question of priorities and commitment.
Ultimately, the choice lies with the student.

The keenest students will be asked if they are willing to make the commitment to learn everything the instructor has to offer.
Are they prepared to work harder than any other student?
Are they willing to be pushed harder than any other student?


Question to Sifu Waller re syllabus

Question: Why do most tai chi schools not have a syllabus as such?

Answer: Usually a martial arts school has a clearly defined scheme of work, grades, levels, assessment etc. However, most tai chi classes are not martial classes. The teachers would not know how to systematically teach the combat skills.


Tea ceremony

Taking private lessons and/or training with a instructor for many years does not make you a lineage student.
An indoor student is allowed inside the private centre of the instructor's art.
A formal, public pledge is required, along with a gift symbolising your commitment to look after your instructor's wellbeing.

Traditionally, a tea ceremony takes place in which the lineage candidate(s) makes a public declaration of their intent.
The instructor accepts the student(s).
Photographs may or may not be taken, and the student may be given a lineage chart showing how the art has been passed on.


Tai chi chuan exponents

You may encounter many different people in a tai chi school.
The martial path has 6 tiers:
  1. Student
  2. Lineage disciple
  3. Instructor
  4. Expert
  5. Master
  6. Grandmaster
Every practitioner begins at the first level.
Levels 2-6 require a much deeper degree of commitment and practice, and will not suit most people's lifestyle.
It may be useful to determine what level an instructor has reached.



Being a taijiquan expert is more than just talent. You need to put in the work.

A good instructor should have at least 10,000 hours of practice behind them.
Dr. K. Anders Ericsson found that this was true of any art; whether taijiquan, dancing or playing the piano.


Personal trainer?

Your teacher 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.

If a martial arts teacher had to choose between bowing to the demands of the consumer marketplace or closing their school to the public, many would close their school.
Teaching hand-picked students is better than diluting the art.


Passing your green belt...

The green belt is the first grade in the intermediate syllabus.
It is an easy grade to pass.


Washed away

Footprints in the sand provide the illusion of permanence. Yet the tide always washes them away - as though they never existed at all.

Gravestones mark the burial ground of those who were. And in the centuries to come, what will they mean? Who will remember or mourn the passing of so many?

We are like impressions in the sand, and no matter what our contribution, the world will forget us once we are washed away.


Qigong & form

Qigong and form in particular need to be accurate in order for you to complete the beginners syllabus.

Alignment and structure are key features of tai chi.



Many alcoholic drinks are not suitable for vegetarians.
Check the label.



Your web site...

 Beautiful and truth seeking, a joy to read. Thank you.

 (Sue and David)


Common misconceptions

Beginners seldom express wardoff internally.

Most students manifest the physical shape of wardoff without the internal energetic quality that makes it a jing.

Common misconceptions:
  1. stiff block
    - fundamental error in perception
  2. immovable
    - yielding is paramount. Without it, there is no taijiquan
    - strength vs strength is not taijiquan
  3. tension used rather than connection/groundpath
    - beginners-level error
  4. rigid legs, only turning hips
    - external attitude
    - stance too low
  5. not using bow stance
    - posture lacks 5 bows
  6. use of arms and shoulders
    - unite upper & lower timing sequence lacking
    - wardoff is not being produced by spiralling & rippling
    - power must rise up from the ground


You hide your skills well...

Your taijiquan skills cannot be hidden from others, for they should be part of your everyday movement, your everyday being.

We walk, and our religion is shown (even to the dullest and most insensitive person) in how we walk. Or to put it more accurately, living in this world means choosing, choosing to walk, and the way we choose to walk is infallibly and perfectly expressed in the walk itself. Nothing can disguise it. The walk of an ordinary man and of an enlightened man are as different as that of a snake and a giraffe.

(R H Blyth)

If your internal skills are not evident when you work with other people, you should question whether they exist at all. The absolute necessity of partner work is irrefutable. Partner work separates those who practice taijiquan from those who do not.

The necessary balance

A taijiquan student needs to concentrate in some respects, and be unselfconscious in other regards.

Both facets of this requirement are addressed through the act of playfulness.


Your environment echoes your mind

 How you live is a reflection of how you think.

 If your house is littered with junk, messy and cluttered, then ask yourself what inspired this.
 If your home is a showcase for metal, glass, plastic and gadgetry, then it will be most evident to other people.
 You cannot hide who you are.

 A quiet, reflective, disciplined mind requires a living environment that encourages calm.
 Soft colours, warm fabrics and wood.
 Unpretentious, modest, relaxed and comfortable.



Sports can be significantly more expensive than martial arts training. And sometimes cheaper too.

How much does the clothing cost?
Gym membership?
A season ticket?

As with all things, the cost of something is relative to what you think is appropriate and what you are prepared/willing to pay...



Arrogant students may seek to jump ahead and bypass certain stages of learning.
This is the outcome of naivety.
Lacking an understanding of what is to come, how can they conceivably gauge what is important, and what is not?

In order to advance through the syllabus, some degree of quality must be demonstrated.


Combat experts

Miyamoto Musasahi and Sun Tzu encouraged the martial artist to be smart.
If you can avoid conflict, then do so.

Looking tough or acting macho only serves to attract attention, and not all attention is good.


Why learn a martial art?

Martial arts training has the potential to make you fit, agile and strong.
It is often a lot of fun.
Students typically become self-disciplined, patient and calm.

And, you become increasingly seasoned to combat. 
Whilst this does nor guarantee success against a real life assailant, it does mean that you have the reflexes and the awareness to handle adversity in whatever form it takes.

This may not be what the on-screen action heroes tell you... but remember: they are not real people. They are fictional characters.
Do not get confused.


Actors and martial artists

Some actors are just actors, whereas some actors are also competent martial artists.
It is easy to tell them apart.
The actors are slow and clumsy whereas the martial artists look casual and confident.

In order to perform any martial art skilfully, considerable ongoing training is necessary.
If somebody on-screen makes it look easy, allow for the fact that they have probably invested a lot of time practicing the movements and rehearsing the scene.

No matter what level of skill is being shown, it is still pretend.


Damaged goods

Not everyone who joins a martial arts class is well-adjusted.
Many new starters have a 'chip on their shoulder'.
Some people have their own agenda.

Students frequently want something for nothing, and resent being asked to work for the skills.

Martial arts classes are designed to temper the ego and quash arrogance.
A student must learn patience and humility, respect and consideration.
Invariably, this means not getting your own way.



 I love the website - nicely set out and excellent information.




Confrontation occurs in many forms and can be very stressful. It is important to handle yourself in a constructive, calm manner.
Learn to be aware of risk and danger.
Evaluate situations.
Be cautious and alert, attentive and present.

You can be switched-on without being macho, defensive or paranoid.


On-screen combat

Many TV series and movies feature characters that are regularly engaged in combat.
Without any hesitation, people leap into action, delivering powerful, effective, accurate blows.
There is often no real sign of injury afterwards.

Size, strength, physics and even choice of target plays little part in on-screen combat.
Apparently, you can be scrawny, small, weak, possess no combat experience or training and yet still prove victorious every time.



One person may earnestly seek something.
Another person may provide what it is that is being sought.
But is it for real?

The world is filled with theme parks, reproductions and re-creations.
Yet, these things are not real.
They serve one purpose: to make money. Yes, it is as cynical as that.

How many fast-track tai chi courses exist in the world today?
Are there any short-cuts?



Unless you keep your mind on what you are doing, there will be no groundpath.

Instead of overly relying on musculature or extended framework, you need to cultivate presence.
The here and now.
Your intention will direct the path.
Peng is accomplished by 'feeling out' with your mind and body - not by stretching or tensing-up.


Baguazhang: internal skill

Baguazhang assumes competence with internal body mechanics and principles, and offers you more challenging ones.

To gain a foundation level of internal skill it is necessary to make as much headway as you can with the tai chi syllabus.
This will make the baguazhang easier to learn.

But do not be confused; tai chi and baguazhang may share many underlying concerns, but these are expressed quite differently.



Combat is tiring.
The longer it lasts, the more worn out you will get. 
The more dramatic your combat, the quicker you will tire.

The Art of War advocates a speedy conclusion.


How many people study a martial art or a fighting art?

Out of those people that exercise, how many choose to study a martial art or a fighting art? 
Not many.
Sport is far more popular than martial arts training.
Running, football, the gym, yoga... these more widely practiced.

Not many people study the martial arts these days.

Sifu in the 1980's


Self defence challenges

As the syllabus unfolds, the martial student is eventually required to prove their skill against full-speed, full-power attacks from other students and also from the instructor.
We employ relay attacks and melee scenarios.
Sometimes it is one-to-one.
The attacker(s) may be armed or unarmed.

Our aim is to challenge your nervous system, to put you under pressure, to see if you panic, or if you remain composed.

Nobody will be asked to do anything that is beyond their ability.
By facing an increasingly realistic range of attacks, the student becomes seasoned to violence and is not flustered.


How many people train their internal art correctly?

Although tai chi is widely practiced and popular, not many students are learning tai chi chuan: the martial art.
Most students are training tai chi for health, or as a performance art.

Very few people are engaged in learning the internal arts properly.
Some combat tai chi people externalise the art in order to make it easier to learn. 
But this does not succeed.
Instead, it creates a new art: an external hybrid based upon the idea of tai chi.

Training an internal art correctly - using the principles of the art fully and faithfully - is relatively rare these days.
It requires a lot of hard work, exploration, study, patience and practice.



Thank you for your lovely site... just what I needed to stumble across tonight.



How many people exercise?

Consider all the people you know.
Do many of them exercise?
Of all the people in the world, how many actually exercise?
Humans are pretty lazy and the invention of cars, televisions and computers have made things far worse.


Tao yin

Tao yin refers to a wide selection of stretching exercises designed to improve circulation and boost the flow of energy within the body.
It is commonly referred to as 'taoist yoga'.

The stretches work the legs, back and psoas in particular.


Living the life

If you want to discover the meaning of tao, zen and/or tai chi, it is necessary to remember that these arts were lived.
They were not paraded or preserved.

People lived this way.
They did so unselfconsciously and vibrantly.
It was not a mask or a poise. There was nothing kitsch or contrived.



Before I came to Sifu Waller three years ago I had spent six years at four different classes trying to learn tai chi. None of them had a syllabus of any kind. Most were offering tuition of the simplified 24 step Yang style tai chi, with no self defence and no regard for the health of knees or back. The classes were for one hour only and cost about the same as ours.

(John Bell)


What are the challenges?

There are many, many challenges facing every student.

Those that stem from the art itself are technical in nature.
Most arise within and represent an internal battle that must take place if a student is ever to penetrate the mysteries of the art.

Not everyone will have determination enough to stay the course.


Real human

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.

Too old to change

Karate and tai chi are worlds apart. If I was a young man, I'd join your class and ditch karate. 

Sadly, I'm too old to change and I know it.

(Andrew Clarke)

Varicose veins

If you have varicose veins you should not undertake standing (static) qigong.


Facing up to your age can be a bit hard if you have an ego.
Your body is probably not as coordinated as you might imagine and you may not be as fit as you once were.
You may not be overly motivated.

Accept all this.
Fighting against the reality of aging is foolish and pointless.
Just do what you can.

It may take you longer to learn things than you expect... so what?
You are not in competition with anyone.