Example instructor (level 1) questions

Question: Who in class will volunteer to help you out?

- how does this tie-in with the taoist insights regarding' te'?

- how does this tie-in with the taoist insights regarding 'being genuine'?

- can you teach a non-volunteer how to be an instructor?


Magic? No. Just physics

The MEA House receptionist (Susan) was amazed to see Brian pitch Eddie clean across the hall yesterday and stood gawping as Eddie picked himself up off the ground.

She had never seen anything like it.



When a student leaves the class, they typically need to justify it to themselves.
Rather than be honest, the individual blames the teacher, the art, the syllabus, the atmosphere.

In most cases, the teacher sees the seeds of their discontent months ahead.

If the student is keen, they are likely to seek out tuition elsewhere.
But this seldom happens.




Sometimes people have studied a similar system before and use this as a benchmark for comparison; rather than the tai chi classics.

Comparison has some potential flaws: the first is you and your ability to correctly interpret what you are seeing.
With tai chi, what you see is not usually what you get - the whole point of the system is to hide the substance.

If you base your comparison on what you were taught; was the tai chi taught correctly and did you understand what you were taught?

As a beginner you will be shown what you need to see and told what you need to hear.
This will not be the full measure of the syllabus.
You are taught in accordance with your ability to learn.



The student/apprentice must follow a very detailed syllabus that teaches forms, skills, drills, strength and flexibility exercises, along with many insights.

There is a layering of skills: each level furnishing the student with a degree of knowledge and ability.
Each new level assumes understanding and skill garnered from the preceding levels.
Without a strong grasp of each specific layer, the overall standard is weak, and the comprehension and application will be poor indeed.

The layers of the syllabus are interlocking, interconnected and incremental.


Modern tai chi?

The painters today mix their brushes and ink with dust and dirt,
and their colours with mud, and smear the silk in vain.

How can this be called painting?

(Zhang Yenyuan)


Walk like a cat

Have you ever really watched how a cat walks?

Watch a cat walk along a wall...

The cat is very stealthy. The whole body is coiled and ready to move in any direction. There is caution and reserve, but also forward movement.

The cat is never prey to inertia.



The tai chi system is built upon certain key precepts and these must exist if your class is teaching real tai chi.

If these qualities are missing, then you are not even learning tai chi - regardless of how much you like the class.
Tai chi is not about popularity. It is not about who taught who. It is a martial art and has very clear guidelines for practice.

Not everyone cares for the degree of work required of a martial artist.
When many people start tai chi they imagine that it is an easy option; no work required yet wonderful results.
Life is not like this.


Clean slate

The syllabus is about leaving everything behind.

White belt was like learning a new language. Now you must extend your range.
Your body and mind may resist the unknown but you slowly improve and get the hang of it.

People who reach the end of the beginners syllabus imagine that they have moved on from their bad habits and preconceptions, only to find them alive and well, and hampering their progress.

It is only possible to complete the beginners syllabus when you start to leave bad habits behind.
A person is simply incapable of performing higher level material until the past has been left behind.

For many people, it will be a tough internal trial involving a lot of unnecessary frustration.
Many people quit. In fact most people quit.

Those who make serious progress in our syllabus are not the same people who started it; they have undergone a deep internal change.
Nothing worthwhile is easy.


Consider self defence...

Very few tai chi classes offer a credible self defence syllabus.
Usually it is absolute nonsense that crumples in the face of an earnest attacker, or it is an external parody of tai chi - a ju jitsu/wing chun/karate hybrid.

A tai chi student who is confident in self defence should be able to apply the system in accordance with the nature of tai chi.
No aggression. No tension. No force.
They must be adaptive, sensitive, fluid and imaginative. Above all else, they must be effective.

To learn tai chi properly, you must set your ideas aside and embrace the system.
Until you stop listening to your opinions and your ego, you cannot understand the nature of tai chi.


Patience & faith

Martial arts classes require patience and faith.

If your teacher can perform the skills themselves and is willing to teach them to you, that is enough.
If you have doubts, look at what the more experienced students are doing.
Do they possess skill?

Not all traditional teachers are willing to share the secrets of the art.
If your teacher is sharing their knowledge, be grateful.


Not accountable

As much as you may not like this fact, your teacher is not accountable to you.
They are not answerable.
They do not have to explain their reasons, motives and deeper intentions.

And if they did reply, you may not understand the reply.
Without context, meaning cannot exist.

Modern classes often embrace coaching and mentoring methods rather than the traditional military-style tuition.
But this is not an invitation to treat the lessons casually.


Unlearning bad habits

We teach an 'internal' martial art and follows the teachings of the tai chi classics.
In order to start learning the system, a student must begin by letting-go of postural tension and the desire to use clenched muscles for strength.

For some people this is a gargantuan task because they rely on their arms for strength and do not really want to let-go.
The problem is attitude, as much as body. Being open-minded and receptive is not easy.

Tai chi is a 'soft' martial art.
It maintains a loose connection throughout the body at all times and the muscles never tense.


Question to Sifu Waller re strength

Question: How do I move with strength?

Answer: Start with standing qigong. Ensure that your alignment is accurate. If you can use stand correctly, try moving qigong. Make sure that no inaccuracy occurs. Correct any mistakes. Now, try form. Beyond form, take the structural parameters into gentle partner work and learn about sensitivity. Finally, work on combat.


Sore shoulders

If you get sore shoulders when training your tai chi, look to your elbows.
Drop them.
Let them sink.

Make sure that you are not reaching too far from the body.

Experiment with reach and range.
If you feel anything in the shoulders, you are doing the art incorrectly.


Question to Sifu Waller re designing a syllabus

Question: Your syllabus is so complex yet it all slots together like a jigsaw. How did you design it?

Answer: A martial art cannot be taught piecemeal; it needs a thorough, inter-locking curriculum that builds an increasingly integrated understanding of the art.
It is important to start with the fundamentals; what are you doing and why?
What purpose do the exercises serve?

It is essential to remember to introduce new things incrementally, not haphazardly.

Scientifically 'proving' the worth of each lesson/insight is good practice.
That way, the student has tried various options and recognises why they are being taught material in a particular way.

To design a syllabus you need the benefit of hindsight.
You can see how the apparently separate pieces are all part of a greater puzzle, and you can cultivate connections and associations in the student.
Finally, you must be willing to trim off any superfluity.
If any topic does not connect with everything else, discard it ruthlessly.
Functionality requires integrity.

Tai chi chuan instructors

A tai chi chuan instructor needs at least 10 years of experience and a serious commitment to home practice.
Martial instructors must show clear evidence of ability in all
8 areas of skill.

An expert has 20 years study and 10,000 hours of practice.

A master should have 30-40 years martial arts experience, with at least 30,000 hours of tai chi practice.
They are capable of teaching other instructors.

A grandmaster must have taught an extensive number of high-level instructors.
They would be in a position of significant responsibility within a school and have influence within the wider tai chi/martial arts community.