Becoming a teacher #7

Teaching experience...

Students in our school who are seeking to be a teacher have trained with me for many years and have loads of notes, handouts, insights and perceptions. They've helped out in class for so long that taking the next step is not so daunting. But it is still harder than you may imagine.

As a helper, you can always fall back on the teacher for assistance. As the teacher, you have no one to fall back on.

There is more to teaching than delivering material. You must find ways of interacting with people, of being comfortable with people. Students who help out in class over many years cultiavte rapport.

If a non-helper asked to suddenly become an instructor, I'd question their motives. What drives them?

Helpers are eager to assist, to guide. They learn by helping, it changes their tai chi and alters their perceptions.

The present

If we allow the mind to return to the here and now, we can find clarity.
The chattering of our ambitions, greed, anxieties, insecurities and pain will cease.
We can simply be here. Present. Alert. Aware.

There is so much around us in every given moment, but we just do not notice it.
We are too busy chasing our own tails.


There is no box

In our tai chi school we encourage people to avoid fixity.

There are no techniques, no preset responses. We can do things in any number of ways.
Some methods work better than others. And all have ramifications and consequences.
There is not one fixed way at the exclusion of all others.

Students learn to appreciate that they are thinking within a box. Instead of 'thinking outside the box' they realise that there is no box.

Our conditioning limits us.

Transcend it.
Let your mind open and your consciousness expand. Embrace what is.


Santa Claus

Santa Claus was not always a mythical Hollywood character.

St Nicholas was born in Patara on the southern coast of Turkey. He was raised as a Christian and used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering.

No reindeers. No North Pole. No elves. No present lists. No Christmas cards, tinsels, trees, cakes, holly, mistletoe or carol singing.

Deviate from the essence and all is lost.


Re-discover Christmas #2

In the 1970's Peter McNally (the local Scout leader) used to take large gangs of children and adults around the village on Christmas morning.
He'd found out which old people were alone and had no family. He'd filled shoe boxes with presents and asked people to sign cards.

Then he took everyone to visit each and every lonely old person. We would all stand and sing outside their houses.
The expressions on the faces of the old people said it all.



If you think that's tacky, come and have a look around where we live...

One house has that Santa you described, plus Blackpool illuminations, plus new addition - 7 foot mock snow-globe with Santa scene.

That's just one house, I think they're aiming to be seen from space.

(Up My Street)



Learning to strike somebody and learning how to take a strike are essential.
Being hit can really mess you up.
Clever self defence tactics and techniques may fall to pieces when you are actually taking hits.
It is imperative that you know how to relax and roll with the punch.

Developing your own striking ability is critical. Without it, you cannot hope to defend yourself.
You need to make each blow count.
Range, timing, distance, accuracy and penetration must be practiced relentlessly.
A bag or focus mitt is not the same as a person. You need to strike real people.
Do not pull your punches. Let them land. Feel whether or not you are receiving adverse feedback.
Learn to control your power, your commitment and your intent.

Punching thin air may train the body mechanics behind a strike but tells you nothing about your ability.


Re-discover Christmas

Do not get caught up in the sickening sentimentality of carol singing and Christmas decorations.
Go to the Salvation Army over Christmas or donate money to the thousands of charities out there.

Take nothing for yourself. Ask for nothing. Make it a season of giving. A time for caring.


Christmas - the media spectacle

Christmas is a marketing triumph.

The inane catchy jingles played constantly, the lights and the decorations, the kitsch, the sentimentality and nostalgia, the peer pressure, the overindulgence...

People willingly spend money they do not have on things they do not need.
They do this for no reason whatsoever.


Charity & judgement

You often say, "I would give, but only to the deserving."

And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you should see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?

(Kahlil Gibran)



Many marriages break up after a few years and this is not surprising.
If a wedding symbolises truth, commitment, honour, fidelity and love - why is it treated like a circus?
Where is the integrity, the honesty, the genuine earnest warmth, love and feeling?
Novelty, noise, excess, costumes, scripted promises and money seem a poor way to begin a sincere pact between two people.

Only when you pare away the clutter can you see the real. And also what is lacking...


Peter Southwood's tips #14 Mind

The mind leads the body.
Neglecting the mind makes for a witless martial artist.

Mind games, puzzles and other gimmicks are worthless.
Study, koan and quietude will expand your consciousness, and encourage clarity.

It is what you make it

If we continue the theme of 'marriage':

The idea of 'getting married is only a concept.
What you choose to do with the idea is the important part: you make it what it is; you imbue the idea with meaning.

The truth is in the doing of things, so if you get married and have the entire lavish affair - that is your wedding.
Every part of the experience is the truth of it, the reality of it: the 'good' and the 'bad', the pleasure and the excess, greed and waste.
This is the actual substance of the event.

The original meaning is lost and whatever you have made of 'wedding' is the reality of the event.
If your wedding is a gaudy, vulgar spectacle then it is a gaudy, vulgar spectacle.
That is the truth of it; surface glitz and glamour smeared across the relationship in the hope of what?



Taoism values the essence of things. It seeks to find the heart, the centre. The unique quality.
Invariably, this leads to simplicity, to elegance, to a paring away of the non-essentials.

Tai chi should reflect this approach.


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.



In self defence, you must do whatever feels appropriate.

Some of your responses will have gaping holes in them, but others will not.
The more skilled you become, the more effective your responses will be.

Gauge the appropriateness relative to the effect:

  1. Did it work?
  2. Are you compromising yourself? Over-committing?
  3. Was there any adverse feedback?
  4. Did you allow for multiple attackers?
  5. What did it do to your opponent?
  6. Were they rooted when you struck/manipulated them?
  7. Was it easy to perform?
  8. Smooth or jarring?
  9. Was it hurried and quick?
  10. Were you calm and composed?

Be honest with yourself and work on any weaknesses in your composure, body use and application.



A short course in self defence may provide a measure of self confidence.
But can you really protect yourself when you need it?
For self defence to work you need ongoing training.
Your body must develop the ability to respond reflexively to all manner of attack without conscious effort.
To learn self defence, you need a longer-term commitment.


Fed-up with Christmas?

Then don't participate. No one is forcing you.


When a person becomes a lineage student, everybody knows who that individual is and what their relationship with the instructor is.
Should the instructor move away or die, people will look to the lineage student to continue the teaching in the instructor's name.
This is the responsibility of the lineage student.

For example, when Peter Southwood died, several total strangers contacted Sifu Waller to advise that Peter Southwood was dead.
Even though they had never trained with Sifu Waller, they knew that he was Peter's indoor/lineage student.
Peter had made no secret of the fact.


Having 'presence'

Presence can be seen in a different way...
Some people seem to have 'presence'. They exude a notable air of security and calm.

These people quietly walk through life in a comfortable, natural way.
They are unaffected and genuine.
There is no conflict or aggression in their manner. Just gentle humour and grace.



Krishnamurti: The first thing to find out, surely, is whether or not the mind can ever think clearly as long as it is confused. The fact is that whatever a confused mind seeks and finds must also be confused; its leaders, its gurus, its ends, will reflect this confusion, isn't it so?

Questioner: That's hard to realise.

Krishnamurti: It's hard to realise because of our conceit. We think we are so clever, so capable of solving human problems. Most of us are afraid to acknowledge to ourselves the fact that we are confused, for then we would have to admit our own utter insolvency, our defeat - which would mean either despair of humility.

Isn't it also a fact that choice indicates confusion?

Questioner: I don't understand how that can be. We must choose; without choice there is no freedom.

Krishnamurti: When do you choose? Only out of confusion, when you are not quite 'certain'. When there's clarity, there's no choice.




Certain activities can help a person gain presence.
These are not 'meditation'.
They are simply activities or exercises that encourage you to be conscious of the 'here and now'.
Ultimately, everything that you do should help to bring your mind back to reality; whether it is washing dishes, walking on the beach or sitting quietly.

The activity itself is not important - it simply serves to initiate the condition of presence.
If you come to rely upon the activity, this is a mistake.



There is nothing mystical about 'presence'.

It is simply a condition of awareness whereby you are rooted in the immediate moment rather than absorbed in thought or memory.
In order to do anything wholeheartedly you need to be present, not daydreaming or 'spacing out'.



Many people talk about meditation or claim to do meditation. Yet, meditation is not an activity.

It is presence.



At the heart of all things is a simple quality.

Clarity arises when we are capable of seeing this simplicity. When we notice small things. The details.
Instead of pursuing greater and wider experiences, we are content to remain where we are and notice what is in front of us.

The art of teaching is clarity and the art of learning is to listen.

(Vanda Scaravelli)

Lao Tzu said that you can know the whole world without leaving your room.
He was talking about awareness. About clarity. About being.


Students of the martial arts in the West feel that they must use their art to fight, or at least to compete, to show people how good they are. In tai chi, this is unacceptable, because that is against the principle of tai chi.

(Gabriel Chin)



Rather than operate from the basis of the known it is perhaps more prudent to see things without expectations.

Instead of seeking to prove a point or demonstrate a perspective, why not simply observe?
See what is actually happening.


Small school

Other martial arts classes may attract students in droves but the internal arts do not.

Not everyone is capable or willing to explore the hidden teachings of tai chi.
We will never attract a large number of students.
The training is too sophisticated - it requires considerable patience, self-discipline, self-awareness and time.

We are a small school and will probably stay that way.



The truth is not some concept, some message or secret. It is everyday reality, all around you.

What is so special about this? Why do people seek the truth?

Reality is not so easy to see.
We are conditioned to want things we do not need, to crave, to be ambitious, selfish, careless and blind.
Our lives are spent chasing ephemeral things that lack any real substance or meaning.

Tao, zen and our approach to tai chi is all about paring away the accumulated nonsense that prevents clear sight.
Instead of seeing what we want to see, we learn to see what is really there.
This may not sound like anything significant but clarity changes your entire existence.


Talk is cheap

The way most people do tai chi, it's not a martial art. They could never use it the way they're doing it. Everything's in their hands, they just fill in the rest with fantasy talk.

(Paul Gale)



If you want to learn tai chi properly, you need a thorough understanding of the art.

Much will be asked of you.

Don't be lazy.



It is common for a student to become frustrated or disheartened. Patience is vital. Your mind and your body is learning something new.

Quite often the problem resides with unrealistic expectations and a limited commitment to practice.

Don't give up at the beginning of your journey.



Another example of compensation is seen in the person who has to have a big house, an expensive car or a large boat to overcome an inner sense of smallness. What is small is his range of self-expression. He may be rich in money, for that is his ambition, but he remains poor in his inner life and in his manner of self-expression.

(Alexander Lowen)



Advanced abilities arise from focussing your time and effort.

No one could reasonably claim high-level skill in a wide variety of arts.
i.e. a heart surgeon is unlikely to also be a neurological specialist.




Relaxation is a condition of ease that arises from feeling comfortable.

You may do many things in order to relax:
  1. Sit
  2. Walk
  3. Read a book
  4. Talk with friends
  5. Spend time with your family
  6. Gardening
  7. Cooking
  8. Eat a nice meal
  9. Watch TV
  10. Socialise

What is relaxing for one person may not be relaxing for another.
It is important to discover ways in which to relax.

You may even choose to do absolutely nothing...


Self defence

Self defence training is the best form of stress management.
Learning how to stand alone against assailants who plan to hurt you is a serious test of nerve.

It is essential to remain calm when faced with a crisis.
Tai chi demands that the student does not tense-up or meet force with force; the system must be applied in accord with what is happening.

The ability to meet such challenges is a major coping skill and demonstrates strong character.

Our students proceed through the self defence syllabus with a grin on their face; nothing is asked of them that they cannot do.
We find that each individual knows when they are ready for a challenge and will ask for it when the time is right.



The most sensible approach to stress may be to adopt a different attitude to coping.

'Coping' is the way in which you handle a situation and has the connotation of being in control.
In reality, our ability to control external events is quite limited.
In tai chi we initially focus upon our own behaviour and consider how we respond.
Later, self consciousness passes and we become immersed completely in the happening.

Rather than seek control, we cope by addressing the underlying concerns of a given situation.
Coping is not easy.
There is no quick fix or easy answer.
Lao Tzu teaches that we should deal with difficulties whilst they are still small.
If it is past that stage, then you need to be calm and patient.
Take small steps.
Go easy on yourself.
Build a strong foundation by sorting out small problems, by creating good habits.


Learning tai chi

Our school of tai chi adopts a taoist approach to learning; there is no rivalry, competition, anxiety, winning or losing.

Whilst there is a detailed syllabus and a clear method of development, students are free to proceed at their own pace.


Removing strain

Tai chi is concerned with the physics of relationship.
It aims to balance the body moment by moment.
Placing the body in the optimal position for strength at all times is a major concern.

An unbalanced body is a clear indication of poor physical awareness and is the first thing to be addressed in a tai chi class.
The careful practice of good body habits leads the student to avoid strain and damage.
Each new neigong reduces the risk of injury.


Calm mind, calm body

An agitated mind will not allow you to rest.
Being emotionally upset will also deny you rest.

You must be willing to put matters aside and stop, without worrying about things left undone.
Once your concerns are set aside, you can relax.

Rest is the end of all activity. Unless your motion ceases, you will not find rest.

Baguazhang: throws



Natural range

Our approach to tai chi works safely within your natural range:

If you move a limb away from your centre, the support decreases the further away it goes.
Experiment with your arms and legs - stretch them away in various directions...
In each instance there should be distinct boundary points where a subtle but tangible strain occurs and increases with the degree of movement.
You may not notice this initially; finding your natural range takes patience and sensitivity.


Be sensible

We ask that you disclose any medical problems before starting tai chi lessons so the practice can be tailored to suit your requirement and reduce the risk of discomfort or injury.
Should you have a condition that you think may affect your ability to perform tai chi, please consult a doctor.

Your tai chi teacher is not a medical practitioner.



Tai chi classes are a safe place to be.
In a relaxed, friendly atmosphere you feel comfortable letting down your barriers and being yourself.

Partner work and one-to-one training will encourage you to be calm and feel at ease.
In a stressed, busy life it can be nice to unwind and look after yourself for a change.


A balanced life

The system is designed to re-balance both mind and body, allowing them to move as one.
As a person becomes more balanced, their health naturally improves.

Balance is fundamental to tai chi.

To live a balanced life, all aspects of your existence must work together.
Food, drink, sleep, sex, work and your relationship with the world around you are all equally significant.

Without awareness, life can become hurried and stressful.
The emphasis in tai chi is upon enjoying yourself and being happy with who you are and how you are living your life.


Beyond the medical

It is easy to think of tai chi study in terms of how it improves your health, but tai chi is far more than treatment.
Exponents typically find that the benefits of the study extend to all aspects of their lives.

People look at things differently. They change how they live. Priorities change.


Adapt, change & improvise

Our school motto is simple: Adapt, change & improvise.

It captures the essence of (applied) tai chi and baguazhang, and encourages an open, flexible attitude to life.


Cultivating darkness

When you address the reality of human nature, the dark side becomes far less corny and much more serious.

We all have the potential for 'evil' acts. It is a part of who and what we are.
The danger lies with cultivating this part of ourselves.
No matter how strong we think we are, these emotions are not to be trifled with.


Repressed feelings

The dark side of martial arts training speaks to the less savoury aspects of your character.

You may be sick of being ignored, taken for granted, abused by a society that does not care.
You may feel marginalised, insignificant and weak.
You may want revenge on people who have 'wronged' you.
You may have experienced an unpleasant childhood.
You may have been bullied.

Martial arts training might seem to be an answer.
But the answer does not lie with violence. It lies with getting to know yourself. It can be found through understanding rather than reacting.


Emotional turmoil

Should you seek to harness your emotions, to channel their anger, fear and aggression into their martial art?
That is entirely up to you.
Harnessing your emotions may well add power to their skills but it comes with a price.
'Negative' emotions harm the body.
Strong emotions should be used sparingly, if at all.
When hostile emotions consume you, the intellect is ignored and primitive urges take control.

Tai chi does not embrace negative, strong emotions. It advocates a calm nature.

A calm, composed person sees a lot more and is far more responsible for their actions.
They come to terms with their fear and they learn how to avoid becoming upset.


The wrong way

Competitive martial arts are essentially sport, and sport is usually concerned with victory, with winning.
Sport differs from self defence.
In self defence the onus is upon escaping, not upon winning.

When victory is your aim, you become callous in your desire for success.
You may be prepared to tread on others as you 'climb the ladder of success'.
Ambition and desire have then tainted you.



A tai chi student needs to have good character. They are held to a higher standard than other people.

Courtesy, manners, politeness and honesty are standard. Moral conduct and restraint are also expected.
It is important to take responsibility for what you are learning and show consideration to others who are less fortunate than you.

These may sound like old fashioned values but the martial arts tradition is an ancient one; and its values have proven their worth over the centuries.

Right conduct, courage, benevolence, respect, honour and self discipline are all a given in our classes.



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.



In tai chi classes where everyone copies the teacher, it is easy to believe that you have made progress.
The whole class work together and nobody is asked to take responsibility for themselves.
This is not learning.
Nobody is actively participating in their own development.

Learning is an interactive process between teacher and student, between classmates, between the student and the tai chi material itself.



What breaks most people is the rigidity of their own opinions.
They cannot cope with situations that question the validity of strongly-held views and feelings.

Our classes are designed to free your minds of preconceptions concerning tai chi, strength, physics and self defence.

Not everyone likes to let go of their opinions. It must be done freely.
Most people have no wish to let go and prefer to maintain the illusion of control.

Opinionated people seldom attend a sufficient number of lessons to understand the nature of tai chi.
They quit with little more knowledge than they started with.



There have been some pretty weird definitions of 'internal' from various teachers across the years.
A lot of needless debate has been carried out.

Whole-body soft movement is quite unique and easy to identify.
If you have received an internal strike, you are unlikely to confuse it with anything else.
Anyone who has tried to grapple with a real tai chi person tends to be amazed by their malleability.
The fluid, adaptive approach creates a sense of 'fighting with yourself' or with water.

What people find most odd about tai chi is the ease of the art.
A small movement produces a disproportionate consequence; and no muscular tension is ever used.
Yet it works.

To accomplish this, the tai chi classics must be adhered to strictly, with no deviation.
Yielding must be your first and last thought at all times.


Grass roots

We adopt a 'grass roots' attitude to tai chi, going right back to the basics.
Students explore the human body, physics, biomechanics, principles and martial theory.
They discover the difference between jing and li; and come to recognise the significance of tao.

Such an adventure is not for the half-hearted. This is no quick fix.
The syllabus is lengthy and thorough, but you can study it at your own pace.



A tai chi teacher needs to cultivate an atmosphere of friendship, care and respect.
The classes need to be akin to an extended family, with students feeling quite safe and comfortable with one another.
No matter what is happening in your life, the school remains a good place to be.

Traditional tai chi designations are familial in nature: 'older brother', 'younger sister' etc.


Tai chi is not yoga

A new starter complained to Rachel that the tai chi body mechanics were fundamentally different to those of yoga.

Rachel confirmed this: "Yoga teaches postures. Tai chi is movement. They are not the same."



Our students have many opportunities for study:
  1. Evening classes
  2. Workshops
  3. Private lessons
  4. DVD's
  5. Recommended reading
  6. Home training
It is important to recognise that you are directly responsible for your own level of progress.

You may have the desire. You also have the opportunity.
But if your commitment to practice does not tally with your ambitions, this will be a slow, arduous journey.
Be patient. Do not lose faith.



There is a lot more to tai chi than talking, reading books, participating in on-line discussion forums or downloading video clips.

The tai chi is found in your hard work, your patience, endurance and perseverance.
Talkers seldom even complete their white belt.


Allowing time

Tai chi has an exciting, complex syllabus that cannot be summed-up in a few words or a 90 minute class.
If you start a new class, open your mind and accept that you are only experiencing a fragment that lesson.
To truly understand the art for yourself takes time.

Few things in life yield their treasures quickly or easily; you need commitment, sincerity and patience when studying tai chi.



The danger with ideas is that you can go badly astray. How?

Consider China...

Some Western tai chi people litter their houses with Chinese paraphernalia and become obsessed with the culture.
They visit the graves of dead tai chi instructors and stand in tai chi poses.

If you want to understand the culture that spawned tai chi, look to tao and zen, not your local New Age/feng shui shop.

Tai chi is not about three legged toads or I Ching mirrors.


Your idea

When somebody has an idea in their head they often invest a great deal of emotion in that idea.
It becomes valuable to them.
They are prepared to argue for it and sometimes even fight for it.

In the case of tai chi, if you have a strong opinion about tai chi, then you start classes looking for a confirmation of your view.
Your opinion is naturally based upon the degree of exposure you have to tai chi.

If you start a class with certain expectations in mind, you will like or dislike the class relative to whether or not the class meets your expectations.
This is not a prudent way to commence your study of tai chi; the art does not exist to gratify the individual.



The danger with ideas is that people confuse the idea with the actual.

Your idea of tai chi is based upon your experience of tai chi and how you choose to interpret what you have seen.
This will not necessarily correspond with reality.

You should be careful not to warp reality to suit your ideas; this will only lead you astray and result in frustration.



A ju jitsu student will probably attend 2-3 lessons a week.
Although tai chi combat students have different skills to train, you really ought to be putting in the same amount of hours.

If you find that you cannot manage 2-3 lessons, then consider training every day at home.


Qualified to teach

In 1996, Master Waller obtained a post-graduate professional teaching qualification from The University of Leeds.
He is also registered with The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain.
Teaching experience:
  1. Bradford Yang Style Tai Chi Association (1995 - 1999)
  2. Dynamic Balancing Boxing (1999 - 2004)
  3. Newcastle Tai Chi (2004 - present day) 



Feeling good

Relaxing both mind and body will improve your health and make you feel better.
Your quality of life will change.
It takes time to re-balance, so you must be patient.

The commitment you make towards being relaxed will prove itself worthwhile when you start to feel fresh and energised.


Traditionally, mastery was confirmed by the production of some proof of skill.
In terms of tai chi this can be demonstrated in a wide variety of ways.

After a 20 year Master/disciple relationship, Peter Southwood awarded Sifu Waller advanced-level 'Master' status in
the Year of the Tiger .
He said that Sifu Waller should start wearing the red sash instead of black.

Sifu Waller began as an apprentice, proceeded through the journeyman stage, culminating in the production of a masterwork/masterpiece.
Peter Southwood felt that Sifu Waller qualified as a Tai Chi Master on the basis of the following accomplishments:

  1. The 1300 page website giving unparalleled insight into tai chi
  2. Exceptionally good shuai jiao, chin na, jing and form applications
  3. His grasp of whole-body strength, how to cultivate it, refine it and teach it
  4. His study of taoism and the Tai Chi Classics and his skill in infusing the art with the requisite principles
  5. The production of a professional-quality syllabus, complete with logical, comprehensive grades, belts and assessment



If you do not want to commit a lot of time to the training, you need to stagger the material.

Address the main material as often as you can, and then stagger the rest over a few days.