Kumar speaks

When your teacher demonstrates something for you, you are obligated to practice it, or else you may invoke the following consequences of your own free will:

1. Your teacher may not correct you because your actions have shown that you did not really want to learn the skill.

2. You will not achieve the skill.

3. If you learn the next stage of the skill, it will be weak because it has no foundation.

4. Your skill will not rise to a high level until your attitude changes.
(Bruce Frantzis)


Why don't students train at home?

This is a perplexing question.

The usual reply is 'time'. But you make time for TV. You make time to sleep-in or go out drinking.

A keen student trains at home because they want to. Not for a reward or because you asked them to. They don't need asking.

The time spent at home is more important than class work. It is a time for practice, study, repetition and reflection, an opportunity to explore and enjoy.

Tai chi is an investment. If it feels like a chore, then you are yet to 'get it'.


Virtuous or self-serving?

When performing good deeds, if you are seeking to accumulate merit or accolades, then there is no virtue at all in what you are doing.

(Lao Tzu)


Form collectors

Form collectors are always on the lookout for novelty. They seek quantity not quality. It is like an absurd quest for a shortcut. In looking so hard they miss the subtle.

A good form is not necessarily style-specific. Yang, Chen, Wu, Sun, Hao and Cheng Man Ching are all different approaches to the same basic principles.

Providing your form is good for your body and contains tai chi classics, 13 postures, neigong, jing, dim-mak, chin na, applications, fa jing, 4 ounces of pressure, softness and yielding - it is probably worth learning.

Find a form that works for you and practice it thoroughly. Train it enough and your body will feel to move all by itself.



Is san da fighting?

Close, but not quite.
The purpose of a fight is to defeat an opponent, win a bout, score points etc.
San da serves a different purpose...

Your aim is to attack and defend skilfully using aspects of the art that work for you.
There are two reasons for learning this:
  1. To defend yourself against another martial artist
  2. To assist family/friends who are being assaulted
With the pressure of unpredictability, you find out what you can pull off.


When asking a question, it is important to consider just how receptive you are to the answer.

People consider themselves receptive but are often far from it.

If you were to ask: “How old are you?” you might expect a numerical value in response. “Older than a bird but younger than a mountain” may not be the answer you had in mind. It tells you something but lacks the familiar specificity.

So when the answer is not what you want to hear, what does that tell you? Are you asking the wrong question? Do you have an expectation in mind?



Have you ever considered what people intend by questioning?

Is the question a request for confirmation? Some sort of agreement? Proof of knowledge? Or a desire for approval? Is it simply rhetorical?

Or is the question something else? Surely a good question is pitched without expectation?



There is a serious danger in showing advanced material to a beginner.

At best, they will not see or understand what you are doing. At worst, they will parody your body mechanics, perhaps undermining their basic training completely.

A beginner lacks the necessary physical experience to replicate more advanced material and can only reasonably relate it to what they already know. Their attempt is apt to miss the detail and further hamper progress.

The outcome is the product of the means, the process. If you try to jump to the end without the means to accomplish the result, you can only have an external copy, lacking the real substance required.

All things come in time, and seeing slightly ahead is fine – it gives people something to think about. Too far ahead, and they loose sight of the immediate.


A class near me?

This e-mail is sent by somebody or other almost every week:

"Do you have any classes near where I live? I have looked on your website and can’t see one."

How are you supposed to reply?

Winter in Durham


Brain work

Tai chi is mentally demanding, rather than physical. Concentration is the hardest part.

There is nothing in the syllabus that requires gymnastic abilities. The work is 10% body, 90% mind.


Inherent peng

Inherent peng is a passive connection underpinned by groundpath. It makes your body feel rubbery – kind of firm, yet springy too. It is an allowing, not a doing.

How do you test for inherent peng?

Gently push the limbs or body of a tai chi student. They should maintain the posture without locking the joints or fixing (tensing) the muscles. There will be give, but the overall sense will be of resilience.

If you push too hard, they will yield further and allow your push to move them. They should not crumple or resist.

Nearly every tai chi person you work with tenses-up when you touch them. The ones who don't tense-up, but softly allow you to move them are yielding, and understand.

Is it necessary to stand for long periods of time?

Some qigong teachers expect students to hold static qigong postures for lengthy periods of time; even up to an hour.
This may be a challenge but the side-effect might easily be varicose veins, massive amounts of muscular tension and a decrease in higher level mobility.



Great website/database by the way. I love the way it opens up organically as you explore and make progress...




Teacher training offered a variety of focus areas to specialise in. 'Differentiation' was the obvious choice: helping all students to access the curriculum, irrespective of ability.

Differentiation is important in a tai class too. The skilled must be challenged, the strugglers must be assisted, and everyone must make progress at their own pace, and in their own time.

No pressure, no punishment, no flattery. The potential of each person must be drawn out and realised.


No consensus

Some people consider an advanced level of practice to indicate mastery, whilst others do not.

The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain call their basic tai chi chuan instructors 'advanced' and their master grade 'senior'.
The Chinese Wushu Association, National Sport Commission and the Chinese Wushu Research Institute consider 'advanced' to indicate grandmaster.
There is no consensus.


Watching sifu with the higher grades it struck me how he uses minimal movement and effort, it makes other martial arts seem very clumsy and disjointed, the more I see the more I am starting to appreciate the beauty behind the tai chi art.
I have on my messenger "There are no ordinary moments! especially in tai chi" and each lesson with you two does not disappoint.


Aiming high?

Peter Southwood maintains that tai chi students often have very high aspirations but very low commitment in terms of training.

Most people make good progress through weekly lessons, and never train at home.

But if your aims are high, you must practice daily. You need an organised routine that covers all the fundamentals. Just don't over-do it.

Our top student attends 14 classes a month and trains an hour a day at home. His practice is not perfect but his understanding is far deeper and ingrained than anybody else's.


Peter Southwood's tips #12 Armed attackers and gangs

Progress onto multiple opponents and weaponry.
You remain unarmed.

Assume nothing.
Expect everything.


"He learned it me"

This statement is a common misconception amongst students.

It is the student that does the learning. They are the ones who must endeavour to learn. Teaching is the process of offering material and then approaching it from a wide variety of perspectives in order to encourage individual understanding, exploration and responsibility.

Responsibility is the main theme here. Until a student is willing to take responsibility for their own wellbeing and progress, they do not learn.



I think the shredding of pre-conceived ideas of what 'tai chi' is was very important (and still is) in the early/beginner stages. My health has improved - not just physically - also an increase in general wellbeing. I have a lot of respect for the school and the instructor and the helpers/senior students. It's a joy training with people who have real passion (I don't use the word lightly) for the art and teach it with respect and integrity. As a student you feel privileged to learn. The value of the art is apparent in both the teaching and the learning. There are no illusions about how long the journey of the student will be but one can be confident it will be undertaken in a safe environment.


Self defence or performance art?

Some people may train pretty forms that work well in combat, but self defence has little to do with looking nice. Self defence is based on pragmatism, whereas performance art is interested in aesthetic appearance.

If you want to develop self defence skills, make self defence your primary concern. Pare away anything that is improbable, exaggerated or flamboyant - train only what you need to. Fans, swords and spears are not viable self defence tools for the 21st Century.

Lose everything that eats up your training time.


The importance of neigong

In our school, the form is just a vehicle for neigong. The postures and shapes of tai chi are a learning tool that trains alignment for application.

What fuels those applications? Neigong.

What softens the shapes into fluid movement? Neigong.


Ego in self defence

Don’t invite a fight, but face it if you have to.
Better to retreat a foot than advance an inch.
(Lao Tzu)

The first line is obvious but the second is more subtle. Lao Tzu is talking about yielding, about letting go of your ego and aggression, of backing down and losing face.

You know that you can fight, so you can walk away in the knowledge that if the assailant forces you to defend yourself, you will. But you would never instigate conflict.

'Advance an inch' refers to the getting-ready process - the telegraphing of your intention. You should be still and silent within, with your body soft and open. Do not prepare to the left or to the right, or your opponent may see it.



Is there such a thing as Seasonal Affective Disorder?

It would be easy to cultivate January depression:
  1. In September, start counting the number of working weeks until Christmas
  2. When it is closer to Christmas, count the number of working days
  3. Remind yourself daily how close Christmas is
  4. In October, start thinking about what you would like for Christmas - perhaps even write a list?
  5. Consider who you will buy presents for
  6. Plan what you are going to do over Christmas and who you intend to visit
  7. Shop for presents
  8. Give no real consideration to cost - go into debt when you run out of money
  9. Allow your excitement to build and build
  10. In December, trim your house and put up a tree

When all the presents are unwrapped and all the food and drink consumed, Christmas is revealed in all its glory: coloured lights, tinsel and wrapping paper. It is a hollow celebration.

January is when the bills arrive.

The chocolate manufacturers are already advertising Easter.


Alternate beauty

Last year we had a student who offered alternate health and beauty treatments for a living.

When she arrived at the class, she looked careworn and tired.
When she left, she looked younger and more vital.
This vitality is part of ‘shen’. tai chi is not a beauty treatment but it does release the muscles and improve wellbeing.


Burn the sofa

If your sofa or armchair does not allow you to sit upright – burn it.

The ‘slouch’ is bad for your spine, collapses the front of the body and creates a condition of depression. With your body crumpled in on itself, the muscles responsible for supporting the spine becomes lazy and weak.

Do not force the spine upright. Simply lengthen from the pelvis to the chin and just relax the spine.

Give your back a chance to support itself.