Becoming an instructor #3

Many instructor become so committed to teaching that they don't leave enough time for their own development. Such neglect is harmful and will diminish your practice.

You need to have a daily routine whereby you train the material throroughly. It cannot be merely dull drilling. Progress must be made. New ideas, new insights, new challenges. An instructor can spend a few hours a day addressing their own training, before ever teaching a student that day. This is not a commitment for everyone.

At some point your syllabus must be capped, and you focus deeper on your existing material. A more, more, more mentality will leave you with too much to train and no time to do it all.

In order to avoid the risk of injury, your own body must be carefully exercised in a variety of ways each day. For example, tai chi is just a portion of my own training. I also walk 5-10 miles a day (it helps the legs), perform massage and mild stretching.

The average student has no need of this level of training, but an instructor is not just a student anymore.


The modern world is engrossed in a child-like quest for eternal happiness.

People want to live in the perfect house with the perfect partner and perfect kids, with the perfect job and the perfect car and have perfect friends and perfect holidays. They want to be respected and loved, envied and pleased.

This is profoundly unbalanced. There is something superficial in such a life.

Without sorrow, happiness would have no meaning. Without pain, there cannot be joy. Happiness that stems from having something is not real happiness.

Consider these songs:

"Hurt" sung by Johnny Cash
"Mad World" sung by Gary Jules
"Bridge Over Troubled Water" sung by Simon & Garfunkel

They are stirring, disturbing, moving songs that trouble the heart. There are thousands more but you get the idea.

Experience every feeling. Don't run from sadness. If you are unhappy, be with it. Sorrow makes you whole.


8:30 PM - Guided relaxation

The lessons usually end with guided relaxation.


The Chinese characters for 'tai chi' are translated in a variety of ways.
Some people say 'yin/yang', 'supreme ultimate' or 'great pole' but this has just substituted one obscure phrase for another.

Ray Grigg translates tai chi differently: 'dynamic balancing'.

This is a translation that says something. You can understand what dynamic means and what balancing involves. It depicts a process that sounds alive. The words produce a meaningful response. Contrast with 'supreme ultimate'?

Dynamic balancing captures the essence of what is involved in the doing of tai chi. Your muscles are dynamically stretching as you move; opposing groups supporting and resisting. Energetically, you are in the process of constantly re-balancing the body.

Jonothan's graffiti...courtesy of Facebook

"What the hell does this mean?"


8:00 PM - Partner work/self defence

Our syllabus is complex, sophisticated and logical.

Students work though each grade methodically, gaining an increasingly diverse range of tai chi abilities.

Being realistic

Facing up to your age can be a bit hard if you have an ego.

A well-balanced 40 year old usually recognises that they do not really want to undergo violent combat. They are looking for something milder. Yes, they want self defence skills, but they also want more. They want to feel fit, calm and comfortable in their own body.

A good tai chi class can offer self defence without the risks associated with the external arts.

Get help

If you find yourself prowling the web looking for some way to assuage your boredom and vent your wrath, you may have some problems.

Rather than pour your heart out via your blog, why not talk to a real person?

There are counsellors and therapists in most cities around the world. Seek them out. Talk to them. Find a constructive release for your frustrations.

Let a caring professional assist you. Find meaning and balance once again.


If your tai chi doesn't look perfect, so what? Ascertain what needs work and work on it. But don't ever stress about it. A positive, patient approach to tai chi is what you need. Watch. Feel. Explore.

Tai chi is filled with fussy prissy people who fret about the choreography of their moves and worry about pinpoint accuracy. The internal content of their tai chi is usually absent. They are caught up in the spectacle, the show, the superficial.

Tai chi is not performance art. Being a performer is totally incongruent with taoism. How the tai chi looks is meaningless relative to how it feels.

Think of tai chi as being 'shaped movement'. Use the relevant, useful part of the arc. This may not look crisp and tidy but it will loosen your joints and soften the muscles.

Corrections are about helping the student to feel the essence for themselves, structurally and martially. The teacher should care for their students and not put them down or make them feel inadequate. Correction is not criticism.


Becoming a teacher #2

Knowledge is never enough. You must also want to share it. Not for ego, but because you cannot help yourself - its in your nature to communicate.

Not every student likes to share. Many take no real interest in other people. They decline to help out in class and do not mix well with others. No extra-curricular activities. No socialising. These people can never be a teacher. They are too insular, isolated and uncomfortable with themselves. It is not possible to go from self-centred to extrovert. It goes against the grain. Against what is.

A teacher must be comfortable in a social setting, interacting freely with people from many different backgrounds. They must have passion. They need to actually like people.

Nietzsche wrote that a teacher who teaches from the heart takes all things seriously only in reference to the students, even themselves. Unless you are passionate about helping, sharing, and have genuine fun interacting with people, you cannot ever become a good teacher.


Use mind, not force.

Force is a major problem in tai chi and leads to muscular tension and fatigue.

May I tell you a joke?

Some of you may have heard it, so don't get bored.
The devil and his friend are walking the earth.
Ahead of them, they see a man bend down and pick up something shiny on the ground.
He looks at it with delight, puts it in his pocket and elatedly walks off.
The friend asks, "What did that man find that changed him so much?"
The devil answers, "I know. He found a piece of truth."
"By jove!" exclaims his friend. "That must be bad business for you."
"Not at all," the devil replies with a sly smile, "I'm going to help him organise it".


7:00 PM - Qigong & weaponry

New starters learn the basic qigong exercises.

Graded students work on weapons drills:
  1. 20 cane/stick drills
  2. 13 knife drills
  3. 15 broadsword drills
  4. 2-person cane/stick
  5. 2-person small stick

Exercise videos

Be wary of attempting to learn a sophisticated exercise system using a video.

If you are making fundamental errors, how will you know?

If you have an existing injury, there is a risk of making matters worse.



Blogs & chatrooms

One of the problems with the internet is that it encourages all manner of unpleasantness. Blogs and chatrooms allow malignant people to insult strangers anonymously. Bad feeling and gossip are rampant.

Troubled people are free to pour out hatred and malice, with no risk of consequence.

This is not healthy.

Falter at the finish

Lao Tzu said that people typically don’t see things through. They begin with enthusiasm and good intentions, but rapidly grow restless and lack the staying power to reach anything truly worthwhile.

How many times have you read a story or seen a movie that has a great beginning but a poor ending?

A good story should tantalise at the beginning, add texture and depth in the middle and have a resounding conclusion; with insights, lessons and understanding to take away with you.

This is a model for our syllabus.


Timing & coordination

Before you can jing successfully, a fully-functioning pathway must be developed through which you can generate power.
The correct muscle groups need to be engaged.
The muscles must direct the kinetic energy in the line of your choosing.

Force is not projected by means of the curve. It is linear. Circularity only occurs when the line of force changes.
This is called 'square on the inside and round on the outside'.

You must become adept at channelling kinetic energy down a deliberate, conscious path.
This process takes time to master.
Daily training is encouraged.

Find joy

Every circumstance is an opportunity to find levity and happiness.

Even the most unpleasant-seeming situations are a chance to refine your character and respond to hardship with good spirits and humour.

It is our response to the event that counts, not the event itself.


Becoming an instructor #1

The first quality necessary when seeking to become an instructor is that you must have something to teach.

Not only must you have information and experience, you need a level of knowledge that enables you to see connections, associations and themes - linkages between apparently separate qualities/components.

To posses this degree of insight, your own research, study and training must transcend mere regurgitation. For an instructor, it is not enough to copy and then pass on the same material. You must see things from many different angles, and be capable of selecting the most appropriate route for the given student's perceptual capacity.

A vast number of hours must be spent in solo and partnered training, watching, thinking and reading. Test, dismantle, explore and start again.

Mirror, mirror

Do you like people for who they are, or only to the degree to which they reflect your own values?


Emotional weaponry

Emotion is the tool the personality uses to grant its opinions credibility and value. It’s how the personality feels worthwhile. It is also how the personality gets what it wants. It can wield emotion like a baseball bat, manipulating others to react to its needs and desires.
We learn the trick as children. A bit of theatrics, temper tantrums – howling at 120 decibels in the middle of the supermarket – worked marvelously when we wanted an ice cream. Emotion was how we got grown-ups to take notice.
(Stuart Wilde)



What have you put in your mind?

Is it facts & figures, general knowledge, gossip and opinion? How often do you use the information that you store? Could your mind do with a good clean out? Can you shed some opinions?

What have you stored in your mind - necessities for a worthwhile life, or trivial junk?



Labour-saving devices make life easier.

For what purpose?
What do you do with this easier life?
Sit and watch TV?

Perhaps manual labour serves a purpose.


No honour

We live in dishonourable times. From a war waged on questionable ground, to the smaller things that remind us every day that something important has been lost: the guy who opens a candy bar and tosses the wrapper on the street, the white collar worker who pads his expense account because everyone else is doing it, the woman in accounting who’s nice to your face but tears you down when you’re out of the room, reporters who fabricate stories and CEOs who cash out the retirement funds of their employees to buy yet another big house in the Bahamas... we are daily deluged by duplicity, convenient fabrications, self-indulgence, outright lies and the elevation of enlightened self-interest to an art form practiced by both the lofty and the low.
Because you gotta look after numero uno first. Because only losers put other people first. Screw the next guy before he has a chance to screw you. Do unto others then split.
(J M Straczynski)



Enduring hardship is tough.

To bear that which you think you cannot bear is really to bear.


It can be very difficult to stay relaxed, calm and compassionate when things seem to go from bad to worse.

These are trials of character. We can learn a lot from them; about who we are and how we respond under pressure.

If we can endure, then the experience can change us for the better - like the forging of a sword, where the raw metal is beaten repeatedly by the blacksmith until it has strength that is needed for what lies ahead.


Be scientific about your knees

Every form of exercise has the potential to harm your body if you do not perform it correctly. Even tai chi.

If you do experience knee problems, it is worth talking with your instructor.

Usually the only people who get knee trouble are those with an existing history of hard style external martial arts, sports injuries or occupational damage. Those people need to be very slow and careful in order to rehabilitate the knees.

If you do not have a history of wear and tear, and you are experiencing discomfort, logic dictates that you are performing the exercise incorrectly.

After all, the rest of the class is alright...

Your practice is going to require some rehabilitation, so be scientific about the situation: work with your instructor and figure out what you are doing wrong - and correct it. It can be difficult to admit an error and take responsibility for your own wellbeing, but it is a necessary first step.


The past

The past is past and can’t be fixed. The only tragedy is when you carry a negative memory of it into the future. Absolve yourself. If needs be, create a solemn ceremony, light a candle, say a prayer or meditate, release yourself from previous stuff-ups.

If you’ve hurt people in some way, write them a mental letter and mail it to their heart – tell them you’re sorry. Or, better still, pop around and apologise to them personally. That’s very cathartic for them and for you.
(Stuart Wilde)


Stuck in the past

If you assess new experiences based upon old ones, are you learning anything and are you actually seeing the new at all?

In our quest for security and comfort we cling to what has been and employ comparison as a coping mechanism.

Yet, the new is not familiar and may not reflect your existing experience. The danger with comparison is that you are blind to the new because you see only the old. You value what seems important to you.

These values may appear less significant from a different perspective.


Learn for yourself

He didn't want anyone to copy him. He himself had learned very little through conscious imitation and he distrusted it as a genuine learning process. He wanted his teachers to make their own discoveries and work things out for themselves as he had done, so that each teacher would have their own unique approach and way of working with the principles.

(Glen Park)



If tao eludes you, read zen or study a zen-related discipline.

Zen is the spirit of spontaneity; the art of being in the immediate, in the now.

Many zen books are a mixture of taoism and Buddhism, and this occludes the heart of zen somewhat.
Since zen sprung from taoism, it can be an interesting way to expand your understanding.


Before the classics

The tai chi classics are not the root of tai chi.
To extend the metaphor; they are the tree trunk, with the various schools and families representing the branches and leaves.

The root of tai chi is taoism.
Taoism is not about tai chi and never mentions tai chi, but everything in the tai chi classics presupposes an understanding of taoism and its associated principles and insights.

If you are not familiar with Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu, you should expect to find the tai chi classics difficult.
Lao Tzu spoke of how his insights were nothing remarkable yet no one would implement them. His book Tao Te Ching is a clever piece of literature; it is so utterly understated and easily ignored.

The title tells you its worth: The Way Things Are And Their Inherent Power.
In other words: accord yourself with existence and you will draw strength from your relationship.
This lies at the centre of tai chi chuan.



Taoism is not a religion in any real sense; it is more like science than religion.

Imagine watching an insect and noting the cunning ways in which it utilises its body relative to its environment - and then adopting and adapting those insights yourself - that is taoism.

You are not expected to memorise anything or quote witty insights.
You can possess tremendous taoist wisdom without ever reading a book; all the books do is help you to notice things and contemplate.


Tai chi classics

What are the tai chi classics?
What do they constitute?

The tai chi classics are the recorded wisdom of some famous tai chi teachers.
Do and don'ts concerning tai chi.
Most of the suggestions are quite clear, although others are more cryptic.

It is very important for every student of tai chi to read the classics periodically and use them as a meter against which to gauge the quality of their own practice.

If your tai chi deviates from the classics, you are probably not doing tai chi.


Yang Cheng Fu form

Our school practices the Yang Cheng Fu style of tai chi, which is quite martial in nature but very good for health.
We teach the small frame, small circle version.

This is not the simplified form taught by Cheng Man Ching or Beijing/Peking schools (24 step etc).


What is tai chi?

Tai chi is:
  1. a form of healthy exercise
  2. a system of self defence
  3. meditation training
  4. the physical embodiment of taoist and martial insights
  5. a spiritual journey

The meaning of tai chi can be found in its application of taoist insights and principles in everyday life.
It is about making skilful use of what is available.
Making the best of things.



The problem with techniques is orthodoxy.
A self defence situation calls upon you to adapt and change relative to the opponents behaviour.
This requires a dynamic relationship.
There is no fixity.

You cannot make any assumptions concerning your opponent.
Every encounter is fresh, alive and changeable.

The variables are considerable, and you must move with them, flowing and fluid.

Your appropriate response is akin to building your own technique, tailored specifically for the attacker and discarded when you break contact.
It lives only as long as the attack does and is not the product of conscious thought.


A doll of wood

Bruce Lee spoke of being a doll of wood, an animated machine with no thoughts and feelings. (He took the idea from Chuang Tzu's Fighting Cock).

You must leave aside any notions or concerns.
It is important to become blank and receptive, open to the situation and responsive to what is happening.
This is what zen does to the student.


Playing the attacker

If you play a lousy attacker during self defence partner work, it will show up during san da.
You will be hesitant, dithery and anticipatory.

Learn to step forwards with confidence and skill.




I've done some martial arts before including tai chi but sifu's syllabus is so beyond anything I've seen it's ridiculous! Practically all my previous training has not helped me at all and I'm just grateful I found sifu when I did.