Becoming a teacher #8

The facism of force...

Tai chi is about feeling the flow. Going with the grain, not against it. Naturalness. Smoothness. Receptivity. Ease.

You need to be in touch with these things. If your urge is to tense-up; physically, mentally, emotionally - then you should not teach anyone anything. You need to work on yourself more.

Forcing is just not tai chi. In fact, it is as far removed from tai chi as you can get.

There is a danger in believing yourself to be calm, relaxed, open and composed. But are you? How do you respond to pressure, to crisis? Does being thwarted cripple you? Tai chi students commonly imagine themselves balanced only to lock-up horrendously when surprised. Force is not the way...

Working on yourself is where you should begin and where you should end. Gain the knowledge, the experience, the skills, but also go further and make sure that you are balanced and in tune. Get third-party assessment. Listen to people. Learn not to take life too seriously. Or yourself. Especially not yourself.


One outcome of tai chi is composure. Many people try to fake composure but the phoniness is manifested through their brittleness, fear and physical tension.

Real composure comes from being detached and a little laid back about life.
You stop taking things quite so seriously, especially yourself.
Being emotionally honest with yourself is crucial. You should not suppress or pretend.

Feel whatever emotion comes your way and if it is adverse, contemplate the cause.
Dig deep and find out the source of your upset. Work to remedy the problem if you can.


I can't get a handle on tai chi

Why do you expect to?

The beginners syllabus is an introduction to tai chi. You are not expected to understand it straight away. Understanding takes time.

People often try to understand tai chi in terms of something else: boxing, judo, karate, wing chun. This is like considering Paul in terms of Peter.

A beginner initially lacks context. As they practice, the pieces slowly come together and the art makes sense.


New footage

We are experimenting with using a new camera for video footage.

This was our first attempt:

Advanced-level (at last)

To Peter Southwood for a very nice card and an extremely generous gift of a fancy changshan.

Peter put the icing on the cake by giving feedback on Sifu's latest assessment and pronouncing him to be 'advanced'. What a wonderful wedding gift!

Sifu is more excited about the wedding than being officially 'advanced' and hasn't made any formal announcement to the class just yet.

After 20 years of tai chi chuan and baguazhang practice this is a long-overdue acknowledgement from a very difficult teacher to learn from.

Waist leads

Your waist must lead initially.
Once this is comfortable, work for a whole-body action such that the movements come from the feet, right through to the fingertips.

You must work at stretching out your tendons and ligaments, reaching further without strain.
Be careful not to lift the sternum.

Eventually, you lead from the centre, which is an experienced-level skill.


Wear & tear

A 40 year old has accumulated a lifetime of bad physical habits. The joints are often over-worked. The body is unbalanced. A person stoops or slouches. This is common. The internal arts work to improve your awareness, so that you can start to correct bad habits of body usage. The material gently re-trains your body to move differently, to use less strength, to rely upon the physics. There is consequently less wear and tear.

Passing judgement

When a person passes judgement without criteria, they reveal a certain ignorance and arrogance.
They assume to know.

This is like the notion of 'mastery'.
The word 'master' suggests an end, a conclusion. But is there such a condition? Surely all students of tai chi are evolving.

If you are not growing and changing, you become stagnant and stale.
Taoism and zen recognise the significance of process. Everything is changing.

There is no still point, no end.
How we see things is changing as we change.
Are your current thoughts and beliefs the same ones you held as a toddler/a young child?
Surely not.
Everything is provisional. Existence is protean.

Jesmond Dene



Modern society reveres beauty; it values aesthetics over substance and has a very narrow definition of what it considers beautiful.
In terms of people, the aesthetic appears to be that of a television celebrity teenager: wrinkle-free, smooth-skinned, pubescent body and straight hair.

Television uses make-up and lighting, as do magazine photographers.
What you see is not real.
Adults actually turn to the butchery of cosmetic surgery in the hope of looking like a teenager again.
There is a danger in believing illusions and attempting to re-shape your looks to fit them.


Becoming a teacher #7

Teaching experience is vital.

Knowing your material is not enough. Helping others encourages you to see the art in a very different way. Practicing is one thing. Explaining is another. It makes you re-consider the art and how it operates.

If a student with no teaching experience in class suddenly sought to be a teacher, I'd seriously question their motives. What makes them convinced that they have something to teach? Also, with no demonstration of a helping nature, what makes them imagine themselves capable or willing? It is a little naive.

A good student teacher has fun teaching. There is humour, rapport, skill present at all times. They know how to adapt, change and improvise. How to turn things on their head.

In touch

Have you ever read zen koan?

Students are asked to offer commentaries on koan, Tao Te Ching and martial theory before being taught new material.

You are invited to notice things, to examine, explore, see further and find things out for yourself.

If you do not see the details, how can you progress?


Trainee instructors (2)

My school does offer instructor training...

However, many would-be instructors have something in mind that requires a shorter-term commitment.
Herein lies the problem.

Are the prospective instructors already skilled at tai chi?
If they cannot do it themselves, how do they expect to teach it?
To teach, you must have experience.
And experience takes time.

To perform tai chi skilfully requires decades of training and ongoing corrections and development.
It is not akin to keep fit or yoga.
At its heart it is a Chinese martial art, and even if your intention is 'health', a thorough grounding in the principles of the art are necessary.

Popular culture gives the impression that people can qualify to be a tai chi instructor in 2 years or so.
This is ridiculous. And unethical.

How long does it take to learn how to play the piano, to dance, to pass a degree?
A person may learn how to drive a car in a matter of months, but are they then a driving instructor also?
To teach, you must possess the skills.
Possessing the skills demands time and daily practice.

Attempting a shortcut is unethical, ill advised and dangerous.
Who will insure you?
If someone is injured because of poor quality tuition, you may be liable for malpractice.


Trainee instructors

I got an e-mail today from a healthcare professional wanting to train their staff to be tai chi instructors...

At first glance such a request may sound reasonable, until you consider one essential point: to teach a subject, you must know the subject thoroughly and comprehensively. And this takes time.

Until you can do tai chi to a high standard yourself, you are not fit to teach. In fact, you have nothing to teach. Passing on bad habits, misconceptions and mistakes is unwise. Only experience can prevent this from happening.

There is more to tai chi than can be learned in a short course. It is an ongoing endeavour. To become good you must make a deep investment. To become a instructor you must be good at tai chi, be capable of teaching people, and have rapport with people.


We are also inclined toward things that please us and away from things that do not.
This is called gratification.

Yet, there is great danger in dismissing things on the basis of gratification.
Not everything in life is there to please us.
Indeed, much of existence is not about us and has no bearing on us.
We are not the centre of the universe.
Embracing the unknown inevitably means doing things that are not necessarily pleasurable.

This is like drinking green tea.
The taste is bitter and unpleasant, but you drink anyway, and eventually the bitterness no longer concerns you.

Be nice

This is a good rule to live by: if you don't have anything pleasant to say, don't say it. Think about it...

If you watch the old black and white movie Harvey, you appreciate the value of just being nice to people. Being nice is a lovely alternative to the bitterness we so commonly encounter in our culture.

You may even find that you enjoy it...


How you are

Often our perception of things says more about ourselves than the subject of our assessment.

A person passes comment, and in so doing reveals the inner workings of their mind.
How we see things and what we take the information to mean will vary from person to person.
In truth, we do not see things as they are, but as we are.

Our perceptions are coloured by our upbringing, our education, our memories, our bias, our opinions, our culture, our desires and expectations.

Business address

Newcastle Tai Chi
St Andrew's Church
Station Road
NE12 8AW
0750 3604568



A new starter watches the tai chi in class and remarks upon the quality of the material.
A reasonable reply might be: "How can you tell?"

This simple question is extremely penetrating.

On what basis is the new starter assessing the tai chi performance?
How are they measuring the skill?
What criteria are being applied?
Which qualities do they consider to be valuable?


Not doing

Our lives are enmeshed in activity. We are relentlessly doing. Incessantly active.At every moment we are caught up in cogitation. Choosing, judging, assessing, predicting.

Yet, instead of selecting this or that option, we can simply be.
There is no need to look, to seek, to actively do anything. We can simply remain calm and do nothing.

We do not try to change the situation into something else, or accomplish anything.

Instead of doing, we stop doing. We come to a halt. At this point, we are relaxing.


Zen in the martial arts

The raw immediacy advocated by zen suits the martial arts.Superfluity has no place in self defence, and zen is an ideal way to trim your art down to the fundamentals.

A student who is absorbed in the doing is said to be in a condition of 'shen', where no division exists between the art and the individual.

Our school advocates a zen approach to the study and practice of tai chi.

If you are not sure what this means, read Zen in the Art of Archery - it reflects our approach very well.

Muscles not bones

Our aim is to spiral through the soft tissue of the body, not through the joint.

The joint moves far less than the kwa does.

Good character

The martial arts have always been associated with good character. Students are expected to behave in a virtuous manner. They should be moral and honourable.

The petty, cowardly aspects of modern culture should be beneath the martial artist.

They have no desire to stoop to gossip, malignant conduct and abuse. A martial artist is better than that. They leave unpleasant behaviour to people who need help.


Becoming an instructor #6

You need to have a syllabus. Without it, you will flounder and so will your students. A step-by-step path through the material is necessary.

It is unlikely that you will get it right first time.

A syllabus is a work in progress. If you find a method that works for everyone, regardless of age, gender, experience, background, then great - stick with it. Otherwise, you'll need to review it regularly and figure out what to improve.

To create a syllabus, you need guidance from another instructor. Or you need to attend an instructor training course.


It is not necessary to become a Buddhist in order to understand and appreciate zen.

The process of formalising zen is a contradiction in terms, as it removes the natural simplicity of the flower sermon.
Zen is a sensibility not a religion.


Self defence

Self defence training need not be brutal or unpleasant. It can be a fun, creative journey with many insights and unexpected breakthroughs. Much of the initial training is concerned with composure, sensitivity and good body use. A working knowledge of basic physics and body mechanics is cultivated. Once you have remembered how to play, you realise how the self defence skills can be applied to conflict management in everyday life.


Tai chi was designed to cultivate an unusual kind of strength, which is very different to what you may think of as being strength. The muscles stay loose and relaxed, and avoid tension. Yet, your body gets much stronger. Instead of doing sudden, extreme amounts of work, your body undertakes milder training. As you grow stronger and more capable, the training moves with you, challenging your body without straining it.

Cutting up an ox

Prince Wen Hui's cook
Was cutting up an ox.
Out went a hand,
Down went a shoulder,
He planted a foot,
He pressed with a knee
The ox fell apart
With a whisper,
The bright cleaver murmured
Like a gentle wind.
Rhythm! Timing!
Like a sacred dance,
Like "The Mulberry Grove"
Like ancient harmonies!
"Good work!" the Prince exclaimed, "Your method is faultless!"
"Method?" said the cook
Laying aside his cleaver,
"What I follow is Tao
Beyond all methods!
When I first began
To cut up oxen I would see before me
The whole ox
All in one mass.
"After three years I no longer saw this mass. I saw the distinctions.
"But now, I see nothing
With the eye.
My whole being
My sense are idle. The spirit
Free to work without plan
Follows its own instinct
Guided by natural line,
By the secret opening,
The hidden space,
My cleaver finds its own way. I cut through no joint, chop no bone.
"A great cook needs a new chopper
Once a year - he cuts.
A poor cook needs a new one
Every month - he hacks!
"I have used this same cleaver
Nineteen years.
It has cut up
A thousand oxen.
Its edge is as keen
As if newly sharpened.
"There are spaces in the joints;
The blade is thin and keen:
When this thinness
Finds that space
There is all the room you need!
It goes like a breeze!
Hence I have this cleaver
Nineteen years
As if newly sharpened!
"True, there are sometimes
Tough joints.
I feel them coming, I slow down, I watch closely,
Hold back, barely move the blade,
And whump! the part falls away
Landing like a clod of earth.
"Then I withdraw the blade,
I stand still
And let the joy of the work
Sink in. I clean the blade And put it away."
Prince Wen Hui said, "This is it!
My cook has shown me
How I ought to live
My own life!"
(Chuang Tzu)

Thank you, Brian

I would like to thank Brian for fixing my PC.

He has done a great job and I'm hoping to able to continue updating the website over the next few days.

If you want multi media/technology advice or would like to create your own exotic tropical fish environment, ask Brian. His fish tank is amazing.


Facing death

Japanese samurai used to contemplate death. This was not some morbid fixation.

Admitting their own mortality forced the warriors to accept that life is a precious and fleeting gift.
They regarded the cherry blossom as a symbol of this insight.

Cherry blossoms bloom for a brief period and then fall at the very height of their beauty.
To the samurai this was a melancholy reminder of death amidst life.
It was an example of great beauty and sadness.


Sore shoulders?

Students sometimes get sore shoulders. Usually this stems from over-stretching.

Aim to drop the elbows; not just lower them, but actually feel the weight and allow them to hang.
Rather than stretch at all, feel what your natural range is and stay within 70% of that.

Your frame may look and feel much smaller, but the emphasis will be taken from the shoulders and arms, and placed back upon the centre; the muscles around the waist, hips, groin, sacrum and spine.

Make sure that you remember that muscles move your body, not bones. Stretch too far and the joints will be sprained. Keep the joints loose and open, relaxed.


Krishnamurti spoke a great deal about being choicelessly aware. He said, "Freedom is precisely the state of not having to choose." Now, that sounds quite paradoxical, because we are always talking about freedom of choice. But choice in this sense of the word is not a form of freedom.
What is choice in Krishnamurti's sense of the word? It is the act of hesitation that comes before making a decision. It is a mental wobbling, much like when some people take up a pen to write but don't just start writing; they jiggle the pen around indecisively for a while and then start. When a person comes into a room and hesitates and wonders who to talk to, in that moment he is choosing. Whereas when a person comes into a room and goes up to someone without waiting to choose, we say he is decisive. But that is a funny thing to say, because it really means that he hadn't stopped to decide.
(Alan Watts)


Boot camp

Do you like it?

Does anyone enjoy being on the receiving end of abuse? Nobody sane and healthy.

Who wants to hear ugliness, malice, insults and sarcasm? No one who respects other people.

Is anger constructive? Anger is about force, destruction, bullying and frustration. It is the emotion of impotence.

Can you find peace through conflict? Hostility perpetuates itself.


Moving with strength

A beginner initially learns a combination of standing and moving qigong exercises, along with the form sequence and partner work.

Once the moving qigong is familiar, it is necessary to imbue every exercise with power, such that the entire body is involved. A wave-like flow of softly-connected tissue is required, and the ability to focus the force in a clear direction. The ability to work with gravity is fundamental.

The next task is to do the same with form and silk arms. Consider each posture very carefully and ask yourself: what do you need to do to produce power from this posture? How does the movement work?

Avoid local muscle usage and pay attention to the opening and closing of the joints and vertebrae, the turning of the waist and the spiralling of the body. Finding the correct body mechanics is essential - until you can move in a flowing manner (with power) your form will remain empty.

When your moving qigong and form can both produce jing, you are ready to consider applying those form movements.


Tai chi for health

Trained correctly, the internal arts should significantly improve your health. You may not think that health is important, but how often do you expect to be using your combat skills?

Health comes first. Everything else is secondary. We teach a very comprehensive curriculum that exercises your body in a wide variety of ways. Everything from self-massage to stretching is addressed.

Becoming a teacher #5

Walk your own path.

You cannot teach or even practice in someone else's style or manner. You have to find your own.

This will entail periods of doubt, confusion, frustration and joy. Being the teaching means that you are out on a limb. Yes, people will help you, but ultmately, all decisions must come from you. Classes require a leader not a democracy.

If you train for long enough, you'll develop a flavour that is distinct to you. Otherwise, what is different about your classes? Without uniqueness, you are interchangeable. That unique quality comes from you. Let it flourish.

Eventually, your syllabus becomes an expression of you.


Reach out from the centre slowly. Pause. Then withdraw the arms slowly.

Feel the weight of your limbs as you relax.

Rushing weakens your connection and will not train the nervous system correctly.

Shaped movement

Tai chi form is not yoga; it does not involve fixed postures. The so-called ‘postures’ serve to shape movement so that it can be used constructively in combat.

Every physical action you perform in life involves connecting and aligning your body such that the movement can produce an effect. Pressing a light switch requires accuracy, balance and the correct degree of pressure.

Tai chi is the same.

If the postures are too static or inflexible, your ability to shape movement will be impaired. Movement must pass through your body.



Modern society features many outlets that encourage unpleasant behaviour. Television presenters belittle contestants, journalists enjoy ruining reputations... People enjoy watching other people suffer.

If you like to see other people being harmed, what does this say about you? Nothing good, surely? Gaining pleasure from the misfortune of others is extremely ugly.

So what?

Not everything in life could or should go the way you had planned it. Plans are, after all, just ideas. They are not real.

When things thwart you, bring you down, compromise you, put you out… good. Overcoming hardship builds strength of character.

If things are difficult, do not despair.


How long until I can teach?

A good martial arts school makes the student work for their art. The journey from new starter to teacher can take decades.

It is not enough to simply learn the art. You must know how to teach it as well. Teaching is an entirely different skill.

Our school makes no guarantee that every student will one day become a teacher.



People go to university, they get a degree and usually some additional conceit. Yet, a degree is only a small measurement: 1/360th of a circle, a small wedge of knowledge.

Beyond degree is mastery. Yet, this too is still within the same small degree of expertise.

The more advanced your skills become, the greater your awareness of the unknown. When you can truly see the magnitude of your own ignorance, humility is immediate.

What is one droplet of water relative to the ocean?

In tai chi, there is no true mastery. It cannot be mastered. Mastery refers to the removal of division between yourself and all else. It is not the art that is mastered. It is you.



Anger is often touted as being a ‘powerful’ emotion.

In reality it is a behavioural habit learned in early childhood; a means of exhorting pressure through emotional upset.

Children denied toys or fast-food often have tantrums. They unleash their anger…

If an adult loses their temper with you, do your best not to grin at the pantomime. Give them a rating out of 10.


Becoming an instructor #4

Know when to stop. Rest. Find your own space again.

You must have boundaries. Otherwise you will burn out. Students can be very trying at times, demanding and occasionally offensive. It is necessary to step-back. To have some distance.

Training by yourself is one thing. Running a class/school is something else entirely. You will have a lot of different personalities to deal with. This is not easy.

Whitley Bay


Sifu Waller,

 Thank you! I've never thanked anyone for their web site. There is so much to learn, isn't there? You are providing endless opportunity, thanks! & Happy wedding day!


(John F. Erlbaum)



Macho behaviour usually stems from fear. At the heart of aggression is the need to present a strong external image. When you are hurt, you pretend that it did not hurt. When you are upset, you hide your feelings. You cultivate and maintain a stoic image of indifference.

This is not healthy. You are who you are. You are the age that you are. Your feelings are real. The pain is real. Your age is real. Pretending is dangerous.

Running away

There is no shame in seeking out help.

Not everyone is 'sorted' and happy with their life. If you are spending your time slouched in front of a computer screen, gleefully insulting people, you may have a few problems in life.

Running away from your problems by finding an outlet is not necessarily healthy. It may feel pleasant to express your rage, but does it solve anything? The rage is still there.

It takes courage to switch off the computer and seek out a real person. Do not be afraid. No one will judge you.


Modern living burns people out.

The pressures of media, culture and the greedy acquisitive lifestyle leaves husks of humanity wandering around weary and tired.

Chuang Tzu wrote a story about a man who refused to ‘invest in loss’ called "Flight from the Shadow."

Rest should be seen as an investment not a chore. Unless you see rest as being more important than your new sports utility vehicle, nothing will ever change.


Functional tai chi

If you want to learn tai chi for combat, your training should include:
  1. Chin na
    - cavity press
    - sealing the breath
    - dividing the muscle
    - misplacing the bones
  2. Conditioning exercises
    - seasoning the body to combat
    - strengthening joints, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments

  3. Countering punches, kicks and grapples
    - solo attacker
    - multiple attackers

  4. Countering a knife
  5. Energy work (qigong)
  6. Escapes- from a wide variety of holds, locks and situations
  7. Floor work
  8. Form application
  9. Gangs/multiple opponents
  10. Internal power- neigong- reeling silk
  11. Self defence
  12. Striking
    - fa jing
    - using body weight
    - striking bags, target pads and people
    - punch, palm, finger, elbow, shoulder, knee, kick
  13. Weaponry
    - sticks, knives, swords
    - improvised weapons
    - modern weaponry (rather than ancient)

The training must be varied. Pushing hands, form and form application is not enough. Although set patterns and drills are an acceptable training method, they should only represent a small portion of the actual practice. Unpredictability, surprise and disadvantage need to be addressed thoroughly and regularly.



There must be a slight stretch at all times throughout the exercise.

Be careful not to exert, strain or compromise the posture.

It is common for people to lose their shoulder alignment by lifting the arm too high, or the hip alignment by swaying the pelvis .

Strong pensioners

Bruce Frantzis wrote an inspiring account of a bagwa teacher in China who taught pensioners his system and how these senior citizens were extremely strong despite their age.

This story inspired our syllabus with regards students over 50.

Young and old alike work through an extensive range of qigong and neigong partner and solo exercises.

Form is not the focus of our Age Concern classes.

We do teach form but address internal strength first. Awareness, balance, mobile joints, soft muscles and a healthy psoas are more important than choreography. Connection and gravity replace the use of contracted muscles.

Since tai chi uses no actual strength in the conventional sense, older students find themselves becoming very strong in a matter of months.