What are you going to do?

Peter Southwood allowed his student to explore the applications uninterrupted.
Peter's own perceptions and preferences reflected his own tastes, his own body and his own interpretation.

By guiding his student without overt intrusion, Peter allowed Sifu Waller to discover what worked for himself.

If Peter had emphasised his own approach, this may hamper Sifu Waller in combat.
You cannot wear another person's shoes.

The Chinese internal arts value spontaneity, innovation, adaptation, change, versatility.

Tron watch... if only!

Beyond form

Your movements will be agile and your spirit of vitality will be high. You will begin to feel that your tai chi practice goes beyond simple form training, and you will be able to perceive things as energetic combinations rather than as static physical bodies.

(Yang Jwing-Ming)


Consider this short stanza:

But if you cannot find
Friend or master to go with you,
Travel on alone –
Like a king who has given away his kingdom,
Like an elephant in the forest.


The king has given away his kingdom. Why is this?

Picture the elephant in the forest... huge, strong, powerful, noble. Yet concealed.
Instead of revealing its power, the elephant prefers solitude and obscurity.

Does responsibility/authority limit you? Does it curtail your freedom?
Is a ruler a prisoner of their own office?

This theme is echoed throughout taoism and is central to the art of taijiquan.
Position and power are regarded as being weak and needy.
True strength is found in other things. It does not rely upon approval or support.
It is found within.

Clinging to a position of so-called 'power and authority' binds you, and blinds you.
Holding onto status requires effort.
Taoism is about letting-go.

The eye of the beholder

Spectators see what they want to see.
What pleases them.
What meets their expectations.

Very few members of an audience would be capable of watching with a discerning eye.
Not many spectators would understand the nature of what they are being shown.

Tron watch... alas not available in the shops!


Traditional teaching

In 1990, Peter Southwood instructed Sifu Waller to start applying his form and palm changes.
No specific guidance was provided.
The internal principles had been taught already and Sifu Waller was a seasoned martial artist in other arts.
Peter simply left Sifu Waller to figure things out for himself.

Sifu Waller returned with a variety of applications and these were corrected.
Over time, the way in which the arts should be applied was suggested by the form(s) themselves, the underlying principles and the physics.


Just ordinary

A master and his student were approaching a stream. The student proceeded to walk on top of the water across the stream.
 The master admonished his student, "If I had known you were going to perform a miracle, I'd have broken both your legs!"
 (Zen story)


At what cost?

Success at any cost is not advocated by our school.
The aim of self defence is to avoid injury, not sustain it.

The internal martial arts of tai chi and baguazhang aim to incapacitate the opponent without sustaining any injury to yourself.


Can you see how it all works?
We teach the entire workings of tai chi to everyone but only the most dedicated people penetrate the syllabus.

It is like telling someone a secret.
The secret only has meaning and value if that person understands the context and application.
If you tell it to the wrong person, they simply will not care. It means nothing to them.

Hence, students who work hard 'get it' and learn the teachings.


Instructor level 1 assessment and certificate costs £100.


Why are the internal arts taught this way?

Partly it may cultural.
It may be that the internal arts are more sophisticated than your typical martial art.
A militaristic, routine method of teaching may not work so well.

In a Japanese art the student is encouraged to replicate the teachings of the art perfectly.
Like a carbon copy.

The internal arts encourage students to find their own way, recognising that some lessons simply cannot be taught.

Not forcing

Yielding involves following the line of incoming force; not forcing or opposing or anticipating.
It entails changing in response to what is happening, moving around an obstacle, flowing and adapting to the situation.
At the heart of yielding is the principle of making space; allowing and returning.

Although yielding may sound passive to the outsider, in application it is very deceptive and unexpected; often unnoticed.
The results are startling and effective.


You will see karate students who are learning tai chi, for instance, coming from a long background in karate. Unable to see the new art through anything but the filter of their karate experience, they come up with a weird hybrid. They have not learned how to see beyond their past experience and open up to a new one.

(Dave Lowry)



Cultural differences

Japanese martial arts are taught in a very methodical, thorough way.
There is a clear syllabus, steps of progress, grades and some degree of ongoing continuity.

Chinese internal arts are nothing like this.
By comparison there can seem to be no discernable syllabus, no continuity and a generally haphazard approach to teaching the syllabus.
If indeed a syllabus actually exists.

What are YOU going to do?

Brenda: What are you going to do?
McLeod: The question is... what are you going to do?


Discovery trail


Cosmetic surgery?

I was walking through Durham City Centre at 6 AM and I noticed a sign in a shop window which promised to rejuvenate the body through cosmetic surgery. How vulgar!

Is this the age we are living in?  
Instead of a healthy exercise and diet regime, people expect to walk into a shop and be magically transformed into somebody else? 
As if superficial changes to the outer body/skin are going to genuinely change anything?


Instructor training for each level is an ongoing process over many months.
It involves:
  1. theory
  2. questionnaires
  3. on-line media training
  4. how to promote the class
  5. class management methodology
  6. weekly teaching practice in class
  7. lengthy debates/discussions with Sifu Waller
  8. designing your own personal teaching notes/scheme of work
These teaching concerns are all in addition to your personal development through the syllabus.
Instructor training is free of charge.


From our garden


Yielding can mean: 
  1. Stepping
  2. Shifting the weight and turning the waist
  3. Bowing the back and tucking in at the middle
Option 1 is favoured by baguazhang, although option 2 is acceptable.
Option 3 is a last ditch choice.

In tai chi, option 2 is favoured, with option 2 used as well.
Option 3 is not the preferred choice for tai chi.


Teachers can only teach you to the level that the strength of your basics will allow them to. They can't do anything more, it's impossible.

 (Bruce Frantzis) 

Do the maths

1.5 hour lesson every week for 40 lessons a year = 60 hours a year practice

It will take 167 years to become an expert.


From our garden

Effort to reward ratio

Defeating the attacker at your own expense is essentially a 'sacrifice' tactic.
This is not how the internal arts operate.

Commitment is limited.
Over-commitment is a major fault.

All movements are performed in a manner that ensures the greatest effect for the least amount of effort.
With practice you will hardly look to be moving at all.
That is part of what makes the art 'internal'.


Scott Murgatroyd: "Is that Morpheus?"

Rachel: "Yes, Sifu is too old to be Neo, Luke Skywalker or Kwai Chang Caine. He must step-back and become the Master now: Morpheus, Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness), Master Po!!"


I was admitted to a select special research program in karate... here the innermost secrets of karate are introduced to future teachers. After a few months, it became obvious that many of the most 'secret' techniques were ones I had already learned in my first 2 years of basic training in the internal arts.

Many karate people had to wait 5-20 years before being taught the same material.

(Bruce Frantzis)

View from the training room


Every student begins with the same exercises and works through the same material.
Yet each lesson is different.
And each student is different.

What you take from the classes depends on how frequently you attend, what you do between classes and how smart you are.

Baguazhang: home practice

16 elbows, direction changes, mother palms and palm changes take about 15 minutes a day to practice once through.
If keen you should set this time aside.

If very serious, you should repeat the palm changes 3-5 times a day.


A martial arts instructor is unlike a school teacher or a university lecturer.
A tai chi sifu is not:
  1. a celebrity
  2. a coach
  3. a counsellor
  4. a guru
  5. a keep fit instructor
  6. a medical practitioner
  7. a monk/priest
  8. an on-line chatroom buddy
  9. a performance artist
  10. a personal trainer
  11. a therapist
  12. your mate
It is important to be clear about the role played by the martial arts instructor.
If you are training to be a tai chi instructor, you need to understand what that means.

If a person needs counselling, they should see a counsellor.
If a person has medical problems, they should see a doctor.

Wearing someone else's shoes may deny the student the proper treatment/help they require.




An integrated body moves as one unit. There is no disconnection.
You would never use an isolated body part to strike or lever an attacker.
You would never force an outcome.

When striking, there is no adverse feedback.
In combat, there is no tension.
No strain.

Particular attention is placed upon moving in a natural, safe, comfortable manner.
The joints are allowed to move freely.


Though the jing is soft, the damage is hard.

(Yang Jwing-Ming)


We are not all the same. We do not share the same priorities and concerns.
People value different things:

A man of Sung did business
In silk ceremonial hats.
He travelled with a load of hats
To the wild men of the South.
The wild men had shaved heads,
Tattooed bodies.
What did they want
With silk
Ceremonial hats?

Yao had wisely governed
All China.
He had brought the entire world
To a state of rest.
After that, he went to visit
The four Perfect Ones
In the distant mountains
Of Ku Shih.
When he came back
Across the border
Into his own city
His lost gaze
Saw no throne.

(Chuang Tzu)

In the first stanza, the salesman attempts to sell hats to people who have no interest in such things.
To them, hats are irrelevant. Unimportant.

In the second stanza, Yao has position and power.
He leaves his city in search of further insight and wisdom.
Upon finding it, he no longer sees his former life as having worth and significance.

Black belt does not mean 'instructor'

Gaining a black belt does not mean that you are ready to teach. Not at all.
Being an instructor is altogether different to simply attending classes.
Not every black belt student is capable of being an instructor.


Big Lebowski

From our garden

At what cost?

Success at any cost is not advocated by our school.
The aim of self defence is to avoid injury, not sustain it.

The internal martial arts of tai chi and baguazhang aim to incapacitate the opponent without sustaining any injury to yourself.


Darth Vader: Together we will rule the universe, as father and son.

(The Empire Strikes Back)

The quote listed here presents the idea of 'ruling'... but what exactly does this entail?
Being in charge?
Having power?
Ordering people around?

Is this something worth having? Is it something you would want to do? What purpose does it serve?
Why would anyone choose to be in charge?

What is power? What is position? What does a ruler do?



In order to instruct, you need something to teach. You require subject knowledge.

Prospective instructors start in the beginners class and work their way through the syllabus.
With patience, commitment and practice, they reach the black belt level.
(Optional) instructor training begins once you pass 3rd dan.



If taoism is the art of adjusting to life, then tai chi is the art of adjusting to the opponent.
This process of adjustment is what yielding is about.
Balancing, sensitivity, change.

From our garden


Many martial artists lose their temper in combat.
They fuel their responses with aggression and adrenaline.
This may prove effective, but it puts the body under duress.

Anger actually makes the mind stupid.
This is a medical fact.
It narrows the vision, limits coherent thought and causes the body to tense-up.

The internal arts favour emotional composure.
Anger is regarded as being an impediment, not a tool.

The spiral

There are connections and associations to be made between different aspects of the syllabus.

Themes, patterns and insights.

Even the most basic of exercises teaches countless layers of valuable knowledge.

As a student becomes more experienced, they come to regard the syllabus as a spiral.

Deeper insight stems from a reconsideration of the most basic precepts, and applying fundamental principles to even the most mundane of exercises.

Woven into the syllabus are lessons-within-lessons.

The Paleo Diet?

Tai chi and bagua are quite different

Tai chi and baguazhang may share many underlying concerns, but these are expressed quite differently.

How can I become an instructor?

We welcome anyone who wants to become a tai chi instructor.

There are five considerations:
  1. Knowledge
  2. Commitment
  3. Guidance
  4. Assessment
  5. Further development

Stage #4: Discovery

The student is wise enough and experienced enough to discriminate and make determinations based upon insights rather than opinions.
They are capable of engaging in fruitful discourse with their teacher, and the relationship is mutually beneficial.

Discovery usually occurs after 3rd dan.


Mutually destructive

Every martial artist seeks to defeat their opponent in combat.
But at what price?

Blocking, struggling, forcing, striking a balanced opponent... these are also harmful to your own body.
In defeating your opponent you may also harm yourself.

If defending your own body results in injury to your body, is this success?
Have you not failed in your intention?

Bruises, sprains, stiffness, soreness, cuts and damage are all bad for you.

Wrong path

He taught me to vibrate the breath and body rather fiercely and loudly like a growling lion, stretch the tendons, turn the waist like the motions of a food mixer, hit my own body and then flap my arms in the air.

I started accruing some fa jing, although of a more shocking nature, rather than the smooth kind that can come from tai chi.

The drawback is that it made my energy jumpy.

(Bruce Frantzis)

70/30 stance - extending peng beyond the body

Sifu's baguazhang and tai chi features extensive use of 70/30 stance. One aspect of this is the use of angles. It is fascinating in demonstration to discover how the structural parameters of 70/30 enable the peng to extend easily beyond your own body, with destructive consequences for the attacker.

The use of angles is extremely subtle and not really evident until Sifu explains it as you might to a young child. Then it makes sense. Explanations aside, the effect is undeniable and extremely powerful.

For the defender, the application of 70/30 is mild in terms of effort but amazing in terms of effect.

Sifu always says that if it feels easy and works, then you may well be performing it correctly.


Sifu used to have three bookcases filled with tai chi, tao, zen, martial arts and spirituality books. The bookcases were six feet tall and about four feet wide. There were a lot of books.

Every time we moved house he'd have to box them up. Eventually he gave away two bookcases worth in order to make it easier when moving house.

Occasionally Sifu thinks about replacing one of the books he used to own and looks it up on Amazon only to find that it is now out of print and a new copy will cost £50 - £100. I've found books on his remaining bookshelves that are worth hundreds of pounds. No idea why they are worth so much.


Only the most naive and arrogant student decides for themselves that they have 'got it'; that they no longer require guidance from the instructor.

The Essence of Budo: A Practitioner's Guide to Understanding the Japanese Martial Ways


Students must continue to receive ongoing correction until the instructor says that they are ready to carry on alone.
Otherwise, deterioration is rapid and inevitable...

Sylvia's carrot cake recipe

Stages: False progress

A student may believe that they have reached the third stage because they are asking what they see as being challenging and relevant questions.
However, to the teacher, these questions are not to the point.
The inquiries reflect a lack of fundamental understand.

The student is yet to gain perspective, and is actually still at stage 1.


Quality of life

People moan about their lives and are never happy.

Consider 200 years ago?
No leisure time, no 4 x 4 car, no holidays, no luxuries.
Unless of course you were one of the elite.

This dissatisaction is a marketing ploy.
It makes you spend money.
It causes you to want for things that you probably will never have, and really do not even need.

Many people in the world lack the quality of life you take for granted.


Sifu often dismantles familiar drills and illustrates the various jing involved. He demonstrates the source exercises, the ensuing form postures, and of course multiple applications.

This capacity to pull things apart to see how they work is a skill worth having. It really shakes apart our complacency and challenges the depth of our comprehension.

No longer using the phone

Sifu is receiving a lot of marketing calls on his phone, and often a voice message is left (which costs him money to listen to).

Since nobody who inquiries by phone ever attends class, he's decided to change his number and not publicise the new one.

Stage #3: Questioning

Not many students reach stage 3.
At this experienced-level, the student begins to question the teaching, recognising that there are other choices and possibilities.

This is not a time of challenge; it is a time of more earnest and thoughtful inquiry.
The student is beginning to think for themselves.
To see within the art.

At least a decade has now passed.


Baguazhang on YouTube

Baguazhang: prove yourself

A level of competence at the 1st palm change must be demonstrated quite if you want to study baguazhang.

New baguazhang students will be taught the single palm change over several sessions.
If you do not show aptitude and evidence of home training, Sifu will not teach you the art.

If you go away, practice and ask to be re-considered, Sifu will assess your palm change again.




Just because you do not like it does not mean it isn't true.

(Sifu Waller)

Stage #2: Humility

This occurs sometime after 1st dan.
The student has gained a sense of perspective and is daunted by the syllabus ahead of them.
They genuinely know that they do not know.

Secret teachings

Every martial art and every school has its own secret teachings.
These represent the knowledge, wisdom and experience of the founder, previous teachers and the current instructor.
Each successive generation adds something new.

These teachings were embedded in the very fabric of what is taught in class; available to everyone from the first class they take.
But only those with the benefit of distant hindsight are capable of seeing.


Holy Grail

The equivalent process to seeking the "Holy Grail" in internal arts is the ability to move more slowly than your opponent and consistently win.

Slower speed that wins out requires three types of speed coming together simultaneously:

1. Timing.

2. The signals required to maintain some level of conscious power.

3. The ability to release the internal gears of your body, which, if they freeze up, can create a momentary mental gap that breaks the connection between you and your opponent.

This method is referred to in the tai chi classics in the form of a question:

"How is it possible that an old man can defeat a group of younger men?"

Obviously, elderly men, even the most talented, are not physically capable of moving at the speed of young men. Virtually, by definition, the elderly move with slowness, and yet those old men internal arts masters by slipping in between the gaps, are justifiably well-known for defeating younger and faster men.

(Bruce Frantzis)

Stage #1: Ignorance

The student does not know anything but is usually too stupid to realise this.

Inside knowledge

It is very common for students to imagine that private lessons and long-term practice with an instructor guarantees receipt of the inner teachings
This is naive.
Traditionally, the secret workings of an art were passed on to family members first.
After family members, lineage students were the next consideration.
Everyone else was taught relative to their degree of commitment, and this seldom entailed the secret material.


In Wolf Lowenthal's book There Are No Secrets, the author presented a situation in which Cheng Man Ching had asked the students to push hands without using the arms.
The students were using tension.
They were forcing a result.
Cheng Man Ching wanted the students to push hands in a different way.
However, he was not prepared to explicitly tell the students what to do.

Years of fruitless practice bore no result.
After Cheng Man Ching's death, the author was watching a video of the instructor pushing hands when he suddenly saw how to push hands correctly.
In hindsight it seemed obvious.

Cheng Man Ching was not keeping secrets. In fact, he was showing the very skill all the time. But his students were just not ready to see it.



Fit to learn?

If the student is arrogant, lazy, has an attitude or is sloppy... they are unlikely to make good progress.
The teacher is not going to squander the art on an unsuitable student.

Day time classes?

Ex-Age Concern students periodically ask my husband if he would consider teaching a tai chi for health & fitness daytime class again. Although he's repeatedly said no and explained his reasons, they keep on asking.

Some people are weak-willed and will crumple if you badger them or pressure them enough. They will give-in and agree to your demands.

My husband is not one of these people.

Stages of learning

The student inevitably passes through four learning stages on their tai chi journey:
  1. Ignorance
  2. Humility
  3. Questioning
  4. Discovery


Indoor student

What makes a person an indoor student is the duration, intensity and quality of the relationship.

The student is privy to the innermost thoughts of the master; the preferences, considerations, choices, questions and options.

It is relationship that deepens over decades, and is uncommon in modern tai chi.

Classical Yang style

Our school practices the Yang Cheng Fu style of tai chi.
It is a classical approach; with health and combat considered as part of the same art.


Need to know

A student is introduced to the syllabus incrementally.
Each new layer of knowledge is contingent upon an understanding of what comes before.

Premature tuition is pointless.
The material would lack context and be wasted on the student.

John Carter

Small san sau: jing

Jing is concerned with the effect of your applications on the opponent.
Unless you affect the attacker in the required manner, the set will fail to work.
Every counter-attack must be executed properly.

If you can defend correctly, then each counter will finish-off the attacker.
You should also have compromised their structure and balance to an extent that forces the attacker to withdraw fully in order to re-attack.

Your aim is to be thorough and convincing against a full-power assault.



A teacher should aim to train every student up to their level and foster the skills necessary to go further.
 A student is not defined by their teacher.
 They can exceed the teacher.

 Consider people such as Einstein or Mozart.
 Clearly Einstein exceeded the sum of his teacher's expertise; he is considered to be one of the most powerful thinkers of all time...
 What was his physics teacher called?

 Every good teacher wants the student to exceed their own limitations.


Occasionally a beginner will see their instructor perform something unexpected and remark, "I didn't know that my teacher knew that..."
This comment reveals a level of naivety in the student.

Unless you are an 8th dan student (and have covered the bulk of the syllabus) you are unlikely to have see very much of the material.
Additionally, tai chi instructors are notorious for keeping their teachings secret.

Movie news




Tai chi may well be a Chinese martial art, but we can learn something from Japanese martial arts uniform design.
The elegance and dignity of Japanese uniforms are incredibly inspiring and artistic.


Imagine that you were asked to read through Sifu Waller's massive website, containing well over 1100 pages.
Each page includes many pieces of information.

Which parts are the most important?
How should you direct you energy, your time, your resources?
What should you emphasise?
Are you capable of deciding?

Students make decisions based upon their own standpoint.
Imagine if somebody were to tell you which parts to read... would it not enable you to focus your training?



'Lineage' means a direct line of decent.

 In tai chi it
suggests an unbroken chain of teaching from the creation of tai chi to the present day.
 For many people, lineage is a critical concern: who taught your teacher and who taught their teacher?
 And is the tai chi 'authentic'?

Lineage depicts the tai chi system as a jewel passed reverently from master to master, unchanged by time or temperament.


Students wear a plain black cotton wrap-over suit. A white wrap-over undershirt is worn beneath it.

Aspects of self

My husband is typically 'himself' all the time. Ironically, what this means is not what you may think. What you encounter in class is certainly a taste of what Sifu is about; albeit watered-down for your easy consumption. However, it is only a facet of Sifu and nothing like the whole person.

We are all like this; containing many aspects and qualities. I found my husband to be nothing like I anticipated. I'm sure he'd say the same of me.



Mastery is not to be found in the ego. A tai chi person does not master the art. They are mastered by tai chi.
 There is a distinct difference.
 Real skill comes from sublimating your 'self' and becoming one with the art.

 Follow the essence of the art. Keep your training relevant and in context. Be contemporary.
 Tai chi was designed to be used in the here and now, in the present era.


Deng Meng-Dao wrote about being a warrior in his excellent book 365 Tao:

To be martial requires discipline, courage, and perseverance. It has nothing to do with killing. People fail to look beyond this one narrow aspect of being a warrior and so overlook all the other excellent qualities that can be gained from training. A warrior is not a cruel murderer. A warrior is a protector of ideals, principle and honour. A warrior is noble and heroic.

A warrior will have many opponents in a lifetime, but the ultimate opponent is the warrior's own self. Within a fighter's personality are a wide array of demons to be conquered: fear, laziness, ignorance, selfishness, egotism, and so many more. To talk of overpowering other people is inconsequential. To actually overcome one's own defects is the true nature of victory. That is why so many religions depict warriors in their iconography. These images are not symbols for dominating others. Rather, they are symbols of the ferocity and determination that we need to overcome the demons within ourselves.



Chu King Hung


Zen influence

Japanese traditional fashion combined beauty and a certain zen aesthetic to produce garments which were both pleasing to the eye and functional.
As is common with Japanese culture, they were inspired by a foreign innovation and transformed it into something uniquely Japanese.

Instead of copying the gaudy fashions of China, the Japanese costume went the same way as the tea ceremony.
The emphasis was placed upon a different aesthetic:
  1. Get rid of all that is unnecessary
  2. Focus on the intrinsic
  3. Natural process
  4. Unpretentious
  5. Humility
  6. Earthy
  7. Simple
Dark colours and precise knots give the Japanese outfits a dignity that is very impressive without needing to put on a show.

Idle chat

My husband never engages in gossip or idle chatter. He has no interest in either past-time. Despite authoring a 1000 page website he often has little to say. His days are not filled on chat rooms or talking with people.

Much of his day is spent studying, training or working.

Talking to my husband can be frustrating for students. He is on another plain. The students asks a question, and the explanation is often more comprehensive than the inquirer was expecting.

Sifu will not pander to the ego or resort to sarcasm or put downs.



Japanese uniforms: dignity and functionality

Tron Legacy



Newcastle Tai Chi website has new home page

Newcastle Tai Chi

Several hours of working with my husband has produced a new home page on the new starter website. The web editing tool 'Frontpage' was very twitchy to work with. Refused to upload layers. Initially none worked. Then some did. Finally all did. No idea why.

What do you think?

Yang Shou Chung


Satin/silk: combat or performance?

Compare & contrast

When we encounter the unfamiliar, we seek to understand it in terms of the familiar.
Peter is considered in terms of John.
Can you see the problem with this?

Taoism advocates considering things in terms of itself, not in terms of something else.
Hence, tai chi is not like karate, nor is it different to karate.
In fact, tai chi and karate have no bearing on one another at all. No comparison is appropriate or necessary.

The comparison exists in your own consciousness.
You create the connection. In reality, there is no connection.
Similarities and differences will not lead to greater understanding.

Japanese uniforms

The wrap-over style became popular in Japan and was adopted by Japanese martial arts schools.

Japanese martial arts uniforms are made from plain cotton fabric.
The colours are subdued and the stitching robust.
There is a simple elegance and beauty in their understated rustic style.


When my husband is not interested in talking to people, he simply looms. He stands there looking vaguely friendly but doesn't interact at all. This complete absence of nervous chit-chat can make some people very uncomfortable. It's like Sifu has just switched off for a while.

He is not being deliberately rude or playing a game. I don't think he really notices it. He is not interested and doesn't pretend otherwise.


Shiny suits: not very martial

My husband's humour...

Sifu's sense of humour is very intricate and subtle. I think of it as being like nested boxes, a joke-within-a-joke-within-a-joke. Except that he doesn't tell jokes as such. He does tell anecdotes, though. Also, he will say something that seems humorous but isn't actually a joke.

His humour has a tendency to be incisive and direct; striking to the heart of the issue without being sarcastic, snyde or mean.

He has a tendency to play with meaning; often turning things inside out; exploring nuances of interpretation and ambiguity. He manages this without being patronising or even appearing to be joking. His comments mean different things to different people. It all depends on context and background relevance.

How can you tell if he is joking or not? You can't really.

Small san sau: commitment

Both the attacker and the defender must attack whole-heartedly.
The aim of the set is to gain practical combat knowledge and experience.

If the attack is weak it trains nothing.
Playing the attacker is a skill and it must be cultivated earnestly in class.
Failure to attack well also means that you will fail to counter-attack well.

If the defence is weak, your counters will not work.
Use intention rather than tension.
Make your responses accurate, effective and sincere.


To supplement thinking, we use our memories and experiences, opinions and values to assess and analyse whatever it is we encounter.
Again, this is a fragmented approach.
Our memories, opinions, expectations and bias are all relative to what we encounter in life and how we reacted to what occurred.

Memory is fundamentally unreliable.


The Manchu insisted that every man wear a long-shirt (changshan) with high collar and frog buttons.
This is what most tai chi uniforms are based upon nowadays.

Yang Jian Hou


We adopt a 'grass roots' attitude to taijiquan, going right back to the basics.
Students explore the human body, physics, biomechanics and taijiquan principles.
Pragmatism and effectiveness are emphasised.

The syllabus is lengthy and thorough, but you can study it at your own pace.



Taoism recognises that the purpose of conscious thought is to solve problems.
It also identifies the danger with thinking...

Invariably when seeking to solve a problem, we lack sufficient information to make an informed determination.
Lacking context and perspective, we aim to understand regardless.
This is clearly foolish and cannot lead to any real insights.

Shiny suit

Tai chi suits

Modern tai chi uniforms are often gaudy and garish; shiny satin fabric and bright colours.
They look better suited to Beijing Opera or the Chinese State Circus.

There is nothing taoist to be found in flamboyant costumes.



Taoist aesthetics

Taoist martial artists avoided attention and sought not to be noticed.
They practiced in seclusion.
It is improbable that they wore anything eye-catching or grandiose.

Zen is an offshoot of taoism, so it may be useful to consider the design considerations of zen-influenced attire.


It is important to ask what your uniform says about your art.
What function does it serve?
Do you wear it for comfort, ease of movement, tradition?

If your intention is showmanship, then wear a shiny, bright suit. But do not think of this as being 'traditional'.
Gaudy, theatrical outfits were not traditional martial arts wear in China.
Such costumes are for performance art, not combat.

Stitching detail from Japanese uniform

Street style

Ok, it's got nothing to do with tai chi - sorry husband!

R x

Flash Forward


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.

Yang Cheng Fu

The Immortals

Shuai jiao

Dragon & Phoenix: taoist symboism

Films that Sifu likes

  1. 300
  2. Amelie
  3. Avatar (extended version)
  4. The Big Lebowski
  5. Bobby 
  6. The Chronicles of Riddick
  7. Dune 
  8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  9. Fight Club
  10. The Fountain
  11. The Game
  12. Gattaca
  13. The Illusionist
  14. The Iron Giant
  15. The Life Aquatic
  16. Solaris (remake)
  17. Spirited Away
  18. To Catch A Thief
  19. The Trouble With Harry
  20. Watchmen (Ultimate Cut)



Good oil, bad oil

The traditional Chinese attitude can best be summarised by the old story about selling oil:

 The oil seller sold the good oil to the regular, loyal customers who treated the oil seller well.
 The bad oil was given to everybody else.

 We do not apply this maxim literally, because we seek to ensure that everyone makes progress.
 However, students with a bad attitude - irregular, rude or needy - do receive less attention than other students.

 A Chinese teacher will give the best instruction to members of their own family, then to lineage students, then to regular students, and so on...
 People who attend public workshops and infrequent lessons simply get the leftovers.