Walking stick form

This set is quite long and technical, featuring many movements adapted from the Yang Cheng Fu form.
Although not traditional, this set is immensely functional and fun.

Coherence/making sense

Your words need to be clear and the content of your message must make sense.
Jumbled, garbled information causes confusion.

Remain calm.
Articulate your words slowly and comfortably.
If you are uncomfortable with yourself, other people will be uncomfortable with you.

If you find yourself rushing, dithering or uncertain, breathe deeply and settle down.
Start again.


Working with all group members

Do not favour any student.
Some people may be nice, friendly or pretty.
So what? Treat everyone with respect and give of your attention equally.

If a student is needy, step back. We do not offer a counselling service.
If a student flirts with you, be brusque with them but not rude.


In a Japanese martial art the syllabus is very clear cut.
Every student works through the same material, learns the same kata and the same applications.
Yet, higher dan black belts express the art differently to one another.
How come?
The Chinese language uses pictographs to express ideas and these form the basis of their language.
All Chinese students learn the same set of pictographs yet these are pronounced differently relative to dialect/cultural background.
In Japanese martial arts this is why higher dan all express the same art individually.

Public image

Tai chi is commonly believed to be a slow, boring exercise practiced only by old people and hippies.
People think of tai chi and visualise a group of people all moving slowly together in unison.

Many classes may indeed fit this image entirely, but what they are teaching is probably not really tai chi at all.


Mind control

If you think that you are in control of your mind, you may want to look deeper.
Do some research.
Start thinking for yourself again.

Try reading:

Commentaries on Living Volumes 2 & 3 by Krishnamurti
- short conversations and interviews regarding living, thinking and conditioning.
Keep it simple by Nick Page
- a very nice little book examining ways in which to simplify your life and start living.

The Way to Love by 
Anthony De Mello - this is a beautiful book which examines our conditioning and questions how we perceive our reality.

Weight Loss for the Mind by Stuart Wilde
- he questions how we justify actions based upon opinion and emotion.

Dan belts

Martial arts schools vary massively in terms of dan belts.
Some arts only offer a few whilst others offer many. 
The significance and meaning of any given dan belt is relative to the school, style and the individual student's own capacities.

It is not uncommon for higher dan belts to be issued in any honorary fashion: in recognition for a lifelong contribution to the art.

Self defence (playful)


Everyone is different
Some people learn things quickly, others do not.
It is a matter of context, attention, awareness, memory, neuroplasticity and the willingness to practice.
Different people learn in different ways and at different paces.


Qigong exercises (excerpt)

Tips & pointers

Although explanations are important, specific tips & pointers are crucial.

Students need to avoid poor use of their joints, muscular tension and inappropriate behaviour.

New starters

It is important for new starters to feel part of the class.

Equally, it is imperative that they appreciate the existence of a code of conduct and recognise that certain forms of behaviour are unacceptable.
Before a new person signs the registration form, make sure they read the etiquette wall notice thoroughly.


The purpose of a syllabus is to introduce and teach material in a systematic, incremental manner.
A primary school child cannot discuss Camus without many years of prior education, beginning with simply acquiring the 26 letters of the alphabet. 

In order to optimise learning there must be a step-by-step process taking place.
There must a foundation.
Everything else is then built piece-by-piece upon that foundation.

Not so slow

Certain aspects of the syllabus are slow.
Much of it is not.

Tai chi involves a wide range of different skills, topics, themes and insights.
There is a significant learning curve involved.


Coloured belts

Coloured belts typically denote an unskilled level of practice.
The belts get darker and darker as the student gains knowledge and experience. 

Most martial arts teach up to 10 coloured belts.
The student works through basic concerns and is introduced to key principles.


A student may wish to perfectly emulate the precision and skill of the instructor, and may indeed believe that they have accomplished this desire. 
However, this is unlikely. 
There are simply too many faults in their practice.
Too many missing pieces.


When asked how he overcame his opponents, Hadrat Ali explained, "I never met any man who did not help me against himself."

 (Hadrat Ali)

Arm waving

Many classes purport to be teaching tai chi, but are really offering tai chi-style exercise.
Usually the instructor only knows a few warm-up exercises and a short sequence of movements.
They move their arms around and the class copies.

Tai chi is not simply slow motion exercise.
There are very specific qualities that need to be present for the training to be called 'tai chi'.



Shido-geiko is not a supervisory role.
You should participate in the exercises being explored.

Students learn from physical contact with you. This is the essence of 'direct transmission'

You cannot assess the quality of a student's tai chi chuan by simply watching.
Touch is essential.

Tai chi

Tai chi: an ancient exercise system that involves performing a series of graceful fluid moves which look simple but are in fact incredibly challenging.

Renowned as a stress reliever - it deeply relaxes mind and body while instilling a wonderful surge of energy and vitality. It bestows flexibility, improves balance and coordination, strengthens the heart, and increases lung capacity.

(Jane Alexander)



It is important to support exercises with some level of detail.
Background information helps students to see the purpose of the exercise and use the appropriate body parts.

Remember that all explanations are provisional.
People are taught relative to their ability to comprehend.

Self defence (playful)


I began practicing the first kata, over and over, concentrating first on my feet, then my legs, my hands, my breathing, my eyes, and finally my overall composure. I would stay on each are until I felt it was right. And a strange thing occurred. I noticed an incredible change in my ability, almost overnight.

 I wasn't the only one. People commented in the dojo. It was obvious to everyone. This attention detail, to perfection, was really paying off. When I speeded up now, the flow of power in my kata seemed effortless rather than forced. I was amazed. Getting all the little things right was making a big difference.

(Goran Powell)


Further reading

Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel is a fascinating book detailing the how the author lost his self-consciousness and became immersed in the event itself.

Students of our class will see many parallels between Herrigal's journey and their own.


Some preliminary tips for shido-geiko:

(i) Join-in the practice

Do not stand and watch. Your role is not to observe.
You need the practice as much as the other students do.

Participate, and explain what you are doing.

(ii) Try to work with all group members

Do not play favourites, regardless of whether you like someone or not.
If a student is willing to train with you, they deserve your respect.

(iii) Speak loudly and clearly

This may require some confidence, but you cannot express energy if you are quiet.

(iv) Disciplinary measures

If someone is difficult with you, speak to your instructor about them.

Your instructor will not discipline people who are not getting the material.
Disciplinary measures address attitude, not competence.

(v) Do not discipline people yourself

Disciplining people is a tricky skill and is best left to the instructor.

Is tai chi religious?

No, tai chi has no religious component.

Taoism is not a religion.
It is a way of seeing things.


Failure to warm-up properly can lead to injury, particularly if you undertake rigorous combat training such as shuai jiao or chin na.


Staff form

A strong workout, this form must be mirrored for balanced training.
Ideally practiced with both the oak staff and a rattan staff, the armpit height weapon requires considerable dexterity.
The movements switch from powerful downward chops, to horizontal sweeps and deep, thrusting jabs.

Smooth, controlled movements are necessary to avoid injury.

Tai Chi 0

Steampunk tai chi movie


black belt does not mean that the student is an instructor or even has the remotest idea of how to organise material, teach, assess students and run a school.  
Most martial arts want their instructors to possess at least three black belts and over a decade of experience before they start teaching.



Beginners are always clumsy and awkward. This is inevitable and to be expected.
Their self-consciousness is extreme, and must be tempered with repetitious training, awareness and insight.
The urge to 'fight' is common.
This too must be removed.

The baggage of the 'self' must be unlearned and discarded.

Students are taught how to do things in a manner that encourages sincerity, harmony and power.
They learn to master self before attempting to master another.

That is why there are 7 intermediate belts to work through.

Shido-geiko: having respect

(i) Respect

Treat all students with respect:

When you are in the role of the more skilled partner, remember what it was like when you were on the other side. 

Treating your partner with condescension or in a manner that can make him believe you are toying with him and are eager to be finished so you can go off and practice with others who can put up more of a fight is a sure sign of a senior who is that in name only.

It is very difficult to train with integrity and sincerity against an opponent you know you can defeat easily. Remember that your sensei achieves this constantly and readily.

(Dave Lowry)

(ii) Set the example

If your conduct is not exemplary, you will cease to have any authority in our class.
Be clean, polite, courteous, considerate and firm.

A shido-geiko student should never need to be disciplined, nor should they neglect their own practice.

Qigong at home

Master Waller commits an hour a day to qigong and leg stretches.
Whilst you are not expected to do the same, ask yourself why Master Waller spends so much time doing qigong rather than 'exciting stuff'.
The qigong exercises are the foundation of the art.


Small stick drills

Simple, fast and technically demanding, this set is an exercise is economy of movement, presence and focus.
It continues on where the knife drills left off and is reminiscent of silk arms. 
The drill must be trained A and B side, and mirrored.

Get stuck in...

The more effort you make, the better you will do and the deeper your understanding will become.

Although the point of shido-geiko may presently be lost on you, that in itself highlights the need to do it.

If you do not understand the point yet, then you will continue to not get it until you step off the known and really give it a go...

Slow down

Even the simple act of lying down on the floor can put us in touch with our own tiredness.
If it feels wonderful to lie down, if you embrace the floor - you are probably exhausted.

The first step towards resting is relaxing; beginning to change pace and slow down.


The Way and Its Power

By letting go of self-consciousness, we are better able to feel what is necessary and appropriate.
We can align with the event and produce a favourable outcome.
The taoist text; Tao Te Ching is all about this process.

The Way must be followed entirely (immersion) in order to borrow the outcome (Its Power).
This is power you can use, not power you can own.

As soon as you stop being with the moment, with the event, the power is lost.
Self-consciousness, resistance, fear, speculation, thinking, choosing will cause this to happen.
Power is conditional upon your immersion in the moment.

Shido-geiko: working with different grades

Training with different grades will keep your skills fresh.
You can also set a good example, as well as provide useful tips and pointers.

You have taken. Now give something back. Share your skills with others...

Visiting Sylvia

One of our students Sylvia broke her ankle whilst at home a few weeks back. We went to visit her in Whitley Bay.

I got to rummage around the allotment whilst Sifu chatted with Sylvia.


Tai chi chuan

Instead of feeling apart from what is happening, we feel the physics of the movement, the kinetic flow.
Our own body and our self-consciousness is lost in the event itself.
There is no more self or other, just movement, just sensation/feeling.
The ability to do this is the aim of tai chi chuan partner work and combat training.

Everything is determined by the attacker, the other.
Their force powers your response, their movement your movement. Without an attack there would be no need to respond.
At some stage in your training, self fades and there is just the yin/yang diagram.
This is when the response feels to have happened by itself.
Habit is necessary, but we must also have the capacity to adapt, change and improvise.

Demonstrating qigong

Typically, purple or brown belt students demonstrate qigong exercises between 7:00 to 7:30 PM.

Demonstrating the exercises will aid you massively in terms of understanding the exercises for yourself.
You will begin to notice mistakes.
It will also give you more authority in the class; which is useful if you eventually want to instruct and may help you out of class in your job.



Immersion involves loss of self-consciousness; a yielding to the moment.
Yes, we need some sense of self in order to function, in order to survive.
But it can also be a major impediment.
Instead of being one with the event, people tend to get caught-up in speculation, doubt and the avoidance of negative possibilities.

To become immersed, we must detach ourselves from thinking and pay attention to what is happening.
To what is right in front of us.

In class this process occurs whenever we undertake any kind of partner work or self defence training.
There is no scope for thinking.
We must become body-centred and present.

Demonstration & explanation

Master Waller did shido-geiko in various classes in the past, in addition to Peter Southwood's tai chi chuan class.
It teaches you how to explain things.

You learn more about your own practice than you would by simply training with others of your own grade, or at home by yourself.


Broadsword drills

Broadsword (dao) drills are similar to stick drills, however the emphasis of the weapon is different.
Sticks are concerned with tapping and poking.
The broadsword movements involve slicing, chopping and stabbing.

The weight of this weapon makes it potentially strenuous at first.
Students should begin with a wooden sword and then build up to a heavier blade.

We strongly dissuade students from purchasing a sharp sword until they are of an instructor standard.
A sharp sword may not be used in class by students.

What is shido-geiko?

It is important for you to understand what 'shido-geiko' means.

You are not teaching.
It is not really about you helping others.
The onus is upon how showing others affects you and your understanding.

The benefit to others is a by-product, not the point itself.

Shido-geiko is an essential learning tool.
If you dismiss it, there will be a gaping hole in your tai chi chuan comprehension.

Why warm-up?

At 7:00 PM the class undertakes 30 minutes of qigong exercises and leg stretches.

Qigong practice is a very important way to start the lesson.
It serves to gently exercise the body and prepare it for more vigorous practice.
Your mind also has the opportunity to become calm and centred.

The need to rest

The hardest thing about resting is to slow down enough to realise that you need to stop.
 The need to fulfil commitments, manage responsibilities and earn a living often prevent us from feeling our own fatigue.
 We push onwards.

 Sugar, caffeine, adrenaline... these things blind us.



The more acutely you listen to the situation and pay attention to what is taking place, the more appropriate your response will be.
Your aim is to respond harmoniously and effectively.
Ideally, with maximum benefit to both parties.

The main impediment is the conscious mind's limited ability to process information as it is happening.
Our conscious mind analyses data after the event, not during the event.

It is far better to rely upon the subconscious mind; as this will produce a more thorough, comprehensive picture of what is occurring.


The general public imagine that black belt means expert.
This is simply not the case at all.

However, given this erroneous expectation, a student who wears a black belt ought to have an impressive degree of martial skill, regardless of style.


Optimal structure

With careful consideration, every form, drill and exercise can be considered with optimal structure in mind.
The key thing is not to interfere with what the body itself wants to do.
Becoming attuned to your body requires awareness, sensitivity and relaxation.

It is important to feel comfortable at all times, and never to force your body into performing any movement or shape that "doesn't feel right".

The head floats upward but there is no conscious 'doing'.
The spine must drape from the skull.
The groin and the hips are open and free.
The 6 balanced pairs are adhered to.
Hinging of the torso takes place at the hip, rather than the ribcage or lower back.
The knees are relaxed, not deeply bent.

Blame everyone?

The life of a martial artist is simple:
  1. You attend classes
  2. You study
  3. You practice
Somewhere along the line the training begins to affect your life.
You become calmer and more balanced.
You stop being so afraid.
You move systematically through the syllabus.

The student stops blaming other people for the problems in their life.
They take responsibility.
They mature.

Self defence (playful)


Self & other

We interact with the world around us.
Everything that takes places in our lives involves a dynamic relationship; an interplay between two or more factors.
This is the root of yin/yang.

What is a belt worth?

The value of a belt can only be determined relative to the martial arts in which it is issued.
black belt in one system is not necessarily the equivalent of a black belt in a different art entirely.
Standards differ.

Is tai chi violent?

No, tai chi is not violent.
Violence involves aggression, hostility and the intent to do harm.

Tai chi is about avoiding or resolving conflict, not causing it.



The beginners grade spans ungraded to orange.
Intermediate level is green - 
brown (part 2) - and there is a massive ability gap between those two levels.
Yet, it pales in comparison to the experienced, expert and advanced syllabus: 5 belts of hard material in which you are typically learning and applying a new form with every dan grade.

I recommend patience.
If Sifu thinks that you are ready for something, it will feature in your grade.

Are belts necessary?

No, not really.
However, any martial art requires:
  1. A syllabus
    - defining the components that will enable a student to achieve the objective
    - a path leading to the knowledge
    - a scheme of work
    - how the student will proceed
  2. Topics
    - breakdown of the syllabus into modules of information
    - logical building blocks
    - small steps along the path
    - teach according to the students ability to learn
  3. Discrete lessons
    - a lesson is an opportunity to explore a given skill
    - examples must be provided
    - thought-provoking
    - stimulating
    - encourage enthusiasm and participation
    - engage the student
    - allow for different ability levels
  4. Proof
    - examinations, tests, grading
    - pressure-testing
    - an increasing scale of hardship
Without these, the material might potentially be taught in a haphazard, piecemeal, random manner.
Japanese martial arts schools are very good at offering a well-established means of teaching the art.
Chinese martial arts vary from school to school.
Tai chi schools in particular seldom have any kind of syllabus to speak of.

Are belts necessary?
No, but they chart progress.
The use of belts is a tried and tested method of teaching a detailed, complex syllabus in a logical, thorough, systematic manner.


Mini-boot camp Durham 2012

Attendees: Master Waller, Rachel,Tim, Brian, John, Paul and Aaron.

Consider the question

Read the assignment questions carefully.
What is being asked of you?

When answering, refer to the text and make quotations.
Look for themes, principles, lessons. Make lists of ideas.

Do not cheat yourself.


A person who is comfortable with who they are and their life circumstances has no need to show-off.
They have integrity.
They have no need to prove themselves to the world around them.
No parading, no pantomiming, no over-compensating...


Make notes when reading

Jotting down notes can help you to enjoy the book more, and eventually understand it.
Use sticky tabs to mark passages that strike a chord/relevance/parts you liked.
Learn to interact with the text.


Fighting-back can be very dangerous when working with Sifu.
If Sifu is teaching you something, and you are deliberately awkward or try to catch him out - then things may become somewhat unpredictable.
Instead of showing what he is intending to show, Sifu will adapt, change and improvise.
One way or another he will illustrate the lesson he has planned.

The worst case scenario with resisting is that you may break your own arm or otherwise injure yourself.
Luckily, we've never had a breakage in class, but we've had plenty of students who bite off way, way more than they can chew. Myself included!

Projecting a larger self

One myth is the lie that you can successfully project a larger self.
People are misled by advertising (the source of many insecurities) into believing that ownership will enable you to present a larger, more noteworthy self.
This is simply not true.
It is what it is: an attempt to play on your insecurities by enticing you to spend more money.

A big car, a fancy phone, a rare breed of dog. These are no more than they appear to be. 
Imbuing them with greater significance is false.
A car is (and only can be) a car. No matter how big, expensive, fast or fancy it is. 
It is not an extension of self. You will discard any car in favour of a bigger/better/newer model or if it runs out of fuel, or when you reach the end of your journey.

Objects/things are functional. They are not part of you. They serve a pragmatic purpose. 
There is no need to be emotionally and psychologically invested in them.



You cannot reasonably expect to get into the intermediate syllabus (and beyond) without making a tremendous effort.
This is simply unrealistic.

In any endeavour, you must be willing to sacrifice time, money and work hard to make progress.
Tai chi is no different. No matter what you think.

Read a small amount daily

Buy a tai chi/tao/martial theory book and read just a small amount every day.
Make a habit of it. 
A page, a verse or a chapter will slowly mount up and before you know it you will have read the entire book.

If it hurts, say so

Remaining stoical when suffering pain or discomfort is not the right approach.
It is far better to be honest.
Honest with yourself, with your training partner, and with Sifu.

If you need someone to ease-up, slow-down and be gentle... then just say so.
This is not a sign of weakness. We are all vulnerable.
Instead, it shows that you are sensible and recognise that you are indeed human. That's ok; we all are.

Your contribution

The student has nothing to offer but an absolute willingness to follow the teacher's instructions and direction without question or comments or personal improvisation.
(Dave Lowry) 


An insecure person looks outside of themselves for recognition. Their cry is this: "Validate me! Validate me!"

The drawback with such a request is that it puts them at the mercy of everyone else.
Their need to be noticed and acknowledged annoys other people. Other people who equally feel that they too are the centre of the universe.


Fellow martial artists

The martial books were written by people who undertook the same journey as you.
Different time, different culture, maybe even a different martial art... but still a fellow martial artist.
Texts such as The Book of Five Rings have an amazingly contemporaneous feel to them and remain entirely relevant to your own practice.

It is in the black belt syllabus for a reason

Students ask Sifu to demonstrate black belt material on them and then experience a great shock because it was way more scary than they'd anticipated.
Here's a tip: it is in the black belt syllabus for a reason.

There are 10 belts before you take the first black belt grade.
This should tell you something...
Your body needs time to loosen, strengthen and be prepared for the experienced syllabus.

You need time to cultivate internal strength. You need to know how to fall safely.

Nothing beats practice

Practice what you were shown. Get good at it.
If the quality is good, you will be shown more.
If you demonstrate an attitude of consistent, ongoing improvement, you will taught relative to the ability you demonstrate.

Master Waller does not play favourites.
He helps those who struggle and challenges those who are gifted.


Showing-off is considered to be a respectable way of demonstrating that you are 'something' or 'somebody'.
Parading your possessions: mobile phone, 4 x 4 car, large house... (and perceived possessions: trophy wife, accessory children, designer dog) is quite normal in society.
Unfortunately, this need to show is a result of insecurity.

Status, prestige... do these things exist?Very Important Person... by whose standards?
Consider: a TV celebrity walks down the street, chin lifted; expecting autograph requests, praise, compliments and praise.
But who notices them?If you watched the TV program they were featured in and liked the individual, then you may notice them and care.
However, if you do not recognise the celebrity, then they are irrelevant to you. 
They are just another face in a vast sea of faces.


The well-spring

The reading requirements in our syllabus feature books written by spiritual sages and martial artists.
It is extremely useful to read the insights that led to the creation of tai chi chuan and baguazhang.
Understanding the principles will enhance your practice considerably.


When it comes right down to it, an egotistical beginner is inevitably bone idle.
Watching video clips and reading books involves virtually no effort.
Talking is easy.
Practice is hard work.
Hours of daily solo training and potentially rough partner work requires effort not excuses.

Lazy people want everything doing for them.
They instinctively look for a short-cut.
They procrastinate.

Instead of doing the actual work, they do nothing and then complain when a reward is not forthcoming.
This shows weak character.

A balanced class

We aim to offer students a balanced class:
  1. 6:30 PM (approx) - informal help
  2. 7:00 PM - warm-up (qigong & leg stretches)
  3. 7:30 PM - form
  4. 8:00 PM - partner work
  5. 8:30 PM - cool-down
The purpose of this format is to give your mind and body a healthy workout.

Strong mind

Why did they make forms long in the old days, like the tai chi forms?

 Because the longer you can keep your intent awake and mind-body unified and focus on your movements, the stronger your mind is, the better chance you have of winning a fight.

 (Tim Cartmell)

Goran Powell

In your hands

 A student determines their own rate of progress.
 We give everyone the same opportunity for advancement and do not play favourites.
 If you train, practice and work hard you will move smoothly through the belts.

 No one else can determine how quickly you pass belts. The responsibility rests with the student.


Pride and conceit stem from the mistaken belief that you are somebody worthy of acknowledgement.
But from whom and for what?

Life may seem perverse: we are all individual in our own way, yet, humanity is vast in numbers.
Therefore, if we are all unique and special, then in fact no one is unique and special.
We cannot all be special.
Our uniqueness is a fact.
But everyone else's uniqueness is also a fact.

In our quest for significance we must face the fact that nobody is significant.
Even the so-called greatest of humans in recorded history are nothing and nobody in the history of the universe.
We are dust motes. We are wonderful, special, irrelevant and ephemeral.