Over 40

Students who are over 40 can look forward to a lifetime of ongoing internal martial arts practice.
Unlike some external arts, there is no reason to retire at 40.
Your skills will grow as you age.


Men in their forties and fifties speak of their athletic prowess as teenagers.
They cling to the memory of some long-distant moment in time.
There are countless examples like this.

The past is gone.
You cannot change it or even re-enact or re-create it.
This is where you are; right here and right now.


Passing belts

The 3 beginners belts are quite straightforward and lay the foundation for the material to come.
With careful practice, corrections and home study, a student can pass the early belts very quickly.

The darker coloured belts may take longer, but that is down to the individual.


The last belt deals with highly-technical bio-mechanical concerns, consciousness, teaching approaches, syllabus design, spiritual inquiry, martial theory & practice and Eastern philosophy.
It is reserved for exponents who are capable of teaching other teachers.



Zen is about seeing things as they really are.
Seeing what is right in front of you.

To accomplish this you need to clear your mind.
Adding clutter such as a special new name, a costume, a special place to meditate etc will not help you to accomplish this.
In fact, the more you add, the further away you get from the truth.

Zen is about paring away the things that occlude reality, not substituting one thing for another.


The only real way to make progress is to practice every day and attend as many lessons as you can manage.

To gain martial competence, the internal student must train at home.
Lessons are for tuition and partner work.
The real training takes place at home.

It is normal for martial arts students to attend lessons 2-3 times a week, yet tai chi chuan typically only commit to weekly lessons.
With this in mind, it is reasonable to expect comparable progress between an external and internal student?


The higher dan grade features very hard material, demanding a major commitment from the student.
In addition to teaching, the student must also work through another black belt of intensive martial skill.
The expert belt contains twice as much material to work through as any experienced belt.

All forms and drills must be dismantled; their component parts understood and applied comprehensively.



There is a zen story about a master and his disciple crossing a river.
The disciple shows-off to the master by walking across the surface of the water.
The master wades through the water instead.
When he has crossed, the master says to the disciple: "If I'd known you were going to perform a miracle, I'd have broken both of your legs."

What does this story mean?
Zen is not something special.
It is not an image, label, badge or adjunct to your personality.

How long will it take to get a black belt?

That depends entirely upon you. Everyone is different. There are so many variables.

  1. Have you set aside some time every day for practice?
  2. How long is it?
  3. Do you bring preconceptions with you to lessons?
  4. What are your expectations?
  5. Did you think it would be easy?
  6. Are you open and receptive?
  7. Do you have some plan/ambition in mind?
  8. Are you reading taoist texts regularly?
  9. Is tai chi chuan part of your life or a one-a-week night school class?
  10. Do you train with other students between classes?
  11. Have you any existing health problems that might impede training?
  12. Is your body entrenched in hard-style habits of resistance and stiffness?
  13. When you train at home, is your recollection good or poor?
  14. Do you respond well to corrections in class?
  15. Can you admit your mistakes?
  16. Do you learn from them?
  17. Have you committed to private lessons as well as regular classes?
  18. What is your awareness like?
  19. If things do not work for you, do you become aggressive and push?
  20. Where is your focus?


In our school, the first 3 black belts represent an experienced standard of skill.

This lower dan grade focuses on new forms and a very diverse range of combat concerns.
Each belt offers greater challenges than the last.
Without the preceding belts, the student should be incapable of learning and understanding the new material.



Going to a monastery or on retreat may well help you to clear your mind.
It is easy to find peace and quiet when there is nothing to do except sit, eat and sleep.
What happens when you return to everyday life?

Huanchu Daoren wrote that it is easy to find clarity in seclusion, but not so easy in the city centre.

Starting an internal class

The internal arts are not interested in what you know when you join the school.
In all likelihood it will impede you.

Tai chi chuan and baguazhang re-train the individual physically, emotionally and psychologically.
The training is challenging and extensive.
A thorough overhaul is always necessary, and acquiring new habits of body use can take time.

Ultimately the rate of your
progress rests in your hands.

Are all tai chi schools internal?

They ought to be. 
But the skills being taught and the training methods employed will vary relative to who is teaching them, and how


Everyday mind

Zen is concerned with your everyday mind.
How you use your mind; your thoughts, memories, perceptions, values, opinions... and how these affect your ability to see the world around you. 
The more muddled your mind is, the less clearly you see reality.


The drawback with learning an external art first is that in order to learn an internal art the student has to un-learn virtually everything and start again.

Many people with a hard-style martial arts background never lose their old habits and flounder on the periphery of the internal.
Unwilling to drop what they know, they never make progress.

External & internal

The syllabus of an internal art should be quite different to that of an external art.
Internal arts are training an entirely different skill set to the external arts.
Yes, the goal is largely the same, but means of achieving that goal are completely different.

An internal syllabus addresses health to a far deeper extent.
Internal biomechanics (neigong) entail a lengthy process of subtle change.
It is not enough to apply the art in combat... it must be applied relative to the principles and skills associated with the art.



Zen is not a mysterious endeavour that can only be pursued in the quiet confines of a monastery somewhere.
It is deeply ordinary.

There is nothing exotic or exciting about zen. 


If a belt contains too much material, then the student becomes demoralised and feels to be getting nowhere.
If a belt is too easy, they do not feel to have earned the belt.

It is necessary to find a balance.
A good rule of thumb is this: each belt should each be notably harder than the previous one.
Also, the standard expected of the student should increase relative to belt.
The student should be assessed on all material learned to date, not just new material pertinent to their current belt.



The more gullible spiritual tourist may find themselves gulled into believing that zen is some exotic practice:
- they may be told to shave off their hair
- they may be given an exotic-sounding name like 'Shambala'
- they may wear special robes
- they may learn new jargon words
- a seeker may even be encouraged to travel thousands of miles and commit months to a meditation retreat

Sadly, none of these things have anything whatsoever to do with zen.

Tai chi diet


Finding zen

The only zen you find on the top of a mountain, is the zen you bring there.
(Robert M. Pirsig)

Good BMI calculator

Other martial arts

Making progress in a mainstream fighting art (or martial art) is quite fast compared to the internal arts.
How come?

The external arts require the student to adhere to the katas, techniques and skills of the respective art.
Nobody is expected to be relaxed throughout, or to pay attention to internal body usage principles.
Being aggressive and tense is acceptable.

 A person can make rapid progress in a mainstream art because to some extent they can use what they already have.

The end

We encounter many situations and relationships in life that eventually come to an end.
This is the way of things.
Even life must end.

The key thing is to accept the inevitability of ending, and move on...


Performance art

The People's Republic of China developed standardised Wushu forms for health, sport and competition.
These modern tai chi styles have nothing whatsoever to do with tai chi chuan as a martial art.

Progress is quite fast in these classes because the student is only learning qigong, form outlines and maybe pushing hands.
This is tai chi as performance art, not martial art.



Dieting by phases

Switching from your familiar everyday habitual diet to a low-carb regime may be pretty traumatic and daunting.
To an overweight person this is hardly appealing.

Instead of doing anything drastic, do things in phases:
  1. Phase #1: cut out the obvious things· no junk food
    · no alcohol/cigarettes/drugs
    · no supper
    reduce your desserts/sweets/snacks
    · drink more water

  2. Phase #2: fat and sugar· no sugar
    · no fat
    · no chocolate
    · no caffeine
  3. Phase #3: switch from processed to healthy
    · no meat (if possible)
    · no salt
    · no additives
    · no flavouring
    · no preservatives
  4. Phase #4: increase health food intake
    · organic food is preferable
    · raw food is preferable
    · high water intake
    · only eat when hungry

    · fresh fruit
    · fresh vegetables
    · fibre
    · nuts, seeds & pulses  

  5. Phase #5: low-carb 
    · 20g of carbohydrates maximum per day
    · cut-out the obvious carbohydrates: potatoes, rice, pasta, bread
    · examine what you eat and determine carb content
    · do some research
    · read The Vegetarian Low-Carb Diet by Rose Elliot and Carb-Conscious Vegetarian by Robin Robertson
    · increase your protein intake (60-90g protein)
  6. Phase #6: ongoing diet· once the desired amount of fat has been lost the focus of the diet needs to switch from fat loss to maintenance 
    · gradual re-introduction of carbohydrates over a period of weeks

    · do not resume old eating habits
    · eating unhealthy food is not recommended

Think for yourself

Watching television, surfing the web, reading newspapers, magazines, fiction books and engaging in gossip can all lead to mental stagnation.
Instead of thinking for yourself, you begin to parrot the thoughts and opinions of others.
Advertising bombards people with trends, fashions and must-have goods. It promotes competition, jealousy, greed and restless agitation.

How many people sit in the company of others listlessly fiddling with portable electronic devices?These are simply adult toys.

Martial art, fighting art or sport?

It is important to understand what tai chi chuan and baguazhang are.
They are not fighting arts.
They are not sport.

They are 'martial' arts that have historically been used in military combat.
Their purpose is not to win contests, fights, trophies or medals.
A martial art employs chin na, jing and shuai jiao to incapacitate the opponent, not to fight with them.

Some nice feedback from Graham


Traditional instructor

When Master Waller studied with Peter Southwood he was required to stand for 40 minutes a day (every day) at 5:00 AM.
Standing was followed by moving qigong, drills and then two hours of form training.

He was given very little verbal tuition.
The training was primarily learning through doing.
Every qigong exercise, partnered drill and all 8 forms had to be studied thoroughly before Peter Southwood was prepared to share any in-depth knowledge.
Neigong and application had to be earned.

Peter Southwood used the Confucian teaching method: he showed you the example once and expected the student to go away and practice it.
Only the diligent student was shown more.
There was a significant onus upon the individual figuring things out for themselves.
Corrections, tips and pointers were only offered when a pattern of committed practice had been established.
Master Waller used to ask students to stand for 40 minutes at the start of class.
There were many grumbles and complaints, but most people actually felt better afterwards.


Traditional teaching

Traditional teachers made the student stand for a couple of years until the habitual muscle tension lessened.
Similarly, students 'walked the circle' for years before being shown any palm changes.

The teacher had no interest in committing time to lazy students or passing their art onto to somebody who would squander the teachings.
People value what is hard-earned and are reluctant to waste it.


Belt factory?

No belt should be issued too readily.
To give a belt to an unworthy student insults the individual and brings shame to the school.
Each belt should carry with it the expectation of a higher standard.
Black belts in particular must be awarded cautiously; and only to students who can truly express the art and have put in the necessary years of practice.

If an art offers many belts, then it should be because the syllabus is lengthy, sophisticated and requires a step-by-step approach to learning. 
Not because it is a gimmick.

Phoney calm

It is true that the ‘calm and collected’ person functions better, but a lot of people spend their time pretending to be calm and collected, and covering up a mass of nervous responses with a false persona.

This is the equivalent to the person who stands up straight, in a tense fixed way, in order to develop ‘good posture’. It adds another layer of tension to the original one.

 (Glen Park)



Everyone in class is there to train. This alone demands your respect.

If you behave in a strong, courteous, forthright manner, then you set a good example.
People will respect you.

No time

It is humorous when people tell you that they have no time...

Were they short-changed? Surely they have no more or less time than anybody else?

What differs perhaps is how you spend your time. And this is relative to your value system. Everyone makes time for things that matter to them.

Do I need prior experience?

Prior experience is neither expected nor required.

All new starters are treated the same, irrespective of experience.
If you have skill with neigong, jing, peng, sung, softness and sensitivity; please demonstrate your ability to us by passing belts.


Not bullying

It is easy to bully people.
The more skilled you are, the easier it is to show your skill and end any dispute.
This is not the right way.

It is more prudent to let a student believe you ineffectual than to beat them to the ground.

Striking, projections, jing, chin na and throwing will all come in due course.
And the more experienced students will appreciate your abilities.
Be patient and keep your skills to yourself.

Paul has passed green belt in record time

Paul Barry has passed his green belt faster than any student in the history of our school.

Paul attends class up to three times a week and trains every day at home. He is an exemplary student.



In order to open your mind, you need to switch-off, unplug and just stop.
Just sit, stand or lie down without stimulation of any sort.
Listen to your mind, to your thoughts and emotions.
Feel the anxiety and the agitated thoughts.

Do not act, judge what is happening or have any thoughts of control.
Simply become aware of what is occurring.

If you are stimulated by sugar and caffeine, you will find this extremely difficult.
It may take many occasions of practice before you experience any expansion of awareness.

Other arts

One art is usually enough to satisfy even the most ardent student.
Only the keenest person - with a willingness to commit a significant amount of time - should consider learning two arts simultaneously.
The more you know, the longer it will take you to practice it.
If you are planning to train more than one martial art, make sure that they are compatible.


Knowledge & skill

If you are poor at your tai chi chuan, you have little to offer other students.

Shido-geiko is not about excellence. It is about learning-by-helping.
Your own skills should improve as you assist other people.
The very act of explanation should spark new considerations in your own training.

Why bother learning tai chi?

There is more to life than buying goods, eating, sleeping, drinking alcohol and watching TV.
You are more than this.

Tai chi trains body and mind to move in a graceful, precise, functional way.
Strength, flexibility, vitality and good humour typically emerge.
Greater harmony and balance is found.
You look at life a little differently.

Tai chi requires the student to explore taoism and zen.
Contemplation, meditation, settled emotions and calmness of mind are all wonderful additions to your life.
Instead of becoming the violent brute people often associate with the martial arts, you become relaxed and comfortable with yourself, and with those around you.



It is important to test the martial competence of all students; regularly and comprehensively.
This is accomplished in different ways within different schools.
The methods may differ but the goal should be the same.

The question is this: can the student apply the art under pressure?

Pretty forms and cooperative partner work are one thing.
Unrehearsed, unpredictable combat featuring one or more opponents is something else.
There needs to be some element of risk, and the attacks must be rough enough to promote actual fear of being hurt.
Fear is the key.


A room is just an enclosed space.

Go to a shop or a house and see the room for what it is.

Do not attach any significance to the d├ęcor – it is an illusion designed to blind you to the truth of the room.


Passing belts with regularity is the key to success.

Learn more.
Deepen your knowledge and understanding.
Gain a technical, practical and theoretical grasp of the art. 

This does not mean endlessly acquiring forms from different approaches.
The syllabus needs to be focussed and specific; channelling the attention down a clear pathway: one style, one approach, one system.

The higher up the grades you proceed, the greater your capacity to accurately and comprehensively understand what you are being taught.



Belts offer an opportunity for the student to make progress and have their skills continually refined.
An ongoing journey of improvement is good for both body and mind.
There is no reason for complacency.

There are no plateaus in the martial arts.
Stopping points and obstacles reflect the laziness of the individual not the art itself.
You can always get better and dig deeper.

Class is not practice

It is essential that the student realise that going to class does not substitute for individual practice. Attending class without practicing on your own is analogous to taking a math course, copying down the problems done at the board by the teacher, and failing to do the homework. The purpose of class is mainly for the presentation of new material. It is up to the student to absorb and incorporate that material through diligent and thorough independent practice. There must be the proper balance of self-initiated study with the structured presentations and activities in class.
(Robert Chuckrow)


Hardly anyone is truly dedicated.
For the most earnest of students, the art has become part of their life.


Clean & tidy

Your uniform needs to be clean, fresh and look neat.
If it is stained or smelly, you need to clean it.
Badly worn uniforms should be replaced.

Personal hygiene is a factor too.
Dirty hands, warts, bad breath - these will put people off.

Great faith, great effort

Most students begin classes with a great deal of enthusiasm. The lure of novelty, the unknown, the unfamiliar is exciting...

Pretty soon people come to realise that classes are not about stimulation and gratification.
To make progress, they need to work hard, concentrate and train at home.



Shido-geiko students need to be attending classes frequently.
The more lessons you attend, the more information you receive and the more practice you undertake.


Without growth a student continues to go astray.
Lacking the majority of the teaching, the individual attempts to make sense of the whole from the scraps they have understood.
The outcome is inevitably flawed.

New material, in-depth corrections, tips & pointers, practice and experience are mandatory for consistent, healthy progress.

Be honest with yourself

It is good to be honest with yourself about just how serious you are...

Some people are casual students, whilst for others it is simply a hobby.
A few individuals are committed.
Not many people are serious.

There is nothing wrong with approaching the art in the way that best suits you.
Your own level of interest and commitment are your affair.
What you get out of the art will be directly relative to what you put into it.

Start of training year meal 2012

A group of students celebrated with Sifu & Rachel:


Dave, Martin., Sifu, Matt (with blowpipe), Paul, Barny, Andy

Paul, Dave, Marc & Barny

Marc & Barny

Stephen & Jackie

Martin & Brian

Paul, Matt & Marc


Dave, Martin, Stephen, Sifu

Dave, Martin, Sifu, Jackie, Brian, Barny, Marc, Andy


Shido-geiko: speaking loudly & clearly

If you mumble or seem nervous or shy, students will not listen to you.
You must be quietly confident, calm and composed.

There is no need to be a drill sergeant but you do need to make it clear that you are in charge.


A student should be working diligently and patiently through the belts. Even after reaching the advanced grade, the work continues.
Failure to work hard through the lower grades dooms the student to a cycle of inevitable deterioration.
Every aspect of the syllabus remains fragmented, incomplete and misunderstood.

How many people are committed?

Out of the tai chi students who are adhering to the key precepts of their art (and faithfully perpetuating the essence) how many people are training it fully?
It is not enough to be training the right thing.
You must also practice frequently enough for the skills to emerge, grow and reach fruition.

To do tai chi or baguazhang justice, daily training is necessary.
The amount of time each day required depends upon your own individual skill level.
Essentially, you need to practice what you know.
And the more you know, the more you must practice.

Yang Lu-chun trained his sons so hard that they ran away from home.



Shido-geiko: problem students

Here are some common problems, and our suggested solutions:
  1. Arguing
    - refer the student to the 'code of conduct' or the 'following instructions' wall notice
    - do not get into a debate

  2. Asking to watch
    - we do not offer this, so just say NO
  3. Asking too many questions/monopolising your time
    - hold up your palm to silence the talker
    - politely explain that you have other people to work with
    - "train more, talk less"

  4. Student forgets money
    - only the taster is free
    - say NO

  5. Poor health
    - if a student has an injury or is feeling unwell, refer them to the instructor
    - if in doubt, insist on
    tai chi for health & fitness
    - grumbles/moaning;
    tai chi for health & fitness
  6. Students stops training
    - advise them to continue
  7. Talking too much
    - tell them to get on with the training
  8. Trying it on
    - refer student to
    the instructor immediately
    - if they are rude, ask them to leave and stop teaching them
    - if they assault you,
    incapacitate them without causing injury
    - call the instructor across immediately if you are concerned about the situation
  9. Using tension
    - point this out to student
    - if student argues, refer them to following instructions wall notice
    - if they will not listen and represent a danger, offer them
    tai chi for health & fitness- if student abusive, the instructor will ask them to leave
  10. Warts
    - insist upon plasters
    - we have some in stock

  11. Wearing jewellery/refusing to remove jewellery
    - insist on
    tai chi for health & fitness
You are not accountable to lower grades.
Do not apologise or feel obligated to explain your actions.

Be careful not to get into a confrontation with anyone. Keep aloof.

If a student is rude to you or behaves inappropriately,
the instructor will discipline them accordingly.
the instructor across immediately if you are concerned about a situation.
You are not there to be abused.


It is easier to observe new insights when a topic is recognised and familiar.
Instead of learning the basic details, your attention can be placed on other concerns.

Revising a subject provides the opportunity for deepening your comprehension.


No belts

Some classes do not offer belts at all.
Hopefully they do offer a syllabus and have some means of charting progress.

Beating a man to the ground with your fists is not a good indicator.
Skills require refinement.
They should become more subtle as you age and develop.

Increasing your capacity

To increase your ability to comprehend the teachings you must make progress through the grades.
This should be obvious.
The more you have learned and the more corrections you have received - the greater the skill and the familiarity.

How many people learn an internal art?

The internal arts are the hardest of the martial arts to learn.
They involve a lot more patience and take longer to yield their results.

A would-be martial artist could learn judo or wing chun far easier than they could learn baguazhang.


Kiddie belts

Certain martial arts award black belts to children.
This is perplexing.
Does it mean that the child can defeat an adult black belt of equivalent grade?


When an instructor teaches a given topic, the capacity of the student determines how much of the material has been received correctly.
A new starter may only be able to take in 2% of the detail being offered.
A beginner may understand 5%.
An intermediate student may be capable of processing far more, perhaps 25%.

This means that for any given lesson, the average student is missing between 75% - 95% of the teaching.

How many people study a martial art or a fighting art?

Out of those people that exercise, how many choose to study a martial art or a fighting art?
Not many.
Sport is far more popular than martial arts training.
Running, football, the gym, yoga... these more widely practiced.

Not many people study the martial arts these days.


Take control

Instead of allowing society to manipulate your mind, take control of what you are exposed to:
  1. Media
    - media is easy to avoid: only watch the programs or DVD's you feel will be healthy for your mind and emotions. 
    - be ruthlessly selective.
    - do not watch the news. Recognise that the news is a commodity, a product. It is sold to you. And like any commodity it is tailored to suit the market.
    - stop reading news, gossip and anything that makes you feel emotionally unsound (envious, frustrated, depressed, anxious, fearful, helpless, angry etc).

  2. Advertising
    - be cautious with advertising.
    - think carefully about what you want to do or buy.
    - advertising is a very clever field of business and it will manipulate people any which way it can.

  3. Switch-off the toys
    - video games, mobile phones, the web all serve to foster unease and unrest.
    - put your phone on silent or better yet switch it off when you return home.
    - switch your contract to pay-as-you-go: it will allow you to control spending and be more frugal.
    - avoid gimmicks: a phone is a telecommunication device not a multimedia centre.

  4. Consumerism
    - avoid debt.
    - avoid the lure of consumerism: there is more life than buying goods.
    - do not shop unless you have a specific agenda in mind.
    - think long-term: but things that last and avoid fashion.
    - every penny you spend needlessly is cutting into your earnings.
    - invest rather than squander.

  5. Diet
    - eat healthy food, avoid sugar.
    - feel your mind become calmer and more aware.

  6. Read
    - read books that expand your consciousness, that challenge your preconceptions.
    - encourage your mind to grow in new directions.
    - make time to read every day.


Demonstrations need to be appropriate to the ability level of the student.
The higher up the syllabus, the more realistic the material needs to be.
Always use caution and put the wellbeing of the student first.

Be careful with inexperienced students.
Awkward people who 'try it on' - consciously or not - can lead to injury on your part.
Treat all demonstrations as being potentially dangerous. Keep your mind and your eyes on the attacker.
Do not trust new people. Do not make any assumptions regarding their conduct.

What is the purpose of the demonstration?
Is it something the student can understand and reproduce?

Tai chi syllabus

With Chinese martial arts there is very rarely any kind of syllabus in place, and certainly no coherent regulatory body.
Modern China teaches tai chi as a sport, making it unlikely that a global tai chi syllabus will ever be accepted by the millions of practitioners worldwide.