Tai chi training considers 3 areas of fitness:
  1. Physical wellbeing
    - stamina
    - strength
    - resilience
    - flexibility
    - endurance
    - suppleness

  2. Mental wellbeing
    - self-awareness
    - the capacity to let-go
    - the ability to adapt, change & improvise

  3. Emotional wellbeing
    - calm
    - detached
    - comfortable
    - without fear

    - being honest with yourself


Learning is a complicated process.
People tend to think of learning in a very formal way. They go to school, college or university and they learn.
Or they are taught something at work.

Setting time aside in order to learn is a wasteful use of our brain. Ideally, we want to be learning all day every day.
This is not about making time to study. Or 'bettering yourself'. It is about absorbing things informally.
Instead of sitting down and studying, we can learn things constantly - by interacting, by observing.

You do not even need to try.
There is a difference between looking seeing, listening and hearing.
A healthy mind is like a sponge. It learns constantly. It is passive but receptive.

Learning is not simply proceeding from a condition of 'not knowing' to 'knowing'.
That is merely acquisition, the collecting of information.
What good is that?



Regular tai chi practice dramatically improves posture.
Shoulders drop naturally, the pelvis finds neutral and the spine lengthens in a healthy way.
The chest opens, the neck relaxes and breathing becomes easier and fuller.
The cat-like grace of tai chi encourages agile, strong movement, excellent poise, high energy levels and a feeling of vigour.

Learning from mistakes

People frequently fail to learn from their mistakes. They just keep on doing the same thing again and again and again.
There is far more to intelligence than acquisition. We must be alert.

If something does not work, it is necessary to determine why it failed and try something else.
This capacity to change is a key factor.
A dull mind is doomed to repeat the same error continually. An intelligent mind adapts and moves on.



Gain without pain...

The comfortable, relaxed movements of tai chi were designed to gently exercise the body without strain.
There is no need to push yourself.
No sweating.

The road to radiant health involves moderation
Everything is measured and calm, easy and stress-free.

Adapt, change, improvise

Intelligence is all about awareness. About seeing and moving with what is happening.
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

(Charles Darwin)

In self defence, it is not enough to learn by rote and then churn out techniques.
This simply will not work in reality.
You need to proceed with no techniques, no formulas, no methods.

Intelligence is not about planning or being prepared in advance.
It is about 'thinking on your feet', making the best use of what is available and being capable of instantaneous change.
Appropriateness is entirely contingent upon your ability to keep adapting, changing and improvising.
You do what is necessary, and you keep on changing as the situation demands.



Sensitivity is the main skill in tai chi. Nothing else will lead to any real progress within the art.  

Your capacity to accurately determine what is happening will make the difference between success and failure.
Applying the right thing at the wrong time is pointless.
You need to be in the here and now. Awake. Aware. Observing. Detached. Composed.

How can your mind be clear, receptive and responsive when it is filled with chattering thoughts?

Niwa (pure place)

The training hall is a place where you can relax, have fun and learn.
It is not a place of violence and machismo.

The challenge of learning tai chi removes conflict, macho urges and aggression.
A student learns how to move in a graceful, balanced, harmonious way whilst maintaining composure at all times.


Taoist immortals

In ancient China, taoist sages searched for different ways to prolong life, maintain youth, health and vitality.
They developed a wide variety of anti-aging exercises.

Tai chi is a product of this quest for rejuvenation.

Physical intelligence

Physical intelligence is the ability to move well, to listen to and acknowledge what your body is telling you.
It is necessary to cultivate an understanding of:

Biomechanics (the study of the structure and function of biological systems)
Kinaesthetic awareness (knowing where your arms and legs, hand and feet, head, etc, are and in what position without having to look at them)
Proprioception (the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement)

This entails a great deal of physical sensitivity and awareness.
Rather than impose your will upon your body; learn how to listen to it.
Is your body tense?

You must learn to distinguish between what you think and what is physically occurring.
Your mind may desire and think certain things, in complete disregard of your body.
An example of this is people who claim to be happy as a couple yet physically demonstrate extremely aversive body language.


Our energy is more precious than all the gold in the world. It is a more powerful anti-aging tool than anything else.

Energy regenerates our liver and other tissue cells, flushes toxic waste from the body, helps maintain our ideal weight, keeps our skin smooth and our hair healthy. The more energy we have, the better we feel and the beautiful we become.
(Kimberly Snyder)

Applied social intelligence

In a nutshell: if you join a new tai chi class, don't try to stand out or draw undue attention to yourself:

- gain a sense of perspective first
- observe how the students interact with one another and the Instructor
- learn what the etiquette and protocol translates to mean in practice
- ground yourself in the customs of the group
- learn the jargon, the rhythms and habits of the social network

After a very short space of time you will be part of the class.


Social intelligence

When joining a new social group; whether a job, an evening class or encountering unfamiliar people socially, it is useful to tune-in to the group.
Instead of imposing your ideas upon others, you recognise that you have entering into a pre-existing social scenario.
The onus is upon you to adapt.

Social intelligence is all about:

  1. Quietly entering a new social scenario
  2. Setting aside your own notions, opinions, expectations and judgements
  3. Accurately observing the customs, practices and interactions of others
  4. Acquiring an understanding of how people interact
  5. Learning the dress code
  6. Listening to how people speak with one another
  7. Recognising how authority figures are addressed
  8. Adopting the necessary skills for successful and productive interaction with an unfamiliar group
Rather than standing out or feeling awkward, you smoothly harmonise with other people.
You will be accepted and liked without undue effort.
It will be far easier to have a fruitful relationship with others because you are no longer an 'outsider'.


Emotional intelligence

Becoming aware of your emotional condition is the first step in cultivating this kind of intelligence.
Most people are unaware of their moment-by-moment emotional state.
Lacking awareness, people act rashly; unaware that their choices are emotionally motivated.

Emotional intelligence requires a degree of sensitivity concerning your own emotions and those of people.
The ability to harmonise with and affect the emotions of others can be cultivated. 


Hard work

Kung fu or gong fu literally means 'hard work'.
Anything can be considered kung fu, even a mundane task such as washing dishes can offer the opportunity for you to be invested totally in the task, to lose yourself.

In tai chi chuan practice, the martial component of the syllabus is considered to be your kung fu.

The essence of tai chi

When applied to tai chi, The Science of the Essence causes the student to really examine, contemplate and research the design elements that led to the creation of tai chi chuan.
Understanding these factors enables the student to recognise the differences in tai chi styles, systems and approaches.
Why certain schools emphasise particular qualities which others discard.

By studying taoism, The Tai Chi Classics, biomechanics and combat applications (featuring a wide variety of scenarios) a more informed, in-depth, discerning eye is cultivated.
Opinions, expectations and hearsay are replaced by a growing insight into the nature of the art.

Ultimately a student can learn what the essence of tai chi is.
Their training can be honed to accentuate these factors and draw them out.
The tai chi can become something that Yang Lu-chan would not be embarrassed by.


A seeker of the real

Cultivating an eye for pragmatism, functionality, purpose, along with an understanding of the underlying design features enables the individual to seek out the really real.
In our phoney, fake, derivative culture it can be refreshing to find things that are more than just a brand, a label or a price tag.
Become a cautious consumer.

Rather than buy the first thing that takes your fancy, why not dig deeper?


Contradictory training

Learning internal and external arts simultaneously is a recipe for failure.

The biomechanical habits and combat skills you have acquired in your external art are the very same things you need to lose in order to learn tai chi chuan. 




Think of the Science of the Essence in terms of art.
Art begins with innovation.
The new idea is then explored until the most robust, working example is produced: the classical phase of development.

Afterwards comes the collapse of the idea: baroque.
Baroque design features pointless ornamentation, convolution and can lead to a loss of functionality and purpose. 

You can't chase 2 hares

This Japanese folk saying illustrates the problem of seeking to learn 2 different martial arts simultaneously.
If you are wanting to study both an external and an internal art, the situation becomes unworkable.


Be cautious

The Science of the Essence is not about buying the best or the most expensive.
Prestige, status and fashion do not enter into it.
Not every product by every manufacturer will have the essence.
Indeed most will be far off the mark.
Be discerning, be cautious, and do your research.

Sometimes, the original manufacturer is obscure and they focus on making only the one product.
The items may not be as expensive as lesser imitations.

The Science of the Essence need not be about consumer goods.
It can be applied to virtually everything.


The Science of the Essence

Te (virtue) explores the nature of things.
Tao-inspired zen arts such as flower arranging, tree cultivation and rock arrangement often involve the search for objects that capture a particular quality that exemplifies the object being studied.
A rock that is the most rock-like rock...



There have been a number of books concerned with mastery:

• Mastery by Robert Green
• Steal My Art by Stuart Alve Olsen
Moving Towards Stillness by Dave Lowry
Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel
The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
• The Power of Internal Martial Arts by Bruce Frantzis
• The Sword Polisher's Record: Way of Kung-fu by Adam Hsu


I Fear not the man who has practised 10 000 kicks, but I do fear the man who has practised one kick 10 000 times

(Bruce Lee)

-Paul B


Traditionally, mastery was confirmed by the production of some proof of skill.
In terms of tai chi this can be demonstrated in a wide variety of ways.

After a 20 year Master/disciple relationship, Peter Southwood awarded Master Waller advanced-level 'Master' status in the Year of the Tiger.
He said that Master Waller should start wearing the red sash instead of black.

Master Waller began as an apprentice, proceeded through the journeyman stage, culminating in the production of a masterwork/masterpiece.
Peter Southwood felt that
Master Waller qualified as a Tai Chi Master on the basis of the following accomplishments:
  1. The 1300 page website giving unparalleled insight into tai chi
  2. Exceptionally good shuai jiao, chin na, jing and form applications
  3. His grasp of whole-body strength, how to cultivate it, refine it and teach it
  4. His study of taoism and the Tai Chi Classics and his skill in infusing the art with the requisite principles
  5. The production of a professional-quality syllabus, complete with logical, comprehensive grades, belts and assessment



To become a Master, the journeyman needs to have put in the hours and have acquired a level of understanding and competence concordant with mastery.
This entails an immense personal sacrifice in terms of time and effort.
Serving the art may sometimes feel like a thankless task; seldom offering financial reward, frequently being second-guessed and taken for granted.

Advanced-level tai chi chuan is not a matter of new forms and material.
It is to be found in the comprehensive nature of the practice.
The thoroughness of the understanding. The simplicity, sensitivity, softness and ease of ability.
Every action should contain the tai chi chuan principles.

All of the exercises, forms and drills are dismantled so that the exponent can examine how and why they operate.
This is a crucial stage of learning; enabling the individual to truly comprehend the art.

Mastery is versatile and complex - demonstrating a broad degree of insight.
It is also remarkably understated.
The exponent becomes lost in the art; yielding to its intricacies, methods, ways and patterns rather than seeking to dominate it.

In-depth concerns must be explored thoroughly: biomechanics, consciousness, consolidation, Eastern philosophy, form, kinaesthetic awareness, martial theory & practice, meditation, proprioception, syllabus design, spiritual inquiry, tai chi principles and teaching methods.

Tai chi & karate (2)

How come so many karate people still train tai chi?
The answer is that they probably do not realise that they are not really learning tai chi.
The karate stands in the way of any real, meaningful progress.

The second answer may lie with their choice of tai chi style/approach.
If a karate person studies sport tai chi and learns competition forms, then the extended stances and exaggerated performance aesthetics may not jar with karate.
However, if they encountered a very internal, small circle style of tai chi, it may be another story altogether.


We turned our back garden into a meadow and pretty soon a guest moved in.


Time served

The journeyman phase of practice and study will involve a further 20,000 hours of practice.
The equivalent of another 14 years full-time study.

Most Instructors stay at this level because the logistics of work, family and making a living make it very hard to commit the necessary amount of time to tai chi.
Reasonably, an exponent must start young if they wish to truly Master tai chi.

Master Waller overcame this obstacle by quitting his day job and studying full-time for 10 years, practicing tai chi and bagua for countless hours, reading, reflecting, writing about tai chi and teaching classes throughout the week.

Tai chi & karate

A number of karate people learn tai chi in order to expand their understanding of whole-body movement, qi and jing.
In principle this is a humble, noble endeavour.
In practice it has a major flaw.

To train tai chi chuan in accordance with the Tai Chi Classics the karate person will need to stop training karate.
How come?

Tai chi does not contract the muscles, it moves the entire body as one unit, it does not oppose force, it yields and it relies on sensitivity.
The framework serves as a conduit for the expression of wave-like kinetic energy.
Continuing to train karate prevents the tai chi body mechanics from developing; the karate is not improved and the tai chi is not actively being learned.


Although it might seem that the necessary time to master the requisite skills and attain a level of expertise would depend upon the field and your own talent level, those who have researched the subject repeatedly come up with the number of 10,000 hours. This seems to be the right amount of quality practice time that is needed for someone to reach a high level of skill and it applies to composers, chess players, writers, and athletes, among others.

Although the number of hours seems high, it generally adds up to seven to ten years of sustained, sold practice - roughly the period of a traditional apprenticeship.

(Robert Greene)



The student needs time to digest what they have learned, to consider new avenues and directions.
Although the apprenticeship phase is essentially over, the Master/disciple relationship continues
There is still much to learn from the Master.
The Master now watches from a slight distance; allowing the student to find their feet and discover their own proclivities and preferences.

The journeyman should be the equivalent of (or higher than) a 3rd dan black belt in any martial art.
They will understand how to practice the art and be capable of teaching other students.

An Expert will typically open their own class or school.
They may continue to teach on behalf of their Master.
It depends on the individual.

Being a Tai Chi Expert is more than just talent.
You need to put in the work.

The journeyman should aim to make a great leap forward in terms of tai chi skill.
They must begin to see connections and associations between different aspects of the syllabus.
Taoism, the Tai Chi Classics, martial considerations, biomechanics and teaching blend together in a new kind of understanding that transcends verbal explanation.




The initial apprenticeship stage lasted for the equivalent of 7 years: approximately 10,000 hours of quality tuition and practice.

For the tai chi student this initial phase of learning will furnish the exponent with all the necessary skills for the journey ahead.
Intensive teaching, corrections, study, repetition and refinement are necessary.
Patience is required.

Only the Master can determine when the student has completed this first stage of learning.
At a certain point it will be time for the apprentice to spread their wings and explore the art further for themselves.



Historically a Master Craftsman or Master Tradesman would proceed through a 3-stage career path:
  1. Journeyman
  2. Master
This intensive approach to learning is tried and tested.
It has been the source of inspiration in modern times for changes in the UK education system.
Sometimes the old ways are better.
There are lessons in the past.


The atypical student

Most tai chi students are content to attend classes, enjoy themselves and make leisurely progress through the syllabus.
They are not overly ambitious.

Some students are different.
They seek to acquire the inner teachings, become an indoor student, a lineage disciple and truly steal their Master's art.
These students are essentially undertaking a tai chi apprenticeship; a lengthy journey of study and practice.

It was truly a case of "A day with the master is worth 10,000 on your own".
It was one of those wordless transmissions that changes everything

(Scott M Rodell


Hungry ghosts

Students often write lovely feedback concerning their experiences in class.
They express gratitude and respect; without reserve.
Yet this very same person a few months later decides to quit...

Rather than feel like a failure, the student blames the class, the master, other students, work commitments.
Often they become jaded, angry, bitter, resentful and spiteful.
They desire to lash-out and cause hurt.
To indulge a mean-spirited need to externalise their own self-loathing.

These tormented souls may spend many more years on the periphery of the tai chi world seeking to re-capture something they imagine was taken from them.
Sadly, the lack is in themselves.
Their reasons for quitting class, their subsequent shame and ultimate bad feeling says more about the quitter than it does about the class they left.


Seeking perfection?

You will never reach a point where your tai chi is perfect.
Your tai chi can always be improved.

Learning tai chi is a process.
There is no end to the training, no final product or conclusion.

The difference between karate and tai chi

Bear in mind that words do not extend to reality and a physical demonstration is always better:

4 ounces
Confusing internal & external training methods
Cultivating 4 ounces
Cultivating neigong
Cultivating sung
Energy and strength
External to internal
Fa jing
Free the movement
Gaining power
Hidden strength
The internal way of moving
Is it really tai chi chuan?
Jing physics
Key points 
Key principle 
Means and ends 
Nervous system 
Newton's laws 
No jing 
Power generation 
Practical yielding 
Reeling silk 
Skeletal alignment 
Strong is wrong 
The tai chi way  
Technique-based mentality 
Understanding yielding  
The use of strength   
Using the mind instead of force  
Whole-body strength  
Wu wei  

If you wish to really understand the difference between karate and tai chi, you should attend lessons.


Surrender your 'self'

Taoism counsels you to remain quiet and anonymous, to avoid attracting attention.
Mastering yourself is not so easy.

The process refers to the ongoing loss of self and the immersion of your mind and body in tao.
You must become one with the tai chi, and one with everything around you.
No ego. No
opinions. No aggression. No attitude. No pride. No vanity. No petty behaviour. No cruelty.
Lose everything that stops you from being a pure, natural person.

Only when you have surrendered every thought, memory and pre-conception can you begin to feel humble and compassionate.
These qualities must be genuine, not artifice.
It may take a lifetime but it will be time well spent.


A work in progress

It can be helpful to regard your tai chi as a work in progress.
You receive corrections, tips & pointers and new ideas every week in class.
Then you go home and seek to improve your practice.

Gradually, your skill becomes notably more refined and you make fewer gross mistakes.
The mistakes are now more subtle.
And these too are corrected.



Faith lies at the heart of mastery.
You must have absolute faith in your master and in their ability to pass on the art to you.

If you don't believe in tai chi completely and entrust yourself to its
ways, then little progress can be made.
You are essentially standing in your own way.


Professor told us that he once had a student who "got it" it less than a year. What was the secret of this special person who attained mastery in a fraction of the time it takes the rest of us?

"It was because he had faith," said Professor.

(Wolf Lowenthal)


Dave Lowry

Dave Lowry is a renowned author and martial artist.
He practices traditional Japanese arts and has written a considerable volume of insightful material.
Often modest and self-effacing, Lowry's thoughts concerning mastery are well worth reading and considering.