Many people treat tai chi classes as an opportunity to chill-out, relax and enjoy the evening in pleasant company.
This is fine.
Attending lessons in this way will reduce stress and improve your mood.


Quality of life

If your aim is to affect your day-to-day quality of life, then tai chi class needs to be more than simply a chill-out session.
The lessons of the art must be studied in class and then taken into your everyday life.
Classes become about learning, not just chilling-out.


On-line Hanwei sword sellers in the UK

I've recently had very frustrating dealings with the UK sword suppliers for Hanwei: Oriental Weapons. The Knight Shop and Barringtons.

They all seem to get their weapons from an unknown 3rd party, and are in effect merely middle men.
All sites display swords for sale that they neither stock nor can necessarily get hold of.

Whilst all are very polite and helpful when questioned, and do provide a professional service, Oriental Weapons and Barringtons don't necessarily stock the products they list on their site as being available.
Yes, Oriental Weapons do say to e-mail before ordering but it doesn't change the fact that this seems a little like false advertising.

To their credit, The Knight Shop site at least provides an accurate indication of whether or not they can obtain a sword for you in 2-5 days.

If these sword sellers showed an accurate range of:

1. What they actually hold in stock
2. What they can get hold of

their shop window might be quite barren indeed.




Chin na is concerned with seizing the opponent abruptly and painfully during grappling.
Students learn how to:

  1. Seize
  2. Misplace the bones
  3. Divide the muscles
  4. Seal the breath
  5. Strike cavities
  6. Manipulate fingers and thumbs
  7. Flow between applications
The Yang style forms and the bagua palm changes feature countless chin na applications.

What do I do next?

It is common for a new starter to be shown a small portion of a self defence scenario and then wonder what happens next.
They are concerned that the facet they are working on would not be enough in real-life self defence.
This is a valid concern.

However, consider this: you cannot be taught everything all at once.

Tuition must be incremental.
Just like in school.
You learn the alphabet, vowels, words, sentences, paragraphs and so on.
No one starts primary school studying Chaucer.

So, as a new student just keep your mind on what you are doing right now.
In 40 years of martial arts training there is a fair chance that Master Waller has accrued the experience to know what to do next.
But, until you have learned the alphabet, how exactly can he convey it to you?
Understanding requires context.


Learning self defence in our school

Students who study with Master Waller learn a wide range of versatile kung fu skills:
• Learn how to disarm an opponent
• Gain confidence
Discover how to see situations differently• Avoid entanglement
Find alternatives to panic

• Become mobile and nimble
• Learn how to use everyday objects as improvised weapons• Understand how to use the human body to your advantage
• Learn how cope with gangs
Become playful and creative• Learn how to adapt, change and improvise
• Learn how to strike rapidly and effectively

• Learn how to manipulate balance
• Learn how to lever joints, apply pressure and seize painfully

Protecting yourself from harm has nothing to do with fighting or sport.

A larger school

If there are a number of teachers within a school, they will all be called sifu by their students.
When there is more than one teacher present, it can be prudent to use their surname for the sake of distinguishing which teacher you are addressing.

The teacher of the teachers would not be called sifu, as this would indicate parity.
They are called master.



In Chinese martial arts the title sifu is also an informal one.
It is akin to calling your father 'dad'.
You would not call anyone else's father by this name, only your own.

Calling an instructor sifu denotes a friendly, familiar relationship.
You are both part of the same school and this is your teacher.


When to use the title

In class it is not necessary to say sifu constantly.
These are the main occasions:
  1. When saying hello
  2. When asking a question
  3. When answering a question
Having said sifu at the beginning of a conversation, it is not necessary to say the title again during the conversation.



If you are not part of a class or school, you cannot call the instructor sifu because they are not your teacher.

Call the instructor Mr Surname or Sifu Surname or Master Surname.



If a person is currently teaching you, then you call them sifu (no surname) or master (no surname).


Form application

The form teaches the body to move into shapes that can be applied in self defence.
Each posture has a number of potential self defence applications.

Practicing the application of form postures is a way of understanding what the form can mean.
It teaches the student how to move their body relative to an opponent, meeting force softly, yet countering with power and stability.
In a form one application rolls into another and another.


In certain respects a tai chi chuan instructor is akin to a karate sensei.
The title 'sifu' (teacher) is appropriate.

You are not expected to kowtow in our school but you must show respect.



Not all tai chi instructors ask to be addressed in a formal way.
Most tai chi classes are non-martial, so formality is unnecessary.

However, when the focus of the class is primarily martial, it is prudent to maintain a certain degree of discipline.
This ensures that students listen to the teacher and respond immediately to instructions.

If students get too excited and a situation becomes dangerous, the teacher needs to assert control quickly.
Calling your teacher "Dave" encourages a loose, casual connotation that is friendly and informal, but perhaps not so effective when seeking to manage a situation.


The main advantage of working through a clear, fully-differentiated syllabus is progress.
Achievement leads to a feeling of wellbeing.
Nothing beats success.
By taking tangible steps forward, a student gains a sense of self-worth and confidence in their own abilities.
You did this. You accomplished.
On-going progress is good for your health: physically, emotionally and



I was born and raised in Malaysia.
I travelled here in the 1990's to study and that is when I met Master Waller.

Having spoken with my husband a few times, I was quite surprised just how Asian he was.
Not modern-Asia, but more akin to my grandparents era - or earlier even.
He possesses a kind of quiet, rural, rustic simplicity; untouched by the times.
His lifelong study of contemplative taoism (Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu etc) and Japanese zen aesthetics are evident in the way he lives his life.
The inner journey of a serious martial artist has left an unmistakable Asian stamp on Master Waller.

I could easily see him living in a thatched-roof cottage of pre-20th Century Japan, in some lost valley.
Maybe one day?




The coloured belts are for learning the basics of the art.
Until you are working through the dan grades there is no need to be concerned with an uncooperative opponent.

When your skills have developed, a line of force will just be a line of force.
It will not matter what the attacker is doing; they will aways be offering you something to work with.


Practice attire

A Western tai chi student has the same right to wear a changshan as a judo student a gi or a Japanese businessman a Western suit.
The student has dedicated themselves to learning a Chinese art.
They move in the manner required by the art.
They study ancient taoist and martial philosophies.
They follow certain Chinese customs and cultural traditions.
They are therefore entitled to wear the appropriate practice attire.


Weapons training addresses:

Sticks of differing lengths
Walking stick
Broadsword and straight sword • Improvised weapons

Using a weapon teaches you the strategies, distance and timing associated with weapons use.
This, in turn helps you to be more capable of defending yourself against one, and far less naive about the dangers involved.



The aim is to neither cooperate nor be uncooperative.
Find the middle ground in which you give your partner just enough to work with.
If your partner is using local muscle tension and disconnected strength, then encourage them to perform the drill properly.


Here and now

Focus on what you are working on right now.
Master this skill.

Everything in life starts with the fundamentals.
Get comfortable with these and then you will be introduced to more.
Rushing headlong into a more realistic, potentially violent scenario is not so smart in a martial arts class.
Give it time.

Tai chi chuan

Tai chi chuan is something like 80% wrestling and 20% striking. Does pushing hands look like boxing or wrestling? Wrestling!

The reason why the originators of the internal styles gravitated toward the grappling portions of their art is that you can practice grappling moves 99% the same as they will be used in a street fight.

(Tim Cartmell) 


A fragment

The whole syllabus cannot be taught in one go.
Subjects, themes, principles, skills and insights must be broken down into component parts and then explored piecemeal.
This is inevitable.
At any given time, a student is studying a fraction of the whole.

As the student proceeds through the grades more and more aspects of the whole becomes apparent.
They gain a sense of context.

Fa jing

In a 2008 Stanford University experiment tai chi master Chen Xiang generated a force 14 times his body weight when striking.
0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds.

An internal strike is unique because it emulates the action of a whip.
There is no pushing.
Any appearance of hardness is caused by the inertia of the whip being pulled back upon impact.
The whip itself is soft at all times.
There is no need to lock the joints or tense the muscles. 


Western people

A Western student wearing a Chinese martial arts uniform may seem incongruent.
However, consider the fact that a tai chi student - of any nationality - is essentially learning to move in much the same fashion as one another.
All tai chi students comport themselves in an Asian way.

Throughout Asia it is common to see Asian people wearing a Western business suit, shirt and tie.
But no one thinks it odd.

Many Western women wear a cheongsam despite having radically different physiques, body movement habits and none of the grace of a Chinese woman.
Are they considered odd?


Showing your knowledge?

Commonly a new starter will profess martial insights.
Typically these are not informed and will not work against the attacks featured in our syllabus.
A layperson - with no martial background - is simply not qualified to speculate on the martial viability of the material being studied.

Let your knowledge grow with actual experience.
If you already feel qualified to challenge the teachings, then clearly you have no need of martial tuition.


Our students study a variety of skills:
• Close-range combat
• Kicks, punches, palm strikes, finger strikes, elbows, knees
• Optimal use of alignment and structure
• Whole-body strength
• Throws
• Weapons
• Defence against a knife
• How to deal with multiple opponents/gangs
• Seizing
• Joint locks
• Trapping
• Focus
• Accuracy
• Stickiness
• Physical sensitivity and awarenessBalance, rhythm and timingEvasive footwork• Escape from holds
• Grappling whilst standing and on the floor
A kung fu student must become proficient with all of these skills.


Real life?

The awkward new starter may believe that they are reflecting real life self defence but they are actually doing the opposite.
In actual real life conflict, nobody will tell you in advance what they are going to do.
It would somewhat defeat the point.

And, if you are awkward or tense against a more experienced opponent, they will simply adapt and do something else.



Students focus on maintaining optimal balance, structure and alignment at all times.
They are required to adapt, change and improvise relative to what the attacker is doing.
Stickiness, evasive footwork,
whole-body movement and relaxation enable the student to change rapidly between striking, grappling and joint manipulation.
Combat is close range; closing-in quickly to
incapacitate the opponent.

Releasing anger

Venting your anger may offer a short-term feeling of gratification but in the long run it is unhealthy.
Anger is a dangerous emotion.

It narrows the consciousness and limits your perception of things.
Anger warps your sense of perspective. 


Proving a point

Sometimes a new starter seeks to prove a point during partner work.
This usually takes the form of "It would not work on me".

Presented in advance with the format of what is to take place, the new starter braces themselves and uses their tension against the anticipated efforts of their partner.


In conventional martial arts training a student uses aggression, strength and speed to defend themselves.
Tai chi chuan applications are somewhat different; more sophisticated.
Brute force and contracted muscles are unnecessary.
Healthy, natural body use is required.



Confrontation occurs in many forms and can be very stressful. It is important to handle yourself in a constructive, calm manner.
Discover how to keep a cool head, avoid conflict and cope with hostility.
You can be switched-on without being macho, defensive or paranoid.

Be cautious and alert, attentive and present.
Learn to be aware of risk and danger.
Evaluate situations.


Wear and tear

If people only value novelty and youth, then aging has no place.
This is absurd, since we are all aging - and death cannot ultimately be avoided.

Tao and zen see beyond the shiny and the new, and admire character.
Wear and tear are seen as positive values; they make things
unique and unusual rather than similar and bland.


If you have studied another martial art, then it is probably quite difficult to imagine how tai chi chuan can be used effectively in combat. The slow-motion movements lead people to doubt the art.

The Yang style of tai chi chuan was developed by a kung fu master called Yang Lu-chan.

Yang Lu-chan rose to fame in China by teaching his tai chi chuan to the Manchu Emperor's elite palace guards. His nickname was 'Yang-the-Invincible'.

Everyday conflict

Life presents us with many situations that can be unpleasant:
  1. Gangs
  2. Bullies
  3. Assault
  4. Threats
  5. Intimidation
  6. Verbal abuse
  7. Macho behaviour
  8. Problems at work
  9. Personal relationships
  10. Hostile/dangerous motorists
Sometimes you may feel vulnerable and alone. You may feel helpless, afraid, angry and frustrated.



New starters who are unfamiliar with tai chi tend to do all manner of odd things when introduced to partner work.
Working in close quarters with another person can be strange, so nervousness is to be expected.
Remain calm and only do what you were asked to do.

Avoid ad-libbing.
Ignoring instructions wastes time.
Instead of training the required skill, you are potentially locked in some macho contest for no discernable reason.


Existing habits

When joining an external martial arts class, a student has familiar habits of body use.
The person may be tense, aggressive, macho.
They may be pumped-up and accustomed to using force.
Ideally, the teacher will find a way to channel these habits into learning the given art.

Tai chi is different to this.
Chinese people have trained the internal arts for centuries without needing to be pumped-up, aggressive or unduly strong.
Usually, a tai chi new starter must lose their existing habits and begin again.
This is a challenging process but very rewarding as it pays long-terms dividends in terms of health, wellbeing and biomechanically efficient body use.


21st Century popularity

In modern times people train kung fu for health, fitness and self defence. Kung fu is popular with actors and celebrities...

Robert Downey Jr, Christian Bale, Keanu Reeves, Wesley Snipes, Bruce Lee, Michelle Yoeh, Zhang Ziyi, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, Jason Statham, Hugh Jackman, Will Smith, Mel Gibson, Liam Neeson, Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburn, Lou Reed and David Carradine have all practiced kung fu.

Internal training methods

Newcastle Tai Chi classes begin in a different way.
Our aim is to relax the body, release muscle tension, i
ncrease postural awareness, develop good body use, cultivate whole-body movement and bring the mind to the present moment.
Every exercise is designed to teach peng, jing, 13 postures and the use of the mind rather than force.
No one is breathing hard.

The principles and movement habits explored during the first part of class are then employed in the practice of form.
Students quietly move through the various forms in our syllabus, receiving corrections, tips & pointers, insights, applications and new movements.

The last part of class addresses the application of these same principles with a partner.
There are many martial drills, sensitivity exercises and self defence skills to acquire.

Throughout the evening the mood is calm and stress-free.
Every aspect of the lesson is integrated and layered; with each student actively learning 'internal' skills.


Tai Chi Chuan Instructors

A Tai Chi Chuan Instructor needs at least 10 years of experience and a serious commitment to home practice.
Martial Instructors must show clear evidence of ability in all 8 areas of skill.

An Expert has 20 years study and 10,000 hours of practice.

A Master should have 30-40 years martial arts experience, with at least 30,000 hours of tai chi practice.
They are capable of teaching other Instructors.

A Grandmaster must have taught an extensive number of high-level Instructors.
They would be in a position of significant responsibility within a school and have influence within the wider tai chi/martial arts community.



Martial arts movies invariably involve special effects, wire-work and stunts.
This has little to do with actual combat.

Wushu, Beijing opera and Shaolin circus monks are fabulous to watch.
The performers are amazing athletes, gymnasts and acrobats.
But it is not
functional kung fu.

External training methods

External martial arts begin each class with military-style warm-up exercises and stretching.
The exercises are very energetic, with people often sweating and breathing hard.
This improves fitness and reduces the risk of injury.

Kata or form teach the movements of the system.
Techniques are also explored.
Self defence training may be offered depending upon the class.
There may be sparring.