Peter Southwood was an ardent reader of Confucius.
His lessons reflected a kung fu approach to learning tai chi; very traditional.

Master Waller follows a more taoist model, coupled with ideas gleaned from his professional teaching training course, practical experience and reading a lot of useful books about teaching/zen/taoism/spiritual inquiry/martial arts.
Although Master Waller's methods are in many ways successful, there is still a lot to be said for the more traditional attitude.


I don't stop when I'm tired. I stop when I've done.

(Marilyn Monroe)


Martial arts fundamentals

The problem with treating tai chi like a mixed martial art lies with the fundamentals.
Tai chi requires the practitioner to remain physically loose, soft, flexible and adaptive.
Stickiness, listening, sensitivity, yielding... going with the flow.
Health comes first.

There is no forcing, no aggression, no blocking, no struggling, no violence, no isolated limb use.
The aim in combat is to incapacitate, not score points or fight.

Does this sound like ju jitsu, karate or taekwondo?
Would an external martial artist ever regard 'yielding' as being the primary strategy?


Cross-training martial arts

Cross-training tai chi alongside other martial arts is a recipe for failure.
When you start an external martial art, the instructor moulds what you have into something useful.
In tai chi we want you to throw away what you have and start again.

People argue that there is no difference between internal and external or that both can be trained side-by-side.
This seems an odd perspective given that the two approaches differ in almost every measurable way.
The skills you acquire in an external class will almost universally be regarded as mistakes in a tai chi class, and corrected as such.


We live in an age where nothing seems certain.
Commitment is increasingly uncommon in modern culture.
You no longer have a job for life. Relationships fail, families fragment and the future feels unclear.

Being part of an established tai chi school brings a quality of stability to your life.
Every week you can come to class and feel relaxed, welcome and at ease.
You are part of something that is healthy, good and wholesome.

Tai chi chuan has endured for centuries.



Exercising your body in different ways will either add to or reduce tension relative to what the activity is, and how you choose to perform it.
Any form of exercise done to excess can harm the body.
Moderation is the key.

Common forms of exercise such as yoga, swimming, cycling, dancing and walking are all potentially compatible with tai chi.
It just depends how you train them.

Weight training (for example) is entirely unsuitable alongside with tai chi because it does the opposite of tai chi.
The very habits we are seeking to lose are the ones being practiced when you lift weights.

Have you ever seen a pumped-up Chinese person doing tai chi?


Habits outside class

Everyday body use can promote ongoing, chronic muscular tension as your contracted, clenched body inhibits freedom in the joints.
How you stand, sit and move can profoundly affect how much physical tension you experience.

Cultivate your awareness. Study yourself in action.
How do you use your body?
Do you strut, slouch, stride or stumble?
Are you tired, vigorous, lively or dull?
Is your speech calm and clear or do you mumble or speak rapidly without breathing?



You may certainly talk the talk, but are you genuinely soft enough?

Even some experienced tai chi people do not fully understand just how soft you need to be in order to meet the specifications of the Tai Chi Classics.
Tai chi is exceedingly gentle.
The art requires extreme sensitivity, grace and subtlety.
This will take time to achieve...


Mental fixity

Commonly people seek to understand new things on the basis of old experiences.
This clearly has limitations.
It is important to recognise that change requires the introduction of the unknown, the unfamiliar.

Many of the things that you think, feel or believe will not aid you in tai chi.
The habits you came to class with must be shed like a husk: in order for the nimble, supple, freer you to emerge.

This process of unlearning operates side-by-side with learning.
As a student you are continually shown the usual way of doing things, and then offered a whole-body alternative.


How you can help

There are many ways in which you can help us to reduce your tension:
  1. Practice a little at home between classes
  2. Reduce the amount of stressful activities in your life
  3. Try to find time to lie down on the floor and rest each day
  4. Read some of the books from the reading list and/or this website


Don't worry

Remember: every new starter is tense.
There are no exceptions.

The good news is that you've come to the right place.
Our aim is to rid you of tension... but we will need your help.


I am relaxed...

If all you know is tension, then relaxation is a term that you understand relative to your own experience.
Can you see the drawback?

You are perhaps not the best person to determine how tense or relaxed you are.
This is a zen maxim: the eye cannot see itself or the knife cannot cut itself.


What you start with

New starters always commence class with a significant amount of muscular tension.
This is usually supplemented with emotional and psychological stresses.
Typically the student is only vaguely aware of these problems.

The entire beginners syllabus was designed to introduce people to this tension.
To train their nervous system to actually feel it in their own body.
It usually comes as a surprise; and this is the drawback of habitual poor body use: the dulling of the senses.


Can you be like an infant that cries all day without getting a sore throat?
Or clenches his fist all day without getting a sore hand?
Or gazes all day without eyestrain?

You want the first elements?
The infant has them.

(Chuang Tzu)

Self defence feedback #6

This weeks self defence training was concerned with observing how an opponents balance can be taken when their feet are in certain positions. This proved useful in understand how the legs correspond to the shape of the body. The illusion of strength and security even in a bow stance, you are vulnerable.

Finally the course was concluded with some Chin Na applications. This proved exceptionally effective. I learned the value of not over thinking at this stage in my studies as this will only be a hinderance in application. ‘The money rub’ required no ‘force’ in the traditional sense, but rather with an increase in focus you can inflict a significant amount of pain. Thankfully in class this was very temporary.

All in all, the self-defence training is proving to be very useful and enjoyable. Clearly, there is a lot more to learn. The experience is definitely enhancing my understanding of Tai Chi.  


When joining Newcastle Tai Chi class I was mainly concerned with the health benefits. I specifically looked for a tai class as I wanted something with that could also provide some mental stimulation in order to maintain long term interest. I certainly have not been disappointed! The training has led to me being physically more relaxed yet stronger. I also feel mentally more relaxed, resilient and better able to cope with demanding situations.

 From an interest point of view, there are seemingly endless opportunities to draw from Master Waller's incredible depth of knowledge. A major strength of the class is that whilst students are always encouraged to work hard and progress, they are allowed to do so at their own rate as their circumstances allow.


Gaining freedom

Tai chi was designed to free your body from tension, to calm the mind and settle the emotions.
Providing you avoid hampering your own progress, you will enjoy the benefits of a freer, more responsive body quite quickly.

The Tao Te Ching is filled with good advice concerning the use of tension and force: 

People at birth are soft and supple;
At death they are hard and stiff.

When plants are alive they are green and bending;
When they are dead they are dry and brittle.

Soft and bending is the way of the living;
Hard and brittle is the way of the dying.

Softness overcomes hardness.

The softness of water overcomes the hardness of stone.
Yielding overcomes unyielding.
The weak outlast the strong.
Those who bend endure long after the unbending have broken.

A bow pulled too far will break.
A blade oversharpened will not hold an edge.

Those who stand of tiptoe cannot maintain their balance.
Those who hurry cannot sustain their pace.

By yielding, overcome.
By bending, remain straight.
By emptying, be filled.

Because the sage does not struggle with the world, the world does not resist.

Those who use force soon exhaust themselves.

Force creates resistance.
Because those who follow tao do not use force, force is not used against them.

Force can master others, but only strength can master self.

When force is not used, people do not resist.
What is not resisted cannot be opposed.



It can be frustrating for an instructor if you are also training with another instructor.
Historically, in China it was considered to be a betrayal of trust and the master would withhold their teachings.
Even asking permission was seen as an insult.

Most of the tuition time is spent undoing the teachings of the other instructor.
The student makes no progress.

Master Waller will not instruct a student unless the student is fully committed to our school and our syllabus.



Refining your sensibilities does not mean acquiring a taste for high-class living.

The zen monks of ancient Japan could not afford expensive Chinese tea ware and sought another option.
Instead of lavish, expensive goods... the humble, rustic simplicity of Korean tea cups were purchased and appreciated.
A new, humbler, more modest sensibility was formed.

Everything concerning the Japanese tea hut and its associated ceremony was re-designed to cultivate just the appropriate condition of quietude, dignity, ease and reflection.
Nothing was arbitrary or careless.
High ranking people from all over Japan sought the compassion, beauty, simplicity, humility and purity of essence associated with the tea ceremony.
It centred them and brought life into focus for a brief moment, an interlude.

We seek to bring this same mood into our tai chi.


Real tai chi always smacks of hearth and home. Deep down, commercial tai chi is essentially shallow.

(Robert Smith)

Self defence feedback #5

I had completed one workshop on floor work many months before this weeks self defence class and it can be quite surprising how much you remember that you had forgotten. Floor work in self defence is an essential skill that may prove life saving should circumstances demand it. The exercise of employing certain leg movements to neutralise an attacker in a rape scenario was illuminating and proved extremely effective. Having gone to the self-defence class on both nights, I felt I had gained a thorough understanding of the exercises as well as finding certain painful points to attack should I get the chance.  



In order to appreciate the wonderful genius of tai chi chuan and the many zen and tao arts that exist, a student must refine their sensibilities.
They must learn to see, feel, touch, and even think differently.
Every aspect of their being is transformed.

By slowing down and really paying attention to things, the student becomes aware of their own motivations, opinions, emotions and impediments.
They notice relationships between everything.
Details become significant.



Tai chi was once practiced in secret.
The skills of the art were closely guarded.

Even today, most tai chi people are privy to only a very small fraction of the potential contained within the art.
To really understand the tai chi chuan, a student must undertake a long and difficult journey.
There will be many pitfalls, obstacles and setbacks.

Self defence feedback #4

As the basics of self-defence had been introduced, this week focused more on muscle layout/sensitivity and using an improvised weapon when countering knife attacks. The techniques of massage proved to behold many different advantages, not just in relaxation, but also understanding where one muscle starts and ends. This is important in combat to further develop how you know your opponent. The countering was also useful in providing confidence if faced in such a situation.  I now understand the effectiveness of an improvised weapon, and to feel pain was beneficial. I thoroughly enjoyed beating my fellow class mates with a newspaper.




The beauty of being understated is that nobody notices and nobody cares.
This means freedom from attention.

Tao and zen arts relish obscurity.
There is no reason to be in the spotlight and certainly no need.


Showing off

It is quite common for a person to advertise their financial prosperity by purchasing symbols that serve to broadcast their wealth.
Chuang Tzu strongly argues against this approach.

What purpose does showing off serve?
It attracts the interests of thieves and malcontents, it generates resentment and bitterness.
It invites challenges.

There are many other ways to show off.
Tai chi competitions are a good example.
Despite some earnest practitioners - eager to share their insights - competitive events attract all manner of people.

Taoism encourages the individual to remain quiet, obscure and understated.

Tai chi is now evolving into a sport of tawdry tournaments and trophies in which an internal form of moving meditation is judged by the criteria of external dance.

(Robert Smith)

Self defence feedback #3

This lesson furthered my understanding of how to connect the body and using the ‘rolling’ and ‘spiralling’ method to neutralise a possible threat. This method also highlighted the need to be more curious as to how an opponent’s body reacts to your movements. This experimentation was further demonstrated with the 9th yielding exercise. Self-defence at this level is starting to get more complicated and the need to be completely engrained in development is proving to be essential to success.



When you listen to how people communicate, there are many words but little substance.
Words are spoken sloppily or shunted out urgently; with an undercurrent of anxiety in order to emphasise their importance.

earing is commonly employed in preference of eloquence.
There are few ideas and feelings in life that cannot be better articulated with a good vocabulary.

Then, there is that which exists beyond words...



Modern culture does not really promote introspection, contemplation or spiritual inquiry.
People are led by money, advertising, television, fashion technology and superficial interests.

Few people possess the patience or the interest to delve deeper.
It simply isn't fashionable.

Slowly, things coarsen.
Manners, politeness and courtesy are neglected or seen as being old-fashioned and pointless.
Good diction, eloquence and intelligence are valued less, and school exam standards are lowered to compensate.
Pursuits that require time, effort, tenacity and self-sacrifice only appeal to a shrinking number of people.

Self defence feedback #2

Footwork training was a real education opportunity. Using Peripheral vision has been a topic on the Tai Chi syllabus from the early belts and I fear an area that becomes overlooked in time. To be refreshed and given context on how useful this skill actually is was an eye opener. The stepping exercises, although seemingly quite a simple concept, provided most difficulty for the majority of the class. Bringing it back to basics of ‘don’t think, just walk’ was incredibly effective (once you got the hang of it). I also felt other aspects such as yielding and weight shifting flowed naturally from this exercise and heightened its effectiveness.  


Natural selection

Zen or tao-influenced arts - whether martial or otherwise - require the student to cultivate an eye for subtlety.
There is a deliberately obscure quality to these arts.
Much is left unsaid.

Seen in this way, tai chi is akin to an Asian joke.
Hidden within dance-like forms and playful partnered exercises, a deadly martial art lies unnoticed by most people.
To approach the art, you must let go of tension and fixity; physical, emotional and psychological.
This makes tai chi chuan especially inaccessible to people who have an aggressive or forceful character.

Some things cannot be bought with money.
They require a serious commitment and a willingness to sublimate the ego.


Peter Southwood's tips #23 Apply the lessons in everyday life

If you do not apply the lessons in everyday life, you will compartmentalise them.
Wisdom in the training hall and during study is one thing.
Wisdom in daily life is something else entirely.

Self defence feedback #1

Master Waller outlined the use of the first form posture in a real way and was my first introduction to pain in a Tai Chi class. This was an extraordinarily useful experience. It was only the tip of iceberg in terms of what real danger you could be in if approached on the street and certainly outlined just how vulnerable I am. But not completely with some degree of defences. Further exercises reassessed sticky-ness using a qigong posture and ‘rolling out’ of being choked. It was a first step which introduced the class in an honest factual way. I couldn’t help but get excited for the weeks ahead.


Pushing hands

If you have pushed hands with Sifu of late - especially monkey paws - you may find yourself rapidly being compromised: crumpling or caught off-balance by your own inflexibility.
This is happening to me as well.

This will continue to be the trend: you get better, Sifu shows you more and it gets harder.
And your belt colour will darken.




There are places to be found everywhere you go.
The lack of cars, people and noise will be your initial clue.
Look for signs of nature.

A feeling of serenity and peace may settle upon you.
Don't panic.
Just stay with it and enjoy.



To find lost places you need to become a little lost yourself.
Not lost in drink, drugs, illusion or stimulation.
Quite the opposite.

You will need your wits about you.
You need to step off the familiar pathways of your life and walk somewhere different.

Sunday morning boot camp


Chattering monkey

If you do not commit time to quiet study and rest, your mind may never know stillness.
Even in the midst of stunning beauty and peace, tranquillity will elude you.



Leading is not teaching.
To teach any subject correctly it is necessary to become more involved in the progress of the individual: to monitor, test, correct, enable and encourage.
This requires a teacher who is invested in the student.
A teacher who pays attention and takes the time to ensure that everyone is actively learning rather than passively following.



 Many tai chi classes are not actively teaching the art.
Instead, the teacher leads and the students simply follow.
If the teacher were to quit, could the students continue the training on their own?
Would the quality of their tai chi improve over time or diminish?
Copying the teacher and following their movements is not learning.
It is dependency.
It is lazy.