Do not use tension

As soon as you use tension, you have failed.
Even if you eventually prevail, it has cost you an unnecessary amount of effort and is not tai chi.

Correct use of alignment, timing, pressure and positioning will enable you to skilfully defend yourself.


Do not rush

When you lack composure, you are easily startled.
This leads to hurrying. And anxiety.

Instead of patiently waiting to see what unravels, you dither, hesitate and anticipate.

Rushing indicates a lack of competence.
It is obvious that the student has not put in the practice.

When you rush, you force.
Forcing causes your opponent's nervous system to inadvertently tense-up in reaction to your urgency.
This alerts them to your intention and makes them harder to manipulate.

Tai chi article


Stay calm

If you lack composure, you will not see what is right in front of you.
Being calm is utterly essential.
You need to remain detached, emotionally aware and at ease.

This is the real reason why beginners practice 'escapes'.


Partner work

There are three rules in partner work:
  1. Stay calm
  2. Do not rush
  3. Do not use tension
If you ignore these, your tai chi simply will not work. Try as you might, nothing will be successful.
Internal tai chi only works if you follow these basic guidelines without deviation.


Body weight

What can you do with your weight?

Rely upon the weight of the pelvis, legs and buttocks. Sitting on the attacker at your first opportunity.

Sitting is psychologically satisfying for the woman and can send a variety of messages to the assailant - all of which are demoralising.Done properly, the attacker cannot get the female student off.

The key thing for a woman to consider is that they must become very comfortable with being on top.
This may be unfamiliar, but in self defence you never want to be underneath your assailant.


Sleepy kicking?

You must kick as though you were drunk; the leg must be heavy and dead.
Swing your leg through the opponent - breaking their root.

Having a long slow arc robs the kick of any chance of surprise so you must employ them whilst grappling.
You must deliver them in a manner such that they do not alert the opponent's nervous system, employing the 3-legged kicking method.
The smooth, spontaneous movement must feel easy and relaxed, almost sleepy.
This is a 'gravity kick'.

Once the arc feels smooth and effortless, try to fa jing the kick without losing the heaviness.



Your aim is to move the torso, not just the arms and shoulders.

Initially, every movement should be directed by the hip kwa rotating horizontally or vertically.
The torso, shoulders and arms should follow.

Avoid disconnecting the shoulders and moving them independently of the hips.
Preventing independent movement of the arms and shoulders is the main purpose of this Neigong.


Spiral legs

The legs spiral naturally when the torso and the kwa move. Be aware of the spiralling action.
Leave the knees alone.
Both legs rotate in the same direction as the centre turns.

Feel the power passing through the leg sequentially. From the ball of the foot, through the calves, thighs and into the hips.
The power feeds into the delivery and there is a natural release and return as the spiral energy dissipates.


5 bows

Bow tension must exist in your body at all times when doing tai chi. Without it, your power is limited. Bow tension is a refinement of inherent peng.
Stretching assists with bow tension but this must be coupled with spiralling for the power to build.
Skilled use of kwa will enable you to maintain the 5 bows yet move the limbs in a flexible, coordinated manner.
If the kwa are allowed to open and close of their own accord, they imbue every movement with additional power.

Kwa provides the necessary flexibility to reduce the possibility of jarring.
If your joints flex naturally, you find it easier to adapt to physical difficulty and find opportunity for movement.
The kwa help you to create space.


Hip kwa

The kwa is located at the top of the leg and joins the leg to the hip.
As you move, the groin/hip crease will open and close naturally.
We need to move by opening and closing the hip joint rather than swaying the hips from side-to-side.

There are other parts of the body that could be considered 'kwa' because every joint is held in place by connective tissue.
As the muscles of the torso and legs combine with the weight shift and spine to generate movement, the kwa throughout the body should all open and close.

Moving with kwa entails the storing and releasing of energy caused by the opening and closing of the joint.
It occurs because the torso turns, rather than in the localised joint itself.

The hip joint is not the hip kwa.
The hip joint moves far less than the hip kwa does. Our aim is to spiral through the soft tissue of the body, not through the joint.


Sinking inside

Sinking occurs within the body with only the most subtle outward sign of movement.
Let the lower back relax of its own accord; there is no need to consciously tuck the pelvis under.

Sink into the centre, then from the centre into the ground.
Your thighs will ache initially, then your calves and ultimately your feet.
The hips will now be far more stable.


Soft knees

Many people make two mistakes with sinking and rooting - they bend the knees too deep or they keep the knees too straight.
This can lead to knee injury.

Keep the physical 'doing' to a minimum:

  1. With the knees naturally soft and relaxed, allow the rest of the body to soften and sink
  2. Sink into the hip joint
  3. It is the hips that sink, not just the knees
  4. The thighs may begin to burn/ache initially
  5. The lower back will straighten of its own accord when your gluteus muscles are working
  6. Think of the tailbone curling under but don't force anything
Avoid any discomfort in the knees; if your knees hurt, they are squatting too low and that is incorrect.


Body weight

Each movement requires a movement of body weight.
You must become accustomed to moving the weight - not the just limb - when performing an action.
Moving from leg to leg is not enough; you must get your weight behind the movement.

Additionally, it is necessary to distinguish between weighted and unweighted.
With very few exceptions, steps should be unweighted.


Lower body

Ensure that the legs are responsible for power.
Imagine that you are pulling or pushing using your waist and legs as a starting point.

Moving your hips will cause the torso to move.

The centre of gravity is in the intestines because they contain the largest volume of water in the body.
When the lower body leads the action, everything else follows.


Leg strength

A woman cannot reasonably hope for success when she uses her upper body for strength against a male opponent.
Biology is against you.

You need to think about your lower body, in particular your legs.

When you measure the size of leg muscles relative to arms, you find that the leg muscles are significantly larger and can produce vastly more power.
Connect your arms to your back, and use your legs to drive your movements.


Know yourself

Much of the tai chi training is about untangling the knots that society has tied us in.
This is a difficult, complicated and often frightening process.
Not everyone wants to know themselves, or cares to probe deep beneath the surface.

Many philosophical traditions have urged people to "Know thyself!"
It is a fundamental precept.
Koan represent an example of how zen seeks to accomplish this goal.
There are many other ways to explore your own consciousness.

The first step in getting to know yourself a little better is simply wanting to.
If you open your mind, you have already started.
Do not dismiss anything, or you will retreat from understanding, and withdraw into the familiar...


Female qualities?

The inherent qualities of tai chi are softness, looseness of muscles and joints at all times, unseen strength that does not rely on muscular contraction or brute force, fluid movement in accord with others, optimal use of your own physical body and yielding to force at all times.

Women and men learn the same material, but with a slightly different emphasis. Each gender must be true to their own nature.


No te

It is extremely common for beginners to demonstrate no understanding of te at all.
The most obvious fault is forcing.
Rather than let the reeling silk undulation wave do the work, the student uses brute force.
This may be fine in an external class, but in tai chi it is clumsy.

Only an inexperienced tai chi person uses strength rather than jing.

Jing is akin to the ocean tossing a boulder. The water uses no strength. It just undulates.
The kinetic motion does all the work. This is te.



The power, the virtue of the female is found in being a woman; rather than emulating the characteristics of a man.
Hence, a woman is balanced by being womanly. Masculinity of manner or dress is seen as discordant with the essence of a woman.
The same principle applies to men.

You cannot be other than what you are, and any attempt to change your innate qualities is considered futile.
Taoism sees strength in being true to what you are, in following your own nature.

This is part of wu wei; going with the flow.
Wu wei explores how power can be gained by keeping to the grain rather than going against it.
When travelling in water, it is simpler to be carried along than to fight the current.

In taoism, people seek to take this one step further by asking what they can do to capitalise upon the virtue.
What can they do to improve their harmony with the flow?
In water, it might mean using a sail.
With people, it could be attire or a consideration of posture and speech.
The art of feng shui specialises in this skill.


£2.50 an hour...

School members who attend both Benton and Heaton classes for the full 2 hours only pay £2.50 an hour.


Self-consciousness prevents people from acting in accord with their own nature, and virtue is lost.
Consider the flamenco dancer:

There must be a total immersion in the event itself.
The divide between the dance and the dancer must cease to exist; they must become one: a joining of femaleness and physical expression.
It is the dancer's femininity and passion that makes the flamenco the flamenco.



The appreciation of virtue has long been applied to people.

Dance and fashion make use of virtue constantly.
The femaleness of women is accentuated by costume and poise.
A flamenco dancer represents femininity, passion, elegance and strength.

There is nothing masculine about the expression, body language, voice and mannerisms.
By expressing the characteristics of woman-ness, the dancer is true to her nature.



Men have long perpetuated the myth that women are more emotional than men.
This is actually entirely untrue: men are culturally conditioned to suppress their emotions and to detach themselves from feeling.
Which is not entirely helpful.

A woman may admit that she feels fear, whereas a man pretends to be brave.
Taoism and zen seek to cultivate emotional awareness, and asks the student to be honest about how they feel.



Men are stronger and heavier above the waist, whilst women are the reverse.
All Asian martial arts seek to encourage students to emulate the female body, and drop the weight down.
This is a logical approach; since a firm base promotes stability.

Tai chi teaches all students to rely upon the strength of the legs and the waist, rather than the arms and shoulders.
Again, this favours women.



 Men and women are different.
This simple fact must be the starting point when teaching tai chi self defence to female students.

Men have testosterone, they enjoy using force, being aggressive and competing with one another. They are usually quite happy being roughed-up and roughing people up in return.
Although only a few of these qualities are of any use in tai chi, it enables men to feel more comfortable working martially than most women do.

Women bring entirely different qualities to tai chi.
These are actually the very values and sensibilities that tai chi seeks to cultivate in the male student.
The challenge for the female student is to harness their strengths, to have faith in themselves and the art, and to overcome their conditioned inhibitions.



In taoism, men and women are seen as uniquely different.

The yin/yang symbol represents the balancing of these differences; the perfect harmony of opposites.
Women are yin and men are yang; each has attributes unique and specific to their own gender.
These were never intended to be clich├ęs or stereotypes; they arose through observation rather than thought.
Yin and yang are equal, yet different to one another.



Male students will tend to go easy on female students. It is important not to give men a reason to do this.
Men may treat you with 'kid gloves' or speak to you in a condescending manner.
In our school, we discourage such behaviour.
Many instructors give women a false sense of reassurance. This is offensive and insulting.
Truth is essential.
You cannot hide the fact of your skill. It is either present or lacking. There is no ambiguity to it.

No real life assailant will cut a woman any slack.


Home life

Not all partners are supportive.
They may feel threatened.
Or they think that its cute for a woman to take up martial arts training.

Partners often tend to belittle or intimidate their wives and girlfriends when they learn that you are taking self defence classes.


Gender stereotyping

 Society has presented an image of women as being helpless.
This may have been replaced (to a small extent) in recent years with media stories of rough girls being arrested for fighting, but the overall perception of women remains the same.

When a woman enters a martial arts class, she is taking a brave step into a male-dominated arena.

You will be immediately faced with a whole range of unflattering associations, based purely upon gender.
Many men are reluctant to partner with a woman.
Women are generally considered to make ineffectual assailants.


Women in martial arts

Women typically do not fare too well in martial arts classes. Men have all of the natural advantages when it comes to violence:
  1. Aggression
  2. Familiarity with violence
  3. Physical strength
  4. Testosterone
In the external arts, these qualities count for a lot, and women usually flounder.
The schools compensate by having weight and gender categories, or by simply patronising female students.
This may work fine in the dojo, but no one in the street will let a woman off because she lacks their own physical strength.



Patterns of manners develop within social groups. 
They are refined over time until they reflect a way of living that is relevant to the society. 

Over the last 50 years in the west, there has been a drive to break down old barriers. 
A “brave new world” of egalitarianism and equality has been created.
This is reflected by the modern form of manners, which tends to be based on political correctness. 
The problem is that political correctness changes depending on the prevailing politics. 
It also tends to be imposed on society, rather than reflecting society.  

In the drive to get rid of behaviours that were seen to be unsuitable for the 20/21st century (e.g. automatic deference to “higher classes”), we have eradicated a lot that made sense and gave life meaning. 
Is it right, or is it sexist, to hold a door open for a woman? 
Should a person be respected because they have been on “reality TV”?

The drive to modernise in the east has not destroyed the need for respect or traditional manners.  
In the east they understand more the value of tradition. 
Behaviour is measured and considered. 
Human interaction is valued, and respect is important. 

In the west we often act without thinking, or with the arrogant assumption that what we do is right, or best. 
The “free-and-easy” approach of the west is often at odds with the more traditional east. 

This is rarely a problem when eastern manners meet western society, as little value is placed on manners in the west. 
A show of good manners may be accepted with awkwardness, condescension or misplaced humour.  

However, problems can arise when western manners meet eastern society
The seemingly gross and unthinking behaviour can show a lack of subtlety and sensitivity. 
Although displeasure will rarely be shown, the westerner may be viewed with disapproval. 

This can be a problem if a westerner wants to get close to anything in the east. 
Why should something be shared if appreciation is not shown in an appropriate way? 

This is, of course, a simplification of the situation. 
Many people in the west have good manners, and are sensitive to the cultures of others. 

Written by Andy Urwin


Beyond class

Self defence skills will teach you to approach situations differently; especially at work and in the street.
Instead of responding to aggression with aggression (or fear), you see more
powerful alternatives.

stress is good for your body and your mental health. The training will make you feel calm, confident and capable.