21st Century urban combat?

The 21st Century has different concerns to the 16th Century. We must allow for the realities of the modern urban environment.
A self defence practitioner needs to be upright, agile, adaptive and realistic. Your opponent will probably be armed and they will most likely have friends.
Things change. Time moves on. Your art needs to be a response to the needs of the present day.
Ideally, some of his training will take place in a dojo, a "place for following the way" with a smooth, raised wooden floor and an absence of decoration or other distractions.

This preference for seclusion and privacy in the engagement of a serious and meaningful activity is, like the budoka's preference for a simple and unadorned training weapon and uniform, a sign of his style and commitment.
(Dave Lowry)


A rehearsed combat demonstration may well look exciting, but what does it show?
 Does a would-be new starter earnestly expect to be undertaking that level of training from the onset?

Rehearsed combat proves nothing and ultimately shows nothing.
Real life assailants will not attack in a known pattern, using known angles of attack or styles of assault.
The melee of unrehearsed combat is less entertaining; more frightening and significantly less polished.

Bad instructor

Beware of exciting demonstrations.
Is this what your are going to be taught in the immediate future or is it a preview of master-level material?

If your instructor is a show off, then you are in for some problems. They have sold out.
You are not a student. You are the audience.

Decline the role and find somebody who is unselfconscious. You need an instructor who puts your progress before their own ego. 


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever Gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the Captain of my soul.

(W E Henley)

No rules

In real life, you are likely to face situations different to those encountered in the training hall, dojo or boxing ring.
Remember that a classroom environment is a controlled situation.
There are rules.

In the street there are no rules at all...


The world has gone mad.

Television has turned the planet into a soulless mass of brain-dead zombies.
Look around you. Listen to what people are talking about these days.
Are they vital, alive, happy?
Or are they greedy, small-minded and selfish?
Obsessed with material possessions and shopping?

Most people are more interested in their mobile phone than they are in other people.

Seeking popularity, celebrity and fame is hollow. Performers paint their faces and dress in costumes.
They do whatever they need to do in order to please their fickle, demanding audience.

Zen, tao and tai chi are certainly not about this...


Modern tai chi in China is all about performance art. This is what tai chi has evolved into.
Global tai chi is in danger of following this same trend.
In most cases, tai chi is merely a pretty dance with marginal health benefits.
Perfect poise, choreography and suppleness are prized above substance, self defence and pragmatism.

Tai chi chuan is a martial art. It is not dance. Tai chi chuan is about self defence. It is not about looking pretty and entertaining people.

A martial artist has no desire to demonstrate their skills or prove themselves. Why should they?
They are humble and quiet, reserved and cautious.
It states in Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu that advertising your skills will only invite conflict. 

What is the purpose of a demonstration?

 When somebody gives a public demonstration, it is important to ask for their motive.
 Usually it is to promote the class.

 Often, public demonstrations are rehearsed, practiced, choreographed.
 The aim is to provide an entertaining spectacle.

This does not capture the nature of the art we practice, nor does it reflect our values as a school.



Our syllabus is very versatile.
It offers a wide range of skills, including kicks, punches, grapples, floor work, weaponry, joint manipulation, kinetic projection...

There is also a significant health component, and very little risk of injury despite vigorous taijiquan work.


People who seek attention are insecure. They are needy and weak.
The audience serves to flatter their vanity and bolster their low self-esteem.

A tai chi person is not like this.
They are quiet and calm, detached and integrated. The notion of performing is reprehensible to them.
Entertainment is all about the ego, about showing off. A 'whole' person has no need of such nonsense.

Martial artists have always trained their skills in private.

The need for secrecy is paramount. You do not share your abilities with strangers.
Even today this principle is still valid.

Representation of skill

 To demonstrate skills effectively, a student must be thorough and convincing.
 Half-hearted taps, touch contact and point scoring is not acceptable.
 The outcome needs to be unequivocal.

 There must be no rehearsal, preparation or warning.

 The student is required to 'in the moment'; ready to deal with whatever occurs.
 This is something worth having.
 A skill that you can use in real life.


Unless you are training a very specific application against a particular type of attack, it is unacceptable to request certain kinds of attack i.e. a right straight punch.
You must learn to deal with whatever comes your way.
What comes out comes out.

The defender may be aiming to apply shuai jiao, chin na or jing.
But the attacker has no rules, no restrictions.
They must simply attack with vigour and meaning.

In your face

Not everybody wants to watch you do tai chi.

If somebody wanted to see a tai chi exhibition, then they would attend a demonstration.
Most people simply do not care about tai chi. Why should they? It does not interest them at all.

Watching you perform is probably not going to be the highlight of their day. They may even find it irritating. Especially if you look smug and conceited. They just want to walk the dog or look at the sea.

Be careful not to force yourself on others.
Train in quiet places, where you can mind your own business and not attract attention. 



Martial arts classes involve a deeply personal journey in which you must vanquish your own laziness, lack of commitment, inaccuracy and fear.
Along the way you gain superlative combat skills.
However, this takes a lot of time.
It takes patience.
And character.

If the art is misrepresented from the onset, students will quickly grow bored and leave.

The eye of the beholder

 Spectators see what they want to see. 
 What pleases them. 
 What meets their expectations.

 Very few members of an audience would be capable of watching with a discerning eye.
 Not many spectators would understand the nature of what they are being shown.
If you develop the sensitivity that is vital in this arena you will feel his energy and be able to go with it as opposed to against it, that way his strength and power will add to your technique.

(Geoff Thompson)

What is it about?

The desire to be noticed is not a healthy one. It speaks of an inner gulf. Of a sense of worthlessness.
Why would you want fuss and attention?

A martial artist has no craving for such nonsense. They just want to train. To get on with the practice.

One of the dangers with competition and exhibitions is that people have different values.
Although the Tai Chi Classics have clearly defined parameters, many exponents choose to disregard them.
When you set aside taoism and the fundamental precepts of tai chi, you distort the art to suit your own ends.

Competition forms are pretty external sequences, that may be aesthetically-pleasing but are internally bereft.
Partner work competitions rapidly degenerate into a brutal match of strength.

What motivates you? Are you wanting to be 'the next big thing'? Your face on a magazine cover? Why?
Can't you simply be?

Treat this as a koan and ask yourself what all your ambition is really about.



A complete martial art is not about fighting.
 Therefore, the strategies and tactics are geared towards completion of the event.
 Force is never blocked.
 Struggling is circumvented.
 If something does not work, it is immediately  discarded.

An entirely different mentality is required.

 The student must think about the art as a martial art, not as a sport.
 The aim is to evade and escape, not to win prizes or accolades.
 The opponent may attack from an unexpected angle, they may be armed, they may not be  alone and they will not stop when you have had enough.

 Your repertoire must be varied and extensive. Your skills must be honed and comfortable.
 Students must use their bodies intelligently and skilfully, employing optimal body mechanics to ensure the best 'effort to reward' ratio.

We do not perform public demonstrations

Why not?
 Tai chi is not a performance art. It was not designed to be a spectacle. It is not meant to be entertaining to watch.
 Stunts, feats, acrobatics... these are not what  tai chi is about.

 In truth, a demonstration might well appear to be quite boring.

Public perception

If you told a member of the public that you were studying aikido, karate, ju jitsu or kung fu, they would instantly assume that you were learning a martial art.
 There would be no debate.

 If you tell somebody that you are learning tai chi chuan, the response might be quite different.
 Not many people think that tai chi is a martial art.
And in most cases they are correct.

Taoist examples

There are two examples from Chuang Tzu that beautifully illustrate the folly of showing off and/or competing.
The first is Monkey Mountain and the second is The Need To Win.

In both cases, the exhibitionist is hampered by their ego and self consciousness. It proves to be their downfall.

Counterpoising these examples is The Stink Tree in which the value of being insignificant is praised.



Group dynamics and evasion strategies cannot be codified into a step-by-step guide.
You must learn to go with the flow, responding and adapting to the needs of the situation.
This takes patience and practice.

If you lose your composure, you lose everything.

You need to work with punches, kicks and grapples. It needs to be varied, confusing, unsettling and unpredictable. A melee.

Martial art or fighting art?

Dave Lowry maintains that not all so-called 'martial arts' are actually martial arts.
 'Martial art' literally refers to a combat system that has been tried in battle/used by professional warriors/soldiers. 
 Such an art was intended for self defence and the training methods should reflect this.

 A lot of contemporary arts are 'fighting arts'.
 They may have been designed as a sport, fighting bouts/competitions or for their aesthetic value.
A fighting art may be very functional and effective, but (strictly speaking) it is not a martial art.

The voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

(Marcel Proust)
You are isolated and in an extremely dangerous situation.
The only way out is to retain one's composure and wait.

(I Ching)



Detachment is best - you do not want to give the attacker anything to hold onto.
Tai chi chuan is about emptying your centre, denying the attacker any form of purchase.
Be like water.
Cold, flowing, irresistible and yielding.
Remove any opportunity for successful counter-attack and do not show any form of emotion.

Do not speak, swagger or give any sign of ego.

Continuing mind

'Zanshin' is a Zen term meaning 'continuing mind'.
It refers to the condition of ongoing awareness necessary in self defence.

If you are daydreaming and not 'in the moment', you are vulnerable and incapable of spontaneous action.

The women of Rubens

Giantesses, female fauna,
 naked as the rumbling of barrels.
 They sprawl in trampled beds,
 sleep with mouths agape for crowing.
 Their eyes have fled into the depths
 and penetrate to the very core of glands
 from which yeast seeps into the blood.

 Daughters of the Baroque. Dough rises in kneading-troughs,
 baths are asteam, wines glow ruby,
 piglets of cloud gallop across the sky,
 trumpets neigh an alert of the flesh.
 O meloned, O excessive ones,
 doubled by the flinging off of shifts,
 trebled by the violence of posture,
 you lavish dishes of love!

 Their slender sisters had risen earlier,
 before dawn broke in the picture.
 No one noticed how, single file, they
 had moved to the canvas's unpainted side.

Exiles of style. Their ribs all showing,
 their feet and hands of birdlike nature.
 Trying to take wing on bony shoulder blades.

The thirteenth century would have given them a golden
 the twentieth- a silver screen.
 The seventeenth had nothing for the flat of chest.

For even the sky is convex,
 convex the angels and convex the God-
 mustachioed Phoebus who on a sweaty
 mount rides into the seething alcove.

 (Magnus J Krynski)



Children, when was
 Napoleon Bonaparte
 born? asks the teacher

 A thousand years ago, say the children.
 A hundred years ago, say the children.
 Nobody knows.

 Children, what did
 Napoleon Bonaparte
 do? asks the teacher.

 He won a war, say the children.
 He lost a war, say the children.
 Nobody knows.

 Our butcher used to have a dog,
 says Frankie,
 and his name was Napoleon,
 and the butcher used to beat him,
 and the dog died
 of hunger
 a year ago.

And now all the children feel sorry
 for Napoleon.

 (Miroslav Holub)


Learning to strike somebody and learning how to take a strike are essential.
Being hit can really mess you up.
Clever self defence tactics and techniques may fall to pieces when you are actually taking hits.
It is imperative that you know how to relax and roll with the punch.

Developing your own striking ability is critical. Without it, you cannot hope to defend yourself.
You need to make each blow count.
Range, timing, distance, accuracy and penetration must be practiced relentlessly.
A bag or focus mitt is not the same as a person. You need to strike real people.
Do not pull your punches. Let them land. Feel whether or not you are receiving adverse feedback.
Learn to control your power, your commitment and your intent.

Punching thin air may train the body mechanics behind a strike but tells you nothing about your ability.

Martial arts

The genius of ancient  martial arts systems cannot be denied. They are tried are tested. They have endured.
Whether or not they are viable in modern times is down to the school, the  master and the syllabus - rather than just the art itself.

A pragmatic self defence syllabus must take into account the century we are living in.

The internal arts codified into a self defence system a long time ago.
People fought in muddy fields and wore body armour. Low stances were necessary for stability.
If you look at the sparring part or the technique part of it, you have to be here and now and pay attention or you are going to get hit.

You can do forms and visualise and all that kind of stuff - that's really good when you train on your own. But when you are with other people practicing techniques, it gives a 'live' quality to the training.

(Tim Cartmell) 


The last belt deals with highly-technical biomechanical concerns, consciousness, teaching approaches, syllabus design, spiritual inquiry, martial theory & practice and Eastern philosophy.
All forms and drills must be dismantled; their component parts understood and applied comprehensively.
It is reserved for exponents who are capable of teaching other instructors.


What constitutes realism?
Risk, danger, threat, unpredictability. There must be some concern that you may be harmed.

Attacks need to be unrehearsed.
The assailant can punch, kick, grapple.
They can be armed.
They can have friends.

The key feature is this: the attack must be vigorous enough and threatening enough to trigger the defender's nervous system.
It is not necessary to injure anyone.
But the attacks must feel serious and create a genuine emotional, psychological and biological response in the defender.


I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.

I would be friend of all - the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.

I would be faithful through each passing moment;
I would be constantly in touch with God;
I would be strong to follow where He leads me;
I would have faith to keep the path Christ trod;

Who is so low that I am not his brother?
Who is so high that I’ve no path to him?
Who is so poor, that I may not feel his hunger?
Who is so rich I may not pity him?

Who is so hurt I may not know his heartache?
Who sings for joy my heart may never share?
Who in God’s heaven has passed beyond my vision?
Who to hell’s depths where I may never fare?

May none, then, call on me for understanding,
May none, then, turn to me for help in pain,
And drain alone his bitter cup of sorrow,
Or find he knocks upon my heart in vain.

(Howard Walter, S Ralph Harlow)

How water began to play

Water wanted to live
It went to the sun it came weeping back
Water wanted to live
It went to the trees they burned it came weeping back
They rotted it came weeping back
Water wanted to live
It went to the flowers they crumpled it came weeping back
It wanted to live
It went to the womb it met blood
It came weeping back
It went to the womb it met knife
It came weeping back
It went to the womb it met maggot and rottenness
It came weeping back it wanted to die

It went to time it went through the stone door
It came weeping back
It went searching through all time and space for nothingness
It came weeping back it wanted to die

Till it had no weeping left

It lay at the bottom of things

Utterly worn out          utterly clear
(Ted Hughes)


Does your martial art cater for the realities of self defence?
 Are you learning to respond to multiple attackers?
 Will your opponents be armed?
 Do they carry knives or other improvised weapons?
 What will you be wearing? What kind of footwear?

 Be honest about what you are expecting to do with your art. 
 Is your art up to the needs of self defence? 
 Are you training the necessary   skills?


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 previous belt.



When someone is roughed-up in class, do not make a fuss.
It is not a big deal.
Apologise if you were too rough. Make sure they are ok. But then move on.

It is not an incident. It does not require a lengthy discussion or finger-pointing/blame.
Do not take it personally or make plans to 'get them back'.

Superfluous apologies are also unnecessary, and ultimately border on the ingenuine.
Get on with the training.


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.

Everyday quiet

Practice being cat-like throughout your everyday life.
Can you hear your footsteps?
Does your clothing rustle?
Are you making noises that advertise your presence?

You need to be ghost-like in your silence.
The aim is to avoid pushing the air in front of you.Think about what that means. 


Chopping up the syllabus

Belts should serve to chop up the  curriculum into manageable chunks.
 You cannot teach everything all at the same time.
 Knowledge requires context.

 A taijiquan student learns basic qigong first of all.
 These teach the student how to stand, move and work towards employing their entire body in every action.
 Simple partnered exercises come next, followed by the beginning of the most basic form.
 Self defence considerations are taught last.
 The first three belts follow this path of development.

 The next belts continue to develop qigong, form, partner work and self defence; introducing more sophisticated considerations.
 Greater skill and experience is required for each new belt.

Monkey & snake

Be monkey-like or snake-like rather than bear-like.

 Make your tai chi lithe and agile, not lumbering and obvious.

Walk like a cat

New students with Sifu Waller commonly drop deep into the floor and stomp around like an elephant.
 If your footsteps are loud, the groundpath is in your feet, not in your hand.

Your footsteps need to be as agile and light as those of a cat.
Imagine Kwai Chang Caine in the old Kung Fu TV show walking on rice paper?

 If your noises advertise your movements, they are way too loud. Noisy footwork and clumsy habits reflect your lack of sensitivity.
Slow down. Stop rushing. Let your scattered mind settle.
Ninjutsu, a secret Japanese art until recently, either was strongly influenced by or originated from tai chi. Many of the concepts, terms and movements are more than coincidentally similar to those of tai chi.

(Robert Chuckrow)
How I long to see
among dawn flowers,
the face of God.



Confidence without self?

Self consciousness involves  thinking and thinking prevents action.
 To apply tai chi successfully, you must allow thinking to subside and immerse yourself totally in the experience.
 Move with the  happening, respond as part of the moment.

When you cease to worry about your 'self', confidence no longer  matters.
He sees no other way open to him except ceaseless practice.

(Eugen Herrigel)


One response to being roughed-up is to become aggressive.
This is not the answer.

Aggression is a sign of emotion.
It indicates that you are upset and are compensating by using anger and force.
Clearly this is not tai chi.
When an archer is shooting for fun
He has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind
Or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind.

His skill has not changed,
But the prize divides him.
He cares.
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting –
And the need to win
Drains him of power.

(Chuang Tzu)


Asking for it

Provocative behaviour will draw attention to yourself.
Wearing your martial arts costume, sweatshirt or lapel badge all call attention to what you do.
Similarly, macho behaviour only demonstrates an inner weakness. An insecurity. Your fear.

Keep your skills quiet and subtle. Avoid being noticed.

Can you learn self defence by itself?

We cannot teach self defence as an independent concern.

Self defence is part of the taijiquan syllabus.
Without a wide variety of inter-related kung fu skills, self defence simply will not work.
We teach self defence in the manner in which we approach combat - 'internally'.


A seasoned martial artist does not fear being hit.
They accept it as part of the training.

Inexperienced students flinch away from being hit or refuse to play the attacker earnestly.
This indicates fear.
Sincerity requires commitment.
If you are not willing to face your fears, they will overwhelm you.

Being hit or thrown to the floor will never feel nice. It is not supposed to feel good.
However, when it is all said and done all you will suffer is a few bumps and bruises.
And all that worry, anxiety and doubt will only have served to hold you back and slow down your progress.

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.



We emphasise the importance of not 'sparing yourself' when applying the tai chi in self defence.
If you hold back, the skills will not come.
The real lesson here is that the student cannot hold onto their 'self' in self defence, they have to let go and be caught up in the moment.

Training methods such as melee assist with this process.


When faced with violence, most people panic.
Panic is an adverse reaction to unexpected events.
Instead of going with the flow of what is happening, the mind begins racing and composure is lost.

When you are caught off-guard by an assailant, what is going to happen?
Your stomach is churning, your thoughts racing and your vision has narrowed.
Do you earnestly expect to remember techniques from a self defence course?


It is important to make an example of your attacker, to let them know that they have made a mistake.
Your strike or grapple needs to be psychologically and physically disturbing; the attacker must experience anxiety.

Other would-be assailants will pause and think twice if you are successful.
If they falter and hesitate, they are doubtful and fear you.

Real life

Most people falter in the street because the shock of being roughed-up totally unnerves them.
They literally 'go to pieces' and freeze.
This is no good at all because it prevents you from acting in your own defence.

When assaulted, you will be startled and surprised.
But you should be capable of recovering your wits immediately.

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.
Hui Tzu said to Chuang:

I have a big tree
The kind they call a stink tree.
The trunk is so distorted,
So full of knots,
No one can get a straight plank
Out of it. The branches are so crooked
You cannot cut them up
In any way that makes sense.

There it stands beside the road.
No carpenter will even look at it.

Such is your teaching-
Big and useless.

Chuang Tzu replied:

Have you ever watched the wildcat
Crouching, watching his prey-
This way it leaps, and that way,
High and low, and at last
Lands in the trap.

But have you seen the yak?
Great as a thundercloud
He stands in his might.
Big? Sure,
He can't catch mice!
So for your big tree. No use?
Then plant it in the wasteland
In emptiness.
Walk idly around,
Rest under its shadow;
No axe or bill prepares its end.
No one will ever cut it down.
Useless? You should worry!
(Chuang Tzu)
You cannot put a big load in a small bag,
nor can you with a short rope,
draw water from a deep well.

Have you not heard how a bird
from the sea was blown inshore
and landed outside the capital of Lu?

The prince ordered a solemn reception,
offered wine to the seabird
in the Sacred precinct,
called for musicians to play
the compositions of Shun,
slaughtered cattle to nourish it.
Dazed with symphonies,
the unhappy seabird died of despair.

How should you treat a bird?
As yourself or as a bird?
Ought not a bird to nest in deep woodland
or fly over meadow and marsh?
Ought it not to swim on river and pond,
feed on eels and fish,
fly in formation with other waterfowl,
and rest in the reeds?

Bad enough for a seabird to be surrounded by men
and frightened by their voices!
That was not enough!
They killed it with music!

Water is for fish, and air for man.
Natures differ, and needs with them.

(Chuang Tzu)



We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer --

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. 

(T S Eliot) 

In being without desires, you experience the wonder.
But by having desires, you experience the journey.
Yet both spring from the same source and differ mostly in name.

(Lao Tzu)


Tao Te Ching, The Art of War, The Book or Five Rings and I Ching all offer excellent principles.
These are what you need in self defence.

Scour your art for underlying precepts of body use, relationship and strategy.
Since joining the class I've developed, or rather realised, an anxiety/fear of knives and knife attack... the first time Sifu Waller held the rubber knife to my throat with the mock intent of a realistic attacker he challenged me to defend myself. I froze up and was 'cut'. The defence against a knife material is 21st century self defence at its most relevant.
(John K)


A beginner cannot hope to feel confident about their tai chi; they do not possess the  skills and experience to apply it successfully.
 Realising this is essential.
 The only way for a student to gain confidence is to practice with commitment and patience.
 You must put yourself at the mercy of the system and train it diligently.

 Self defence involves a gradual process of development.
 Subtle nuances of ability are added to your repertoire,  then explored under increasingly unpredictable circumstances.
 The student must learn to stand in the face of threat with nothing but their tai chi to rely upon.

When I'm throwing you, you don't feel a lot of force, you don't feel a lot of anything; we're kind of moving around and suddenly you fall. That's internal.
(Tim Cartmell)

Inexperienced students

Inexperienced students do tend to be rough and clumsy.
This is a good reminder for you, since you are most likely also inexperienced.

How soft are you?
How gentle?
How considerate?
Are you forcing?
Do you have control?
Are you using your body or brute force?
Is sensitivity a concern?
What is your emotional condition?
Is your mind on what you are doing?


Liz Koch, author of  The Psoas Book wrote:

Our ancient (reptilian) brain recognizes danger by smell, look, feel and sound. The adrenals release chemical information and, in combination with an orchestrated muscular response, move into action. In the blink of an eye, we grab a child from an oncoming car or ward off an attacker. 

But when danger overwhelms or is chronic, rather than spring into action or move away, the body freezes. A mouse in the clutches of a cat plays dead. No longer squirming, the cat may get distracted providing a moment for the mouse to dart away. 'Playing dead' is a heightened survival response. 

As a species, humans are encoded with the ability to protect themselves. When survival is at stake, the psoas propels the body to hit the ground running. When startled, it ignites preparation of the extensor muscles to reach out (grab hold) or run. When standing one’s ground, the psoas provides a person with powerful core leg and arm kicks — a dynamic force in the face of the enemy.

We are usually too ready to accept the first solution is not good enough.
We need to believe that there is often a better or simpler solution in order to keep on thinking.

(Edward De Bono)


It is tempting for many new starters to read about qi and believe that some kind of mystical energy is going to power their art.

Be prepared for disappointment.
You still need to exercise the body.

There will be no 'mystical' moments where qi does the work for 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.



Will tai chi self defence help to improve your confidence? Initially, no.
 This may not be the answer that most people expect but it is the truth.

 People have familiar responses to physical threat and can typically do something to defend themselves.
 Self defence asks you to put this aside and simply use the tai chi.
 It requires a lot of  faith and courage, since you know it will not be enough.

Body language

Your body language needs to be curt, forceful and aggressive in terms of appearance.
This is accomplished by economy of motion.
You look determined, blank, cold and purposeful.
There is no messing about.

Smoothness is paramount.

Everything about your movements must seem utterly serious. Your body language states "I am going to hurt you!"


The good news is that the beatings become less uncomfortable as you progress.
Partly because your body is stronger, but also because the more experienced students are gentler and more skilled.

Often a student causes their own discomfort because they are tense.

Why is baguazhang difficult to learn?

Students often lack coordination and they are usually extremely tense.
Their body is yet to do what they want it to do.
Tension prohibits free movement.

The solution to this is to focus on learning simpler movements.

When your body lacks the basic skills, there is a danger of injury.
You may hurt yourself.
You may harm somebody else. 
A man of Sung did business
In silk ceremonial hats.
He travelled with a load of hats
To the wild men of the South.
The wild men had shaved heads,
Tattooed bodies.
What did they want
With silk
Ceremonial hats?

Yao had wisely governed
All China.
He had brought the entire world
To a state of rest.
After that, he went to visit
The four Perfect Ones
In the distant mountains
Of Khu Shih.
When he came back
Across the border
Into his own city
His lost gaze
Saw no throne.

(Chuang Tzu)
Pommelling hail –
like the old oak,
I never change.




It is important to consider all the factors that will affect your position relative to someone else.
Ideally, you need to adopt the posture that offers you the greatest degree of flexibility and movement whilst preventing the opponent from comfortably accessing your vulnerable areas.
At all times, you are exposed in some way.
Being aware of this will help you to allow for attacks from all sides and adjust your physical use of the space accordingly.


To date, no one has ever been injured.

Sprains and stiffness are often the outcome of neglected qigong and stretching practice at home.
If you do not train the strength-building exercises, then your strength will not improve.
The exercises are taught for a reason.
A great mountain can collapse at your feet and you need not change countenance.
(Cheng Man Ching)
This research on misdirection has important real-world implications. It is often important to accurately judge our own cognitive abilities, and misjudgments can have fatal consequences. For example, most people underestimate the extent to which their attention is misdirected by a phone call. Research has shown that talking even on a hands-free phone has the same detrimental impact on your driving as being over the drink-drive limit. However, since we overestimate our own abilities, we don’t notice the impact this technological misdirection has on our performance.

(Gustav Kuhn)


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.



Often, you do not have to actually hurt anybody.
It is far more efficient to make them think you are going to hurt them, than to actually do so.
People naturally seek to avoid pain.

A taste of your own medicine?

Beginners are often quite happy to dole out pain but not so happy to be on the receiving end of it.
Unfortunately, this attitude is not yin/yang.
There must be balance.

If you strike someone and throw them to the floor, you need to be willing to take that same treatment yourself.
Sifu Waller has quietly endured bumps, bruises, sprains and injuries since 1975. You must do the same.
It is part of being a martial artist.

If you want to give, you must also be prepared to receive. 


Most of us are pretty soft.
We are pampered, comfortable and lazy.

In order to condition our bodies to assault, we must get used to being hit, thrown to the floor and generally dragged around.


Everyone is frightened when attacked. There is absolutely no way of guaranteeing a satisfactory outcome.
All that you can do is to remain as calm as you can.

With practice, you will possess shen.
If you can remain impassive in the face of an aggressor, it may be they who  back away from you.

In real-life self defence a student must remain composed and  detached. Emotional instability will ruin any chance of keeping internally relaxed. 

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.
The Prince of Wu took a boat
to Monkey Mountain.
As soon as the monkeys saw him
they all fled in panic and hid in the treetops.

One monkey, however, remained, completely unconcerned,
swinging from branch to branch -
an extraordinary display.

The prince shot an arrow at the monkey,
but the monkey dexterously
caught the arrow in midflight.

At this the prince ordered his attendants
to make a concerted attack.
In an instant the monkey was shot
full of arrows and fell dead.

Then the prince turned to his companion Yen Pu’i,
“You see what happened?
This animal advertised his cleverness.
He trusted his own skill.
He thought no one could touch him.
Remember that!
Do not rely on distinction and talent
when you deal with men!”

When they returned home,
Yen Pu’i became a disciple of a sage
to get rid of everything that made him outstanding.
He renounced every pleasure.
He learned to hide every distinction.

Soon no one in the kingdom
knew what to make of him.
Thus they held him in awe.

(Chuang Tzu)



One feature of the syllabus is the fact that you do get roughed up (in a playful way) with some degree of regularity.
Although this is unsettling at first, you come to realise that it is important and necessary.

Bumps, bruises and the occasional stiff joint are the inevitable outcome of vigorous partner work.
Without understanding where the opponent's weaknesses are
you cannot borrow their strength to use against them

(Cheng Man Ching)


Tai chi is designed to teach you how to adapt and change with the opponent without unduly exposing yourself to attack.
The forms and drills are intended to reveal holes in your defences and lure the other person to exploit the apparent weakness.


It is important to maintain optimal postural alignment at all times.
 This means that you must remain loose, alert and flexible - yet sustain peng.
Tai chi form is the main way in which you learn how to move smoothly without losing your good structure.
 Keeping good posture is fairly easy when performing solo work.
 Partner work is another matter entirely.

 All of your hard work may prove irrelevant if you cannot sustain good positioning relative to somebody else.

Appearances are deceptive

The skills of taijiquan sometimes appear to be impossible. They are unusual feats. 
But is it magic?

No. Not at all...

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?

In what universe?


No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were:
any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

(John Donne)
The correct rhythm not only gives you maximum power, it helps you conserve energy so you know when to use force and when not to.
(Tim Cartmell)
Take care of your health and avoid stress,
consolidate your energy and build up your strength.

(Sun Tzu)

What is the primal?

The primal part of you is the base animal  instinct, the 'freeze, flight or fight' reflex. 
When we are in real danger, the psoas muscle contracts and the back is forced to bend forwards.
This posture is a  fear reflex which protects the soft parts of the body from harm. 

Unfortunately, it also freezes the entire body. In tai chi we need to stay relaxed.
Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam: Put your hand in the box. I hold at your neck the gom jabbar. This one kills only animals.
Paul Atreides: Are you suggesting a duke's son is an animal?
Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam: Let us say I suggest you may be human. Your awareness may be powerful enough to control your instincts. Your instinct will be to remove your hand from the box. If you do so, you die.

Mind & habit

Pulling off the skills initially depends upon concentration and 'being in the moment'.
In time, the abilities become trained and familiar.
A habit.

You no longer need to think at all; you just do.


If you want your edge to be tangible and productive, it needs to be inherent. Everything you do must be an expression of yielding.
This takes unrelenting determination and concentration in all aspects of your baguazhang.
You cannot falter and resort to external means, or the edge will vanish instantly.

Yielding offers so many opportunities for evasion and countering.
It promises a deeper, more significant means of striking somebody, without any need to exert or tense-up.
You must cultivate yielding at every turn. Explore it. Understand it. Apply it. Make it yours.

Use every exercise in our classes as a means of training yielding, of deepening your sense of its significance and application.

The Art of War

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu points out that All warfare is based on deception. He strongly encourages indirect, circuitous strategies, misdirection, deceit and cunning. Standing toe-to-toe is not advised.
His book contains 13 chapters dedicated to being dishonest concerning one's intentions.

Dan belts

Martial arts schools vary massively in terms of dan belts.
 Some arts only offer a few whilst others offer many. 
 The significance and meaning of any given dan belt is relative to the school, style and the individual student's own capacities.

 It is not uncommon for higher dan belts to be issued in any honorary fashion:  in recognition for a lifelong contribution to the art.


Misplacing the bones

It is important to note that the chin na component refers only to 'misplacing the bones'; one of four main chin na skills.
Sealing the breath, cavity press and dividing the muscle are too dangerous for intermediate students to explore.

More advanced misplacing the bones skills are also taught later in the syllabus (finger chin na, flowing chin na).
Try, whenever possible,
to wait for your attacker to throw the first punch
for this is the moment when he uses the greatest amount of strength
and so you will have far more force to 'borrow'.
(Lau Kim Hong)

Under attack

In order to assault you, the opponent must usually come very close. By breaching your assumed 'personal space' the aggressor makes you very uncomfortable.

The act of coming in close indicates that they do not respect your boundaries and intend to make physical contact without your consent.

You feel vulnerable psychologically and physically exposed by the attack. Your body will have learned certain conditioned responses to this incursion and these actually work against you in  self defence.

The strong and the rigid are broken and laid low.
The soft and the weak will always overcome.
 (Lao Tzu)

Emotional, psychological, physical

When you play the attacker or the defender, it is essential that you explore how you feel emotionally, psychologically and physically.
This experience can be very insightful.
Your emotional awareness enables you to use your skills more effectively against the opponent.

Ideally, you want to 'break their spirit'.
When the attacker loses their will to fight, they feel weak, helpless and vulnerable.
They are at your mercy. You can do with them as you like.

Is baguazhang better than taijiquan?

It is a different tool designed to do a different job.
Baguazhang was designed with multiple opponents in mind.

Taijiquan is the better art to learn overall because virtually anyone can study tai chi.
The skills are sophisticated and subtle, but accessible for the patient student.
As a combat system it is pragmatic, versatile and functional.
There is very little risk of injury.
The art is gentle on the body.

Baguazhang is not so easy to learn, arduous on the body, harder to understand and not straightforward to apply.
It is not so good for people who have health problems.

So why bother?
Because it is effective, fun and challenging.

Coloured belts

Coloured belts typically denote an unskilled-level.
The belts get darker and darker as the student gains knowledge and experience. 

Most martial arts teach up to 10 coloured belts.
The student works through basic concerns and is introduced to key principles.

When youthful faith have fled,
 Of loving take they leave;
 Be constant to the dead -
 The dead cannot deceive.

 Sweet modest flowers of spring,
 How fleet your balmy day!
 And man's brief year can bring
 No secondary May.

 No earthly burst again
 Of gladness out of gloom,
 Fond hope and vision vain,
 Ungrateful to the tomb.

  But 'tis an old belief
 That on some solemn shore,
 Beyond the sphere of grief,
 Dear friends shall meet once more.

 Beyond the sphere of time,
 And Sin and Fate's control,
 Serene in endless prime
 Of body and of soul.

 That creed I fain would keep,
 That hope I'll not forgo,
 External be the sleep
 Unless to waken so. 

 (J G Lockhart)



My father worked with a horse-plough,
  His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
 Between the shafts and the furrow.
 The horses strained at his clicking tongue.

 An expert. He would set the wing
 And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
 The sod rolled over without the breaking.
 At the headrig, with a single pluck

 Of reins, the sweating team turned round
 And back into the land. His eye
 Narrowed and angled at the ground,
 Mapping the furrow exactly.

 I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,
 Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
 Sometimes he rode me on his back
 Dipping and rising to his plod.

 I wanted to grow up and plough,
 To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
 All I ever did was follow
 In his broad shadow round the farm.

 I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
 Yapping always. But today
 It is my father who keeps stumbling
 Behind me, and will not go away.

 (Seamus Heaney)

Hardness and softness are divided,
there is action and understanding.
Thunder and lightning combine into a pattern.

(I Ching)

Form applications

Form applications are not as straightforward as they seem.
Even when you get some sense of how to apply the form, it is important to recognise that there are many layers of subtlety.

Applying the movements as an entry method is not easy.
You need to be very familiar with the form and capable of using the postures without thinking.

External perceptions

External martial artists never yield and never come across yielding. It is an unknown principle to them.
This is why yielding is the edge.
They have no idea what you are doing, or how, or why. They come only to know the effect.

Yielding offers an inexhaustible range of possibilities, choices, opportunities and power for the individual who diligently employs this quality every chance they get.

There is more to say than this, but this serves to give you a start.


How you live is a reflection of how you think.
If your house is littered with junk, messy and cluttered, then ask yourself what inspired this.
If your home is a showcase for metal, glass, plastic and gadgetry, then it will be most evident to other people.
You cannot hide who you are.
There was a man
who was so disturbed
by the sight of his own shadow
and so displeased
with his own footsteps,
that he determined to get rid of both.

The method he hit upon was
to run away from them.
So he got up and ran.

But every time he put his foot down
there was another step,
while his shadow kept up with him
without the slightest difficulty.

He attributed his failure
to the fact
that he was not running fast enough.
So he ran faster and faster,
without stopping,
until he finally dropped dead.

He failed to realize
that if he merely stepped into the shade,
his shadow would vanish,
and if he sat down and stayed still,
there would be no more footsteps.

 (Chuang Tzu)
When I was writing the story (The Tombs of Atuan) in 1969, I knew of no women heroes of heroic fantasy since those in the works of Ariosto and Tasso in the Renaissance. These days there are plenty, though I wonder about some of them. The women warriors of current fantasy epics - ruthless swordswomen with no domestic or sexual responsibilities who gallop about slaughtering baddies - to me they look less like women than like boys in women's bodies in men's armour.

(Ursula Le Guin)


Smoking & coronavirus

Initial contact

When the attacker launches their assault, you need to make contact with them.
Ideally, this needs to be relaxed, comfortable and effective.
Your aim is to compromise the opponent without alerting their nervous system.

If you are aggressive or forceful, you will bang into the attacker and this will lead to a fight.
You will probably resort to tension and physical force.
This is not tai chi.

Remain composed, make space and do not rush.

Baguazhang strategies

Baguazhang students learn additional skills and re-consider combat from a baguazhang perspective.
This means gained a good sense of spatial awareness and the ability to use change, momentum and flow.

Students are taught baguazhang material relative to ability.


A black belt does not mean that the student is an instructor or even has the remotest idea of how to organise material, teach, assess students and run a school.  

Most martial arts want their instructors to possess at least three black belts and over a decade of experience before they start teaching.

Being empty

In Western culture, emptiness is considered to be something negative.
It has the connotation of absence.
When a person claims to 'feel empty', they are usually expressing displeasure and seek to find what they lack.
People look outside of themselves in a desperate search to fill this inner void.
In Taoism, it is different.

What you are

you are the cat's paw
 among the silence of midnight goldfish

you are the waves
 which cover my feet like cold eiderdowns

you are the teddybear (as good as new)
 found beside a road accident

you are the lost day
 in the life of a child murderer

you are the underwatertree
 around which fish swirl like leaves

you are the green
 whose depths I cannot fathom

you are the clean sword
 that slaughtered the first innocent

you are the blind mirror
 before the curtains are drawn back

you are the drop of dew on a petal
 before the clouds weep blood

you are the sweetfresh grass that goes sour
 and rots beneath children's feet

you are the rubber glove
 dreading the surgeon's brutal hand

you are the wind caught on barbedwire
 and crying out against war

you are the moth
 entangled in a crown of thorns

 you are the apple for teacher
 left in a damp cloakroom

you are the smallpox injection
 glowing on the torchsinger's arm like a swastika

you are the litmus leaves
 quivering on the suntan trees

you are the ivy
 which muffles my walls

you are the first footprints in the sand
 on bankholiday morning

you are the suitcase full of limbs
 waiting in a leftluggage office
 to be collected like an orphan

you are a derelict canal
 where the tincans whilst no tunes

you are the bleakness of winter before the cuckoo
 catching its feathers on a thornbush
 heralded spring

you are the stillness of Van Gogh
 before he painted the yellow vortex of his last sun 

you are the still grandeur of the Lusitania
 before she tripped over the torpedo
 and laid a world war of american dead
 at the foot of the blarneystone

you are the distance
 between Hiroshima and Calvary
 measured in mother's kisses

you are the distance
 between the accident and the telephone box
 measured in heartbeats

you are the distance
 between power and politicians
 measured in half-masts

you are the distance
 between advertising and neuroses
 measured in phallic symbols

you are the distance
 between you and me
 measured in tears

you are the moment
 before the noose clenched its fist
 and the innocent man cried: treason

you are the moment
 before the warbooks in the public library
 turned into frogs and croaked khaki obscenities

you are the moment
 before the buildings turned into flesh
 and windows closed their eyes

you are the moment
 before the railwaystations burst into tears
 and the bookstalls picked their noses

you are the moment
 before the buspeople turned into teeth
 and chewed the inspector
 for no other reason than he was doing his duty

you are the moment
 before the flowers turned into plastic and melted
 in the heat of the burning cities

you are the moment
 before the blindman puts on his dark glasses

you are the moment
 before the subconscious begged to be left in peace

you are the moment
 before the world was made flesh

you are the moment
 before the clouds became locomotives
 and hurtled headlong into the sun

you are the moment
 before the spotlight moving across the darkened stage
 like a crab finds the singer

you are the moment
 before the seed nestles in the womb

 you are the moment
 before the clocks had nervous breakdowns
 and refused to keep pace with man's madness

you are the moment
 before the cattle were herded together like men

you are the moment
 before God forgot His lines

you are the moment of pride
 before the fiftieth bead

you are the moment
 before the poem passed peacefully away at dawn
 like a monarch

 (Roger McGough)