Versatility is the key to good self defence.
Choices, options, variables, possibilities, opportunities and nuances offer you creativity.

Self defence is not to be found in any form or drill.
They only represent material.

Your ability to defend yourself must transcend the lessons.
It must extend into your everyday life...



After training a weapons form for a number years it is perhaps useful to consider buying a better sword.
A well-made sword will cost quite a lot of money but is entirely different to a cheaper one.

Many tai chi chuan students can perform elaborate routines using telescopic swords or wushu weapons, but may not fare too well with a 2lb sword.
To handle a sword of the correct weight, your body must compensate by balancing the weapon.
This demands an increase in skill.

Dropped elbows

Failure to drop the elbows means that your arms will extend too far away from the body, causing minor joint strain and immobility.

Coupled with a fairly small stance, dropped elbows will radically improve your capacity to move.
Freedom in the joints and spine is imperative in actual combat.
It leads to increased manoeuvrability.

Practice maintaining dropped elbows at all times, all day long.

Your arms can extend from the body, but only so far. And they must always come back.


Square form

A beginner must pay strict attention to the lessons taught in the body qigong/neigong exercises.
The alignment concerns should be directly employed in the form.

When a beginner can perform the sequence accurately (albeit robotically), they have the 'square form'.

Tai chi should be "Square on the inside and round on the outside".
This means that the internal framework and network of body parts must be aligned and moving in linear paths of force.
If you skip this stage of your training, your form will be devoid of power.


Beyond form

Most tai chi schools teach qigong, form, weaponry and pushing hands.
If self defence is addressed, it is often influenced by external arts and possesses no real jing.

With Sifu Waller, form is simply one facet of a very sophisticated curriculum designed to develop the complete martial artist.
We want students to see form for what it is; self defence is so much more than form.
The training needs to be challenging, vigorous and extensive.


Martial tai chi

Many taijiquan exponents mistakenly believe that the softness/yin of taijiquan must be balanced by hardness/yang of an external art.
Their syllabus offers taijiquan alongside external arts such as ju jitsu or kickboxing.
This attitude demonstrates a poor grasp of yin/yang and of taijiquan.

Yin is heavy, dense, sunk, sticky. It is not flighty and weak.
Being struck by a yin punch will feel immensely painful and it will penetrate deep into the body.
That is the yang part.

Taijiquan cannot be 'balanced' by an external art.
Mixing hard and soft martial arts only ever produces one outcome - an external parody of taijiquan.
You cannot experience the awareness, sensitivity, relaxation and flow of taijiquan when your body is repeatedly fighting force with force and being tense.

The true nature of taijiquan is overlooked.


Weight Loss for the Mind by Stuart Wilde


People speak of vandalism, graffiti, urban decay and blame these occurrences upon poor people, upon social groups that they see as being lower than their own.

This stems from a warped sense of self-esteem.

When you drive a car, you frequently see incidents of dangerous and illegal driving perpetrated by 'upright' citizens who are in a hurry to get somewhere.
Whilst your average 4 x 4 vehicle owner may not vandalise other peoples property, they will often commit acts of petty criminality without remorse.

Crime is crime; whether you steal cars or run red lights.
Stealing cars causes other people inconvenience, unhappiness and unnecessary hassle.
Running a red light may kill someone.


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.


Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching (Daodejing) is the name of the taoist book which features the underlying precepts of tai chi.
It is sometimes translated as The Way and Its Power.
This is quite a dramatic title.

What is "the way"?
What is "its power"?

These are the questions facing every earnest tai chi student.


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 teacher and the syllabus - rather than just the art itself.

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

Tai chi was codified into a self defence system thousands of years ago.
People fought in muddy fields and wore body armour. Low stances were necessary for stability.

Sifu Waller's home training

This has been Sifu Waller's daily routine since 1992:
  1. Strength-building
    - balls & grips
    - self-massage (100+ exercises)
    - 3 circle qigong (15 minutes)
    - ba duan jin (8 exercises)
    - reeling silk (6 exercises)
    - 16 elbows
    - moving qigong (15 exercises)
    - leg stretches: day 1 or 2
  2. Baguazhang
    - 8 palm changes (clockwise & anticlockwise)
    - 8 mother palms
    - 6 direction changes
  3. Drills
    - small san sau
    - silk arms
    - 5 pre-emptive measures
    - pushing peng/double pushing hands/da lu/penetrating defences/reflex drills
    - 3-tier wallbag
  4. Weapons
    - knife drills
    - small stick drills
    - stick drills (Monday - Saturday)
    - broadsword drills (Sunday)
    - sabre form (regular & mirrored)
    - 2 person cane form/drill (regular & mirrored)
    - staff form (regular & mirrored)
    - walking stick form (regular & mirrored)
    - straight sword form (regular & mirrored)
  5. Tai chi chuan
    - pao chui
    - Yang Cheng Fu form (regular & mirrored)
  6. Hard qigong
    - full circle qigong (2 postures)/qigong development (2 postures)/form posture qigong (2 postures)/high circle qigong/qigong on one leg
  7. Cool down
    - stretches & joint work (10 exercises)/psoas exercises (5 exercises)

  8. Meditation
    - constructive rest position
    - guided relaxation
  9. Reading/study


The way and its power

To bring the art full circle you need to study the manuscripts that led to its creation.
This will involve a significant degree of prolonged research and contemplation over many decades.
It will be the final leg of your journey.

Reading these ancient insights is a fascinating endeavour that changes your consciousness in ways that cannot be described.


Those who can do, teach...

Having passed a number of black belt gradings, you will discover that the art is deeper and richer than you expected.
As you learn how to break down the art, you may be encouraged to consider teaching.

If you are keen, your instructor will offer you new goals and challenges, testing your sincerity and your compassion, seeking to determine how earnest you are.

It will take a number of years for you to become a competent tai chi chuan teacher.

To become a skilled teacher you must be very committed to the art, possess great skill and be genuinely interested in the wellbeing and progress of other people.
Your ego must be quiet and you must have no desire to promote or perform.
A martial arts instructor needs humility and insight, not a desire for fame and attention.


Believe the kitsch?

Kitsch is all about conceit. About being phoney.

Is that any way to show your love?
Is that your message: My Love Is Phoney?



An experienced student recognises that the basic exercises teach a student how to store and release energy using a wide variety of methods.
Once you can project jing using basic exercises, you must do the same during partner work, form and self defence.

The student focuses upon creating dynamic tension within the soft tissues of the body.
Less and less effort must be made with each action.
The sense of physicality must fade.

The body is still performing demanding physical movements.
However, your degree of tension has diminished to such an extent that you can barely even feel your body move.
The resistance, the blockages are gone.
Your body feels oiled and smooth.

Every movement you make is an opportunity to practice cultivating and generating jing.


The obstacle of laziness

It is raining outside and cold. You are tired from working all day long. You haven't trained since last week's lesson.
There is a warm fire in your living room, a beer in the fridge and your wife is looking forward to your company.
Going out to class is not always easy.

Laziness can cripple anyone.
We all have a compulsion to stay where we are. To stop extending ourselves. To stagnate.
This is human nature.

The only cure for laziness is work.
Not necessarily your actual job, but any activity that demands something of you.
That requires you to make an effort, to take risks, to extend your realm of interest beyond the safety of the familiar and the comfortable.


Without form

Periodically I go and watch other taijiquan classes.

I wince and cringe as enthusiastic pensioners twist their bodies out of joint with smiles on their faces.

Health and safety mean nothing. Knee damage means nothing. There is no martial art to be found here. And no awareness at all.

“So long as they are having fun,” one teacher told me in Wallsend.


Living in harmony

Most martial arts meet conflict with resistance.
Tai chi is different; it requires the student to blend, to join, to avoid blocking the path of force.
This process is called 'yielding', and the joining may be seen as 'mutual arising'.
It is the completion of the yin/yang diagram.

Given the prevalence of conflict in our culture and the common urge to fight, the challenge of non-contention is daunting.
By overcoming fear and using the physics skilfully, a tai chi person can meet the incoming attack softly, redirect the force and avoid unnecessary violence.

A person may choose to apply this methodology throughout all aspects of their life.


Remaining composed

Tai chi challenges you to stay emotionally composed no matter what happens.
It teaches you how to approach things in such a way that circumstances unfold in a favourable manner.
It also trains you to be malleable.
To adapt, change and improvise.

Instead of being rigid and defensive, you learn to flow.


Bladed weapons

Concentrating for a sustained period of time

To practice the tai chi skilfully, you must cultivate presence.
Being in the here and now.
Calm, quiet and still.

You must also be capable of keeping your mind on what you are doing, without distraction or boredom.
In our culture of television, mobile phones, videogames, computers, fast food and caffeine, you may find this to be very difficult indeed.


Student belts

Partner work
Challenge – full circle qigong (30 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 – Q & A
Assignment #2 – Attitude & etiquette
Martial concepts (intro)
Slow form (section 1)
Stick drills (intro)
Challenge – form challenge (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 – Q & A
Assignment #2 – Attitude & etiquette
Assignment #3 – Book
Chin na applications (intro)
Monkey paws (intro)
Pushing legs (intro)
Single pushing hands (intro)
Challenge – chin na applications (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – standing qigong (4 postures) (20 minutes x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 – Q & A
Assignment #2 – Attitude & etiquette
Assignment #3 – Book
Form applications (intro)
Knife drills (intro)
Shuai jiao applications (intro)
Challenge – form applications (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – knife drilling (30 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – shuai jiao applications (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 – Q & A
Assignment #2 – Attitude & etiquette
Assignment #3 – Book
Chin na applications
Form applications
High circle qigong
Horse stance
Leg stretches (set 1)
Leg stretches (set 2)
Psoas exercises
Qigong development
Slow form (section 2)
Slow form (section 3)
Challenge – chin na applications (60 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge – form applications (60 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge – form challenge (section 2) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – form challenge (section 3) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – horse stance qigong (5 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge – qigong development (40 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 – Q & A
Assignments #2 & #3 – Books
4 directions with a partner (no contact)
70/30 stance
Broadsword drills
Countering/pushing peng
Double pushing hands
Form posture qigong (70/30)
Penetrating defences
Pushing peng exercise
Pushing peng (partnered)
Pushing peng (striking)
Qigong on one leg
Silk arms
Small san sau
Standing post with arms
Stick drills
Slow form (mirrored)
Stretches & joint work
Tao yin/Taoist Yoga
Challenge – broadsword drills (30 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – mirrored form (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – penetrating defences (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – silk arms (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – small san sau (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – stick drills (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 – Q & A
Assignments #2 & #3 – Books
Countering punches, kicks & grapples
Dying ground
Everybody falls
Floor work
Qigong revision
Shuai jiao applications – subject to fitness
Yielding/chin na
Yielding/shuai jiao – subject to fitness
Challenge – floor work endurance (10 mins)
Challenge – shuai jiao applications (60 mins x 12 weeks) – subject to fitness
Challenge – yielding/chin na endurance (10 mins)
Challenge – yielding/countering endurance (10 mins)
Challenge – yielding/shuai jiao endurance (10 mins) – subject to fitness
Assignment #1 – Q & A
Assignments #2 & #3 – Books
1st dan
2 person cane form/drill (regular & mirrored)
3-tier wallbag
4 ounces exercise
5 animals
5 bows
5 centres
5 elements stepping
8 powers striking
13 movements
60/40 stance
Balance, rhythm, timing
Being hit
Breath meditation
Cold jing
Da lu
Entry methods
Floor work (control)
Form applications (section 1)
Form applications (section 2)
Form applications (section 3)
Gravity striking
Holding down the pillow
Loose striking
Meditation on body sensations
Meditation on emotions
– yielding/shuai jiao
– yielding/chin na
– yielding/countering
Neigong (1-10)
Newton’s Laws of Motion
Obvious power (ming jing)
Pushing hands development
Reflex drills
Sabre form (regular & mirrored)
Silk arms (jing)
Silk arms (peng)
Small san sau (jing)
Small san sau (peng)
Speed striking
Wu nien
Challenge – 2 person cane form (regular & mirrored) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – 13 movements (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – double pushing hands (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – reflex drills (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – sabre form (regular & mirrored) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – section 1 form applications (120 mins x 24 weeks)
Challenge – section 2 form applications (120 mins x 24 weeks)
Challenge – silk arms (jing) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – silk arms (peng) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – small san sau (jing) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – small san sau (peng) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 – Q & A
Assignments #2 – #10 – Books
2nd dan
5 challenges
5 elements striking (part 1)
5 elements striking (part 2)
Countering a knife
Crude fa jing
Fa jing
Freeform triangle
Improvised weaponry/knife
Moving with kwa
Neigong (11-20)
Neigong (extras)
Reverse breathing
San da stage 1: freeform application
Silk arms (combat)
Small san sau (combat)
Small san sau against a knife
Spiral body
Staff form (regular & mirrored)
The way of the bear
The way of the bird
The way of the monkey
The way of the snake
The way of the tiger
Challenge – 5 challenges
Challenge – 10 minute freeform application endurance challenge
Challenge – improvised weaponry (5 minutes)
Challenge – knife attackers (5 minutes)
Challenge – sections 1, 2 & 3 form applications (120 mins x 48 weeks)
Challenge – silk arms (combat) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – small san sau (combat) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – staff form (regular & mirrored) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 – Q & A
Assignments #2 – #10 – Books
3rd dan
5 pre-emptive methods
6 balanced pairs
Becoming the centre
Being in the back
Dividing the muscle
First hand/second hand
Flowing chin na applications (misplacing the bones)
Flowing shuai jiao
Freeform grappling
Heavy bag
Hidden power (an jing)
Large rhythm, small rhythm
Latent movements
Neigong (21-30)
Penetrating defences against a knife
Projections (set 1)
Projections (set 2)
Projections (set 3)
San da stage 2: freeform combat
Shih (martial advantage)
Shuai jiao
Silk arms against a knife
Small stick drills
Small stick flexibility drills
Sparing yourself
Straight sword form (regular & mirrored)
Walking stick form (regular & mirrored)
Yielding/chin na against a knife
Challenge – projections (set 1) (30 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge – projections (set 2) (30 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge – projections (set 3) (30 mins x 12 weeks)
Challenge – shuai jiao relay (5 minutes)
Challenge – small stick drills (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – straight sword form (regular & mirrored) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Challenge – walking stick form (regular & mirrored) (60 mins x 4 weeks)
Assignment #1 – Q & A
Assignments #2 – #10 – Books



Moving in a different way

The first real challenge is to get your mind and your body to work together.
This may sound easy but it is not.

Tai chi does not rely upon brute force or muscular contraction, and your body must move as a relaxed, integrated whole.

The only way in which a student can acquire this first skill is to practice regularly.
It is not enough to blindly repeat movements.
These movements must be carefully performed, with close attention to detail.

Even though you may try your best, your own body might well refuse to cooperate.
Considerable patience is required.
Simply learning the crude pattern of the movements will be an achievement.
And you will know in your heart that your very best looks lame next to the grace of your instructor.
Humility is born of this realisation.


A measure of calibre

Each year a small number of students persevere against enormous obstacles and decide to learn tai chi as a martial art.
This is a difficult journey and it will test their resolve repeatedly.
These students have a certain grit.
They are not easily deterred.

Undertaking such a challenging journey will cost them more than they imagine and offer rewards that they are yet to even comprehend.
Faith is required.
As is tenacity.



Very few students have the necessary calibre and character to move from being a new starter to a committed student.
It takes a certain kind of person to stick at anything.

In our modern culture, people are usually dilettantes; dabblers who expect immediate results and get bored when asked to endure, to sustain, to commit.
These people drift from one endeavour to the next, and seldom (if ever) settle anywhere long enough to gain any measure of skill or understanding.

When asked to be patient, dilettantes become defensive and resentful.
They want instant results.
As an excuse for quitting, they blame the art, the teacher... anyone, anything.
Anyone but themselves.


Other forms

We teach a number of forms derived from the Yang Cheng Fu form, including sword, staff and 2-person sets.


People like to rationalise things, explain them away: It failed because of this. It worked because of this. They weren't punching me properly. If only I'd moved a second sooner. If only I'd waited.

What do these 'reasons' mean? Why do people want a reason?

People seek a reason in order to be let off, to be excused.
This will not work in self defence.
A punch in the face is a punch in the face. Explaining why you were struck will not alleviate your pain.


Tai chi master

A master should have 30-40 years martial arts experience, 30,000 hours of tai chi chuan practice.
They are capable of teaching other instructors.


When studying taijiquan it is important to stay clear of metaphysical debates and mysterious approaches.
It is tempting for inexperienced students to hide behind exotic words or mystical concepts, but all this does is occlude the subject under consideration.
There is nothing supernatural or superhuman about taijiquan.

Cultivating a New Age perception of taijiquan is not inspiring; it suggests a shallow grasp of the principles and a lack of knowledge.

Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground and focus on the real, on the substance of reality.
This attitude represents the primary zen contribution to our syllabus: emphasising the immediate.