We are constantly caught up in speculative activities that upset our sense of balance.
Driving is one of the worst culprits.
It involves countless variables, very real danger and a limited margin for error.
Careful driving requires your nervous system to be very alert.
You may be in a condition of 'fight or flight' without even realising it.

We encourage students to commit 15 minutes a day to a lie down.
They adopt the 'constructive rest' position on the floor and close their eyes.
Gentle music soothes the nerves. The sound of the birds outside and the feel of the breeze calms the mind.
The tension sinks into the floor.
The student stops.

For many people, this is the first real rest they've had all day.

People set time aside to watch television, but are not prepared to invest in rest.
The 15 minutes spent resting on the floor may well be the most important 15 minutes of the entire day.



People are often reluctant to follow instructions. They get smart with the teacher or seek to debate the issue.
Martial arts classes are not democratic.
This is not politics.

A class is different: the teacher has the knowledge and the student does not.
The purpose of the class is the transmission of information.

If the teacher is not happy with the student, they will withhold information.
The student has no means at their disposal to coerce the teacher.
Democracy does not enter into it.


Firm yet empty?

The centre must be 'empty' - meaning that no one can locate it.
To make the centre empty, you must move it in accordance with the incoming force.
Any form of bodily tension or bracing will ruin this.

At the same time the centre must be strong enough to allow the body to sink and have substance.

Emptiness and substance must balance in order to represent yin and yang.
How is this accomplished?

When you evade/yield, you empty the centre.
When you strike, you firm the centre at the moment of impact - adding power to the attack.


Do not stray

There will be a tremendous temptation to collect forms, accumulate drills and qigong exercises. Do not bother.
Pare your material down constantly.

The larger your curriculum, the less you understand it.



If you want power in your tai chi, begin with your lower body.
Without a firm foundation, power cannot be expressed through the framework.
Your feet must have three points of contact and the weight balanced equally between front and rear of each foot.

Move up to the pelvis.
The pelvis must be stable, with most of the work happening in the hip joint.

Now focus upon the torso.
It must be comfortably upright, without strain; lengthening from the hip to the crown.

Without these basic skeletal requirements in place, your structure will crumple if you deliver through it.


Form without shen is simply a hollow pattern.
You may have the positioning, the movements and the timing right, but that is all.
Knowing the 13 postures will help to develop your sense of jing, but something is still missing.
Performing the applications is not enough either.

Intention is a start, but you need something more. You need spirit. Shen.



Balance does not necessitate accord.
You do not need to be in agreement with others to find balance with them.
You may want to pursue a certain approach and your partner may not share this view.

Each may stand on their side of the line/issue and get along perfectly well.
Conflict (internal or external) occurs when one of you expects the other to step across that line.
Why should you? Why should the other person?

You are not the same person.
You are entitled to have a different perspective.
Trying always to please another is not balanced, it is merely submissive.


Show offs

Students of the martial arts in the West feel that they must use their art to fight, or at least to compete, to show people how good they are. In tai chi, this is unacceptable, because that is against the principle of tai chi.

(Gabriel Chin)



The more ardently you force the tai chi to work, the slower your progress will be.
You must let-go.

People do not like the fact that tai chi does not embrace aggression and force, but this is not just a philosophy.
Tao stems from observing nature; seeing the physics of it.


Being in the moment

Lying on the floor and doing chores will help you to collect your thoughts, calm down and stop.
Hanging out laundry and cleaning are considered 'beneath' many people.

This is a foolish conceit.

No one is any better or worse than anyone else.
What standard could you possibly be applying if you feel that you are 'above' other people?

There is something truly wholesome about cooking a meal from scratch or planting your own vegetables.

Hanging out the washing or organising the drying is relaxing. Be slow. Be thorough.
Do it like it matters. As if there were nothing else in the world worth doing.

These so-called mundane tasks are opportunities to take a break from the bustle of driving or the flickering of the internet and television.




To teach tai chi as a complete martial art, you must be more than competent, more than expert.
In our school, instructor training takes place after you have passed 3rd dan.

Teaching the art requires you to transcend the norm, to exceed your expectations, to be mastered by the art itself.
In modern culture too many people adopt the mantle of instructor prematurely. Their combat skills are shoddy, and 4 ounces, softness, jing and neigong are not utilised in their practice.

If you want to be an instructor, you must have something to pass on. Something that adheres to the tradition, but also more than this... something that comes from you, from your own experience of the way.

Beyond instructor there are more grades. These are reserved for those who are scholarly and innovative. People who can comprehend, dismantle and re-build in original and surprising ways.



Following instructions has little to do with obedience and everything to do with self defence.
If you cannot act without preamble, you will be defeated in combat.

Thinking, worrying, planning and dithering will cause you to falter in action.
This deficiency will let you down.

When instructed to do something, just do it.
If the directions are unclear, ask for confirmation. But refrain from argument, discussion or debate.
Just act.

Voltaire wrote: Men argue. Nature acts.



Liz Koch, author of The Psoas Book wrote:
Safety is the first step when releasing trauma. Once instinctually safe, the body naturally begins to shake and discharge stored energy. With deeper levels of safety, the body spontaneously releases deeper levels of holding.

It’s vital for you to stay in the present. Staying present and matching the feelings with incoming impressions begins to shift the sympathetic (fight/flight) to the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. Releasing the energy held within a constricted psoas is both exhilarating and frightening.


Latent movements

There are lots of potential applications in every movement you make.
It is essential that you capitalise upon this.

Wasted movements represent a redundancy in your practice. These make you inefficient and sloppy.

Make sure that every latent movement is utilised.


Tim Cartmell

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)


I've lost 5 stone doing tai chi and eating sensibly. I drink a lot less alcohol now too. I put it down to being more aware of whats going on inside my body. Regular exercise has helped me straighten out my abnormal sleeping habits. Constructive rest and the relaxation associated with tai chi was immeasurably helpful throughout my stressful university course. I have a newfound self confidence in my ability to stand alone, independent, because of tai chi, self defence and tao. I'm also a lot more organised, upbeat, outgoing and approachable. I could go on (as I tend to with my sceptical friends) at length... but all that really remains to be said is thank you.
(John Knox) 


Martial art?

The way most people do tai chi, it's not a martial art. They could never use it the way they're doing it. Everything's in their hands, they just fill in the rest with fantasy talk.

(Paul Gale)


Becoming a student

A tai chi instructor is not a personal trainer. They are not selling you a product. You are not the customer.
Their job is not to please you or meet with your expectations. Their role is to teach an extremely sophisticated system to you. The teacher is there to be a mirror, to challenge you, to guide you and to question how you think.

A lot will not make sense at first, and could not possibly make sense.
Your role is to quietly explore what they are teaching you. To practice.

Do not argue, question or try to understand the tai chi. Simply feel what is happening and go along with it.

In time, skills begin to emerge involuntarily. You find yourself unexpectedly adept at the art.



Apprenticeship involves following the syllabus of one particular teacher.
Learning the art their way.
It is literally the cliché: "My way or the highway..."

Being an apprentice entails strict adhesion to the teacher's approach at all times...
No deviation. No debate.



First I am very impressed by your site. You have done the spadework and have so much to share (I have not yet read every page but will work my way through). Thank you for this.

 The attitude that you have to teaching and learning of tai chi is spot on.