13 areas of study

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Tai chi is more than form

According to The Journal of Asian Martial Arts, most tai chi classes in the world offer solo form (a sequence of moves), and a bit of qigong. Not many classes actually do pushing hands.
Some do sword form. Occasionally, teachers speak of self defence applications. Things like 'san sau' are very, very rare, and rarer still are classes that teach anything approaching an actual martial art.

Tai chi chuan syllabus

Tai chi students study all 13 areas of practice:

  1. Qigong

  2. Fitness

  3. Form

  4. Pushing hands

  5. Principles

  6. Brain work (meditation, awareness, metacognition)

  7. Neigong (whole-body strength)

  8. Jing (whole-body power)

  9. Self defence

  10. Martial skill

  11. Chin na (seizing)

  12. Shuai jiao (take downs)

  13. Weapons

Exploring these 13 areas of study will offer a balanced comprehension of the art.


Qigong offers beginners an opportunity to improve their health, balance and coordination without being encumbered by the technical intricacies of form.
Virtually anyone can practice qigong.


Being healthy is all about feeling good, relaxed and at ease. Aches and pains fade. Your body is well-coordinated, mobile and comfortable to move around in.
Fitness is different to health. The aim is to train all 3 areas of fitness: cardio, strength and flexibility.


Form is a training tool for whole-body movement and martial sensibilities.
It enables the practitioner to train multiple skills in a systematic way without the need for additional exercises.
There are 8 stages to learning form: pattern, biomechanics, shen, martial applications, whole-body strength, whole-body movement, whole-body power, natural-feeling body use.
Each form must also be mirrored.

Pushing hands

Pushing hands provides an opportunity for biofeedback. The student is required to incorporate a wide range of technical skills in a relatively risk free training exercise.


Tai chi principles must be understood and incorporated into your training. Martial principles must be fully explored and implemented.
Slow motion movement, chilled out exercise or dance cannot be considered tai chi. The art adheres to specific parameters, guidelines and clear rules of practice.
An in-depth understanding of Taoism is also necessary. Taoism sprang from the observation of what is.
From watching reality and understanding its character; the how, the Way, the essence. It is about seeing what is in front of you and then moving in accord with what is actually taking place.

Brain work

Working the brain is the real key to success. A strong, pliable, flexible, adaptive brain is required for learning this art.
Brain work includes: meditation, awareness, clarity, composure, metacognition, constructive reading, memory and rest.


Tai chi requires the student to move the body in an unusual manner. Many students never realise this and do the art as though it were yoga, wing chun or karate.
As a student progresses through the syllabus, the neigong concerns become increasingly intricate and subtle: with a small movement producing a disproportionately large effect.


Jing can be translated to mean 'power'. Yet it is not power that you own. It is power you can use. There is a difference. This quality of borrowing power is 'te' in Taoism.
For a very long time, the student need only concern themselves with the cultivation of 'obvious' jing. Gaining whole-body power and bona fide energy expression will be an ample challenge.

Self defence

Self defence is the process of doing whatever you have to do in order to survive a hostile attack. This is very different from fighting or brawling. It is also different from learning a conventional martial art.
Defending yourself is about getting out of a bad situation, preferably unharmed. This may not even involve combat.

Martial skill

Martial practice is about discovering how to use the tai chi. Without this knowledge and ability, a student is doomed to repeat a meaningless set of movements that serve no real purpose.
The main martial skills are: strategy & tactics, close-range combat, kicks, punches, palm strikes, finger strikes, elbows, knees, throws, seizing, joint locks, trapping, escape from holds, grappling whilst standing and on the floor, being hit and striking.
Unlike self defence, martial skill is not just about avoiding harm. It teaches skills from ancient China and not everything involves 'reasonable force'...

Chin na

Chin na involves: applications, misplacing the bones, dividing the muscles, sealing the breath, cavity strikes, joint manipulation/leverage, breaking, splitting, tearing, finishing off and flowing.
Students learn how to counter-act all chin na applications.

Shuai jiao

Shuai jiao is concerned with escapes, applications, combat throws, tripping, sweeping, grappling whilst standing and on the floor.


We focus on defence against a knife and sticks. Stick work involves a rattan stick for drilling, form and partnered training.


The process of passing-on knowledge requires the student to re-think their own tai chi and examine how to explain things in a manner that makes sense to somebody else.
This leads to a better understanding of the art. Teacher training takes time and necessitates the watchful guidance of a skilled instructor.

Remember, when moving, there is no place that does not move.
When still, there is no place that is not still.

(Wu Yu-hsiang)

Tai chi fighting method

A student seeks to explore all 13 areas of study. The experience will be quite an adventure; demanding patience, tenacity, enthusiasm and curiosity.
There are many mysteries to be explored and secrets to be uncovered.

5 missing pieces

Many tai chi classes lack 5 important elements necessary in order for tai chi to function as a martial art:

  1. Neigong (whole-body strength)

  2. Martial concepts (what combat constitutes and how to do it effectively)

  3. Chin na (the art of seizing)

  4. Shuai jiao (take downs)

  5. Jing (whole-body power)

Without these 5 components, tai chi is lacking something and may not work in combat.


Sifu Waller has designed the syllabus so that everything is interlocking and interconnected. The syllabus is like an enormous jigsaw.

Page created 29 May 1996
Last updated 16 June 2023