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Have you read the book Outliers? Or Robert Greene's Mastery? These books explain how successful people did not just become good at their art through the ordinary idea of hard work.
Usually there was a whole range of background factors in play...
Typically they sacrificed in ways we cannot remotely imagine (time, money, effort, wrong turns, bad teachings, career, family, security, social life etc).

Black belt

Very few people get a black belt in any martial art. They do not make the necessary degree of effort. It is that simple.
Those who do pass a black belt often treat it like some sort of graduation and quit the art immediately, never to train again. Sifu Waller went way past black belt decades ago...


I feel extremely lucky to have found a martial arts school where integrity and being a nice person matters, this is missing from every school I have ever attended.

(Dave G)


In Sifu Waller's case he was pretty much obsessed with martial arts as a child, trained as often as he could and established a daily training regime when only a boy.
His skills are the outcome of a lifetime of martial arts classes, daily training and an impossible number of hours partner work.


As a youngster, Sifu Waller attended Cub Scouts, Scouts, Air Cadets, karate and judo classes.
He went hiking, fell walking, running, orienteering
and camping. His daily cycle circuit was a steep 20 mile route.
Sifu Waller also loved to cycle in The Yorkshire Dales every Sunday morning - a punishing 80 mile round trip (to and from Halton Gill).
Started work in 1982 (21 hours a week) - whilst still in school - at the local green grocers - lifting sacks of potatoes, carrying boxes and doing manual chores.
Whilst studying 5 x A-levels at college he worked as a part-time postman and ran the route with the 40lb sack.

External martial artist

Sifu Waller was already a martial artist when he started tai chi.
He had trained externally (judo, karate, ju jitsu, aikido, pencat silat, tangsoodo, wing chun, pak mei,
yiquan) for a decade. He was well accustomed to practice, rigorous training and combat.
Instead of starting with an advanced martial art, Sifu Waller practiced less sophisticated external systems first.


For a period of at least 20 years Sifu Waller had a wide circle of martial arts friends who served as his practice partners. He was able to train combat most days of the week.

His teacher

From the 1980's through to 2004, Sifu Waller was training with Peter Southwood 3-5 times a week. He had more than 500 private lessons with Peter, along with weekly classes and workshops.
After 2004 they trained together less frequently but shared insights most weeks by e-mail and phone.


Traditionally, in China a martial arts instructor was very reluctant to take on new students. How come? If the student's skills were inadequate it would directly reflect on the teacher.
On a mild level, this made the teacher look incompetent and affected their reputation. More seriously, it could mean that the teacher would be put to death for failing in their responsibility.
Consequently, traditional tuition tended to be harsh and severe. The teacher hammered the student and adhered strictly to Confucian terseness. Peter Southwood followed this method.

I feel stronger and much more supple. Get less aches and pains, flexibility greatly improved. Also feel mentally stronger and more relaxed.
More relaxed when dealing with attackers. Unlike other martial arts, Sifu Waller's tai chi is extremely pragmatic with regards realistic attacks.

The training is friendly and relaxed yet still effective. There is no pressure put upon the individual. You train at your own pace and progress as you wish. Everyone in the class is treated the same, there are no favourites or cliques like most martial arts classes.

(Paul B)

Tai chi &

Peter Southwood required Sifu Waller to study both arts simultaneously. In the first year Sifu Waller learned:

  1. Every qigong exercise in the syllabus

  2. The pattern of all 5 tai chi forms

  3. Bagua palm changes, mother palms, circle walking, figure of 8, 9 palaces, direction changes etc

  4. Weapons drills

  5. Leg stretches

  6. Pushing hands

He was encouraged to stand for 20-30 minutes each day, train every qigong exercise, form and drill (each day). For bagua Sifu Waller was told to take 1000 steps each day (this takes 17 minutes).
This training took place before and after full-time work every day.


For the first 5 years of tai chi tuition, Peter Southwood offered no martial training at all.
It was all about strength-building, coordination, mobility, stamina, accuracy, whole-body movement, whole-body power and patience.
This traditional approach was designed to test the resolve of the student and ensure that the necessary fundamentals were established.

No tai chi combat

In lieu of internal combat skills, Sifu Waller had to make do with his existing external martial knowledge and practice that with his friends.


After 5 years, Peter Southwood was satisfied with the training. He told Sifu Waller to start applying the art against his practice partners. He provided no guidance or examples.
Sifu Waller was required to show an application and it was assessed: a simple Yes/No with no explanation.

If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.


6 more

Once Sifu Waller could apply every movement of the Long Yang form adequately he was asked to produce another 6 applications.
It was only after Sifu Waller had successfully applied the Long Yang form in its entirety did Peter teach him martial sets, along with shuai jiao and chin na applications.
This teaching method is the traditional Chinese method designed to ensure that the applications are unique to the individual, valued by them and bespoke.

Martial skills

Sifu Waller was expected to perform every form/chin na/shuai jiao application 100% accurately before learning the next one.
The opponent was to be uncooperative and actively try to impede the application.
Chin na in particular has many types of skills and Peter stressed the importance of competence in all facets of chin na.
Sifu Waller was told to counter his own applications and figure out how to escape from every chin na.


Neigong was not explained. It was simply shown. There was no verbal instruction until Sifu Waller could identify what was taking place in the body, how it worked and reproduce it in his own practice.

Watching Sifu Waller with the higher grades it struck me how he uses minimal movement and effort, it makes other martial arts seem very clumsy and disjointed, the more I see the more I am starting to appreciate the beauty behind the tai chi art. I have on my messenger "There are no ordinary moments! especially in tai chi" and each lesson with you two does not disappoint.


Other schools

Sifu Waller was given addresses and dates for other martial arts/tai chi classes in the region and expected to try out the class.
Peter indicated that he should explicitly state that he was a tai chi student but not use any tai chi skills whatsoever in the new class.
This is an old Chinese method that was designed to show the student just what they are being taught.
Only by comparison to other approaches will the student fully appreciate the value of what they are learning.


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Page created 18 November 2007
Last updated 16 June 2023