Following instructions

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Modern culture

Modern culture is filled with people who have 'attitude'. Being cocky and macho is applauded. Showing off is encouraged. People like to be sarcastic.
They enjoy being a 'smartass'. Television is littered with talent shows and programmes that embrace the more unpleasant aspects of human nature. Ugly traits are fostered.


It is important to remember that a martial arts class is not modern in nature. When you enter the training hall, you must leave modern culture at the door.
You are partaking in a tradition that has continued for centuries. Fashion, politics and mass media are ephemeral things. They have no substance. Tai chi has been practiced for centuries.


Martial arts have always been taught for money. The instructor needs a certain income to sustain the school, pay hall rental and their own fees.
Typically an instructor founds a school or is appointed by a governing body or the master. They have a lot of responsibilities.

Authority in martial arts

In terms of the class and all things pertaining to the class, the instructor must have absolute authority. You cannot run a martial arts class by consensus.

Your choice

You (the student) must decide to what extent you are prepared to accept the authority of the instructor. If you wish to remain in the class, then you must accept it unconditionally.
If you are unwilling to acknowledge the worth of the instructor, then you should leave.

You may have all sorts of wonderful ideas, what you consider to be valuable contributions and insights, your own personal take on matters. Nobody cares. Quite the opposite.
The fastest way to alienate yourself in a dojo is to make known these ideas or to volunteer your suggestions on how training might be better or more effective.

(Dave Lowry)


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


A class is hierarchal. The instructor has the knowledge and the student does not. The purpose of the class is the transmission of information.


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


Second-guessing the instructor is foolish. Inevitably you are lacking the entire picture. You are making a judgement from an incomplete perspective.

Sifu Waller

Second-guessing is especially foolish when being taught by Sifu Waller. His every lesson contains multiple layers of meaning. As with a Zen koan, your initial grasp of the situation is usually limited.
It is only with time and consideration that a deeper purpose emerges.

The student has nothing to offer but an absolute willingness to follow the teacher's instructions and direction without question or comments or personal improvisation.

(Dave Lowry)


Students may sometimes think to alter the material, deviate from the lesson, show off or try and be clever.
If you want the teacher to take you seriously as a student, it is important to start off in the right way. Arguing, time wasting and second-guessing the teacher will only bring you adverse attention.

Just do what you have been asked to do. No more, no less. Improvising is a sign of arrogance and impatience.

Brain training

Following instructions is good for your brain. Instead of confusion, approach each task in a clear, simple, distinct manner. Avoid adding your personal chaos to the lesson.
Exercise your mind, calm your emotions and cultivate mental resilience. Learn to act decisively and with purpose.


Following instructions has little to do with obedience and everything to do with fighting. 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.

Just do it

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.

Patience & faith

Martial arts classes require patience and faith. If your instructor can perform the skills themselves and is willing to teach them to you, that is enough.
If you have doubts, look at what the more experienced students are doing. Do they possess skill?


Not all traditional masters are willing to share the secrets of the art. If your instructor is sharing their knowledge, be grateful.

Knowledge & insight

Knowledge without insight will never produce wisdom. It is important for you to 'get out of your own way' and let the skills emerge of their own accord.
Thinking, pushing, second-guessing can all lead to arrogance and ignorance. Understanding requires context, and context comes from experience, patience and insight.

Not accountable

As much as you may not like this fact, your instructor is not accountable to you. They are not answerable. They do not have to explain their reasons, motives and deeper intentions.
And if they did reply, you would not understand the reply. Without context, meaning cannot exist.


Modern classes often embrace coaching and mentoring methods rather than the traditional style of tuition. Coaching is not favoured by our school.

Personal trainer?

Your instructor is not a personal trainer. They are not in 'the service industry'. They are not obligated to please you or give you what you ask for.
Tai chi cannot be taught piecemeal. You cannot pick and choose how and what to study.
If a martial arts instructor had to choose between bowing to the demands of the consumer marketplace or closing their school to the public, many would close their school.
Teaching hand-picked students is better than diluting the art.

Wu nien

Hesitation can be caused by thinking rather than acting. We train the student to move without thinking. This improves timing and produces a spontaneous response to any situation.
Dithering indicates that your attention is upon yourself, not on what is happening. 'Wu nien' is a condition of choiceless action, where body and mind unite without any conscious thought.
It is a state of just 'being'.

When the hands are clapped, the sound issues without hesitation. When flint is struck with steel, the spark comes out at once.

(Alan Watts)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 04 May 2023