Key points

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Here are the key points for students who are working through the syllabus:

  1. Sinking

  2. Rooting

  3. Pyramid

  4. One-pointedness

  5. Tension

  6. Composure

  7. Grace

  8. Initiative

  9. Fear

  10. Practice


If you do not sink your body weight down into the ground, your tai chi will not work. You will be top-heavy, flighty and weak.
Sinking is accomplished by relaxing mentally and physically. Your mind needs to feel downwards, without tension, without pushing. Become heavy.
Pay particular attention to shoulders, elbows, sternum, lower back, hips and the backs of the knees. Loosen the joints and let tension leave your body.
To sink properly you need to be exceptionally soft, loose and relaxed. No matter how relaxed you imagine yourself to be, think softer...


Without a stable foundation, nothing you do will have any significant effect. If your opponent is aggressive enough, they will snatch your balance away and your strength with it. Sink.
Having sunk, you should possess root. Do not throw your root away by stepping unnecessarily or by shuffling your feet in anticipation.
Eventually, you must maintain root whilst moving your legs rapidly. But first you need to stay fairly static. Step reluctantly and cautiously. Like 'eyes-closed walking' exercise?
Lose your root and you lose your power.


(i) Lower body

The lower body is the strong part, not the shoulders and the arms. No matter how strong you perceive yourself to be, a slap, strike, seize or cavity press can rob you of your strength instantly.
Pain takes the attention immediately. Drop into your lower body. Make sure that all movement is initiated by the lower limbs, hips, buttocks and waist.

(ii) Striking

When you strike someone, do not resort to using your arms. What has changed? Nothing. Channel your power through the entirety of your structure.


Your eventual aim is whole-body movement (neigong). This is not so easy. It is necessary to bring your attention to the moment, to what you are doing. You cannot afford to be thinking about anything.
Be here. Right now. When your actions are grounded in the immediate event, you can channel your body, mind, emotions into each single action.
If your one movement contains everything you have, it will be very powerful. Sparing yourself robs you of power.
One-pointedness is life affirming. Your very existence can be felt through the expression of your movement. This action is everything you are.


Tension is your biggest enemy. No student in the class is free of tension - physical, psychological and emotional. And the more tense you are, the less you understand.
Do not trust your own ability to gauge tension. That would be be like an alcoholic telling you when they've had enough to drink. Unless you relax, you cannot use your body weight successfully.
Body weight is your greatest ally. You need to work with gravity, not against it. Every single thing you do in life can be gentler, softer, smoother. Consider this.


Without composure you cannot act. A calm, still mind enables you to fall without pain, move without impediment and see opportunities as they arise. Any form of emotional excitement ruins everything.
Upset - whether anger or crying - makes you weak. It dumps unhealthy chemicals into your body and narrows your perception. You need clarity. You need presence.


Sifu Waller is the most graceful member of the whole school. He accomplishes martial skill without any recourse to tension or forcing.
If you have any doubts about his combat skills, you have clearly not been on the receiving end of much.
Direct transmission shows you just how soft, smooth, flowing and calm Sifu Waller's tai chi really is. There is no obstacle.
Grace is found in the effortless application of the tai chi principles, the yielding, the ease, the control. Yet, there is nothing in Sifu Waller's practice that you cannot possess.
It is not a question of strength. You need to have faith in the tai chi, and apply it precisely as indicated by Sifu Waller.


Learn to take the initiative. If the attacker is using momentum, use that to put them on the floor. If the attacker is being forceful, lead their mind elsewhere.
Pain is not something we seek to use frivolously. The pain applied through striking or chin na is very strong and totally absorbs the attention. This is real pain, not discomfort.
We use pain in order to take the initiative. Once you have asserted and succeeded, cease the application of pain.


If your only thought is to evade and compromise the attacker, you will not experience any fear at all. Fear arises from thinking about pain, and about consequence.
It has no value in combat, and will only served to make you hesitant and half-hearted in your application of the tai chi.

In Zen practice, we don't ignore confusion when it appears; we actually welcome it. When confusion arises in our practice, it means that we have discovered something new. The feeling of confusion is an indication that we are trying to understand something. So welcoming confusion is actually an expression of wisdom.

(Les Kaye)


Unless you practice the qigong, form and partner work regularly, you will not get the skills. Habit is the outcome of familiarity. Repetition forms memories and memories produce habits.


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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023