Learning an internal martial art

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Tai chi for health

Most people who attend a tai chi class are actually seeking tai chi for health.
The allure of martial arts training may appeal but in reality the student is woefully unprepared for what martial arts training actually entails.
To state it plainly: the student is a tai chi for health student who has an interest/enthusiasm for the internal martial arts. They are not a martial artist.

Martial arts training

Learning any martial art requires hard work, commitment, dedication, patience and perseverance. There are no exceptions.
If you do not train hard enough, the combat skills will never become habitual and they will not work
. This is no different to learning how to play the piano or how to speak a foreign language...
Practice until you no longer have to think about what you are doing.

When you come to the dojo, it is a recognition the teacher there has something you want. He will give it to you in his own way. You must accept that. If you do not, you are free to leave. The dojo, however, is never run by consensus. 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)

The ancient art

On top of the normal level of training associated with learning a martial art, tai chi requires the student to understand the wisdom and principles behind the art.
This entails a deeper, richer learning experience. It also requires more effort.

The healthy art

Tai chi is an unusual martial arts method because it pays particular attention to fitness and wellbeing. A commitment to healthy living is strongly encouraged.

How to learn a martial art

There are three types of learning taking place.
Each one is appropriate at a certain point in your training:

  1. Follow instructions

  2. Show initiative

  3. Think it through for yourself

Follow instructions

Tai chi practice is potentially dangerous. Students cannot be permitted to act how they see fit.
They may have trained with other teachers, learned other methods or have all sorts of ideas gleaned from reading books or watching on-line clips. None of this matters to your
Comparing, second-guessing, arguing, talking and being lazy are sure signs that you are not suited to an internal martial art. The student is sabotaging their own progress by being arrogant.
Just do what you have been told and do it to the best of your ability.

Show initiative

How does it work? Why does it work? Do not immediately ask the instructor. Try to figure it out for yourself. Experiment, explore, discover. If you are unable to do so, then research the matter.
Reference a wide variety of sources.

Lazy questions

Please do not come to class with questions that we have already answered comprehensively on our website.
If you are too lazy to read the website or practice by yourself, you are too lazy to do an internal martial art.

Most students ask too many questions too soon. An inquisitive mind is not wrong, but too much questioning often signifies that the student failed to practice enough or didn't take time to analyse and investigate the problem on his own.

(Adam Hsu)

Think it through for yourself

In the book Curious (by Ian Leslie) the author identifies two types of curiosity:

  1. Diversive

  2. Epistemic


Diversive curiosity is all about being interesting in a broad range of things. Whilst this is potentially a good thing, it can also result in the individual having a superficial grasp of a broad range of topics.
Trivia, general knowledge, newspapers, magazines, certain books and the internet can serve to provide knowledge but not
wisdom or insight. Mainly they serve to distract or entertain a restless mind.


Epistemic curiosity is concerned with digging deeper; gaining a more comprehensive understanding of a given subject. Getting to the heart of the matter. The essence. Taoism cultivates this approach.

Starting an internal martial art

Until they reach an instructor's level of practice, the student should just do what they are told.
Initiative would normally be counter-productive because the student lacks an understanding of the context/framework of the art. They simply need to watch/listen and practice as often as they can.
The main expression of initiative lies with home practice and earnestly reading books from the reading list and/or the website.

I do not enlighten those who are not eager to learn, nor arouse those who are not quick to give an explanation themselves.
If I have presented one corner of the square and they cannot come back to me with the other three, I should not go over the points again.


Advanced martial art

There are many styles of martial arts and none are easy to learn. The most sophisticated and subtle are the the internal styles; these require a deeper level of understanding.
Tai chi is one of those styles. People with no martial arts background seek to learn an advanced
martial art style from the onset... They are ambitious. This in itself is not a bad thing.
The real question is: are they really going to put in the necessary degree of effort?

Tai chi

Tai chi chuan (dynamic balancing boxing) involves studying extra material on top of what a tai chi for health student is learning. If you are interested, please do some research first i.e. read this website.

Are you a martial artist?

Do you behave like one? By your standards or by those of your instructor? A martial artist must steal the art. They must actively take the skills. This is the outcome of doing, not talking.
Observe carefully, practice hard, study, research, invest.
If the individual is not prepared to commit strongly to the acquisition of an internal martial art, they will not attain any real measure of proficiency. Tai chi is not for the half-hearted.


The popular book Chinese Boxing by Robert Smith refers to kung fu as being 'Chinese boxing' which is what kung fu has historically being called. The word 'boxing' summons images of fists and punching.
Ultimately, tai chi chuan (dynamic balancing boxing) is about fighting, not about talking.

The average person does not learn an internal martial art

Tai chi is not for the average person. Whilst the average person is asleep, watching TV, surfing the web, talking or playing with their mobile phone, the martial artist is training hard.
They do this every day.

As a teacher I am continually impressed with Sifu Waller's teaching system, resources and the time he takes with classes. I often feel like emailing him to thank him for another outstanding lesson but a) this could happen most weeks and b) I do actually feel guilty for not being a good enough student. 


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Page created 21 May 1996
Last updated 16 June 2023