classes     qigong     tai chi     kung fu     about us     reviews     a-z

What is lineage?

Every high-level instructor aims to leave behind a legacy of skill. They want their own sacrifice, efforts, experiences and insights to be passed on to a new generation of students.
Lineage is about the perpetuation of the 'real' or 'authentic' teaching.


Tai chi is a martial art. An extensive range of fighting skills is necessary in order to make the system work in combat, particularly against other martial arts.
Amateurism is a dangerous folly where combat is concerned. No genuine opponent will offer you latitude or show mercy.

Filling in the gaps

Not every kung fu instructor possesses enough skill to be teaching a class. Huge gaps in their knowledge can lead to serious misconceptions and ultimately leads to a dilution of the art.
A common erroneous solution is to fill the knowledge gaps with material from other martial arts or other styles of
tai chi. This folly cannot conceivably lead to deeper skill in their chosen style.
It would be better to start from scratch once again with a teacher who possesses a complete syllabus; a functional lineage.

False teeth

Another odd occurrence is when tai chi for health people attempt to martialise a non-martial approach i.e. 24 step. Attempting to 'reverse engineer' a martial system from a health
form is foolish.
There are too many missing pieces. Why not simply learn a martial style instead?

Partial knowledge

There is an Indian folk tale about six blind men inspecting an elephant:

The first man encounters the side of the animal and believes it to be a wall
The second man imagines the tusk to be a spear
The third man thinks that the trunk is a snake
The fourth man considers the leg to be a tree
The fifth man feels an ear and believes it to be a fan
The sixth man finds the tail and is certain it is a rope

Incomplete understanding?

Having a limited grasp about a subject denies the individual any hope of having perspective.
They judge according to what they personally understand or experience, and th
is can have some significant drawbacks.
Their knowledge may lack context/depth and consequently no meaning in the wider sense of the art.


Imagine that you know how to boil an egg, and you are confident enough that you can show someone else how to boil an egg too...
This may be a skill of sorts, but how does it compare to being a fully-trained chef? A chef is the maestro of the kitchen.
They know the tools of their trade, the ingredients, the cooking/baking/presentation methods, timing, synchrony, organisation of staff and resources.
The chef can combine different facets of their skill to produce new and unanticipated combinations. Boiling an egg is hardly in the same league. Lineage is like being a chef.
Real skill is not the same as knowing a few warm-up exercises, the pattern of a form and a crude sense of pushing hands.


Barry was telling us a story about the woman who always cut the end of the ham and somebody asked her why she did it. She said, "Well I don't know, my mother always did it that way." And they asked her mother and she said, "I don't know, my mother always did it." And they asked grandma, and she said, "Well, I did it because otherwise it wouldn't fit into my biggest pot."

(Chungliang Al Huang)

The source material

Across the years, various experts have expressed their tai chi expertise in writing. These works are referred to as '
The Tai Chi Classics'.
They represent the essence of the art and students are encouraged to read the classics and imbue their tai chi with the spirit of these insights.
The classics highlight considerations and qualities necessary for tai chi. The student must study the classics carefully and apply them according to their own skill and insight.
Without the characteristics depicted in the classics, the training cannot be called tai chi.

Deeper understanding

In addition to The Tai Chi Classics, it is also advisable to read other books that can expand your understanding of tai chi in some way.
We recommend The Art of War, Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu, Krishnamurti and The Book of Five Rings - as a good beginning. There are many other useful titles..

The nature of the art

If your practice of tai chi does not embody the principles of tai chi, then it is not tai chi. This is not a matter of opinion or of right and wrong.
Consider: karate is not tai chi because it approaches combat and body usage in a fundamentally different fashion to tai chi. Karate is karate, just as a tree is a tree and a car is a car.

Lineage perpetuates the real

Lineage is the process by which the student learns the art of
tai chi thoroughly. The student is taught the principles, forms, drills and martial skills.
Everything is broken down, explained, practiced and corrected. This process happens again and again. It will take countless lessons and many years of training for a student to really 'get it'.
A syllabus, a competent instructor
and the willingness/tenacity to work hard are all crucial ingredients.


Learning is a process and as such has no conclusion. There will always be more to study. The role of lineage is to ensure that the student is learning the necessary fighting skills; the real art.

What makes the teaching 'authentic'?

Consider these questions:
- does your instructor have a track record of teaching all the things that the art is famous for?
- can your instructor apply the art against aggressive unrehearsed, unpredictable attacks with ease and versatility?
- is your instructor teaching this skill to you?

It can be hard (if not impossible) for a student to truly gauge the depth of their teacher's understanding and skill.
However, as they are exposed to more complex material, the student should gain a growing sense of the quality of the tuition.


In order to pass on the art effectively and comprehensively, an instructor must include two factors in their teachings:

  1. What they were taught by their own instructor 

  2. What they have learned for themselves

Every instructor should aim to contribute to the art. They should share their own insights, experiences and perceptions.
It adds to the wealth of knowledge and makes the legacy richer and more worthwhile having.

While the teachings of a martial tradition may be recorded in scrolls or expressed verbally, those outside the tradition who gain access to this information have little chance of learning much of practical value. Such instructions invariably consist of vague references or riddle-like aphorisms. These cryptic axioms suffice for the conveying of deep secrets because the martial artist who receives them properly has spent an enormous amount of time apprenticing under his master. They have in common, teacher and student, the specialized vocabulary of their tradition, as well as similar experience in the physical actions demanded in learning it. The teachings, however, opaque they may appear to the outsider, have meaning to the initiate and his master because the two have endured the long process of training together.

(Dave Lowry)


Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023