Steal my art

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Steal my art

Stuart Alve Olsenís book Steal My Art is about his experiences learning tai chi from T T Liang. Liang would not simply give the art away to people.
He expected his students to be like thieves: sneaky, cunning, observant and resourceful.
Sifu Waller uses this same attitude. We provide detailed lessons, a website and handouts. But these things do not contain the complete art.


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.

Awkward teacher?

Sifu Waller's teacher was Peter Southwood. Peter was a difficult man to learn from.
He used the traditional approach of teaching tai chi; which relied upon the student's ability to observe what was occurring.
Fortunately, Sifu Waller had over a decade of martial arts and body work experience behind him when he started learning from Peter.


The method of teaching Peter employed required the student to be very attentive, and he would not discuss any topic until you had identified it within his practice.
Although not many people had the patience and determination to steal his art, Peter ensures that those who did were extremely observant.
Unless your commitment to the art was sincere, you would not be capable of taking his fighting skills for yourself.

Learning how to teach

It is important for an instructor to understand the art well enough so that they can perform if effortlessly themselves and also be capable of dismantling it so that someone else can reach that ability level.
Sifu Waller passed a post-graduate teacher training course in order to understand how to teach.
There is so much more to teaching than being able to do the material yourself. You must be capable of breaking the material down.
The syllabus needs to be offered piece by piece so that the knowledge grows incrementally and the student can understand it for themselves.

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.


Reading is no substitute for practice

Many students read a lot about the art on-line or in
books. They mistakenly believe that reading equals skill.
This is like Neo in the film The Matrix... martial arts skills are downloaded into his
brain, but could his body perform the skills in real life?
No. Muscle memory, nervous system, perception, balance, rhythm, timing, pace, range, reach, sensitivity, listening, stickiness..
These vital consideration/skills are only understood through sustained long-term
physical practice. Real life experience.

Black belt 'graduation' mentality

The general public seem to regard the black belt as being some sort of martial arts graduation. This is a misconception.
At best, a 1st dan black belt martial arts student could be thought of as 'experienced' - no longer a
beginner, but far from expert.
This graduation mentality is naive in the extreme.
Martial arts students who begin studying black belt material are at the foothills of advanced
practice, having completed the lower grades.
There is no graduation
.  Study and practice cease when you are too infirm to continue.

Skill cannot be bought

Paying money for lessons does not mean that you are learning tai chi. It means that you are paying for lessons. And nothing more than that.
Learning is different from attending. If students cannot remember what they have been taught, they should make their own notes in lessons.

Skill cannot be given

It is common for a student to ask for more and more detail. They want web pages that explain every nuance and subtlety, that elaborate upon each minutiae of practice.
Essentially, they want you to give the art to them. It does not and cannot work this way. Your body performs the fighting skills. Your body makes the art manifest.
Nobody can give this to you. It must be taken.

A cunning thief...

A dedicated student aims to steal their master's art. This is akin to acquiring a trade secret. Only by taking
responsibility for their own learning can a student hope to learn the true depth of the art.
To quote Loy Ching Yuen:

Why is the root of wisdom so deep?
Because it must be planted in our lives.
The road to the precious capital is not for the inattentive.



The best opportunity to steal the art lies with the 'inner school'. It offers serious depth and is not for the half-hearted student.
Indoor tuition is aimed at people who want fast-track progress through the tai chi syllabus.
Indoor students are people who train very closely with the instructor. They have a chance to really feel the art.

Sifu's indoor experience

Sifu Waller attended Peter Southwood's regular class, workshops, weekly private lessons (500) for 25 years and additional indoor sessions. He really sought to steal his teacher's art. 

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023