Tai chi chuan syllabus

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Japanese martial arts

Japanese martial arts are usually taught in a very methodical, thorough way. There is a clear syllabus, steps of progress, grades and some degree of ongoing continuity.
Treated as a product, a cultural treasure, a sport or an educational endeavour, Japanese martial arts measure up well under scrutiny.
In a Japanese class the student is encouraged to replicate the teachings of the art perfectly. Like a carbon copy.

Chinese martial arts

Chinese martial arts are not taught like Japanese arts. By comparison there can often seem to be no discernable syllabus, no continuity and a generally haphazard approach to teaching the syllabus.
If indeed a syllabus actually exists.


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.

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.


Teaching standards

Historically, there was no call to teach  tai chi publicly or to adhere to a recognised system or standard of teaching. Teachers did whatever they saw fit.
In recent years a number of  tai chi teachers have sought to introduce a more systematic approach. This is highly commendable but has certain drawbacks.
We strongly encourage you to read The Sword Polisher's Record by Adam Hsu for further insights.

A teaching method

Ideally a tai chi class should have a syllabus akin to a Japanese martial arts school. There are many facets of the internal martial arts that need to be studied in a disciplined, clear, uniform manner...

What is commonly being taught in a tai chi class

According to The Journal of Asian Martial Arts, most tai chi classes in the world offer solo form (a sequence of moves), and a bit of qigong. Not many classes actually do pushing hands.
Some do sword form. Occasionally, teachers speak of self defence applications. Things like 'san sau' are very, very rare, and rarer still are classes that teach anything approaching an actual martial art.

Our classes

Sifu Waller combines traditional values with modern teaching. We provide detailed lessons, a reading list, a website and handouts. But these things cannot contain the complete art.
The student is still required to join the dots for themselves.

13 areas of study

Tai chi students explore all
13 areas of practice:

  1. Qigong

  2. Fitness

  3. Form (whole-body movement)

  4. Pushing hands

  5. Principles

  6. Brain work (meditation, awareness, metacognition)

  7. Neigong (whole-body strength)

  8. Jing (whole-body power)

  9. Self defence

  10. Martial skill

  11. Chin na (seizing)

  12. Shuai jiao (take downs)

  13. Weapons

The 13 areas of study offers a balanced comprehension of the art.

Learn from Japan?

Too much structure and an art can be become rigid; physically and mentally. Too little guidance and framework, and the  tai chi can fold in on itself; becoming worthless.

Why do we need grades?

The insurance policy advised instructors to ensure that students are being taught things appropriate to ability. This means that a syllabus is necessary.
There must be an order to the presentation of the material. Grades are required.


There are 20 belts in the tai chi chuan syllabus:

  1. White 1

  2. White 2

  3. Yellow 1

  4. Yellow 2

  5. Orange

  6. Green

  7. Blue

  8. Purple

  9. Brown 1

  10. Brown 2

  11. Black (1st dan)

  12. Black (2nd dan)

  13. Black (3rd dan)

  14. Black (4th dan)

  15. Black (5th dan)

  16. Black (6th dan)

  17. Black (7th dan)

  18. Black (8th dan)

  19. Red 1/Black (9th dan)

  20. Red 2/Black (10th dan)


Open ended

With tai chi you cannot simply pass a belt and imagine that you have 'got it'. This is the work of a lifetime. There is no final certificate, no graduation. You keep on refining and improving.


Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 22 January 1996