Technical skills

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Technical knowledge

The tai chi martial skills must be refined many, many times before they are truly 'combat' ready.
The nuance of each movement, the possible ramifications, applications, variations, off-shoots and follow-ups must be examined thoroughly. How the body moves. How the power is being generated.
As your overall skill in tai chi grows, your body and mind change considerably, and these training methods will change with you. Layers of meaning, purpose and application will unfold.
Efficiency, subtlety, grace and power become your main focus.

Paper tiger?

Without neigong, tai chi lacks teeth. In simple terms, neigong is the process of gaining whole-body movement. A soft, loose, relaxed, integrated network of body parts is necessary for the art to work.
Each neigong quality is essentially a subject in its own right, and there are at least 50 to incorporate. Patient study, reflection, faith and enduring practice are necessary.
Training your body to incorporate these concerns (to the point where they are entirely habitual and unconscious) requires patience and commitment.
Most students find that they have gained whole-body strength without even realising it. When they apply the art, the effect of their actions seems disproportionate to the effort.

Shuai jiao

The emphasis is upon spontaneity, upon meeting the needs of the immediate moment. All forms of planning or anticipation are discouraged.
A student must learn to manifest a very wide range of shuai jiao skills naturally and comfortably. To adapt, change and improvise.
As the practice progresses, an increasingly diverse repertoire of skill emerges. The shuai jiao applications become more evident within the form(s), drills and combat training.
Success is measured by the ease of the application, the effect, and the sense of naturalness. Ideally, it should feel as if the student made no effort.

Chin na

A technical grasp of chin na entails the study of many different facets. Not only is it necessary to understand how to chin na, but also how to position your body in order to have the opportunity to chin na.
There are 5 main areas of skill:

  1. Cavity press

  2. Dividing the muscle

  3. Misplace the bones

  4. Sealing the breath

  5. Seizing

Beginners begin with a very superficial outline of chin na and then learn how to turn the joints.
Misplacing the bones concludes with 'flowing chin na'; the ability to spontaneously switch leverage without conscious thought. Seizing is considered throughout the syllabus.
The last three chin na skills are instructor-level, and require on-going practice, correction and study.


The refinement of jing is potentially the most difficult skill for many student. It requires considerable awareness, sensitivity and practice. Jing is all about touch.
Some jing are concerned with sensitivity: feeling, monitoring, understanding, following. Most jing are about the expression of kinetic energy in different ways.

Form applications

The form practice teaches the body to move into shapes that can be applied in fighting. Each movement has countless potential combat applications.
Practicing the application of form movements is a way of understanding what the form can mean.
It teaches the student how to move their body relative to an opponent, meeting force softly, yet countering with power and stability.

Learn how to flow

In tai chi, one application rolls into another and another. Sifu Waller has successfully extracted hundreds (if not thousands) of tai chi applications from every form in our syllabus.
Students begin with simple form applications.

Learn to see

It is very important to apply the tai chi form. Doing so helps the student to understand the essence of the art. The real skill is to find different ways in which that particular movement can be used.
Clarity of presence and imagination are essential.

Kinetic energy

Form serves to shape movement. It is the movement that matters rather than simply a fixed application. Shaped energy removes randomness and renders the movement tangible.
Tai chi is the movement, the essence. We must explore what that movement can be used for in combat.
Do not fixate on the final shape; focus instead upon the means that produce that shape, how it occurs and what drives the body to generate the required jing.

Tai chi fighting method

The Tai Chi 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 outlined in The Tai Chi Classics, the training cannot be called tai chi.

Tactical skills

There are many tactical skills that must be applied in combat, including:

  1. 3-D

  2. 4 ounces

  3. Balance, rhythm, timing

  4. Becoming the centre

  5. Countering

  6. Disintegration

  7. Energy drainage

  8. Entry methods

  9. Evading a knife

  10. Everybody falls

  11. Finishing off

  12. First hand, second hand

  13. Floor work (control)

  14. Folding

  15. Grappling

  16. Holding down the pillow

  17. Impact

  18. Kinetic pathway

  19. Large rhythm, small rhythm

  20. Latent movements

  21. Leading and following

  22. Listening

  23. Melee

  24. Minimalism

  25. Monkey paws

  26. Multiple opponents

  27. Mutual arising

  28. Neutral state/composure

  29. Newton's Laws of Motion

  30. Overwhelming attacks

  31. Pushing peng

  32. Redundancy

  33. Sensitivity

  34. Sparing yourself

  35. Stickiness

  36. Unite upper & lower

  37. Weapons

  38. Yin body

  39. Yin/yang 

Proficiency in these skills will radically alter the effectiveness of your tai chi. 


Technical skills are not simply past-times for the pedant or the perfectionist. The accuracy and depth of your training will directly affect how skilfully you can facilitate a positive martial outcome.
A good, thorough, comprehensive understanding of the art is required. The ability to implement the skills in a wide range of situations.
Without self-discipline, depth and sophistication, a student will be sloppy, careless and redundant. Power without control is worthless; much is wasted.


Each grade learns an increasingly challenging range of technical skill. A new starter cannot hope to learn advanced level skill because they lack the necessary foundation.
Without context, knowledge is meaningless. New starters consider preliminary insights. Their success in understanding and applying these factors is directly linked to their progress.


Our students work through a formal syllabus. They prove their comprehension of each level through physical demonstration. This is the best way of assuring that a student is ready to learn more.
In addition to grading form, qigong, neigong, strength-building exercises, partnered drills, sensitivity exercises and martial skills, we also assess technical skill.


As the student makes progress, it becomes evident that the skills are entwined. Proficiency in one area will affect many other areas. Everything is connected.
By teaching an interlocking, interweaved syllabus of this kind, we enable the student to find connections and associations that promote insight and healthy growth.
The more material is encountered, the more clearly the pattern may be discerned.
Themes and principles exist throughout the syllabus, and the keen student will apply these to all aspects of their training.

Is your instructor offering technical skills?

Every martial arts class should be be teaching a level of knowledge that goes way beyond the superficial learning of patterns and routines.
If your instructor is not providing technical information, what are they teaching you? All students benefit from a more thorough understanding of their given art. Age or experience is not a factor.
An over-50's qigong & tai chi group should be addressing as much technical knowledge as is relevant and appropriate.
A martial class should train every aspect of the syllabus in a manner that assures comprehensive understanding and skill.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing...

Some students want a few self defence techniques and that is all. They want a smattering of form applications and a cursory taste of combat skill. This is pointless.
Having a few crumbs of knowledge is dangerous. It can lead to a false feeling of competence.
If a student is unwilling to invest in the process of learning bona fide technical skills, they should do qigong & tai chi.

Page created 18 March 1997
Last updated 10 November 2023