Understanding the training

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What do I do next?

It is common for a new starter to be shown a small portion of a combat scenario and then wonder what happens next.
They are concerned that the facet they are working on would not be enough in real-life combat. This is a valid concern.


Consider this: you cannot be taught everything all at once.
Tuition must be incremental. Just like in school. You learn the alphabet, vowels, words, sentences, paragraphs and so on.
No one starts primary school studying Chaucer.

Keep your eyes on the road

As a new student just keep your mind on what you are doing right now. In 40 years of martial arts training there is a fair chance that Sifu Waller has accrued the experience to know what to do next.
But, until you have learned the alphabet, how exactly can he convey it to you? Understanding requires context and you do not have any.

Basic qigong exercises

A beginner focuses upon 'hard qigong' exercises in order to gain simplistic coordination. This enables them to move the body in a gross way.
Tendons and ligaments are stretched and basic connection principles are introduced. Significant attention is placed upon alignment, positioning,
structure, balance, mobility and good body use.
Optimal usage is encouraged. Every action should be natural, comfortable and not exaggerated.

Not tai chi

Qigong training is qigong. It is not tai chi for health or tai chi.


The first tai chi
skill in the syllabus is the sequence of movements known as 'form'. Form trains the body to move in a particular way.
An increased harmony of body parts is expected; with the motor skills being challenged by new coordination requirements.
The skills acquired through qigong training, coupled with form enable the student to use their body in a more controlled, disciplined way. Slowly,
habit patterns will emerge.

Form expands the basics

Form training is not the
time to be thinking about fundamental connection, alignment, structure, balance etc - these skills are trained during qigong practice.
Students use the form in order to extend and explore the skills acquired through practicing the basic qigong exercises. Deficiency with these basic exercises will result in limited skill with form.


Basic structural concerns:

  1. Head floats upwards

  2. Chest is neither puffed nor sunk/collapsed

  3. Back maintains natural curvature

  4. Weight falls through centre of feet (slightly ahead of the centre to be precise)

  5. Shoulders stay above hips

  6. Knees point in direction of toes (weighted leg)

  7. Bend at the hips, but not too far

  8. Do not lean: forward, back or side-to-side during partner work

Partnered drills

Beyond the rudimentary physical requirements of
martial skill, the student must learn how to actively use the tai chi principles that are outlined in The Tai Chi Classics.
This is accomplished through training a wide range of partnered drills and
sensitivity exercises.

Building blocks

Once again, it is assumed that the student is proficient with the qigong exercises and has some growing sense of form.
Partnered drills are a challenge, and the student cannot be thinking about connection whilst trying to remain sticky, soft, sensitive and yielding.

Combat drills

Two person combat drills are significantly harder than the preceding training. They require skill with qigong exercises, form and partnered drills.
Everything must be incorporated in order for combat drills to work successfully.

San sau

Students frequently falter with san sau. Why? They do not train at home between classes. The student is not very good at the basic exercises, and by extension: form and partner work.
You cannot hope to gain skill with san sau if the fundamentals are not present in your practice.

Eskimo hunters are trained to discriminate between dozens of types of snow, and are always aware of the direction and speed of the wind.

Traditional Melanesian sailors can be taken blindfolded to any point in the ocean within a radius of several hundred miles from their island home and, if allowed to float for a few minutes in the sea, are able to recognise the spot by the feel of the currents on their bodies.

A musician structures her attention so as to focus on nuances of sound that ordinary people are not aware of, a stockbroker focuses on tiny changes in the market that others do not register, a good clinical diagnostician has an uncanny eye for symptoms - because they have trained their attention to process signals that otherwise would pass unnoticed.

(Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)


Beginners are given a qigong ticksheet when they join the school and this is used throughout their training. The onus is upon learning the crude pattern.
Gain the outline of the exercise, with no real refinement. This is what the student is capable of performing when they begin lessons.

Reeling silk exercises

Although reeling silk exercises are included on the qigong ticksheet, they are not really qigong exercises. They are power generation exercises.

Qigong progress

Advanced practice requires accurate, controlled performance and learning to incorporate neigong qualities. Alignment and joint relaxation are paramount concerns. The main emphasis is peng.
Eventually the student accomplishes a deeper internal stretch without taxing the joints.

Obvious power

For a very long time, the student need only concern themselves with the cultivation of obvious jing. Gaining whole-body power and bona fide energy expression will be an ample challenge for now.

Higher jing (hidden & refined power)

The tai chi expert works on the higher jing. Every action is a whole-body movement; smooth, efficient, optimal. Neigong incorporation produces a greater expression of jing.
The tai chi may be overt or subtle relative to
intention and purpose.

Harder exercise

Not all of the exercises are featured on the qigong ticksheet. There are many more encountered throughout the syllabus:

  1. 70/30 qigong

  2. High circle qigong

  3. One-legged qigong

  4. Qigong development

  5. Self-massage

  6. Stretches & joint work

The purpose of these additional exercises is to increase your flexibility and strength for combat. A healthy, resilient, fit body will be more capable of enduring the rigours of life and tai chi training.

Soft qigong

Qigong is performed without the overt neigong component later on in the syllabus. It is assumed that neigong is now operating without the need for conscious incorporation. 
The student is required to become softer and softer; with reduced pressure and greater sensitivity.

Tai chi fighting method

Combat simply will not work unless the concerns of qigong, form and the tai chi principles are intrinsic concerns. They need to be present all the time, but not in your mind. In your body.

Interlocking & interconnected

Sifu Waller has designed the syllabus so that everything is interlocking and interconnected. The syllabus is like an enormous jigsaw. It cannot be approached haphazardly.
A student learns how to coordinate their body in a more disciplined manner.
They must possess a rudimentary grasp of the
tai chi principles before hoping to start the more challenging aspects of the syllabus.

Fast-track students

Sifu Waller welcomes any student who wants to be treated as a fast-track student.

Failure to practice

Chinese martial arts involve on-going practice and there are no shortcuts. Neglect the qigong exercises and your
martial skill has no foundation. Your form will be sloppy and your partnered drills useless.
It is like learning a language: you learn the alphabet first and you never stop using it. Tai chi was never designed to be a weekly exercise. It was designed to be a daily exercise.
Even if you just do a small amount of training every day, your practice will continue to improve and progress.
If you are training san sau, pushing hands etc without any sense of structure or sensitivity, you will be practicing these drills unsuccessfully for a very long time.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 10 November 2023