Written by Rachel

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Pandora's Box

Years ago, I made the mistake of asking Sifu Waller to show me a 'projection' and found myself pitched across the room.
The application wasn't painful at all. In truth, I never even felt it. I landed in a heap on the floor before I knew what was happening. Everything went "Crunch!"


The truth is that I wasn't ready for it. My body wasn't ready for it. My nervous system wasn't ready either. I lay on the floor and wondered if I was ok.
Sifu Waller will sometimes indulge a student's curiosity, but this is not always a good thing for the student.

Wishes come true

There is a Chinese curse: "May your wishes be granted" which sounds great but isn't. The problem with a wish is that it refers to something that you don't currently have.
So, you really don't know what the fulfilment of that wish entails.

Things change

Also, when you make a wish you may have a notion of the thing you desire, however, by the time your wish is granted, you are not necessarily the same person who made that wish.
You may be older, you may value other things, you may no longer have the same desire. This is like a new student dreaming of being an master-level tai chi instructor with no idea of what that entails.

Really real

No matter what the student imagines the truth to be, it is not an accurate representation. Reality cannot be imagined. Truth is experienced. It is not a thing of the imagination.


New starters quite often say things to Sifu Waller that sound quite reasonable at the time, but in hindsight are really not so smart.
Like the man who wanted to start learning the "advanced syllabus" on his first lesson... Such a request can only reflect naivety, ignorance and arrogance.

Proceed carefully

It is better to begin with humility. And to be careful what you say. Sifu Waller has an astounding memory and will remember everything verbatim.


A good rule of thumb is this: if you don't understand something then you probably can't yet. Huh? Understanding requires a framework; a context, a foundation.
A nursery school child may want to discuss Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky with the teacher, but are they capable?
Surely, they must learn the alphabet, sentences, the entire structure and use of language before a more in-depth exploration is even possible...

It is in the later syllabus for a reason

Students ask Sifu Waller to demonstrate higher-level material on them and then experience a great shock because it was way more scary than they'd anticipated.
Here's a tip: it is in the higher syllabus for a reason. There is much to learn before you can study the higher grades. This should tell you something...
Your body needs time to loosen, strengthen and be prepared for the higher syllabus.  You need time to cultivate whole-body strength. You need to know how to fall safely.

If it hurts, say so

Remaining stoical when suffering pain or discomfort is not the right approach. It is far better to be honest. Honest with yourself, with your training partner, and with Sifu Waller.

Be smart

If you need someone to ease-up, slow-down and be gentle... then just say so. This is not a sign of weakness. We are all vulnerable.
Instead, it shows that you are sensible and recognise that you are indeed human. That's ok; we all are.


Fighting-back can be very dangerous when working with Sifu Waller.
If Sifu Waller is teaching you something, and you are deliberately awkward or try to catch him out - then things may become somewhat unpredictable.
Instead of showing what he is intending to show, Sifu Waller will adapt, change and improvise. One way or another he will illustrate the lesson he has planned.

Hurting yourself

The worst case scenario with resisting is that you may break your own arm or otherwise injure yourself.
Luckily, we've never had a breakage in class, but we've had plenty of students who bite off way, way more than they can chew. Myself included!


My husband trains, studies and writes about taijiquan every day and has no days off. Ever. On top of his taijiquan training he also cycles, walks, studies and teaches.
Sifu Waller has been learning martial arts since 1975 and was Peter Southwood's top student (with 20 years of tuition to his credit).

Risky business

There is a risk attached to asking Sifu Waller to show you things in advance of your grade. It will probably be rough. It may be painful.
If he is offering a workshop that is open to all students, then it is relatively safe.

When you are ready

The more exciting material takes place in the higher grades. This is obvious, and is undoubtedly the case in any martial art. 
On occasion, Sifu Waller will demonstrate skills from the higher grades in order to illustrate a point or maybe to whet the appetite of a keener student.
Usually, he withholds future teachings until the student reaches the appropriate grade. How come?


Without the fundamentals, the skills are wasted on the student. Context is everything. The student must have the clarity of mind to see, and the bodily awareness to do.

And so he sets off on a path to mysterious destinations. He does so in spite of observations by others that such a way is na´ve, outmoded or idealistic. He goes because he knows others have gone before, because the unchanging direction of the way attracts and calls to him.

He goes because he is compelled. He sets out on a journey of a lifetime because he senses that this way is the one to lead him to a place very much worth the going.

(Dave Lowry)


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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 17 February 2020