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A student may wish to perfectly emulate the precision and skill of the instructor, and may indeed believe that they have accomplished this desire.
However, this is unlikely.
There are simply too many faults in their practice. Too many missing pieces.


The purpose of a syllabus is to introduce and teach material in a systematic, incremental manner.
A primary school child cannot discuss Camus without many years of prior education, beginning with simply acquiring the 26 letters of the alphabet.
In order to optimise learning there must be a step-by-step process taking place.
There must a foundation. Everything else is then built piece-by-piece upon that foundation.


Everyone is different. Some people learn things quickly, others do not. It is a matter of context, attention, awareness, memory, neuroplasticity and the willingness to practice.
Different people learn in different ways and at different paces.


In a Japanese martial art the syllabus is very clear cut. Every student works through the same material, learns the same kata and the same applications.
Yet, higher dan black belts express the art differently to one another.
How come?
The Chinese language uses pictographs to express ideas and these form the basis of their language.
All Chinese students learn the same set of pictographs yet these are pronounced differently relative to dialect/cultural background.
In Japanese martial arts this is why higher dan all express the same art individually.

Tai chi syllabus

With Chinese martial arts there is very rarely any kind of syllabus in place, and certainly no coherent regulatory body.
Modern China teaches tai chi as a sport, making it unlikely that a global tai chi syllabus will ever be accepted by the millions of practitioners worldwide.


When an instructor teaches a given topic, the capacity of the student determines how much of the material has been received correctly.
A new starter may only be able to take in 2% of the detail being offered. A beginner may understand 5%.
An lower grade student may be capable of processing far more, perhaps 25%.
This means that for any given lesson, the average student is missing between 75% - 95% of the teaching.

Increasing your capacity

To increase your ability to comprehend the teachings you must make progress through the grades. This should be obvious.
The more you have learned and the more corrections you have received - the greater the skill and the familiarity.


It is easier to observe new insights when a topic is recognised and familiar. Instead of learning the basic details, your attention can be placed on other concerns.
Revising a subject provides the opportunity for deepening your comprehension.


A student should be working diligently and patiently through the grades. Even after reaching the master grade, the work continues.
Failure to work hard through the lower grades dooms the student to a cycle of inevitable deterioration.
Every aspect of the syllabus remains fragmented, incomplete and misunderstood.


Without growth a student continues to go astray. Lacking the majority of the teaching, the individual attempts to make sense of the whole from the scraps they have understood.
The outcome is inevitably flawed.
New material, in-depth corrections, tips & pointers, practice and experience are mandatory for consistent, healthy progress.

Great faith, great effort

Most students begin classes with a great deal of enthusiasm. The lure of novelty, the unknown, the unfamiliar is exciting...
Pretty soon people come to realise that classes are not about stimulation and gratification.
To make progress, they need to work hard, concentrate and train at home.

It is essential that the student realise that going to class does not substitute for individual practice. Attending class without practicing on your own is analogous to taking a math course, copying down the problems done at the board by the teacher, and failing to do the homework. The purpose of class is mainly for the presentation of new material. It is up to the student to absorb and incorporate that material through diligent and thorough independent practice. There must be the proper balance of self-initiated study with the structured presentations and activities in class.

(Robert Chuckrow)


Passing grades with regularity is the key to success. Learn more. Deepen your knowledge and understanding. Gain a technical, practical and theoretical grasp of the art.
This does not mean endlessly acquiring forms from different approaches.
The syllabus needs to be focussed and specific; channelling the attention down a clear pathway: one style, one approach, one system.
The higher up the grades you proceed, the greater your capacity to accurately and comprehensively understand what you are being taught.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 15 February 2020