Inner teachings

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Searching for the Way

There is a book called Searching for the Way by Nigel Sutton which details one man's quest to find the inner teachings of tai chi.
In the book Lost Japan, David Kerr visited Zen temples across Japan, looking for the inner secrets. In most cases the teachers admitted that there weren't any secrets.
The secrets their order once possessed had been forgotten. If they ever existed.

Family first

It is very common for students to imagine that private lessons and long-term practice with an instructor guarantees receipt of the inner teachings. This is naive.
Traditionally, the secret workings of an art were passed on to family members first. After family members, lineage students were the next consideration. Then indoor students.
Everyone else was taught relative to their degree of commitment, and this seldom entailed the secret material.

Good oil, bad oil

The traditional Chinese teaching attitude can best be summarised by the old story about selling oil: The oil seller sold the good oil to the regular, loyal customers who treated the oil seller well.
The bad oil was given to everybody else.

Inner and outer

Tai chi has always been taught in a two-tier way. There is the 'outer school' - which anyone could join and the 'inner school' - which was for 'indoor students'.
Most students only ever learn from the outer school. They were taught a satisfactory grasp of the art. The student themselves determines their status: outer or inner...

Indoor student

Joining the inner school entails proving yourself to be more serious. Students who possess the necessary attitude are invited to learn the inner teachings of the art.

Outer school

An outer school is also known as an 'open school'. Most of the tai chi being taught these days is 'outer school' material. This is the stuff you find in books and on DVD's.
It looks pretty, it feels nice... but does it always have substance?


Often, outer schools concentrate on acquisition. Students accumulate forms. These forms are merely superficial patterns that differ slightly but are all essentially the same.
Progress is rated in terms of how many forms you know.

Inner school

An inner school is also known as a 'closed school'. Traditionally, lessons were taught at the teacher's home. An inner school focuses upon the real substance of the art.
Every form nuance, every neigong, every martial application. Great emphasis is placed on the small details. A minor change can produce a significant effect.
At the heart of the inner teaching is neigong (whole-body strength), jing (internal power) and combat skills.


The nature of an inner school makes it far harder for students to make progress. Every step of the journey involves considerable effort.
It is not enough to stumble through the syllabus - it must be explored carefully and thoroughly. Dedication, patience and endurance are all essential qualities for the student to possess.

Each to their own

Students attend lessons relative to their own personal lives and commitments. Most people are not serious.
Yes, they want to learn and they make excellent progress... but they are content to keep things fairly laid back and casual.
Very rarely, a student is more earnest. They want to learn every little nuance, insight and skill.

Inside and out

We cater for everybody:

1) Outer school

Most people adopt an outer-school mentality and are quite happy to train every week in class, and maybe train at home. Their focus is upon fun and limited learning.
They enjoy glimpses of the inner teachings at workshops and private lessons. Our 'outer school' teaches the art to a fairly in-depth level. We do not believe in offering a superficial degree of training.

2) Inner school

The 'inner school' offers serious depth and is not for the half-hearted student. It is aimed at people who want fast-track progress through the tai chi syllabus.

Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 11 April 2024