Skill level
Tai chi syllabus

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Why do we need grades?

The insurance policy advised instructors to ensure that students are being shown things appropriate to ability. This means that a syllabus is necessary.
There must be an order to the presentation of the material. Grades are required.


There are 20 belts in the tai chi chuan syllabus:

  1. White 1

  2. White 2

  3. Yellow 1

  4. Yellow 2

  5. Orange

  6. Green

  7. Blue

  8. Purple

  9. Brown 1

  10. Brown 2

  11. Black (1st dan)

  12. Black (2nd dan)

  13. Black (3rd dan)

  14. Black (4th dan)

  15. Black (5th dan)

  16. Black (6th dan)

  17. Black (7th dan)

  18. Black (8th dan)

  19. Red 1/Black (9th dan)

  20. Red 2/Black (10th dan)

Coloured belts are beginner's belts

White, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown 1 & brown 2 belts are for tai chi chuan beginners.

Intermediate belts

The first 4 black belts are intermediate-level tai chi chuan.

Experienced belts

th to 8th dan black belts are for more experienced tai chi chuan practice.

Advanced belts

The next 2 black belts are for advanced-level kung fu (Chinese boxing) and are only suitable for instructors.

Open ended

Tai chi chuan is unlike mainstream martial arts. You cannot simply pass a belt and imagine that you have 'got it'. This is the work of a lifetime. There is no final certificate, no graduation.

McDojo mentality

Traditionally, progress in the martial arts was slow and methodical. People took time to grow, change and gain skill. Nowadays, students often expect high-level skills to emerge almost immediately.
In any martial art this is improbable. For an advanced martial art it is certainly not realistic. Progress cannot happen overnight.
Your rate of progress is entirely contingent upon how much time and effort you invest.

Ability is everything in tai chi

Remember this - martial arts are a meritocracy. Ability is everything. Not knowledge. Not time served. Ability. If you can do it, then you can advance.


In your training, do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung.

(Morihei Ueshiba)

White belt

The first belt teaches the basics. The lower grades are all about improving health. A student is required to work at notably improving their stamina, flexibility, coordination, cardiovascular fitness and agility. The first 4 belts are introductory. They are for people who have an interest in tai chi chuan and want a mild taste of the art. 

Black T-shirt

The coloured
belt grades are for students willing to make the level of commitment associated with martial arts training. The onus is upon introducing martial sets, self defence and discovering the art through doing rather than talking. A scientific attitude is cultivated; with the student invited to adopt an experimental approach to learning; finding out for themselves what works, how and why. The student becomes increasingly sensitive, present and alert. Instead of 'spacing out' , they start to feel. Rather than assert their ego and vanity, they begin to see things from a greater perspective and the seeds of humility and patience are planted.

Black belt

The training brings the practice into a far more martial context. The student begins to see the art from a broader perspective.
They see how apparently different parts of the syllabus are actually integrated parts of the whole. Looking back, they start to see the complexity and the simplicity of the art.
Looking forward, they see the depth and subtlety that reach far beyond their current capacity to understand. Humility emerges.

From coarse to refined

A new starter can only approximate the required movements. Nobody starts class with good body habits. With practice, a student slowly begins to use their body in the internal way.
In order to move from coarse to refined, it is necessary to have your practice regularly assessed and corrected.

Go easy on yourself

Tai chi cannot be forced; acquiring the fighting skills takes as long as it takes. Take small methodical steps. Proceed at a pace that suits you and your level of ability and commitment.
Do what you can without becoming anxious or stressed.

Be patient but not lazy

Focus on a topic, learn it and then move onto the next one. Be patient with yourself. Set realistic learning goals. Each grade involves only a limited number of topics, exercises and drills.
Aim to pass a couple of new items every time you are assessed. Look to existing skills. Correct any mistakes and remove gaps in your knowledge.

Do not neglect material

With tai chi, you must constantly refine and improve your basic skills. The most simple-seeming and obvious drills are with hindsight actually quite complex and sophisticated.
As you move through the grades, Sifu Waller will be looking for increasing skill in all areas of knowledge. You cannot just learn a skill and move on. You must also go back and re-consider.

Repetition and familiarity

The only person that can train your body do tai chi is you. Talking, watching video clips or reading books will not lead to skill. You must get on your feet and do the work.
This means lessons, assessment, regular repetition of movement patterns and familiarity with partner work.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 05 January 2024