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Focused learning

Japanese martial arts are usually taught in a very methodical, thorough way. There is a clear syllabus, steps of progress, grades and some degree of ongoing continuity.

A lack of focus

Chinese internal martial arts are rarely taught in a focused manner. Often there can seem to be no discernible syllabus, no continuity and a generally vague approach to teaching the material.
A syllabus seldom exists.


Many tai chi people train with a variety of teachers or gain material from different sources. This can lead to a mish-mashing of potentially incongruent, conflicting or incompatible ideas.
Although common, this learning approach is inefficient and seldom leads to a high level of skill.

There is an Indian folk tale about six blind men inspecting an elephant:

The first man encounters the side of the animal
and believes it to be a wall.
The second man imagines the tusk to be a spear.
The third man thinks that the trunk is a snake.
The fourth man considers the leg to be a tree.
The fifth man feels an ear and believes it to be a fan.
The sixth man finds the tail and is certain it is a rope.

(Zen story)


Structured learning

Tai chi cannot be approached in a haphazard, piecemeal fashion. There needs to be a framework for learning.
This would be true of any subject: Spanish, cooking, carpentry, music, ballet, massage, accountancy, engineering, botany, computing, rugby...
Beginners start with basic skills and gradually build to a richer, more complex grasp of the subject.
By adhering to a professional approach to learning, tai chi students can make the most of the class, achieve tangible results and get the best value for their money.


A good tai chi school will have a tried and tested syllabus in place.
By systematically learning one skill at a time, the student gradually accrues information, gains physical awareness and increases the range and scope of their understanding.
But this does not happen overnight. There is a considerable amount of information to learn. It must be revised, refined, honed and practiced thoroughly.

Just form?

Some tai chi schools advertise a syllabus that only contains form. This is not a traditional syllabus. Tai chi is a complex art. It contains a lot more than just form.

Scheme of work

Our classes follow a carefully designed 'scheme of work' that takes the student step-by-step through every skill. Everything is taught in easy, simple, bite-sized pieces.
At each stage of the curriculum the student possesses clearly defined skills that can be proven in practice. Material is organised in a structured manner and taught systematically.
This way, each student is free to progress at their own pace.

Access for all

The aim with 'differentiation' is for all students to access the curriculum relative to each individual's ability.
This means that those who struggle are assisted, those who do fine are developed and those who do well are challenged further.

Natural talent?

A lot of people still believe in the notion of 'natural talent'. According to scientific research detailed in a number of books published in the 21st Century, there's no such thing...

Ability begets ability

People who excel, do so because they put in more time and commit to greater practice than other people do. They also receive regular feedback, learn from their mistakes and get better (continuously).
Read Grit, Smarter Faster Better, 5 Elements of Effective Thinking and Peak... Find out for yourself.


Martial arts usually attract students who are committed to getting fit and working hard. Not so with tai chi. The student is often less sincere. They are not expecting nor prepared to get fit.


Physical exercise in a tai chi class is frequently met with lacklustre enthusiasm and no sense of dedication. A lot of modern people think that attending a weekly class is in itself a major commitment.

Hard work pays off

An earnest student can learn all of the foundation material in just one year. This guarantees a starter level of fitness and reduces the risk of injury.
After that, technical skills may be taught because the student possesses the necessary physical ability to actually undertake the training.

Deliberate practice

Hard work alone is not enough, though. Simply working hard will not necessarily lead to progress.
It needs to be deliberate, focused improvement designed to improve your practice by developing key skills outlined by your instructor.
The student must implement corrections, study the recommended books, undertake assignments and challenge their comfort zone.

Have perspective

Tai chi students usually stumble at the onset and fail to even get through the very first form, yet complain because they were denied combat training.
If they can neither coordinate nor remember a simple sequence what hope have they of neijiaquan combat skill?

Revision & refinement

As a student becomes more skilled, they look back at existing material and re-examine it from a higher level of understanding.
This is vital, as the student uncovers new insights and gains a deeper comprehension.

2 approaches

These are listed in order of difficulty:

  1. Qigong & tai chi

  2. Tai chi (martial art)

Students may train at whatever level they are capable of doing. Our program is entirely self-differentiating.

I've done some martial arts before including tai chi but Sifu Waller's syllabus is so beyond anything I've seen it's ridiculous! Practically all my previous training has not helped me at all and I'm just grateful I found Sifu Waller when I did. Having trained (on and off) for over 14 years in tai chi I know that Sifu Waller is one of a kind in his commitment to his students, and really respect his approach.

What I really like about the class is its friendly atmosphere with excellent teaching and a clear syllabus that means everyone makes progress. Itís challenging but accessible. Everything is explained to the level you want and obviously Sifu Waller really demonstrates what is possible in the art.

As a school teacher I am continually impressed with Sifu Waller's teaching system, resources and the time he takes with classes. I often feel like emailing him to thank him for another outstanding lesson but a) this could happen most weeks and b) I do actually feel guilty for not being a good enough student.

What I find most amazing about the syllabus is how everything is interlocking and interconnected.

(Tim, maths teacher)

Page created 2 August 1995
Last updated 11 April 2024