Why bother reading?

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Steal my art

In addition to daily meditation, Sifu Waller has committed to a daily reading regime since 1985. He considers constructive reading to be an essential component. Why?


Taijiquan is unlike other martial arts because it is based on a principle/concept.
It is rooted in Taoism and utilise the teachings of The Way and its Power, The Book of Changes, The Way of Chuang Tzu, The Tai Chi Classics and The Art of War.
Only by reading these books frequently and comprehensively can we grasp the meaning of the teachings. And the meaning will alter as we grow and change.

What your body remembers is what is important for you at this particular stage of development.
What your mind forgets, your body is telling you it couldn't use anyhow at this time.


Try harder?

In the book The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking the authors explain that a common theme in conventional learning is to tackle difficulty/hardship by trying harder. This seems reasonable.
However, the authors illustrate that it is flawed. Success is typically not achieved through force or determination, but by doing something different...


Eyes closed?

The authors of The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking explain how good tennis players watch the ball intently; in fact much more skilfully and mindfully than an amateur.
Imagine trying to extrapolate where the ball is going to be and then seeking to hit it with your eyes closed? Then try again. This time watching the ball and eyes open...
In tennis terms, not watching the ball earnestly is akin to playing the game with your eyes closed.
There is a major difference between playing tennis without watching the ball - essentially guessing where it is going to be - and watching it fully.

Know more

5 Elements of Effective Thinking examines how knowing more about a subject may sound like more work but will actually make the job easier in the long run.
This is akin to the 'mental representation' idea discussed in the book Peak. Knowledge and experience provide context, and context helps things to make sense to you.
Therefore, an understanding of Taoism, The Tai Chi Classics etc provide the context for the practice of the art. Rather than training with your eyes closed, you can grasp the significance of the teaching.

Expand your horizons

Sifu Waller reads chapters and excerpts from 6-7 books every day:

These are always in his reading pile:

  1. Commentaries on Living Volumes 1, 2 & 3 by Krishnamurti

  2. The New Lao Tzu by Ray Grigg or The Tao of Being by Ray Grigg

  3. The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton or Chuang Tzu in a Nutshell by Robert Van De Weyer

Frequently read:

  1. The Art of War (Penguin Classics) by Sun Tzu (Minford version)

  2. The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Cleary version)

  3. Back to Beginnings by Huanchu Daoren

  4. The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

  5. The Essence of Tai Chi Chuan - The Literary Tradition by Lo et al

Every year:

  1. The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger & Michael Starbird

  2. Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

  3. Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel


  1. Effortless Combat Throws by Tim Cartmell

  2. The Little Zen Companion by David Schiller

  3. Moving Zen by C W Nicol

  4. Sword and Brush by Dave Lowry

  5. The Sword Polisher's Record by Adam Hsu

  6. Tai Chi Theory & Martial Power by Yang Jwing-Ming

  7. Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers by Leonard Koren

  8. Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts by Leonard Koren

In addition to these books, Sifu Waller's daily reading pile contains a wide variety of books on meditation, Taoism, Zen, taijiquan, qigong, martial arts, yoga, business management, pop psychology, motivational, self defence, martial, Asian culture (and folklore) and anatomical subjects.

Is reading mandatory?

Nobody can make you train between classes or commit to reading between classes. What you do is up to you. Our point is simply that constructive reading will enrich and deepen your training.

The surrounding context gives meaning to the otherwise meaningless, discrete words... If you want to learn a subject, instead of memorising rules and facts, concentrate on truly understanding the fundamentals deeply. If you want to think of new ideas, don't sit and wait for inspiration. Instead, apply strategies of transformative thinking such as making mistakes, asking questions, and following the flow of ideas.

(Edward B. Burger & Michael Starbird)


Just imagine doing your tai chi form with no idea what the movements are for or why you are doing them this way... This is how most people on the planet practice tai chi.
As if they had their eyes closed... How likely is the training to be accurate? How many misconceptions will exist?

Beyond theory

The world is filled with tai chi practitioners who can quote a lot of theory but lack concrete skill. This is true with yoga and most martial arts. Reading must be supported by proof.

Words are not enough

Reading will not furnish you with health, balance and coordination, technical skill, emotional balance, relaxation, ease. It won't help you to be well-coordinated, mobile and comfortable.
It will not teach
whole-body movement and martial sensibilities, but it will provide you with a sense of how these things work and why they are significant.
Biomechanics, shen, martial applications, whole-body strength, whole-body movement, whole-body power, natural-feeling body use all require theory and practice to be in balance.

A balanced approach

Working the brain is the real key to success in tai chi. A strong, pliable, flexible, adaptive brain is required for learning this art.
Couple this with a straightforward, achievable daily physical routine and you have a balanced tai chi workout...

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 28 January 2020