Working with the instructor
Written by Rachel

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Taijiquan fighting method

In a martial arts class it is uncommon for a lower
grade student to ever work with the instructor. How come?
The higher the skill level, the more realistic the attack and therefore the better the demonstration. It is very rare for a instructor to partner with anyone except the best student in the class.
Sifu Waller offers all his students the opportunity to work with him; so don't waste the chance to feel how soft, unified and smooth an application can be.

Being shown material

One advantage of being used as a demonstration partner is that you get to feel first hand how something works.
Although a number of students may be capable of performing a given action, none possess the subtlety of the instructor's practice.
By working with the instructor you are exposed to the best possible example of the art. You can learn a lot.  Providing you pay attention and feel.


Some students anticipate to such an extent that it is impossible to demonstrate with them.
Instead of showing an insight or application, the time is spent asking the student to stop doing whatever it is they are doing.
Examples of anticipation:

  1. Moving your arm by yourself rather than letting the instructor do it

  2. Holding back from commitment

  3. Being too floppy

  4. Being in any way tense

  5. Being deliberately awkward

  6. Twitching/jumping

  7. Stepping back or pulling your body back

  8. Thinking rather than following instructions

  9. Bracing

  10. Adopting a confrontational/challenging demeanour


Sometimes a student can be extremely clumsy when
Sifu Waller partners up with them for a demonstration. Clumsiness is inexcusable. It is reckless and dangerous.
There is simply no need for it.

Trying it on

Sometimes new students try it on with their instructor. What do they really think is going to happen? The best case scenario is that the teacher simply ignores it. Worst case is that they reciprocate.
Trying it on when an instructor is teaching is akin to assaulting the instructor whilst they are working. Not a smart move in a martial arts class.

When the teacher chooses a student with whom to demonstrate a certain concept, it is not appropriate to try to test the teacher under these conditions, unless specifically requested to do so. This is because the teacher is concentrating on teaching rather than on defending against an unexpected attack. In fact, an unexpected attack might provoke a sudden reflex action on the part of the teacher, resulting in injury to the student. More likely, because the teacher has the student's safety uppermost in mind, the teacher will protect the student by not reacting, thereby causing the mistaken impression that the teacher was ineffectual. The best interests of all are served when the demonstrating student cooperates to illustrate what the teacher is showing.

(Robert Chuckrow)

Holding on...

If you have been struck in the groin, seized, stamped or headbutted... you are unlikely to still be hanging on to the instructor. Be smart and let go.
Holding on unrealistically can lead to an accident. Sifu Waller is performing an application slowly and carefully, as a demonstration. He is sparing you from the effect of full-power combat.
Being awkward is not reciprocal. Let go and fall. It may hurt a bit, but dragging Sifu Waller down on top of you will hurt a lot more.


Is a demonstration meant to be realistic? No. It serves to break material down in order to show you how to use it.
If you want realism, please consider that the instructor can use and apply 100% of the syllabus whereas you are only being exposed to perhaps 5%.
You may be curious about what the instructor might do if assaulted. Accept that it will be unpleasant and leave it at that.
The syllabus will eventually take your applications close enough to realism for you to lose any interest in 'full-contact'. Be patient. Soon you will know.


The instructor will tell you how cooperative to be. The main requirement is commitment. Throw a punch or step-in to grapple - in a meaningful way. Look like you are attacking.
Do not hold back. This is not an invitation to lose control or use full power. Be sensible. But you do need to commit. Holding back from commitment is usually a consequence of fear.
Be brave.


Non-cooperative practice is important and the instructor will tell you when he wants you to fight back.

Personal safety

Your safest choice is to commit and be soft. If struck, do not tense-up. Tensing-up will only intensify the pain and cause injury. Keep relaxed.


Having received an application courtesy of the instructor, it is common for inexperienced students to want to now do something to their teacher. This is naive and foolish.
An attitude of one-upmanship will result in you being hurt.

He gives. You take.

The instructor gives. The student receives. It is a one-sided situation. A student doesn't get to do anything on their instructor.

Have some perspective

Expecting to perform applications on your instructor is disrespectful and unrealistic. Ask yourself: Could you defeat them in actual combat?
Is there any way in real life that you could apply the application on your instructor unless they allow you to?
If you think that you can defeat them, then you should find a better teacher for yourself.

The journey is the same for everyone

The journey from novice to instructor means being thrown, punched and kicked for years by your seniors. Every student must endure this. Including your instructor; he went through it too.
He learned his taijiquan at the hands of his instructor. If you want to learn, then you must do the same.

The movements are difficult and often performed in opposition to a fellow trainee. Because of this, students quickly become disciplined and aware of the need not to be hurt or to hurt others. The aggressive urges that brought the student to the training hall are soon controlled, and guided into constructive activity by the instructor. Under this guidance, the student's confidence grows and fear recedes. At the same time an awareness of physical being, of the body's shape, size and potential ability, is born.

(Howard Reid)

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Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 13 January 2020