Follow James
Share this page
Sign up to our monthly newsletter
Enter your email address below and press 'go'
Latest on Twitter
Blog Latest

James is often asked how he, a martial artist, came to hold the keys to the 'Holy Grail' of riding. He achieved this through working out from first principles how to develop a truly independent seat and 'feel'. Historically these skills have been considered elusive and almost unteachable however James has discovered a different way of using the human body and as part of this work has developed a unique riding system which he calls "Ride from Within".James Shaw TeachingThis system is based on James' unique perspective of how the human body can best and most efficiently deal with the greater forces of nature and the horse. He accomplished this through extensive training in the internal martial arts of Tai Chi and Ba Qua and through a deep understanding of the human body in relation to riding. James is able to articulate these ideas clearly and effectively and teaches these skills to riders from grass roots up to top level competitive riders in all disciplines.

James started this incredible journey in Long Beach, California. He grew up next to the ocean pursuing his passions of surfing and in 1983 he began his study at the Lau Kune Do Temple of Martial Arts James Shaw Kung Fuwhere he trained in hard style Kung Fu, weapons forms and Tai Chi. Despite the wealth of knowledge and experience he gained during this time, James also suffered from a series of injuries, including knee problems and chronic lower back pain. "You can be strong and in good shape but use your body outside the laws of bio mechanics," he explains. "Many riders and other professional athletes do this, so many of them come out of a career with disabling injuries as a result."

In 1996, his penultimate year at the temple, he met Wen Mei Yu, a Wu style Tai Chi master and her senior student, Gerald Sharp. After initially training with Gerald for one year, James got the opportunity to study Wu style Tai Chi as a private student of Wen Mei Yu. At that time James considered himself to be a highly trained martial artist and athlete in his prime yet this petite 68 year old Chinese lady could put him on the floor effortlessly and did so many times. Although his ego and pride took a bashing James knew he wanted to know the secrets of Tai Chi and the principles that govern it. After initially refusing to teach James because he had "the best bad habits she had ever seen", Master Yu agreed to a 6 month trial and in that time he focused on re-learning how to use his body and replacing the 'bad habits' of movement he had learned which made him unbalanced and so easy to defeat by Master Yu. She then accepted James as a student and trained him in Tai Chi, Laing Gong and Qi Gong. Over the following four years, through these healing arts James healed the chronic injuries in his body.

It was during his training with Master Yu that James first began working with riders. He describes how “While visiting my sister Becky, a highly trained dressage rider and teacher, I was introduced to Cele and Tony Noble, owners of a Lipizzaner stud. Cele had heard of my healing practise and asked if I could help her regain some strength and energy after a long illness. I suggested we start with Qi Gong to build her internal energy through breath work and physical strength through Qi Gong postures. Over the next few months she got stronger and her overall energy increased. On my next visit she said the strangest thing…..that all the breathing and postures had a profoundly positive effect on her riding. I smiled and said “That’s great”. I thought nothing more of it.

Cele was so affected by these changes that she, my sister and her trainer Dr. Sue Conners convinced me that I should do a workshop at the barn for riders when I visited next. I agreed to teach some basic breathing techniques and movements to help free up their joints. Dr Conners is a life long student of classical dressage and a chiropractor. She could see the direct connection between the movements on the ground and how they related to riding. So excited about the success of the clinic the word spread to Betsy Steiner, 1990 WEG US team member , who had been teaching at Cele’s . She was also interested in using Tai Chi as cross training for her students in California. So I began working with Betsy and her students, teaching a weekly class at the Malibu Golf and Riding club.”

James started going to watch the top US dressage riders and it was at the 1998 Volvo US Dressage Championships that gave him “a knowing that has stayed with me ever since”. He describes how James Shaw with Betsy Steiner“standing at the rail at one of the warm up arenas, I was listening to Betsy coach her close friend and US Olympic rider Guenter Sidel. I was studying his body and movement while he was riding a canter pirouette, the very same movement Betsy had first asked me to help her with. Everything went still and silent, the horse and rider became all that I could see. At the same time a voice in my head was pointing out to me all the blocks and openings in the movement as if I were studying it for battle. I could see where the rider was using strength to compensate for lack of balance and where the horses movement was impeded by this use of strength. I could see that the path of the horse on the arc of the circle was not true, that the rider’s body was not aligned correctly to ride a circle in true balance and that the horse was balancing the rider. This was a knowing, directly connected to my own body, I could see the block and feel it in my own body and because of the extensive training I was doing at the time, I could make the correction in my own bodyJames Shaw Riding Lesson to remove the block. In that moment Jamie realised that everything that was true for Tai Chi and Ba Qua was true for riding a horse. That is that free, flowing powerful movement has its roots in true balance. A balance that moves with the greater  natural forces of gravity and momentum rather than against it. Mr Sidel is an amazing rider at the top of his game and the fact that I had rarely ridden and was not of the riding world at all, meant that I kept this knowing to myself for a number of years.  

The most fundamental principle of Tai Chi that directly relates to riding is yield and overcome. In martial combat that means instead of opposing the incoming force of your opponent with force or strength, you yield to it and re-direct it to overcome your opponent. James Shaw Tai Chi StretchingIt was this principle in action that meant a 68 year old petite Chinese lady could put James on the floor. In riding the horse will always be the bigger, faster and stronger than the rider. When we attempt to control our horse with strength or use strength to compensate for lack of balance i.e. oppose the greater force, we will always fail to achieve our aim. Most of us are unbalanced on the ground and we take that imbalance into the saddle. If we rely on our horses for balance (how many of us can ride all 3 gaits and transitions with no reins?!) then your horse  controls your centre (for balance) and therefore the horse takes control in the partnership. James' methods teach you how to control your centre of balance and ultimately control the greater power that is your horse.

James understands that his students are not interested in becoming Tai Chi masters. He teaches exercises on the ground that focus on developing the body’s natural  balanced alignment and sensitivity to loss of that alignment. These exercises are also designed to get the ‘rust out’ of the joints and promote the suppleness required for harmonious riding.  James' “Ride from Within” system of training gives you a relaxed, balanced and powerful body then teaches you to apply it in the saddle where ‘feel’ is developed and correct balance and fluid movement lead to effortless and harmonious riding. James is one of the only teachers that clearly defines the elusive ‘independent seat’ and shows you exactly how to achieve it.

James communicates his ideas and perceptions with incredible patience, awareness and understanding.James Shaw Teaching His deep compassion for both horse and rider is clearly evident. This combines to create a relaxed, warm and friendly environment in which students feel safe and learn faster.

Many natural horsemen and the riding world in general are questioning and becoming more aware of the detrimental affects of riding on horses. Most modern riding techniques and training systems are based on leverage, using the spine and sometimes the leg, as a lever. The pelvis becomes the fulcrum through which force is applied to the horses spine to engage the haunches. This causes damage to the lumbar region of the spine of horse and rider. James has discovered a different way to use the human body that receives and re-directs the force of the horse. The horse can lift his back and engage the haunches in a free and healthy manner which enhances the health and athletic ability of the horse instead of breaking it down. Using the "Ride from Within" system, the rider also connects to the horse at a deep level through breath and balance, creating a mind and body connection between horse and rider that results in true harmony. His 'Ride From Within' system of training brings enlightenment and breakthroughs at all levels and disciplines of riding.

Riding and ShootingJames Shaw at CamelotJames Shaw Tai Chi