Finding a tai chi class
   
     

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Considerations

Finding a tai chi class may sound like a simple enough proposition, but there are many considerations to take into account.
Choose your class carefully:

  1. Authenticity

  2. Confusion

  3. Media

  4. Is it really taijiquan?

  5. What makes tai chi 'tai chi'?

  6. What is the difference between tai chi, tai chi chuan and taijiquan?

  7. 4 styles

  8. Most classes are health classes

  9. Very few tai chi classes are actually martial

  10. What kind of qigong is being taught?

  11. What is the focus of the class?

  12. Isn't tai chi slow & boring?

  13. Can I train 2 different styles of tai chi simultaneously?

  14. Medical problems

  15. Partial knowledge

  16. The vibe

  17. Friendly

  18. Perpetual beginners

  19. Your own agenda

  20. Your personality

  21. Give it a chance

  22. Gratification

  23. Preconceptions

  24. Cherry picking

  25. Percentages

  26. Responsibility

  27. Professional

  28. The instructor

  29. Syllabus

  30. Experience

  31. Martial skill

  32. Form, but not substance

  33. Can you recommend a class in my town/area?

  34. Frequently asked questions

  35. How tai chi is taught in modern times

  36. Adult learning


Authenticity

Be careful when looking for a tai chi class...
Often a 'tai chi instructor' only knows a few warm-up exercises and a short sequence of movements.
They move their arms around and the class copies.
Synchronised arm waving is not tai chi. No matter how pretty it looks. Or how nice it feels. Or how popular the class is.
Do some research:

• Authenticity
• The essence of the Art
• Taijiquan principles
•
13 areas of study
• A copy or a way?
• Similarities & differences
• The lost art?
• Common misconceptions
• Taijiquan as a supplement


Confusion

When people look for a tai chi class they inevitably have expectations, ideas, notions, opinions and preconceptions.
These will all hamper you in your search.

What you need is some idea of what tai chi really is...
If you go looking for what you think it is, you may indeed find something that fits your requirement, but is it really tai chi at all?

Gratification is no proof that you have found a good class. You may merely have found a class that pleases you.
 

Kung fu styles like taijiquan have become widespread and popular. It is important for all practitioners to understand a major weaknesses in the transmission of all Chinese arts; a lack of basic training. In fact, step-by-step training program, standardized terminology, clear explanations and correct interpretations are either entirely missing or woefully scarce.

(Adam Hsu)


Media

The media depict martial arts in an unrealistic way; either as entertainment in movies and TV shows, or as sport.
Now and again tai chi is lauded as being wonderful for the health.
Somewhere along the way, people become convinced that it is easy to learn tai chi.

Nothing could be further from the truth.
It does not matter whether you plan to learn qigong, tai chi for health, taijiquan, baguazhang, wing chun, ju jitsu or the countless other styles and systems available to you.
Few things in life are actually easy to learn.


Is it really taijiquan?

Tai chi instructors seldom distinguish between tai chi for health and taijiquan.
Most modern tai chi classes study tai chi for health but only a rare few practice the martial art.
It is common for classes to say that they are teaching 'taijiquan' when in fact they are teaching 'tai chi for health' instead.

Many students are exposed to tai chi for health and believe this to be the martial art.
In some cases it may well be, but in most cases it is merely tai chi for health practice with a threadbare smattering of martial skill thrown in for variety.

To train taijiquan (supreme ultimate fist) correctly you need a highly-skilled instructor who can offer a very comprehensive syllabus.
 

Kung fu is thousands of years old and is a highly developed system of martial art. The student who locates a good kung fu school will find the training thorough and challenging. Kung fu skills, which have been refined over centuries, are not learned easily or quickly. The sincere student, however, through hard work and dedication, will not be disappointed with the results.

(Adam Hsu)


What makes tai chi 'tai chi'?

Tai chi (pronounced
tie jee) is not simply slow motion exercise. There are very specific qualities that need to be present for the training to be called 'tai chi'.
You cannot simply ad lib and think that you are performing tai chi.

The wisdom of famous taijiquan masters came to be known as The Tai Chi Classics.
These three are the most widely read:

  1. Chang treatise

  2. Wang treatise

  3. Wu treatise 

These documents provide a detailed outline of what taijiquan is and how it should be employed.
Correct practice of taijiquan must follow the guidelines precisely.


What is the difference between tai chi, tai chi chuan and taijiquan?

Tai chi chuan is the old way of spelling the martial art in English (Wade-Giles).
Taijiquan is the modern spelling (Pinyin).
Tai chi/taiji is an abbreviation.

Tai chi may refer to
tai chi for health or taijiquan (supreme ultimate fist).
It depends on the individual teacher and class.
Most tai chi classes in the UK are only offering tai chi for health.



4 styles

There are 4 recognised styles of tai chi:

  1. Yang

  2. Chen

  3. Wu

  4. Hao

Within each style there will be a lot of differences between instructors, classes, approaches and emphasis.
Ensure that the teacher is adhering to the essence of the Art.

If the class you encounter is not teaching one of the 4 recognised styles, tread carefully.
Find out more.



Most classes are
health classes

Virtually every tai chi school in the UK is teaching 'tai chi for health'.
Classes offering taijiquan (supreme ultimate fist) are very rare indeed.

Some classes may advertise themselves as 'taijiquan' but are in fact teaching tai chi for health.



Very few tai chi classes are actually martial

(i) Martial proof

It is easy to determine if a taijiquan martial arts class is bona fide.
Ask the instructor about:

  1. Their syllabus

  2. Teaching methodology

  3. The Tai Chi Classics

  4. Taijiquan principles (4 ounces, 6 balanced pairs, 13 energies, fa jing, folding, groundpath, opening & closing, reeling silk, shen, softness, substantial & insubstantial, sung, yielding etc)

  5. Martial theory and application

  6. Form application (7 applications for every pattern of movement)

  7. Combat

  8. Examples of shuai jiao, chin na and jing skill

A genuine taijiquan instructor will be able to prove their skill to you quite convincingly.


(ii) Internal or external taijiquan?

Some classes offer 'external' martial arts (i.e. MMA or karate) alongside taijiquan.
External martial arts use the body in a manner that contradicts The Tai Chi Classics.
How internal is their taijiquan likely to be?


What kind of qigong is being taught?

Qigong is a very diverse area of study and approaches can vary wildly.

(i) Strength building

Good classes seldom speak about qi.
Instead, the emphasis is upon good body mechanics, balance, breathing, lengthening the muscles and relaxation.
If all of these factors are taught well, the body will become notably stronger.
Expect a gently challenging workout.


(ii) Hippy classes

A 'feel good' qigong class may have all manner of so-called qi-enhancing practices... but are these bona fide or bogus?
Does the student feel stronger?
Is their body stronger, more balanced, their emotions settled and the mind calm?
Would your time be better spent walking the dog around the park?


(iii) Spend your time wisely

Qigong should ideally be infused with neigong (whole-body strength), and this will prepare the student for martial training and physical activities in every day life.
There is no need to talk about qi.
A clear, tangible, scientific attitude is much wiser.

Focus on how you use the body.
Gain strength, ease of movement and mental clarity. Get the postural muscles to do most of the work rather than your localised limbs.
Let your qi (life energy) take care of itself...


What is the focus of the class?

The ideal situation is learn tai chi from a class that focuses exclusively upon tai chi.
Expertise requires specialism.
A jack of all trades is a master of none.

Does the class focus on tai chi or do they offer a selection of approaches (yoga, Pilates, zumba etc)?


Isn't tai chi slow and boring?

(i) Pace

Many of the beginner's exercises are performed slowly in order to relax the muscles, calm the mind and encourage awareness.
Only one of the tai chi forms is slow. The rest are more vigorous.

Taijiquan (supreme ultimate fist) training starts slowly and then speeds up as the student becomes more skilled.


(ii) Boredom

Taijiquan is all about putting Ancient Chinese wisdom into practice, acquiring superior body use, gaining inner peace and clarity.
You will need to engage your mind as well as your body.

Contrast this with running on a treadmill or a static exercise bike.
Which activity is boring?


(iii) Look deeper

A good class will always have a comprehensive syllabus in place; ensuring on-going development and access to new material.
The training challenges your mind with unexpected insights, skills and possibilities.
No two lessons are the same.

Taijiquan encourages depth and understanding. Quality rather than quantity.


(iv) Stimulation

Modern culture encourages people to seek out stimulation and entertainment.
This can lead to impatience and a diminished capacity for attention.

To make progress in tai chi, the student must engage with the training and work hard. 
A quiet resolve and a commitment to practice will lead to strong progress and the opportunity to learn increasingly fascinating, sophisticated skills.


Can I train 2 different styles of tai chi simultaneously

Sifu Waller is a traditionalist and does not believe in form collecting or mixing styles/approaches.
All of our material is fully integrated.

'Form collecting' is a modern habit which arises when a student is unwilling to commit the necessary practice to mastering one style of tai chi.
In short, the student gets bored; which can be either due to the individual or the limited syllabus in a given class.


Many excessively bounce around learning the next 'new' form or movement set without ever extracting the real internal value from any of them.

(Bruce Frantzis)



Medical problems

Qigong and tai chi teachers are not medical professionals.
Tai chi for health was not designed to be a treatment.
It was intended to improve overall health and wellbeing.

Many people have sought out our tuition in order to address specific medical concerns, but we cannot ethically claim expertise in medical matters.
Nor can we commit one-to-one time within a lesson for individual medical guidance..


Partial knowledge

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


Having a limited grasp about a subject denies you any hope of having perspective.
You judge according to what you personally understand or experience, and th
is can have some significant drawbacks.
Your knowledge has no context and consequently no meaning.


The vibe

When you enter a class, you notice all manner of things simultaneously. These factors coalesce to produce a vibe.
Ask yourself:

  1. Is the class friendly?

  2. Are people having fun?

  3. Does the instructor explain things well?

  4. Is there humour?

  5. Do you feel safe?

  6. Can you feel a change in your body?

  7. Is the lesson interesting?

  8. Are you challenged with new ideas?

  9. Does the material make you think?

  10. Are you making progress?

  11. Is the instructor calm or tense?

  12. Do they move with ease?


Friendly

A teacher needs to cultivate an atmosphere of friendship, care and respect.
The classes need to be akin to an extended family, with students feeling quite safe and comfortable with one another.
No matter what is happening in your life, the class remains a good place to be.


Perpetual beginners

Most
tai chi students in the UK never get past the preliminaries of the Art.
They lack the knowledge and/or the tuition opportunities to explore tai chi properly.

Training at a beginner's level long-term is not good for your health and wellbeing. A crude understanding of tai chi can potentially
lead to injury.
To avoid this, students need to make progress in a healthy, safe, fun environment.
They must continually develop their insights, skills and awareness.


A proven, fully differentiated syllabus should be in place and the opportunity for each student to learn tai chi relative to their own ability.


Your own agenda

Everyone has an agenda.
The more honest and open you are about your own, the more likely you are to find a suitable class.

Do you have health problems? Have you bad knees? A bad back?
Are you concerned about being thrown on the floor?
Does the prospect of combat training frighten you?
Is your age an issue?
What are your expectations?
Are you willing to commit to a weekly class?
Do have previous tai chi experience? (Are you hoping that the new class will be the same as the old?)
Are you attending class because you really want to, or because you think you should?


Your personality

Being realistic about who you are and what you want is vital.
Are you:

  1. A martial artist? (Now or in the past?)

  2. A hippy?

  3. A performer?

  4. A talker?

  5. Looking for a hobby?

  6. Wanting something easy?

There are many different approaches to tai chi.
Some classes are earnest and challenging. Some teachers adhere strictly to the The Tai Chi Classics. Some classes are popular, but sadly misguided.
Look for something suitable for you.


Give it a chance

The first lesson you have in tai chi will be hindered by your own personality.
Even if you have trained tai chi before, you are unlikely to see past the veil of your own self-consciousness and fears.

It is usually worth trying a few classes.
That way, you can settle-in a little and really observe what is taking place in class.
Pay particular attention to the more
skilled students: what are they training? How adept do they seem? Are they having fun?



Gratification

People are usually motivated by the quest for gratification.
They seek out things that please them and avoid things that fail to measure up to their expectations.

New starters sometimes commence a tai chi class and imagine that they can 'cherry pick' the syllabus.
Typically, they are quietly instructed to get on with the training.

A tai chi class is not about gratification. This is a very important thing to recognise.
It is not the 'service industry'.


Preconceptions

New starters often believe what they see in the movies or on TV. It looks so exciting, so relaxing, so graceful...
They want this for themselves.
The student expects to walk away with awesome skills within a few weeks. After all, the man on YouTube can do it... why can't they?
Unfortunately, the student is typically unrealistic. They seldom consider:

  1. Their own level of fitness

  2. Their capacity to learn

  3. The scope of their ambitions

  4. How much work lies ahead of them

  5. How long it will take to learn the desired skills


Cherry picking

New students often have a wish list of things they want to learn. They will even ask the instructor to teach them specific skills i.e. sword.
Similarly, the student may decline to do certain things because it may not please or gratify them.

The problem with this approach is that the student has no idea what the scope of the syllabus is.
They do not know what skills must be acquired, in what order, how and why.
By seeking to focus only upon what they think is important robs the student of the opportunity to learn from the only person who actually knows what they are doing: the instructor.


Percentages

A tai chi for health student only studies approximately 10% of the taijiquan syllabus; just the forms, qigong exercises, pushing hands, partner work exercises etc.
This is not a lot of material to learn.


Responsibility

Learning a martial art is not like buying a product in a shop.
You make it happen. You do the work.
Not the instructor.

It is common for a new starter to commence class with excited ambitions, only to falter almost immediately.
Taijiquan classes expect a high turnover of beginners.
Few students have the resolve to endure the journey.
Most people never make it past the first step.



Professional

Seek expert guidance from a trained professional. Do not entrust your wellbeing to an amateur.
The world is saturated with well-meaning, inexperienced tai chi instructors.
These instructors are teaching an imbalanced syllabus and fail to offer the complete art.
The art is slowly being ruined, watered down to a point where there is nothing internal left.


Syllabus

Taijiquan is a complex, detailed martial art and it needs to be taught in a thorough, methodical manner.
Haphazard, piecemeal tuition will not work.
Expect a
syllabus that is progressive, differentiated and proven.

Every class should be capable of showing the student where they are in terms of progress, what they should be working on, and what happens next.



Experience

Nothing beats
experience.
A class needs to be run by an experienced instructor who is well-versed in teaching their art.
They need to know it inside out. This will not happen overnight.

Experience comes from long-term practice, from looking deep into the tai chi, exploring it and understanding it for yourself.
A good instructor has probably been training for a decade or more in taijiquan, and may well have an extensive background in martial arts.
It is worth determining whether or not tai chi is the instructor's sole concern.

Be wary of classes taught by people who lack experience or who obtained a teaching qualification via some fast-track course.



Martial skill (kung fu)

A good instructor should be capable of demonstrating taijiquan martial skills without hurting you.
- they can demonstrate striking power on a focus mitt
- they can seize or misplace the bones without any risk of injury
- they can perform a shuai jiao application without power
 

It’s certainly sobering when after all those years of training, facing Sifu Waller I feel about as effective as an old lady throwing marshmallows.

(Graham)

Do not be afraid to ask questions.

Gauge the effectiveness of what they show you:

  1. Did it work?

  2. Did they compromise themselves? Were they over-committing?

  3. Was there any adverse feedback?

  4. Did they allow for multiple attackers?

  5. What did it do to the opponent?

  6. Were they forcing an outcome? Or did it flow?

  7. Was it easy to perform?

  8. Smooth or jarring?

  9. Was it hurried and quick? Were they calm and composed?

  10. Can they evade an armed opponent?

If you doubt them, ask them to perform it on you. But remember that if you want proof of skill, you may well get more than you bargained for.


Form, but no substance

A tai chi school should offer you a system of exercise (and perhaps martial skill) that builds your strength and skill, gently and consistently.
It should also balance body, mind and emotions.

In order to fully understand the tai chi, the instructor must possess an in-depth martial understanding of the Art.
Mere theory is insufficient.
Self defence tips & pointers are plain useless.
There needs to be a fully comprehensive working knowledge of the system, and the capacity to use it spontaneously.

As a student, you may not care for combat at all. This is fine. Not everyone wants martial skills.
But the instructor is different.
An instructor cannot afford to have huge gaps in their understanding.
What the instructor does not know, they may assume or omit. This can be a dangerous and foolhardy approach to take.



Can you recommend a class in my town/area?

We cannot offer any recommendations.
Every tai chi school has its own agenda. Each school has its own values, concerns and interests.

Our advice is to explore what is available in your area.
Try out some classes.
You may find something you like. Something that appeals to your values, concerns and interests.


Page created 26 August 1994
Last updated 13 January 2017