Taijiquan (supreme ultimate fist)

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Taijiquan instructor

A taijiquan instructor candidate must:

Know the taijiquan syllabus
Apply every form movement martially (in at least 7 different ways) using jing, chin na and shuai jiao
Have an excellent understanding and use of internal biomechanics
Demonstrate functional whole-body movement in all activities
Be capable of using the martial art in a thorough and convincing taijiquan way
There should be no 'external' influences or bad habits in any aspect of your art
Read all of the books on the reading list

Be realistic

It typically takes at least 10 years for a serious candidate to learn the taijiquan syllabus to a suitable standard. Then, you learn how to teach... The teacher training course is free of charge.

Instructor levels

The taijiquan curriculum is massive. Becoming an instructor is not the end of your own personal development. It is possible to become an expert, a master or even a grandmaster.
At these later stages of skill, your capacity to teach must also change and grow to reflect the comprehensive nature of your taijiquan understanding and ability.
There are teachers and there are teachers...

The Japanese word for black belt is shodan which means 'first step' or 'certified beginner'.

(Michael Gelb)

Certified beginner

It takes between 3-5 years for a keen student to get a black belt in any martial art. Traditionally it could take far longer.
In his book The Art of Peace Ueshiba stated that it will take a decade just to get the basics of aikido...

Black belt does not mean 'instructor'

In most martial arts schools, you must pass the equivalent of 3 black belts before in order to gain the level of practice and experience required of a trainee instructor.
The student can only undertake teacher training if they can show that they are fit to instruct. The necessary disposition and skills must be evident. How long does this take?
Taijiquan is a complex martial art. Apply the same rationale/time frame to taijiquan.


If you doubt the credibility of your instructor, ask for proof:

How long have they been practicing taijiquan?
Who was their instructor?
How long have they been teaching?
Is the instructor following a syllabus?
Do they possess any kind of recognised teaching qualification (i.e. PGCE)?
Can they demonstrate these discreet skills effortlessly and spontaneously against a range of unrehearsed attacks?
Do they understand 13 postures, 4 ounces, yielding, softness, neigong?
Are they able to explain their skills and then demonstrate what they mean?
Can you attack a high-level student and see what skills they possess?
Can you talk with a high-level student about the instructor, the art and the class?

Learn how to judge the quality of the instructor. Be polite about it, and accept that you may get roughed-up. A skilled instructor should leave no doubt in your mind that they know what they are doing.

Controversial approaches

A few instructors are teaching a weird mish-mash of taijiquan and some other art, such as karate. These classes are pitched as being innovative, realistic, pragmatic.
Mixing taijiquan and external practices together does not improve the quality of the taijiquan. Rather, it diminishes the value of the taijiquan component.
The instructor is demonstrating their inability to understand and apply taijiquan using the taijiquan principles.
They have opted for a short-cut, and are filling-in the holes in their knowledge using concepts and approaches from other martial arts.
There is nothing wrong with developing your own art if that is your desire, but you should not call it 'taijiquan'.

Teach with integrity

Many good instructors are aware that taijiquan is becoming a lost art:

Over the centuries many variations of the movements have been taught, but provided the principles are adhered to there is no need for the student to doubt the authenticity of what he is being taught.

(Paul Crompton)

The way most people do taijiquan, it's not a martial art. They could never use it the way they're doing it. Everything's in their hands, they just fill in the rest with fantasy talk.

(Paul Gale)

If all you learn is a lot of forms, you just become a good dancer.

(James Wing Woo)


Students of the martial arts in the West feel that they must use their art to fight, or at least to compete, to show people how good they are. In taijiquan, this is unacceptable, because that is against the principle of taijiquan.

(Gabriel Chin)

You may know two hundred different martial arts but what is the quality of your movements? It's still just movement, it doesn't matter how many forms you know.

People with wisdom will use a tool properly, but a person with lower knowledge will recognise only one function of the tool. In the same manner, internal martial arts can be used for many functions because you use the same tool. This training method is only one tool, but it has many different uses.

You need to use one form for practice and include everything in it - mind, structure, movement and qi. If you can easily do all of these within each motion, that is the internal martial arts.

(Luo De Xiu)

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Page created 18 March 1997
Last updated 13 January 2020