|Written by Rachel|
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Every week we receive an e-mail from a well-meaning individual asking for a few taijiquan "tips & pointers"...
They are usually a physiotherapist, Alexander Technique teacher, nurse, school PE teacher or a care home worker.
The person explains that they use taijiquan in their professional duties but would like a bit more detail. Could they borrow some material?
When people send an e-mail asking for tips & pointers, they are usually surprised when we ask whether or not they are seeking teacher training.
They quickly point out that they are not a taijiquan teacher and do not wish to become one. At this stage, a conundrum is evident.
The person isn't a taijiquan teacher, doesn't want to become one, and claims not to be teaching taijiquan. Yet... they are teaching taijiquan albeit in an amateurish manner.
We decline to share taijiquan material with amateurs. And discourage them from continuing their bad practice. We invite them to leave taijiquan tuition to professionally qualified instructors.
What's the big deal?
Apologists argue that learning taijiquan from an amateur is better than not doing taijiquan at all. How so?
Would you entrust an amateur dentist with your teeth? A partially trained optician with your eyes? An unqualified physiotherapist?
There are a lot of taijiquan practitioners in the world with bad knees. This is the outcome of major misconceptions and shabby teaching. Other risks include shoulder joint problems and lower back pain.
With the widespread appeal of taijiquan there has emerged a growing trend towards amateurism. Some groups actually train without a tutor...
Others are led by an unskilled amateur who is not qualified to teach.
The danger of amateurism
Imagine that you have a serious illness and seek the reputed health benefits of taijiquan... Who would you rather study with: A) a skilled, experienced instructor? or B) a well-meaning amateur?
Training any exercise system or martial art under the guidance of an amateur/charlatan is dangerous. It can lead to injury, and will inevitably cause mistakes and misconceptions.
When learning any in-depth skill or art, a teacher is needed.
There are very few people in the world who can learn to play the piano by themselves, cook like a French chef, become a doctor, speak Spanish or perform taijiquan properly without professional help.
If you imagine that learning taijiquan is any different to learning how to play the piano... your understanding of taijiquan is woefully simplistic.
What is commonly being taught in a tai chi class
According to The Journal of Asian Martial Arts, most tai chi classes in the world offer solo form (a sequence of moves), and a bit of qigong. Not many classes actually do pushing hands.
Some do sword form. Occasionally, teachers speak of self defence applications. Things like 'san sau' are very, very rare, and rarer still are classes that teach anything approaching an actual martial art.
Taijiquan is more than form
With the advent of performance art taijiquan people have begun to think of taijiquan purely in terms of 'form'. This again is simplistic. Form is just one facet of the art.
Stages of skill
Within form practice there are 8 distinct skill levels. Most taijiquan people never get past stage 1.
Rather than progress through all 8 stages with one form, the taijiquan amateur learns a new form - again at the most fundamental, simplistic level.
Form collecting is a sign of limited understanding and boredom.
Training in unsupervised groups or being self-taught is essentially the blind leading the blind. No one has a clue what the 'big picture' is because no one possesses the necessary knowledge or skill.
Wild misinterpretations and misconceptions hinder any credible hope of progress.
We're all students...
Amateurs who possess limited knowledge will tell the doubting student that everyone is a student, that we are all on this journey together... OK. So, why am I paying you money?
In my opinion
Amateurs have opinions about taijiquan based upon their ideas/notions. The martial arts have no need for opinions.
An opinion will not help you to deal effectively with an assault... only knowledge, experience and real skill will prevail.
A theoretical grasp of combat will not prepare you for the reality, any more than some sense of taijiquan biomechanics will enable you to use the body in an optimal way.
Real knowledge is not based on opinion.
The role of the instructor is to guide the student.
They are responsible for implementing the syllabus, correcting mistakes, suggesting new considerations and generally moving the student in a forwards direction.
There are no plateaus in taijiquan; you can always look deeper into the art.
Tai chi for health teacher
Expect a teacher to have:
• At least 5 years experience
• A professional teaching qualification/long-term extensive teaching experience under the guidance of a reputable instructor
• Membership with a recognised body (i.e. The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain)
• At least 10,000 hours of practice behind them
• 10,000 hours of continued improvement, insight and development
Taijiquan fighting method
An instructor will take significantly longer than a taijiquan for health teacher to gain the necessary skill and experience. Once skilled, they can commence teacher training.
Beware of amateurs...
Taijiquan is great providing it is taught with skill and integrity.
It is a sad truth that most taijiquan for health teachers are not professionals. They are often well-meaning amateurs potentially doing more harm than good. Be cautious.
Find out more about the art for yourself. Gain some measure of understanding before attending a class. Ask the teacher about the style being taught, the methodology behind their teaching.
Ask to see their syllabus.
Don't take our word for it
Find out for yourself. We strongly encourage you to read:
• The Essence of Tai Chi Chuan - The Literary Tradition by Lo et al
• The Sword Polisher's Record by Adam Hsu
• Tai Chi Theory & Martial Power by Yang Jwing-Ming
• The Power of Internal Martial Arts by Bruce Frantzis
• Chinese Boxing by Robert Smith
• There Are No Secrets by Wolfe Lowenthal
Taijiquan is a recognisable fighting style
If you watch wing chun applied in combat, it looks distinctly like wing chun. The same could be said of judo, aikido, ju jitsu, pencat silat etc.
By the same reasoning, the martial art of taijiquan must look like taijiquan. What does taijiquan look like in combat? Taijiquan looks like taijiquan. The form, pushing hands, you know... taijiquan.
If the martial expression of taijiquan does not look like taijiquan, it is probably not taijiquan.
10 questions to ask a taijiquan teacher
Try asking these 10 metacognition questions:
1. Which treatise(s) would you consider to be The Taijiquan Classics? Which author is most accessible to you? And which parts do you struggle to put into your practice?
2. What role does 'shen' play in taijiquan?
3. Explain the significance of 'folding'.
4. The name of the art refers to the 'yin/yang' diagram... So, how does taijiquan use yin/yang?
5. Illustrate the difference between 'jing' and 'li'. What bearing does this have on 'peng'?
6. What does the expression 'invest in loss' refer to?
7. Explain the difference between the first 4 powers and the second 4 powers.
8. Which of the Taoist Classics do you find most relevant/pertinent to taijiquan? And why?
9. What is 'mutual arising'?
10. How does '4 ounces of pressure' operate in practice? What are the active/passive manifestations? And how do they differ?
If a taijiquan teacher cannot answer every question comprehensively - verbally & physically - they are not skilled enough to be an instructor. Look for somebody who can provide good answers.
13 adult learning amateurs assistants authenticity fit to teach? levels syllabus teacher training course teaching tai chi
18 March 1997
Last updated 12 July 2021