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Tai Chi Teachers

I first started Tai Chi about 30 years ago and  my first instructor taught the Yang Style of Tai Chi. We would arrive at class and we would go through the 108 form for the entirety of class.

Although practicing the form was enjoyable, I did not fall in love with Tai Chi until I started learning push hands or "tui shou" from a completely different instructor. My next instructor would start his class with a taic chi warmup. where we would loosen the joints and do some light stretching. He would then move on to goint through the form and then we would end with push hands drills. 

If you are not familiar with push hands, it is a 2 person, semi cooperative drill where you practice guiding and diverting your opponents attacks using the moves of Tai Chi.

When I started to get good at Tai Chi push hands is when I really fell in love with the art. 

What I have learned over the years is that Tai Chi is a journey that can either be fulfilling or frustrating, depending on the guide you choose to follow. My first instructor was good, but not great at making his class something that I would look forward to and think about all week.

Had I not found my second instructor I probably would have quit Tai Chi class and I would not be where I am today

So, how do you make an informed choice when selecting a Tai Chi teacher? What are some things to consider before signing up at a local Tai Class?

In this blog post, I go over what I think are the essential qualities to look for in a Tai Chi instructor.

But first, let's clear up some common terminology.

Common Tai Chi Terminology

  • Tai Chi, Tai Ji, Tai Chi Chuan: These terms essentially refer to the same martial art form.
  • Sifu: This is the Chinese word for "teacher."

The Seven Qualities to Look for in a Tai Chi Teacher

1. Authenticity in Teaching

There are quite a few instructors out there teaching empty movements. What I mean by this is that they are going through the Tai Chi form, but do not know the martial applications of the moves themselves. Remember, Tai Chi started out as a martial art. Every move has a use and a way it can be used in a real life fight or self defense scanario. Without the knowledge of it martial use ther is no true understanding of the art.

Push Hands Demo

2. Substance Over Appearances

Don't be taken in with the cool uniform!

Try to look beyond the exterior: uniforms, titles, and formalities doesn't necessarily mean that the Tai Chi instruction will be good. I have met many genuine Tai Chi masters that prefer to teach in casual attire, my second Tai Chi Instructor would wear a Hawaiian Shirt, and tennis shoes to class. He was the embodiment of an unassuming humility and his skill was phenomenal.

3. Qualifications and Certifications

Certifications may sometimes be a requirement for some institutional settings, like colleges and universitys. However, certification are not a definitive mark for a good Tai Chi teacher. Sometimes Tai Chi certification can be given out after attending a 3 hour seminar!

Tai Chi can take a lifetime to learn and master, so you want to find an instructor who has devoted his life to learning an mastering his Tai Chi skills.

In the Tai Chi community, certifications are most times considered fluff and not necessarily indicative of real skill or teaching ability.

4. Knowledge and Clarity

A competent teacher should be able to answer all of your fundamental questions:

Here are some questions that I think would be good to ask your instructor:

  • What is Tai Chi?
  • What are the benefits of Tai Chi?
  • What is push hands?
  • What are the differences in the 5 main styles of tai chi?
  • Can you show some of ways Tai Chi can be used in self defense?
  • How do you breathe correctly for Tai Chi?

Does the instructor speak with enthusiasm, authority, and clarity? Are their answers really insightful and non-condescending? These are good indicators of a real Tai Chi instructor.

5. Quality of Movement

Observe the instructors form. Specifically, look for smooth, flowing movements performed with the utmost balance. Pay particular attention to the qua (the hip area), the hips should look very twisty and flexible while they are moving. The qua can be an indicator of their level of understanding and expertise in Tai Chi.

Quality Tai Chi

6. Teaching Methodology

Being a Tai Chi Instructor is not easy. I pride myself on my ability to communicate the concepts and details of Tai Chi. How is your instructor going to get YOU to be good at Tai Chi?

Is the instructor actually teaching the principles of good Tai Chi, or are they merely guiding you through a set routine? A good teacher will focus on correcting your posture, alignment, and internal principles applicable to all Tai Chi styles and forms.

Tai Chi class

7. Enjoyment Factor

Last but not least, when you start learning Tai Chi, you should be having an almost  joyful experience. That is the emotion I feel when I practice Tai Chi in my own school.

If your teacher is overly serious, you might want to consider looking elsewhere. Don't get me wrong Seriousness is required sometime when practicing Tai Chi.  However, my first instructor class was very serious and it did not inspire me. It did not make me want to do Tai Chi for the rest of my life.

A really good teacher will make the learning process fun, energizing, and inspiring.