Healing Hamilton

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Top Three Questions to ask your Tai Chi teacher

Master Chen Zhonghua of Chen Style Practical Method Tai Chi demonstrates the idea of "how to keep the centre".  While this is an advanced concept, it is vital that even beginning students understand that Tai Chi is a martial art.   Master Chen is worried about the loss of the self defense component of Tai Chi.  He states that "By removing applications from Tai Ji, Tai Ji becomes fake Tai Ji, it loses its intrinsic nature.  Moreover, if you don’t understand the application, the external movements will be wrong."  Though I study a different style of Tai Chi, a teacher of mine echoed Master Chen's concerns and warned about wrong external movements, which he refered to as "wavy hands Tai Chi" - external movements that are disconnected from the spine, and are without purpose or strength.   

The hardest part of learning Tai Chi as a martial art is finding a good teacher.  So how do you know whether your Tai Chi teacher is the real McCoy?  What's the fastest way to find out?  Ask questions! 

Here are the top three questions you should ask your Tai Chi teacher:

1.  What is his/her training background?  While this isn't a guarantee of a good teacher, you certainly don't want to be learning from someone who's training is limited to videos and books.

2.  How is this move used in application?  Every Tai Chi move has a martial arts application.  Usually they're blocks, strikes or kicks.  If your teacher can't explain application it's a serious warning sign.

3.  Will you be learning Push Hands, meditation and Qigong?  These are three important components of any Tai Chi practice.  Missing pieces indicate a lack of experience. 

A good teacher will welcome these questions.   If your teacher is hesitant to answer, or if the answers you get don't satisfy you, it's time to move on.  Whether you're looking for your first, or your next, Tai Chi teacher, click here for Tai Chi classes in the Hamilton area.


  1. I'd largely agree with your questions, but I do have an issue about new students (and quite experienced students) asking about lineage. I've heard some utter bollocks being uttered about lineage, lists of impressive sounding Chinese names. It doesn't mean anything without a lot of study.

    What I tell people is to simply ask to watch a class or two. Most people are smart enough to make up their own minds about what is being taught. Bad teaching, superficial or no explanations about moves, objectives, structure, all these things are quite apparent even for those with no real experience of Taijiquan.

  2. You are right! There is a lot of bluff and bluster going on when discussing lineage, and even credible lineage does not a good teacher make. It's definitely good advice to watch a class or two before signing up. It will tell you a lot about the teacher's style, and a good "style fit" is crucial for a long and productive student/teacher relationship.

  3. I agree with the spirit of your comment, Doug. An impressive sounding lineage does not a good instructor make.

    I have, however, had people, mostly personal trainers, come to my class looking to pick up a new skill to offer their clients. At least one of these fellows though he could come for 4-6 weeks and then he'd be done. (Fascinatingly, none of them bothered to stick around for more than two classes.)

    Asking one of those types about lineage might produce an answer that a potential student could use for bollocks detection. I'd be surprised if any of these quickie tai chi people so much as remembered my name, much less my teacher's or my teacher's teacher's names!


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