How to Choose a Teacher/School
Here are some thoughts from my four and a half decades of practice and teaching.
First, understand that teaching Tai Chi is the wild west.
Anyone can claim anything about their practice and teaching experience.
Secondly, note that Tai Chi has become somewhat divided
into non-tournament schools and tournament schools.
Different schools tend to emphasize different elements of the big tent called Tai Chi.
Tournament schools’ websites will mention medals, trophies and such.
Performers are judged on their external appearance and athletic prowess,
e. g., like ice skaters, platform divers and ballroom dancers.
This is the beginning level of Tai Chi, the physical level.
The Tai Chi Classics, the distilled, written wisdom, tell us that the heart/mind leads the energy and the energy leads the body. For learning purposes, one starts with the initial emphasis on the physical and gradually works to develop awareness of the natural, internal energy.
Also, the Tai Chi Classics say that Tai Chi hinges entirely upon the player’s consciousness. It is the coordination of the heartmind, the energy and the body that makes it extraordinary. Your physical appearance and athletic prowess are secondary to the correct mental concentrations and your energy awareness.
Choose content over penmanship.
Ask the Teacher
The traditional method of being appointed to teach by one’s teacher has, in many cases, been trampled by greed and ego. Sadly, many teachers today are self appointed and without a teacher or a tradition.
“Who was your teacher?” And “Who was your teacher’s teacher?”
“Did you receive explicit permission to teach from your teacher?
Note that some websites will give a list of teachers, well known and/or otherwise. In some cases this means only that they have gone to classes briefly or perhaps they have attended a workshop or two. Such lists might actually be revealing a lack of patience and dedication. Without stating that they have permission to teach from a specific teacher, they are self appointed.
For example, if an instructor claims to teach Prof. Cheng’s 37 posture form,
s/he must be able to trace her/his lineage directly to Cheng via a direct line of teachers who all have received permission, respectively.
Sadly, there are some who are disdainful or unaware of the tradition that has nourished Tai Chi for hundreds of years.
Do not be impressed by a long list of styles and/or weapons studied. It is hard enough to be good at one or two things, much less many. A long list might only indicate a skimming of the surface.
Do your Google diligence. Check out prospective schools’ websites. Do they make their teacher and their lineage readily available? If not, perhaps it’s because they don’t have one. Perhaps they have cut themselves off from the rich roots of tradition and respect.
In the Yang Tai Chi family, we have the words of Yang Cheng-fu, as recorded by Chen Wei-ming. Yang noted that for Tai Chi mastery, five things were necessary in your practice: Belief; Respect; Perseverance; Patience and Humility.
Certifications? Well, who certifies the certifier? A variety of self-appointed “certifiers” have popped up recently. Teaching certificates can be purchased online. Proceed carefully.
While cost and convenience are always a factor, remember that you get what you pay for and you only truly value what you earn.
By far your best bet,
after vetting the school and the teacher as per above, is to visit in person. Talk to the teacher and to some of the students. Many schools offer a free introductory session. (Ours meets every Saturday morning and is open to all.)
Check carefully for demonstration of and emphasis upon the Tai Chi principles.
And look for a place where they are having fun.
Photo: Cloud ribbons, Berkeley County, West Virginia.
Photo by Warren D. Conner, copyright, 2017, all rights reserved.