Tai Chi Instructors
I, modestly, admit to being one of the longest serving full time Tai Chi instructors in the U.S. This is going on my 47th year of teaching. Length of teaching doesn’t mean much besides persistence and a love of the art.
Speaking for myself and all the Tai Chi instructors I know, we teach the art because we love it and realize how much benefit we have gotten from our practice. None of the instructors I know have gotten wealthy from teaching. Most, like Master Choy and myself, just make enough money to keep classes going after paying for rental of a teaching space, insurance, advertising, web site fees, and other related expenses. We teach because we love what we do, want to help others, and the teaching allows us to continue our own studies with outside support. Plus, we feel we “have to” teach. This is what we were put on this earth for.
Because I live in an out of the way location, visitors to our group must make an effort, and will certainly have researched what and how I, and the rest of our instructors, interpret the Yang style of Tai Chi Chuan. I do my form differently than anyone else, other than the people who have learned from me. I like being different and appreciate that quality in others. When I encounter a different form for the first time, I attempt to understand what is motivating each movement. One could travel the globe staying at Hilton hotels and eating only at McDonald’s and never experience how difference makes life interesting.
The root and overall direction for my Tai Chi is Yang style. Because this style of Tai Chi is the most popular in the world, we tend to think that it must be the same or similar. But, that is not so. It is my experience that instructors in the U.S. are more individualistic than their counterparts in China and other Asian countries.
The most popular Tai Chi form at the moment is the Yang 24, which is a sort of “Readers Digest” version of the traditional Yang 108 Long Form. It is easy with this standardized form for large groups of people to do the same thing as they practice together. It is so beautiful to see hundreds of people moving in synchronized motion. I got involved with Tai Chi because I saw Master Choy and some of his students demonstrating the form. I had no idea what Tai Chi was, but the beauty of the movements just opened my heart. That was it.
There are a few aspects of the Yang 24 that I don’t care for. One is forward stepping. In the 24, the practitioner steps the rear foot up next to the forward foot, touching the toes, then steps forward with the same foot. It has the quality of placing the stepping foot next to the forward foot before stepping out. For me, that is a waste of time and places the body in a very narrow base of support. Easy to get knocked over. I can’t imagine how it has practical applications.
I asked one of the 24 players why she did this and she said it was easy on balance. After all, she explained to me, Tai Chi 24 is really a Qigong exercise for older adults. Especially ones with balance issues. Notice the “holding the ball” posture so often used between movements. Why? That makes it easy to visualize a Qi ball of energy, as well as aiding balance.
One of the aspects of the 24 I enjoy is the repeating most of their moves to both sides – right and left. When practicing by myself, I often do my form to both sides. I think it is a positive to work on training both sides, but not equally. If I was left handed I might really focus on doing the form to the left side a majority of the time. There is no reason (other than most people are right handed and that is their strong side) to do it the way we do.
I like Qigong, and practice and teach quite a few different exercises. I view Tai Chi as a martial qigong exercise, the word martial is important in my interpretation of the form. When I was training for my acting career, we used to do quite a few pantomime exercises, so audiences could instantaneously understand the personality of the character. It is much the same with Tai Chi Chuan for me. I use pantomime of real actions in the most realistic way I can, using the Tai Chi principles. No extra fluff thrown in to soften the already soft martial aspects.
So, train like an actor in a silent movie. Study your character and how it interacts with the others in the (imaginary) cast. Be clear about what you are trying to share (applications). Put your heart into it and you’ll enjoy the results.