Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 294
I really like young people. Their enthusiasm and excitement for learning is heart warming for me. I would like to share some random thoughts about my experiences with teaching Tai Chi, Qigong, and massage to youth.
When Master Choy certified me to teach, I decided to move to Tucson, so as not to offer any competition with Master Choy for students. (When I started teaching in 1973, there was only one other active Tai Chi instructor besides Master Choy in San Francisco). I opened a studio near the University of Arizona, so most of my early students were university students. I also started my tradition of teaching free classes in a park, on Saturdays, which I continue to this day, 47 years later.
One Saturday a family showed up to participate. The eldest daughter was about 14. I had never worked with someone that young and it turned out to be an enlightening experience. She ended up being a great student, learning all the forms I taught, within a year or so. She then started helping me in classes, and I certified her to teach by the age of 16. Oh yes, she had never been to school. They lived out in the country and she had great, natural intelligence and coordination.
A few years later I moved to Port Townsend. I was always on the look out for a young person I could help along the path to health and a career. After I built my studio, I organized an event called “Give Youth a Chance”, and invited all the martial arts instructors in the area to give a demonstrations and offer a short class for all to participate in. Sort of like test driving an auto before you buy it. They had an opportunity to compare and contrast and get a feel for how specific instructors taught. It was a smashing success. Mostly, the hard styles had kids excited, and there was a smaller group of kids that was attracted to find out more about Tai Chi. I showed them push hands, weapons, short Yang form, and qigong.
One of the high school boys who participated was so turned on that he wrote letters to the governor, senator, and representative describing his experience. They ended up sending me very supportive letters thanking me for helping youth realize their potential. It spurred me on to offering free after school classes for kids. Here are some observations. Remember that this mostly happened 30 years ago, and may seem a bit sexist now. And these are general observations – not true for every person. I only occasional get kids in my classes nowadays.
All young people, high school age or younger, can take Tai Chi classes for free. Still true today.
Through the years I tried mixing the kids in with the adults. It didn’t work well, as a general rule. Kids learn much faster, want more physical action, have less patience. Adults focus more on the meta-physical and meditative movements.
When I first started my after school classes for kids, I mixed the boys and girls together. It didn’t work well. The boys tended to show off, the girls were more quiet and introverted. I then moved into separate classes for boys and girls and that worked out much better. I had a female instructor for the girls and I taught the boys.
The boys were more interested in the martial aspects and wanted more physical interaction. They really got into push hands. The girls tended to be more meditative, so we mixed in more qigong for them. The formal classes went on for about a year. The kids got busy with other things, and I did also. I still see a couple of them around town. There was a young fellow, aged 14, who really excelled. His family was from Viet Nam. He is now, and has been for around 20 years, my UPS delivery person. We have a wonderful connection.
At this time I was practicing a body therapy form by the name of “Trager Psycho-Physical Integration” having learned it myself from Dr. Milton Trager. It is a very Tai Chi like form of physical therapy. I was really into it. In fact, I met my wife at a workshop I was teaching in Portland.
I decided to share this art with the kids. People in the community were aghast. “Teach a massage class to high school kids, a mix of boys and girls. It would never work.” Well, let me tell you. It did. The person lying on the table could wear clothes. One problem out of the way. They learned how to give and take touching from both sexes. I was surprised how well they did. Two of the participants ended up going to massage school after they graduated high school and became therapists. It felt so wonderful to be a part of someone’s career choice, especially in the field of wellness. Since I never had children of my own, it was, and is, important that I pass on the activities I love to the next generation.
The “young” people I work with now tend to be in their 20s and 30’s. Only get an occasional high school aged person. Maybe it is because I am in my 78th year now. And the virus keeps us from doing the partner work that young people so enjoy. The bottom line is that teaching Tai Chi to young people is not easy, but it sure is rewarding when it clicks. I personally am not using Zoom, but that technology is great for reaching young people. Kim Ivy at Embrace the Moon in Seattle has really done a great job teaching Tai Chi and Qigong on Zoom. Check it out at embracethemoon.com.