Greetings. Spring is fast approaching here in the Pacific Northwest. Many bulbs are in flower, buds are growing on the fruit trees. I love this time of year. I have been able to go outside for my practice whenever I want. Great place to live.
Yin and Yang Approach to Learning Tai Chi
I want to share my thoughts, from my experience, about how students learn in Tai Chi. As far as I can see, there is a yin approach and a yang approach. Let’s look at the yin first.
When I first stated my studies in Tai Chi Chuan, I had no idea what it was, only having seen it demonstrated by Master Choy, only once, at a meeting of spiritual leaders. It was 1968, in San Francisco. I was attracted to the beauty and intensity of what I saw so I signed up for a class. At that time, there were no books, no videos, no internet. All I had was verbal, physical, personal instruction from Master Choy. Whatever I learned came from him. I now call this learning method “the yin approach”.
This way to learn is very passive. Information is passed from one person or source to another. The student does not think much about what is being passed. He or she just tries to memorize the physical movements. They learn the how and not the why. I could do the movements much like Master Choy did, but I had not much of an idea of what I was really doing.
Most students nowadays, seem to take this approach. Either they don’t have the time or motivation to go deeper, at least at the beginning, until something sparks their interest. It is at this time that they become “yang learners”.
The yang learner reads books, studies videos, talks to others about what Tai Chi is. I have had several, but not many, of this type of learner. They ask questions, read, and study. They feel free to change the movements according to what they are feeling or thinking. They don’t follow along closely with the instructor, and often the form lacks some essential element. They look at so many different sources, that they can’t settle on one thing.
Certainly, there are yang learners that make this approach a very positive learning tool for themselves. It happens usually after the student has first used the yin approach to incorporate the body/mind connection into their own selves. After several years of being with Master Choy and moving as well like him as I could, trying to understand the verbal information he shared – only then, when I moved away and started teaching, did I realize how important it was to know the history, philosophy, probable health benefits of the art. In fact, my first years of teaching were devoted to teaching exactly as my teacher taught me. It took me a while to add my own discoveries to the form and to my teaching.
So my recommendation is to not spend too much time with outside sources if you have an instructor you trust. Learn all you can from this person. As you start to feel comfortable with what this person is teaching, then add in other information. I would say it takes at least a year of being with a teacher before you can start to understand the lessons. If you don’t have an instructor, and rely on books and videos, it will take quite a while longer. But don’t give up. Slow and steady is the best approach to mastering this art. First focus on feeling, then work on thinking.