Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 436
Pictures, Words, and Video
There are three ways to teach Tai Chi and Chi Kung (Qigong) from a distance – words, pictures, and video. What I am trying to do with these weekly training tips is to use words to share with you my experience with Tai Chi so that you might increase your enjoyment of this wonderful art form.
Just using words to instruct this and other movement arts, has so many limitations. First, it limits who can access what I have to say. Even though this newsletter goes out world wide, there are a limited amount of people who speak English, and of those, there are still fewer who can grasp the subtitles of the language to understand what I am attempting to explain.
That is the great value of video. One doesn’t need to hear words to view Tai Chi and reproduce these forms in their own body. Of course, the internal work that goes on inside the experienced player is not easily understood just using video. If one has been studying Tai Chi for sometime, it is possible for the student to pick this up just by watching, but certainly not for those of limited practice experience.
Many people who have just heard about the many benefits of Tai Chi practice, first buy a book. The book contains words and pictures to convey the idea of what Tai Chi is. My first attempts at teaching Tai Chi at a distance were two kinds of books – how to and why to. The first – how to, are much more difficult. Words just can’t describe the subtle ways the body moves or how the idea (yi or intention) sends the message to the core (dantien) which then takes the rest of the body into motion. I feel I did a fairly good job using words to “remind” students of the details shared in classes. Where is the right hand in relation to the left foot at the end of a specific movement, etc. But how to get from here (one picture) to there (the next picture) is very difficult to describe. Poets do a better job than most.
The first books I wrote were “how to” books. Before the internet was popular, I wrote a Training Manual for my students. No pictures, just words to describe the moves, the directions, the focus, etc. It wouldn’t have been much use to people who weren’t attending my classes.
The next book evolved out of my online lessons. Now pictures accompanied the words and I could show more details, especially applications.
I then wrote two “why to” Tai Chi books, besides this newsletter, to turn people onto why they should continue practice – 108 Insights into Tai Chi Chuan and 101 Reflections on Tai Chi Chuan. Why to books are much easier and fun to write, and can be quite free form. Yet they are so important to motivate students and keep them on the path. Why to books can be enjoyed by people studying any form, even people who don’t practice Tai Chi yet. Why to books can be quite useful for all aspects of life, while how to books are much more specific to your chosen form. How to books are not as useful to people studying with a teacher, unless that book is written by your teacher or someone in your lineage.
Video has many advantages. The student can see other practitioners move in ways that his or her own teacher might not be able to. He can see recognized masters, and tournament champions. In well produced video, the teacher can describe what is happening inside as well as demonstrate the outside. Video can also give people, inexperienced in our art, a chance to compare styles and teaching techniques. Someone in Africa can study with someone in the U.S. and get feedback if desired. Truly wondrous.
Of course, the best way to learn Tai Chi is to be with a teacher. My process of learning was first, to study with Master Choy. Then I read my first book. Then I started to teach and wrote my first articles. Read more. Studied with other instructors. Watched video. Always incorporating what I thought was important to help me and my students find more enjoyment and benefit from practice. So use all the media you can, and be open to adding new information as you do. If you are studying with a teacher, don’t make changes without consulting him or her.