Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip #414
Ways of Learning Tai Chi
There have been quite a few questions and comments on ways to learn Tai Chi. What is the best way? As always, I give the same answer: – it depends on your style of learning. I learned by following my teacher. Not much verbalizing. Basically no applications, or much mention of internal energy. Just learn the form, practice, and it will all work out. I call this the outside in way of learning, or physical learning. Look at how an infant learns. It just watches and tries to imitate. Thinking is reduced to a minimum.
The other major way is by reading and study, then put this into a form. This seems to work well for people who are research oriented, like to spend time on the internet, work puzzles. I would say this is a mental style of learner. They ask a lot of questions in class, and movement is more difficult for them to assimilate.
It is not easy for people who are physical to start out with a mental teacher, and vice versa. I learned by doing and that is how I instruct. Both methods end up in the same place, but be aware that it might not be your fault if your studies are not bringing the results you know are being achieved by others.
It is important for me as an instructor to spend a great deal of time in actual partner work so students can experience and understand what Tai Chi’s various energies are. What is the actual difference between pulling and pushing, expanding and contracting, squeezing, bumping, striking, all with various parts of the body. One can imagine, but actually doing these with a partner results in muscle memory that can later be applied to solo, imagined re-enactment.
At one point in my teaching, I spent a lot of time working on Duai La – the counterbalance of energy. When I push an object and it suddenly revolves or moves, will I be able to keep my balance or will I lose my root. Same with pulling, and all the other actions of a Tai Chi player. This skill one will never learn from study. Yes, one can read the words of an instructor telling what needs to happen inside, in order to develop this skill, but just working with a partner will impart this skill much more quickly.
We are fortunate in our small town to have enough interest in the study of Tai Chi that at one time, we had nine teachers. When my students first started to teach, they taught as I taught, as they learned from me. For me it is so rewarding to see how they evolve into their own teaching style as they learn to trust their own instincts and unique abilities. It is difficult for me to have one of my former students, now a teacher, contradict me or try to clarify to the group we are working with, about something I was sharing. Yet, I encourage it, and am inwardly glad they are feeling strong enough to face their teacher and voice their opinion. The longer they teach, the more this happens. One of my long term certified instructors who hasn’t worked with me for years, came to visit a class. He said ““You used to do it such and such a way, and I am the keeper of the original way.”” I would then have to refer him to a video I made at the time we were together to show him he was incorrect about his memory.
So I recommend all students and teachers make an occasional video to check on their progress and have a record of their evolution. Master Choy said he wouldn’t make a video, because then people would not need him anymore. I don’t worry about that. I am fortunate that I don’t have to teach for a living – only for the pure joy of it. I love to be a part of someone’s conscious decision to take charge of their health and well being. Each instructor at The Studio has the same desire. What a wonderful way to live one’s life!