A method

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What are you paying for?

A tai chi student is paying for lessons in tai chi. They are paying to be taught material in a methodical, proven, systematic way. This is not a random, haphazard process.
The student is paying for the instructor's expertise; both in employing the art and in teaching the art.


Usually, students do not fully listen to the instructor... Instead, they second-guess, interpret and then do whatever it is that they think is best... This is a poor course of action.
It is predicated on an assumption: that the student is capable of determining the most effective way to gain skill at tai chi.

When you come to the dojo, it is a recognition the teacher there has something you want. He will give it to you in his own way. You must accept that. If you do not, you are free to leave. The dojo, however, is never run by consensus.

(Dave Lowry)


The problem with interpretation is that students filter the teachings relative to their own perceptions. They sift through the information, choosing what to listen to and what to discard.
This may happen consciously or unconsciously.

In lieu of...

It is quite common for a student to proudly announce to the instructor that they have deviated from the syllabus:

  1. I am working out at the gym

  2. I am reading books other than those on the required reading list for my grade

  3. I have been attempting to perform skills that are from a higher grade (e.g. 3 tier wallbag)

  4. Instead of watching a class DVD I have been trawling through YouTube looking at what other people teach

  5. I have been practicing exercises from this book I bought rather than the exercises you are teaching

  6. I bought a tai chi DVD from another teacher and I'm making quite good progress with it

  7. I spend so much time attending night school exercise classes that I have no time to practice your material

  8. I do meditation with the Buddhists

  9. I do qigong elsewhere

What possible response can the student expect from their instructor? The above statements reflect disrespect, stupidity and the utmost naivety.


In Chinese culture, if a student is paying for lessons with a given teacher, it is considered monumentally offensive to learn material elsewhere when it is being offered by your teacher.
Western students often lack even the vaguest sense of manners or etiquette, let alone consider the fact that a tai chi syllabus is already fully comprehensive.
Randomly incorporating practices from elsewhere will wreck the tai chi you are being taught.


If a student possessed the ability to interpret the syllabus in a meaningful, productive manner, they would be teaching a class not attending one.
Their opinions, notions, views and misconceptions reflect a very limited viewpoint. Lacking the benefit of long experience and hindsight, the student makes decisions from a confused, muddled standpoint.


Often a student jumps to conclusions. This is particularly naive. Tai chi is an art that involves continual on-going change and development.
To stop at any given point and decide that you 'understand' is extremely foolish and always incorrect. Even an instructor is in flux

Fundamentally, it is giving up yourself to follow others.
Most people mistakenly give up the near to seek the far.
It is said, "Missing it by a little will lead many miles astray."

(Wang Tsung-yueh)

Tai chi fighting method

The syllabus represents a 'method' for approaching tai chi. It is a step-by-step process for introducing, practicing and refining the material.
Students are taught the art relative to comprehension and ability

The Ancients

By following the method earnestly and carefully, the
student has the opportunity to penetrate the mysteries of the art.
They are literally and practically applying the teaching of the most ancient Chinese sages. Tai chi is a living tradition. Isn't this amazing?

Follow the method

A student cannot hope to attain real progress with tai chi if they ignore or interpret the teachings of their instructor.
They are quite literally incapable of second-guessing with any degree of reliability. By what criteria can they possibly judge value/meaning/relevance?

Being a good student

The answer to learning tai chi properly is to simply do what you are told to do; without deviation or alteration. All of it.
Not just the parts that you think are appealing or seem most important to you.


Upon reaching what is perceived as an ideal goal, the artist discovers something entirely different. The artist is suddenly confronted with the fact that what was thought of as perfection of technique was merely the introduction to it.

An entirely new vista has opened. The artist must be prepared to turn his gaze from the heights that have so recently been gained, and prepare for the ascent of the peak suddenly found beyond them.

(Dave Lowry)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023