Fit to teach?

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Why do you want to teach tai chi?

The pay is not good.
Running your own business presents many challenges e.g. marketing, promotion, accounts, insurance, resources, premises, finding a niche, handling clients, personal and professional development, implementing a syllabus...
It is not the same as just attending lessons as a student. Question your own motives.

Do you have what it takes?

A student may decide that they can be an instructor. This sounds reasonable. However, can a student assess this for themselves?


It is like a person deciding that they want to climb a mountain. Have they researched the criteria? Do they meet with the necessary fitness standards? Is their skill level adequate?
Can they be trusted to do what they are required to do?

Opinions are not facts

You may think that you are good enough... So what? You are not an instructor. You have not climbed the mountain.
From your perspective you cannot even see how high the mountain is or understand what is involved. Only the most arrogant person decides for themselves that they are instructor calibre.


Your teacher will assess whether or not you are fit to be a instructor. It is not for you to decide. What qualities does your teacher seek? You need to be:

  1. Friendly and personable

  2. Interested in other people

  3. Caring

  4. Reliable

  5. Earnest

  6. Committed

  7. Trustworthy

  8. Genuine

  9. Punctual

  10. Motivated

Beyond this, you need to have actual talent. You cannot be lazy, indifferent or emotionally unbalanced.


Becoming an instructor takes a lot of time: literally years... You need to be closely guided by a skilled and knowledgeable instructor. It is easy to make mistakes.
Your instructor will set you many tasks to determine your attitude. Laziness is your worst enemy. An instructor works far harder than a student.
If you lack the motivation to do what is necessary, you would make a very shabby instructor.


Your instructor needs to see how you respond to a variety of challenges e.g. Can you handle difficult students? Do you work well under pressure? Are you organised? Can you articulate well?
Are you capable of conveying complex information in a differentiated fashion?
The instructor needs a good measure of your character before committing to training you.
If you are not suitable, then instructing is not for you.

What makes you think that you are fit to instruct?

To quote Plato: "The knowledgeable one knows the ignorant, having once being ignorant; but the ignorant one does not know the knowledgeable, never having been knowledgeable."
Only the most naive individual decides for themselves that they are an instructor. It is for your instructor to decide if and when you are fit to instruct.


To teach English in a UK school, you need:

  1. English GCSE

  2. Literature A-level

  3. Literature BA degree

  4. English PGCE

How many years will it take to acquire these qualifications? 18 years. At the end of the university course, The Newly Qualified Teacher is awarded probationary status, subject to on the job evaluation.
They are still not considered to be a fully-trained and experienced teacher...

Standards are necessary

To drive a car, many lessons are required... but are you now fit to teach others how to drive? Are you now also a driving instructor? Can you speak fluent Spanish after a year of lessons? 
Can you teach Spanish?
Equivalent standards exist in every facet of society: engineer, plumber, joiner, mechanic, nurse, doctor, chef, lawyer, accountant, scuba diver, piano teacher...
The list of occupations/hobbies/services/pursuits requiring a professional standard of competence from their instructor/facilitator is virtually endless.

Not teaching

Examples where no active teaching is taking place:

  1. Spotting
    - students are shown what a mistake looks like
    - they work with other students and look for that mistake


  2. Helping (learning-by-helping)
    - a teaching assistant might assist in preparing the room or cleaning up afterwards
    - they may greet new starters
    - they may undertake responsibilities in class that exceed those of the average student

  3. Leading
    - a more experienced student performs exercises in front of other students and the junior students follow along
    - this involves simply copying/imitating

Teacher training in our school

There are a number of stages to work through:

1) Health & fitness

  1. Teaching assistant (tai chi for health)

  2. Assistant teacher (tai chi for health)

  3. Tai chi for health teacher

  4. Tai chi for fitness teacher

2) Martial

  1. Assistant instructor (taijiquan)

  2. Taijiquan instructor

  3. Kung fu instructor (baguazhang, chin na, shuai jiao & taijiquan)

How to gauge your tai chi teacher...

Quite a lot of people claim to 'know' tai chi. Typically they mean 'tai chi for health'... Yet, if you ask them a few simple questions, they almost always flounder.
When faced with a potential charlatan, most people ask all the wrong questions: teacher, style etc. Who cares? This is not the root of tai chi. Focus on the essentials.

10 questions to ask a tai chi teacher

Try asking these 10 metacognition questions:

1. Which treatise(s) would you consider to be The Tai Chi Classics? Which author is most accessible to you? And which parts do you struggle to put into your practice?

2. What role does 'shen' play in tai chi?

3. Explain the significance of 'folding'.

4. The name of the art refers to the 'yin/yang' diagram... So, how does tai chi use yin/yang?

5. Illustrate the difference between 'jing' and 'li'. What bearing does this have on 'peng'?

6. What does the expression 'invest in loss' refer to?

7. Explain the difference between the first 4 powers and the second 4 powers.

8. Which of the Taoist Classics do you find most relevant/pertinent to tai chi? And why?

9. What is 'mutual arising'?

10. How does '4 ounces of pressure' operate in practice? What are the active/passive manifestations? And how do they differ?

If a tai chi teacher cannot answer every question comprehensively - verbally & physically - they are not skilled enough to be an instructor. Look for somebody who can provide good answers.

Most people are on a path with a dead end. They train ten years and they end up with nothing.

(Paul Gale)

Page created 7 April 1995
Last updated 20 December 2020