Life coach?

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Not a 'life coach'

Just for the record, your instructor is not a life coach. They are not a guru or a personal trainer either
. Nor would they wish to be one.

The student

People of all shapes and sizes come to learn tai chi. Everyone has different bodies, physical habits, experiences, emotional states and psychologies.
Often the student has lofty ambitions and hopes for achievement. This is understandable...but often naive.

It's all part of life's rich pageant.

(A Shot In the Dark)


Many people nowadays want immediate gratification. They consider themselves to be a 'Very Important Person' with privileged status. They want acknowledgement, credit, validation.
Their sense of ego and self get in the way of learning. Instead of listening, they filter. They 'cherry pick' and make very little progress (and blame the instructor), often quitting within a few weeks.

The job

The job of a instructor is to try and turn the student into a martial artist. This may sound straightforward but is in fact beset with major obstacles from the onset.
People are frequently unhealthy (but unaware of it), seriously unfit, their minds are filled with misconceptions, cluttered with trivia, news, politics, gossip, TV programs and various opinions.
Usually their attention span is so poor they can barely concentrate on the work at hand


Unlike a coach, the instructor is not going to try and motivate the student. They simply offer the material.
If the student chooses to attend lessons every week, practice at home between lessons and watch school DVDs, they will probably make good progress.
If the individual decides to make no effort whatsoever, this is their own business entirely

The sensei is not a therapist. The goal of the dojo is to make healthy people healthier, physically and psychologically and spiritually. It cannot be expected to repair badly damaged human beings. As so if a member exhibits serious personal problems, the sensei's job is to get rid of him, gracefully if possible, forcefully and definitively if necessary.

(Dave Lowry)


Tai chi is based on the yin/yang principle. A comprehensive grasp of Taoism is required.
The instructor will demonstrate Taoist principles through physical examples and by way of stories and anecdotes. These all serve to encourage the student to go and read the texts for themselves.


The Taoist model of thought is very important for a student to understand and employ. It helps them to see martial situations in a manner conducive to the proper application of tai chi.
Whether or not the student seeks to utilise the insights in other areas of their life is entirely their own concern.


Just as Taoism encourages the student to see harmony, moderation, grace, tranquillity, balance and flow, Zen is concerned with presence. Seeing what is right in front of you.
Not opinions, ideas or speculation. What is actually there for all to see. This is 'the truth'. Not my truth or your truth, but the truth, the fact. The truth is as real as a punch in the face.
You cannot talk away the pain of impact or the damage it caused
. Truth is real, tangible and concrete.


Let's assume that the tai chi student gains a rudimentary grasp of Taoism and manages to remain in the here and now, they still need to address fitness, alignment, tension, sensitivity etc.
Before they even think about fighting. Usually, machismo, anger, aggression, fear and arrogance impede learning
. Most students are simply not fit for combat.
If they went down to the local MMA club they would be in for a real shock.

One is taught in accordance to one’s fitness to learn.

(The Silent Flute)


Krishnamurti was a spiritual teacher. He was approached by people from all walks of life seeking to address some problem in their lives.
Despite thousands of discussions, Krishnamurti never actually offered advice nor coached anyone. Instead, he unravelled their requests and explored their motives and intentions.
Usually, the inquirer was quite shocked to discover that they were deluding themselves and asking for something quite unrealistic


Instructors should carefully avoid becoming embroiled in the lives, egos and idiosyncrasies of their students. It is simply not their job. This is not the 'service industry'...
The teacher teaches the art; they are not a guru, personal trainer or life coach.


Everything that takes place in a tai chi class is about learning tai chi. The teacher has enough to deal with in class without being concerned about the lives of students beyond class.
Ideally an instructor would like every student to train tai chi every day, but they have no means of enforcing this

Befriend the man who is brutally honest, for honesty is the highest form of respect.

(Daniel Saint)

Learned helplessness

Students tell instructors that they can't remember the teachings or they can't find the time to practice... The instructor isn't interested.
They have their own concerns: renting the hall, cleaning/tidying the hall, maintaining good relations with the hall owner, purchasing equipment, keeping track of student progress, refining the syllabus, promoting the business, book keeping, paying bills, answering e-mails, maintaining an on-line presence, dealing with students who struggle, bullies, the keener class members, their own family, their own training, their own relationships and time management concerns.


We are all responsible for our own lives. Making complaints to the instructor sounds weak and disorganised; like a child asking mummy for help.
Even if the teacher wanted to help, how could they? Why should they? It is important to keep in mind that the instructor's role is not to say things that please you.

Not interested

Beyond tai chi your instructor has no real interest in your life. Unless the news is good/uplifting. Why would they?
Do you really want to hear a list of complaints from your instructor? How hard it is to make ends meet/no time etc? How busy they are?

Of course you don't
. Well, they feel the same way about you.

The good oil

Share the good stuff in your life, not the funk. If you've accomplished something and feel proud of yourself. If you had a training breakthrough. Don't brag or boast or show off.
Your instructor would be happy to hear how you overcame adversity, showed grit and character. They just don't want to hear you moan.


Ideally, student and instructor need to develop a relationship that is mutually beneficial.
The instructor passes on their skills in the hope that their trust and patience is being invested in someone who appreciates the significance of the information.
The student is aided in their discovery of the art, and makes steady, on-going progress. There should be mutual respect and friendship between student and instructor, without undue formality.
A good relationship between student and instructor involves two people travelling down the same path together, and enjoying whatever comes their way.

"Aslan is a lion - the Lion, the great Lion."

said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion..."

said Mr Beaver, "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good."

(C S Lewis)

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Page created 18 April 2009
Last updated 16 June 2023