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How much do you know?

Thinking of the tai chi syllabus in terms of percentages is interesting. And inspiring.
How much of the syllabus do you actually know? Approximate percentages for student grades:

  1. Beginner (health) = 1% of overall syllabus studied

  2. Lower grades = 6% studied

  3. Lower dan grades = 56% studied


Instructor grades know:

  1. Instructing = 61% of overall syllabus

  2. Expert = 80% of syllabus is known

  3. Mastery = 100% of syllabus is known


Sifu Waller would contend that nothing is truly mastered, and that everyone should be continually expanding their knowledge/skills/understanding.
Knowing 100% of our syllabus does not mean that an instructor knows 100% of all that can be known about tai chi. That would be absurd.

How long will it take to become a tai chi teacher?

Remember: before teaching, you must have something to teach. You must know the art thoroughly.

Learning how to teach

A school teacher must be educated for 17 years before commencing the 9 month teacher training course.
An Alexander Technique teacher requires 3 years full-time training.
A piano/music teacher studies for about 10 years before considering teacher training.
What about a ballet teacher? A mechanic? A joiner? An electrician? A yoga teacher? A scuba diver? A driving instructor? An accountant? A doctor? A lawyer?
All of these time scales are contingent upon ability and aptitude.

Although it might seem that the necessary time to master the requisite skills and attain a level of expertise would depend upon the field and your own talent level, those who have researched the subject repeatedly come up with the number of 10,000 hours. This seems to be the right amount of quality practice time that is needed for someone to reach a high level of skill and it applies to composers, chess players, writers, and athletes, among others.

Although the number of hours seems high, it generally adds up to seven to ten years of sustained, sold practice - roughly the period of a traditional apprenticeship.

(Robert Greene) 

Beyond teaching... expertise?

Being an expert is more than just talent. You need to put in the work. An expert must have at least 10,000 hours of practice behind them.
Dr. K. Anders Ericsson found that this was true of any art; whether tai chi, dancing or playing the piano.

Not so simple...

However, it is not just 10,000 hours... It is 10,000 hours of continued improvement, insight and development.
10,000 hours spent doing the same thing doesn't lead to expertise because the individual is still within their comfort zone.
For more detailed insights and information regarding 'deliberate practice' we encourage you to read Dr Anders Ericsson's book Peak.

The maths

If you worked a 35 hour week for 47 weeks a year, it should only take 6 years to become an expert at your job. The key factor here is practice time.
If you want to become good at tai chi, you really need to train at home between lessons.


Traditionally, students were encouraged to spend long, long hours each day drilling their qigong and tai chi. This is how Sifu Waller was taught.

Hence the Chinese homily: "I have eaten more salt than you have rice." Training this much has pros and cons.


Sifu Waller does not advocate the traditional way of home training. He suggests that students limit themselves to a reasonable amount of training relative to how much material they know.
e.g. a beginner would train up to an hour but no more than that. In lieu of enormous amounts of daily training Sifu Waller advocates patience.


A student who attends tai chi lessons most weeks over the course of a year may accrue 80 hours of practice each year.


A keener student attends one class a week, workshops and also trains for an hour a day at home. This could mean 400 hours of practice each year - five times as much as a casual student.


It will take a casual student 5 years to accumulate 400 hours of practice by class attendance alone.


How long does it take to learn to play the guitar? How many lessons are needed to speak Japanese? Obviously it depends upon your purpose. Do you want to be the next Segovia or Clapton, or just to play a few simple tunes? Do you intend to translate haiku, or are you simply preparing for a two-week vacation? Although the skill of your teacher and your talent level will certainly influence your progress, the duration and intensity of your study will be determined ultimately by the level of expertise that you seek.

(Michael Gelb)

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Page created 21 May 1996
Last updated 16 June 2023