Online tuition
Written by Rachel

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Online training

One of the trends floating around the news suggests that many people prefer to train at home rather than attend the gym, or exercise classes. This all sounds fine, if not a little naive.


The problem with exercise is simple - it is easy to do it incorrectly. The only way to ensure accurate practice is to have it corrected and improved regularly (by a qualified instructor).
That won't happen when people are learning via Zoom or YouTube.

Tuition from an expert

Just this morning I was doing the Long Yang form and Sifu Waller spotted an error in section 2. Not so much what I was doing but how I was doing it. A short explanation and demonstration followed.
The correction unpacked a whole nested series of questions, insights, required changes throughout my entire form and every martial drill I practice.
What amounted to an almost throwaway, casual correction - literally crumbs off Sifu's plate - qualifies as an incredible new direction from my perspective. A direction I could never have foreseen without his help.
I felt that this incident typifies my personal experience of Sifu Waller's tuition.
An apt quote:

"A day with the master is worth 10,000 on your own"

(Scott M Rodell


Making mistakes is inevitable when exercising. It is how we learn. But what if you don't realise that you're doing it wrong? There's a risk of injury, joint damage, headaches and muscular tension.

False sensory appreciation

In Alexander Technique there is an insight called 'false sensory appreciation'. This is concerned with the fact that our bodies relay familiar, habitual information to our brains.
But not necessarily accurate feedback. It is as accurate as we are able to interpret the data being given.

How tuned is your nervous system?

The degree of accuracy provided by our nervous system is determined by how skilled we are. The greater the skill, and awareness, the more accurate the information.
And the better the choices made on the basis of that information.

Regular tai chi classes

When a new student starts a regular tai chi class they are asked to stand with their feet shoulder width apart, with the insides of the feet parallel. Simple, right?
Some people do this just fine, but most people do not. Instead of both feet being parallel, one foot is typically askew.
Does the student realise this? No.
Their nervous system tells them that their feet are parallel. When they actually look down, the truth is quite obvious.


One major stumbling block with both tai chi and qigong is physical tension. Although the word 'relax' may be used a lot in everyday life, not many people actually know what it feels like to be relaxed.
Training these arts with tension is incorrect, and potentially harmful. If you are training at home, watching YouTube, how exactly can you tell how relaxed you? By whose standards? Your own?

Even in our most basic actions, such as sitting, bending and standing, we have developed habits which lead us into an inaccurate assessment of the effort needed.

(Michael J Gelb) 


Tai chi and qigong exercises are never performed in an exertive, stretched or forceful way. And it is not possible to be relaxed and maintain central equilibrium when the movements are being performed in the wrong fashion.
Once again, without correction and accurate feedback, how can you determine whether or not you are exerting?
Judging by what you see online, you may decide that you doing the training properly, when in fact the practice is wildly inaccurate.


Tai chi learning process

In a regular class, as a student works through the tai chi syllabus they discover the difference between what they think or 'sense' is happening with their body, and the actual fact.
This is a carefully guided process of learning.
Working with a teacher and other students enables each individual to enhance their level of awareness and glean more accurate information from what their nervous system is telling them.

Physical contact

Despite what you may think, tai chi is not just slow motion movement. To train the complete art, there are 13 areas of study: qigong, fitness, form(s), pushing hands, principles, brain work (meditation, awareness, metacognition), neigong (whole-body strength), jing (whole-body power), self defence, martial skill, chin na (seizing), shuai jiao (take downs) and weapons.
A tai chi for health person won't learn the martial material, but they will still benefit from pushing hands and other partnered methods taught in the curriculum.
How can partner work take place online?
A silly question of course.

Social support

Students in a tai chi school are encouraged to interact with one another in a healthy, friendly manner, free from the competitive norms found in wider society.
There is a supportive atmosphere of trust and care. The training hall is a safe place to be.
Interaction with the instructor is of particular importance, as this commonly entails the passing-on of knowledge, bespoke physical corrections and the exploration of deeper philosophical issues pertinent to the training.
Ideally, a tai chi school should be a good place to be: a pure place. There is no meanness or petty behaviour, no malice or sarcasm. Good humour, camaraderie, polite manners, consideration, respect and fun result in a pleasant training environment.

Supplementary tuition

DVDs and online lessons etc are only 100% safe when they take place in conjunction with real world, actual tuition with a qualified teacher.
The supplementary material adds to what is being offered in class. It serves as an aide-mémoire. It does not replace class tuition.
And every week the student is being corrected by a person who is standing in front of them.

Online tai chi tuition

In a nutshell, somebody who is a novice - in any endeavour - will struggle to tell right from wrong. Not because they're stupid. But because they don't know any better.
Zoom and YouTube exercisers are training without correction, and perhaps have no plans of ever being corrected. They can't tell right from wrong.
When it's your body and your health on the line, this seems like a somewhat risky gamble to be taking...

Worth reading

8 active ingredients
More than exercise
Over-taxing the body  
Preventative healthcare 

It is said, "Missing it by a little will lead many miles astray."

(Wang Tsung-yueh)

Page created 18 April 2005
Last updated 16 June 2023