Tailored learning

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In modern culture, people like the idea of being able to choose from a menu. They select. The choice reflects their own preferences, tastes and values.
Personal trainers and do-for-you tradesmen capitalise upon this; providing people with exactly what they ask for. At the heart of choosing is the desire for personal gratification.

An idea

Applying the mentality of personal gratification to learning is problematic. To begin with, the new student does not fully understand the nature of what it is they are seeking to learn.
If they fully understood, they would be an expert already, not a novice. In lieu of understanding, the person has an idea, a notion.

What is an idea?

An idea is simply what you think something is. Ideas arise from our memories, experiences, what we have encountered, things we have seen or read.
They are influenced by our own ability to see; our interpretation, our level of comprehension. By definition, a new starter has no experience.
Therefore any ideas they have formed are inevitably erroneous since they are based upon a false understanding, belief rather than fact.

Ideas versus reality

People like the idea of tai chi but not necessarily the reality. They want a quick fix, instant fighting skills or the ability to perform beautifully choreographed routines after a couple of lessons.
This is fantasy.

Promising the world

Some unscrupulous instructors promise tai chi skills overnight but they are deceiving their students. As with any art, a student must commit to weekly lessons and daily practice.
There are no shortcuts.


There is a lot more to tai chi than talking, reading books, participating in on-line discussion forums or downloading video clips.
The tai chi is found in your hard work, your patience, endurance and perseverance. Talkers seldom even complete the most basic level of training.

Hard work

Hard work alone is not enough, though. Simply working hard will not necessarily lead to progress.
It needs to be deliberate, focused improvement designed to improve your practice by developing key skills outlined by your instructor.
The student must implement corrections, study the recommended books, undertake assignments and challenge their comfort zone.

The beginnerís enthusiasm is such that he cannot imagine what blocks could lie ahead to halt his progress. If some decisive challenge to his continuing on does occur at this early stage, he will likely abandon his practice altogether.

(Dave Lowry)

Ideas are just ideas

The danger with ideas is that people confuse the idea with the actual. Your idea of tai chi is based upon your experience of the art and how you choose to interpret what you have seen.
This will not necessarily correspond with reality. You should be careful not to warp reality to suit your ideas; this will only lead you astray and result in frustration.

Emotional investment

When somebody has an idea in their head they often invest a great deal of emotion in that idea. It becomes valuable to them.
They are prepared to argue for it and sometimes even fight for it.

Confirmation bias

In the case of tai chi, if you have a strong opinion about tai chi, then you start classes looking for a confirmation of your view.
Your opinion is naturally based upon the degree of exposure you have to tai chi.
If you start a class with certain expectations in mind, you will like or dislike the class relative to whether or not the class meets your expectations.
This is not a prudent way to commence your study of tai chi; the art does not exist to gratify the individual.


The tai chi system is built upon certain key precepts and these must exist if your class is teaching real tai chi.
If these qualities are missing, then you are not even learning tai chi - regardless of how much you like the class.
Tai chi is not about popularity. It is not about who taught who. It is a martial art and has very clear guidelines for practice.


Not everyone cares for the degree of work required of an artist. When many people start tai chi they imagine that it is an easy option; no work required yet wonderful results.
Life is not like this.

Real curriculum

Many tai chi classes are tutored by people who have seen a fraction and believe it to be the whole.
Teaching people a fragmented view of tai chi is deceptive; it denies the student the richness of the complete art.


No matter what the style, tai chi practice must always contain the tai chi principles. Any genuine teacher should be able to demonstrate the abilities mentioned on the principles list.
The instructor should also possess personal liability insurance and be following a coherent, methodical syllabus. It is not enough for the instructor to practice tai chi themselves.
They must also be able to teach it to you.


The danger with ideas is that you can go badly astray. How? Consider Chinese culture...
Some Western tai chi people litter their houses with kitsch Chinese paraphernalia and become obsessed with the contemporary culture.
They visit the graves of dead tai chi masters and stand in tai chi poses.

Find the art

If you want to understand the culture that spawned tai chi, look to the Tao and Zen, read The Tai Chi Classics and martial principles not your local New Age/feng shui shop.
Tai chi is not about three legged toads or I Ching mirrors. The art stems from ancient Chinese culture, not modern. It resides in tangible history, not superstition, folklore or sport.

Cherry picking

New students often have a wish list of things they want to learn. They will even ask the instructor to teach them specific skills i.e. stick.
Similarly, the student may decline to do certain things because it may not please or gratify them. The problem with this approach is that the student has no idea what the scope of the syllabus is.
They do not know what skills must be acquired, in what order, how and why.
By seeking to focus only upon what they think is important robs the student of the opportunity to learn from the only person who actually knows what they are doing: the instructor.

Looking stupid

Cherry picking has serious drawbacks. Our syllabus offers a balanced, step-by-step approach to gaining a thorough and comprehensive understanding of tai chi.
Emphasising the parts that you like best or omitting the aspects you do not care for is self-indulgent and will lead to major gaps of knowledge and skill.

Being a tool

Consider: you want to learn French but you have no interest in verbs... You want to be a chef but do not care to chop... You seek to drive a car but do not like to turn left...
See how ridiculous this seems?

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Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 30 November 2023