Teaching levels

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In a tai chi class people are often required to work together. Sometimes a more experienced student may help other people out. Are they teaching? No.

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


The inexperienced student lacks the necessary knowledge-base to actually teach tai chi.
Yes, they can effectively 'lead' a follow-me group, but this remains a far cry from teaching because the process is essentially passive. It makes little demand on the student's knowledge.

Teacher training in our school

There are a number of stages to work through:

1) qigong & tai chi (fitness training)

  1. Helper

  2. Teaching assistant

  3. Assistant teacher

  4. Qigong & tai chi teacher

2) Martial

  1. Assistant instructor (tai chi)

  2. Tai chi instructor

  3. Kung fu instructor (chin na, shuai jiao & tai chi chuan)


Teaching is a dynamic process. The depth of the teaching is determined by the knowledge-level and aptitude of the teacher:

  1. Instructor
    - an instructor can perform all aspects of the curriculum skilfully
    - they can observe, identify and correct faults
    - easily comprehensible examples and illustrations can be provided
    - a scientific approach demonstrating correct/incorrect methods is evident
    - the basic principles of the art are evident
    - full differentiation is apparent
    - martial skill is thorough and comprehensive
    - questions can be addressed with relative ease


  2. Expert
    - the material is much more familiar (at least 10,000 hours of experience)
    - 10,000 hours of continued improvement, insight and development
    - a far broader degree of context and understanding is shown
    - biomechanics, martial skill, The Tai Chi Classics and Taoism are intertwined
    - adroitness with 36 Strategies, The Art of War, The Book of Five Rings is evident
    - The Tai Chi Classics are the primary resource for highlighting the nature of the art
    - The Way and Its Power is frequently referred to and readily demonstrated
    - Te is fully understood
    - lessons concerning jing, 13 methods, neigong, chin na, shuai jiao, weaponry, self defence and meditation are all immediately to hand when teaching

  3. Senior instructor
    - every aspect of every exercise, form, drill and application is fully understood
    - the subtle nuances, the relevance, the interconnectedness of all things, the significance of the seemingly trivial
    - a broader cultural and historical richness is evident
    - complex physics principles are rendered straightforward, comprehensible and apparent
    - applications look more like 'sleight of hand' rather than brawling
    - the training is subtle, understated, with no need for aggression or competition, no need for reciprocity or validation
    - a high-level communicator
    - can cope with any question or uncertainty with a gentle ease
    - possesses the ability to reverse-engineer/dismantle the art

Big differences

An instructor essentially reproduces and passes on what they have been taught by their instructor. No particular initiative is required. Just aptitude and teaching skills.
By contrast, an expert can not only perform the material very well - and teach - but they possess a significantly better awareness/understanding of the principles underpinning the art.
A master is a whole different deal. They have developed new material/exercises. They have developed innovative new methods for deepening knowledge and skill. They have created a syllabus.
They may even have published some of their insights on-line or in a book or magazine articles.


Teaching and not-teaching ultimately comes down to context. An instructor understands tai chi from a broader perspective; they know why things are done.
The student may know what is done, but they do not understand how or why well enough to be teaching anyone.

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Page created 9 August 1999
Last updated 23 October 2023