Teaching tai chi

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Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach...

A tai chi teacher can and does. If you cannot perform tai chi to a high level, then you have absolutely nothing to share, nothing to teach.
Please note that personal aptitude with tai chi is certainly not the same as knowing how to teach the art skilfully.


A sports coach offers learning guidance and support; gearing the practice towards the acquisition of defined competences. This is quite different from being a tai chi
In tai chi, you cannot retire from active practice and share your knowledge as a coach.

A master of tai chi or qigong does not enjoy the luxury of many coaches in modern sports like football and athletics who often cannot dribble a ball or run a race half as well as the students they teach. As mediocre instructors are so common nowadays - some even start to teach after having attended only a few weekend seminars - finding a great master is like finding a gem in a hay stack.

(Wong Kiew Kit)

Fit to teach?

In order to teach any subject, an instructor needs certain requirements:

  1. Subject knowledge
    - the information the instructor plans to impart

  2. Experience
    - a good instructor should have at least 10,000 hours of deliberate, mindful practice behind them
    10,000 hours of continued improvement, insight and development
    - at least 100 private lessons with the instructor
    - the instructor should be practicing (by themselves) more than 2 hours a day


  3. Teaching skills
    - the ability to explain things logically and thoroughly
    - metacognition
    - reasoning
    - articulate
    - engaging
    - awareness
    - compassion
    - humour
    - patience
    - differentiation
    - time management


  4. A goal
    - aim, objective
    - purpose of the lesson


  5. A syllabus
    - defining the components that will enable a student to achieve the objective
    - a path leading to the knowledge
    - a scheme of work
    - how the student will proceed

  6. Topics
    - breakdown of the syllabus into modules of information
    - logical building blocks
    - small steps along the path
    - teach according to the students ability to learn

  7. Discrete lessons
    - a lesson is an opportunity to explore a given skill
    - examples must be provided
    - thought-provoking
    - stimulating
    - encourage enthusiasm and participation
    - engage the student
    - allow for different ability levels

  8. Proof
    - examinations, tests, grading
    - pressure-testing
    - an increasing scale of hardship

A good teacher offers the student an opportunity to work through the defined curriculum at their own pace.
They provide assistance (and occasionally obstacles) in order to foster growth and continual development.

Although much has been written about the deeds and idiosyncrasies of famous tai chi masters and how to learn tai chi, it is a remarkable fact that very little has been written about teaching the art.

Tai chi teachers have teaching methodologies which would quickly earn them the sack from an academic institution. A typical example is the practice of many teachers to rely upon students merely copying their movements, and then moving on once the student can do the technique more or less correctly. There is seldom any explanation or correction, the emphasis being on monotonous repetition.

(Dan Docherty)

Tai chi teacher

The most common type of tai chi teacher is the health teacher. They are usually skilled with qigong, tai chi form & pushing hands and have at least 5 years experience. 

Kung fu instructor (Sifu)

Tai chi chuan (dynamic balancing boxing) instructors must be very skilled with tai chi and have at least 10 years experience.
There are usually 3 levels of instructor:

  1. Instructor

  2. Expert (at least 10,000 hours of practice)

  3. Master

All kung fu (Chinese boxing) instructors should possess rigorous internal martial arts skill.

Teaching tai chi as a martial art

If you watch wing chun applied in combat, it looks distinctly like wing chun. The same could be said of judo, aikido, ju jitsu, pencat silat etc.
By the same reasoning, the martial art of tai chi must look like tai chi. What does tai chi look like in combat? Tai chi looks like tai chi. The form, pushing hands, you know... tai chi.
If the martial expression of tai chi does not look like tai chi, it is probably not tai chi.


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Page created 2 August 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023