How to teach Tai Chi Chuan
by Brigitte Lichtenberger
Recently Shifu asked me to write something about “How to teach Taiji Chuan”. When I was sitting down in front of my computer I realized that “to teach” integrates a lot of things and many more skills are needed than if you practice yourself. Teaching is not the same as leading. Leading may be a start to improve further before starting to teach. To lead somebody or a group you need to have good practical skills. You should be able to break down the movements to the level needed and help with verbal instructions. To teach you need these skills and a lot more to be a good teacher.
I did some research about teaching to break the skills down into this paper and I found some interesting questions to follow: WHAT, WHY, WHO, HOW?
What to teach?
Of course, here I mean Taiji Chuan. Taiji Chuan includes a lot of different aspects. Most people only know about the form. Taiji Chuan is a life philosophy, including martial art etiquette, ethics, breathing, meditation, physical training, listening to your body and adapting in daily life. Even nutrition at the end belongs to Taiji Chuan. That’s why Taij Chuan is a holistic method and should always be included into daily life no matter how you feel.
The longer I learn this art the more I get hooked up and feel the great benefit out of it. Taiji Chuan is a holistic method to improve you as a person and as part of the universe: personality, health, behavior, meaning etc.
Teaching and sharing your knowledge not only benefits the student. As a teacher you learn as much from your students as vice versa and you will improve your skills even further. The practical skills are important to be taught from a teacher adapted to the student’s knowledge, meaning that it is very difficult to learn Taiji just by looking at videos, as the understanding can lead to big mistakes.
This includes for me two questions: who we teach and who is the teacher?
Every person who is interested in Taiji Chuan and willing to get taught, should have the possibility to get training. There should not be a barrier because of any financial, ethnic or age/health related issues.
The teacher needs to have a lot of skills beside having a great knowledge in Taiji Chuan practically and theoretically. First of all, she/he must be passionate about it and patience. A teacher should show leadership, having some organizational skills and create a warm atmosphere to train. Empathy and being a team player are essentials as well.
A lot of students are starting Taiji Chuan having already some health issues. A teacher should know how to break down movements, how to adapt them to the persons possibilities and need.
It is important to hand the student some responsibility for their own body or enforce them to listen to their body. The better knowledge the teacher has about biomechanics, medicine, Taiji Chuan, the better he/she can correct and adapt the student’s movements and behavior.
The most essential points here are the expectations and goal setting from both parties: student and teacher. In group lessons it is not always easy to fulfil these for everyone. The expectations and goals must be double checked on a regular basis.
The teacher has to assess the person’ s level (physically and psychologically) and start from there, give feedback, check again and adapt.
The teacher can use visual, tactile and verbal instructions to teach: identify the most needed instruction skill for the student; mostly a combination is the best, especially in group lessons.
The vocabulary can be adapted as well depending on the student’s origin, age, profession, ethnic, cultural experience. Slowly teach the students the Taiji Chuan vocabulary. The instructions and corrections should emphasize how to do it correctly and not how NOT to do it, as we focus on the things said.
Teaching the meaning why we do something (intention) is for me essential to understand Taiji Chuan. Some students only learn with the meaning new things.
Instructions can be helped with tools like chair, books, papers, oranges. It might help students to observe them better.
The transfer in daily life is for me crucial. To improve health, it is not enough to train once a week 1 1/2h. The students must learn how to bring Taiji into daily life and adapt it to profit to the fullest. They should at the end not train Taiji, but live Taiji Chuan.
Taiji must be pain free. It is an advantage if the teacher has medical knowledge to distinguish between muscle soreness during or after a training or pain.
Finally, a teacher should recommend literature, videos etc. to students that they can gain more theoretical knowledge.
Practically it can look like this. Of course it always depends on the students ability: group size and the time of the lesson
Explain shortly Taiji: Background from Chinese History/Beliefs/ Medicine (Martial Art, Yin and Yang, Ethics), Benefit, explain the Kua and our control center there
How we teach it and why? Foundation importance, self-practice to improve, transferring into daily life, quality before quantity.
Greeting to the teacher
Number 1) and the brief talk can be combined
1) Ma Bu / parallel stance: explain the feet position, where to have the weight and the kneecap alignment, rooting
2) Squatting: sinking down from the Kua: explain the Kua area, explain again the feet and knee’s; spine straight, head upright and chin tucked in (like a book on the head), combine with breathing in/out; work with images to verbally instruct it and chairs/ book to help tactile
3) Swinging of arms: Ma Bu, straight knees, but not blocked, movement comes from the navel back and forth, arms are following
4) Breathing exercises
6) Gong Bu: explain rectangle
7) Rotate waist with hands on kidney points
The sequence may vary in chronology
8) summarize and point out important points to remember till next time or how to implement into daily life (standing at MRT station, sitting down on a chair etc.)
The speed of the following skills depends on the student skills and /or class size
1) Repetition of the above
2) If Ma Bu and squatting slightly works: include the rotation and then go into the first warm up exercise, followed by the second one; careful knee’s: give responsibility to the student
3) Gong Bu; with arms blocking: explain where strength should come from, explain arm length and hand posture (hand posture), spine upright, head straight above
4) Deep split squad for strengthening
5) Golden rooster, go into position from Ma Bu, explain arm length and hand posture (hand posture)
1) Repetition of 1+2
2) Include the third warm up exercise
3) Kicking legs: importance of standing leg, foot position of kicking leg, depending on the kick
4) Rotating arms/shoulders: movement from the Kua; explain optical illusion
2) Start 37 steps till commencement, explain importance of Kua again, explain arm movement controlled by Kua, intention and end posture (thumb mid-thigh level)