Looking For A Tai Chi Chuan Teacher

For the beginner in Tai Chi Chuan, it is difficult to understand something which is mostly a collection of concepts and which can be interpreted in many ways. For instance, since people see that Tai Chi Chuan is done slowly, they commonly assume that Tai Chi Chuan is always done slowly.

Today, there are many teachers of Tai Chi Chuan. Among them are many who are famous and who claim to have inherited the True Transmission of this secret art. But they have students who have realized, after decades of practice, that the theory and practice did not coincide and these teachers were not able to do what the theory said they are supposed to. Therefore, it is very important for one to have a good Tai Chi Chuan teacher.

The Tai Chi Chuan Classics say that there are many incorrect ways to practice and interpretation. To obtain the correct transmission, one must learn from a knowledgeable teacher orally. This means that a beginner needs a knowledgeable teacher to explain and demonstrate the theory at the same time. This is why it is a common saying among teachers that it is easy to be a scholar teacher but difficult to be a martial art teacher. A scholar teacher only needs to explain the theory but a martial art teacher needs to explain and physically demonstrate as well. The Solo Form in Tai Chi Chuan is the practical explanation of the theory. The teacher must be able to demonstrate the Solo Form and to show the practical application as well.

Tai Chi Chuan is an internal art. It is different from most martial arts where each strike much carry power. Tai Chi Chuan's emphasis in on intent replacing actual physical power. However, as a martial art system, there much be power in each strike. Otherwise, how could one expect to defeat the opponent?

Tai Chi Chuan's power is the result of body unity or the body acting as one unit. It does not come from muscle contraction as in most physical activities. Information about body unity requires the teacher to demonstrate to the student so that the student will learn it correctly. This is why we need a knowledgeable teacher to explain and demonstrate how to integrate the body into a unit, not a famous teacher who will give you an earful.

Today, with media availability, anybody can be a famous teacher as long as he can afford it.

Since a beginner cannot distinguish a famous teacher from a knowledgeable teacher, this is like a piece of white paper, anything can be written on it. Therefore, how to choose a good teacher or a knowledgeable teacher is a very important issue for the beginner.

  1. Asking yourself
    Before one begins to search for a teacher, ask yourself what do you want to learn? For what? What are the goals? Tai Chi Chuan is an art that has many functions. People practice it today for the health and self-defense. However, there are also many people who practice it to reduce stress, for meditation, relaxation, physical exercise and simply for the beautiful circular movements. Therefore, it is important to know your goals. Obviously, if you practice Tai Chi Chuan as an exercise, your discipline and training would not be the same as the one who practice it as a fighting art. However, very often people change their goals over time. Therefore, it is good to have a teacher who can teach most of your goals.

    Today, it is easier to find a teacher than in the past. Every teacher and school advertise what they teach in magazines, newspapers, the yellow pages and the internet. You can get most of the information from each teacher and school very easily. In the past, a student did not know what the teacher knew. The teacher simply taught according to what the student wanted to learn and was able to do.

  2. Knowledgeable and famous teacher
    A famous teacher does not guarantee he is also a knowledgeable teacher. It is often just the opposite. As Lao Tzu said "The people who know do not talk, the people who do not know do all the talking." This is so because a knowledgeable teacher has confidence and believes in himself. He does not need to convince people of what he knows. The person who does all the talking does not have enough confidence in himself. He has to work hard to convince people of what he knows. Just like a second hand car salesperson.

    At the beginning, one only knows the famous teachers from magazines, newspapers and advertisements. It takes time to know which one of them is the knowledgeable teacher. The teacher you choose may be good in martial art skills but not necessarily skillful in teaching the beginner. Another teacher may be helpful in teaching the beginner, but his martial art skill may not be very good. Still another may be famous, but this does not guarantee he is skillful in martial art.

  3. The criterion for a knowledgeable teacher
    Generally, a knowledgeable teacher is someone who is able to become a teacher, a problem solver, and an educator. A problem solver refers to someone who is able to teach the art and answer all the technical question. A teacher refers to someone who knows how to motivate a student to learn. An educator refers to someone who is able to incorporate his life experience into his teaching. Therefore, when someone is able to solve problems, he is called a teacher. When someone is also able to teach, he is called a good teacher. When someone is also able to incorporate his life experiences into his teaching, he is called a knowledgeable teacher. A knowledgeable teacher always wants the student to achieve skill better than himself.

    Of course, one can define this further. Solve what kind of problem? Give the true answer or false one? Teach the art of Tai Chi Chuan or something else? What kind of experience?

  4. What to learn
    After we have met an experienced teacher, what do we want to learn? Obviously, we want to acquire his skills. This objective alone is not enough because the best one can achieve is to the same skill level as the teacher. Therefore, we must also learn from the teacher's experience, how he achieved his skill so that someday we will become better than the teacher. This is often called green color came from the blue color and it is better than the blue. In short, at the beginning, the objective is to obtain the teacher's skill. Later, the objective is to have a skill greater than the teacher's.

    As a Tai Chi Chuan beginner, first, one learns each movement from the teacher. After the whole set of the Solo Form is done, one should learn how to apply the concepts of chi and intent in each movement.

    How do we learn from a knowledgeable teacher? Here are the three steps:

    1. Enter the door
      At the beginning of Tai Chi Chuan training, the student begins with the Solo Form, Push Hands Exercises and later weapons. When learning the Solo Form, the student should try to understand the meaning behind each movement and how it is applied. In this step, the teacher often acts as a role model. The student learns his skill, experiences and interpretation of the theory. This is the step of acquiring information.
    2. Complete training
      This step refers to when the student has completed the training and learned all the skills and experiences from the teacher and understands how to apply them in actual situations. The student must not be limited to these skills and experiences but must begin to revaluate and combine them with his own practical experiences. Later, he should present his learning in his own words and understanding. This way, it will truly become the student's. When he is able to present the understanding in his own words and is able to demonstrate what the Tai Chi Chuan Classics say, then he has truly completed the training.
    3. Self education
      Although the instruction is usually the same for all students, nobody practices the Solo Form the same way. This is so because a dedicated practitioner generally combines what he learned with his practical experience. A famous painter once said to his student. "If you learn from me, you will live. If you copy from me, you will die." What he meant is that his student must learn all the paths he went through and how he achieved the highest status. When something is a copy, it is similar only in physical appearance. It has no originality. Many Tai Chi Chuan beginners today fall into the trap of copying everything from the teacher and this includes the teacher's bad habits.

      Among the Yang Family members, everyone practiced the Solo Form differently according to their experiences. Yang Lo Sim practiced the Lao Jia (traditional frame). Yang Pan Hou practiced the small frame. Yang Kin Hou practiced the medium frame. Yang Shao Hou practiced the small frame. Yang Cheng Fu practiced the large frame. Yang Sau Chung practiced the medium frame.

      The variations resulted in different family styles of Tai Chi Chuan today. But they are different only in physical appearance. The essential characteristics of Tai Chi Chuan remain the same. This is why no matter what family style it is, it is still called Tai Chi Chuan. However, many people today do not understand the significance in variations and spend a lot of time learning all the family styles' Solo Form. The Tai Chi Chuan Classics say that a beginner should learn from the teacher orally but the result is based on one's experiences and hard work.

  5. Lineage
    Since it is so difficult to look for a knowledgeable teacher, many people search for a teacher by examining the teacher's lineage. From this lineage, one can tell where the teacher is coming from. Among Chinese people, everything has to be from the same bloodline in order to be authentic. When someone is not born from the bloodline, an alternative would be for one to adapt to the bloodline as a disciple. Therefore, a disciple generally has a very special bonding with the teacher.

    In ancient China, a student of any trade had to become a disciple in order to learn any skill from the teacher and it was very difficult to become one. The same is true to be among the Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan disciples. Grandmaster Yeung Sau Chung searched my father's family three generations back before my father was determined to be qualified to become a disciple.

    It is often said that a teacher spends three years to search for a good disciple and the student spends three years to search for a good teacher.

    In ancient China, lineage was very important. It referred to the members of the same family as sons or disciples. Lineage guaranteed quality. However, in today's commercial society, many traditional cultures have changed. The term "lineage" now refers to the teacher where the student learned the art from. Learning now means years, months or a weekend workshop for others. The bonding between the student and teacher no longer has the same meaning. A student comes and goes as he pleases. Lineage no longer guarantees quality because many people spend a very short time with a teacher just to establish the lineage. In ancient China, people spent their whole life to study under one teacher. They knew that this is the correct way to master the art. Yang Lo Sim spent 20 years with his teacher and became known as "The invisible Yang" from his skill.

  6. Treasure the encounter
    It is common among people today to value what is far away rather than what is close, old style rather than contemporary style, literary experiences rather than practical experiences. Although we are living in the 21st century, the thinking is that a good Tai Chi Chuan teacher has to be from China or because he is a Chinese. As a beginner, one must try to avoid these fallacies. Treasure the people you meet. The person standing in front of you may very well be the teacher you are looking for. Skillful internal art practitioners have a lot of self control and confidence. They often do not like to demonstrate their skills in public, talk about their skills, talk about what they know and criticize others.
  7. Written by Vincent Chu
Copyright © V. Chu. All rights reserved.