How to teach Tai Chi


My teacher often repeated that you can't teach Tai Chi, but only introduce the Form. Of course, when we as  teachers in our turn do just that with our students, we soon understand that nobody will do what they  don't want to do, and that this resistance is profound and unconscious. So setting a programme and insisting on  adherence to it seems unlikely to produce creative graduates, and more likely to attract those who feel comfortable being human tape recorders. But freedom to act according to circumstance lies at the heart of Tai Chi Chuan.


Thus, for the student, when it comes to learning the Art in the Chinese way,  the Form may initially seem to be very structured. This can be both reassuring and totally infuriating for the student.  Impatience often blows up to the surface as the months and years pass.


Over time, though, learners may find that their personality changes, from a wildly oscillating, mood driven bundle of desires to something more centred and responsive. Flexibility starts in the mind. 


Someone might then say, "Nah, you just turned forty," but  what if 'turning forty'  didn't have to entail a loss of energy, and enthusiasm for life? Calm is not stagnation. 


As we become used to feeling grounded and centred, the ability to 'see' the flow of things starts to show up more and more, since we're also quieter, and able to listen more.  Within flow, harmony, connection and responsiveness, the quality of Intent can sometimes be seen, like an idea inside a gust of wind. If you're quick, as quick as that idea, there's a small chance of jumping aboard the wind. 


My feeling nowadays is that these points are vital in introducing Tai Chi to others:


Firstly that we watch the student move, and lose ourselves for a while in what is going on for them, so that our advice is informed by acquaintance, and doesn't merely attend to the superficial elements of their work.


Secondly, we should honestly intend that the student achieve more than we can, not less.


Thirdly, as  practitioner/ teachers, we need to be aware of  desires within ourselves. We want to pass on the knowledge, which can result in an unhealthy need to create students who are identical reproductions of ourselves.  And bear in mind the biological urge to reproduce, which takes on many forms, not just biological ones.

The ability to transmit Tai Chi is in direct proportion, I believe, to the ability to let go of self.


Fourthly,  we need to  keep up our  own practice, allowing  that practice to go deeper and deeper so that we're not just practicing with the constant thought of "How can I teach this or that aspect?"  but that we're practicing the art itself, developing our love of it and allowing it to take good care of us. In short, we should let go of our imagined status.


So how to teach Tai Chi? Wrong phrasing. How to transmit Tai Chi Chuan? Constantly work at  becoming aware of and reducing your agenda, and watch as intent rises in another person, as it has with you. Look out for them as the almost irresistible stream of desires knocks them about, and encourage their trust in the vast  store of intuited understanding which waits inside us, and our miraculous bodies.

Or as my teacher's teacher advised, "Teach what you know, don't make anything up."

 How to study Tai Chi


Studying Tai Chi, we take on a number of ideas: a band around your waist and a point inside the lower abdomen can steer your movements, your breathing can harmonize with the cycle of effort 

 (gathering strength and realeasing it), your coccyx can be relaxed and drawn under to align your back and its muscles moe usefully, etc. etc.


Simultaneously you're forming shapes as you move, the purpose of which may well seem elusive in the beginning. Often a shift in the mind can occur, which aids movement but suspends internal discussion, making it oddly difficult to recall in words what you were doing just an hour before. 


Repetition, as with any skill, is key, and yet you might try any trick for months to avoid practising sufficiently. Alternately, you may find the copying of movements very easy, and feel you've mastered the whole thing in a short while. Both these strategies are the antics of the conscious, analytical, daily, mind, which may be reluctant to surrender any ground, even though it was involved in getting you to a class in the first place. Slowly space is made, and that busy consciousness derives quiet and centre from the study.


One of the challenges of this acquisition process is how long to spend in the analytical part of the mind.

The apparent confusion and mystery in which you might live for a time while studying Tai Chi are not the products of a weak analytical mind so much as a continual re-immersion in the connective intuitive mind. Returning from this part of awareness often removes the words with which to report to oneself the insights gained. Slowly and reliably, this changes.  

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