If you have not been hearing it elsewhere, we are consistently telling you about the wonderful benefits of Tai Chi and you probably want to try it. Where do you begin? You know you need a good instructor but you’re not sure where to start. The options on the internet are overwhelming and you don’t know if any of the ones you saw in the newspaper are a good choice. It’s similar to moving to a new town and trying to find a good dentist when you don’t know anyone in the town to ask. Unless you have friends who are taking Tai Chi from an instructor they love you really have no frame of reference. We will help you by discussing some important points to help you begin the search for a good Tai Chi instructor.
First, realize that there are different different styles of Tai Chi and even within those styles, there are different ways of teaching Tai Chi. Some styles require lower stances and have explosive movements that are better suited for young, athletic types who need a vigorous workout. Some styles require significant leg strength and flexibility, whereas other styles have higher stances and can be done by most anyone. There are even some that can be done by people in wheelchairs or those who cannot get out of bed. There are 5 major branches of Tai Chi: Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao and Sun. Within those 5 major branches of Tai Chi there are many variations of the forms which generally fit into 3 categories: traditional, competition and modified.
Second, just as there are many styles and variations of Tai Chi there are many styles used by instructors. Instructors who teach marital applications of the Tai Chi movements for combat focus on precise, technical execution of the movements. In contrast, Tai Chi instructors who use Tai Chi as a method to attain peace of mind pay little attention to the details of the movements but rather encourage their students to “float the movements.” Other instructors act as coaches as they prepare their students for forms competitions, which are very similar to gymnastic events. On the other hand, instructors who use Tai Chi as a way to improve health will target various health concerns in their instruction.
Before you start looking for an instructor, you need to ask yourself some questions. What type if Tai Chi will best suit your needs at this time? What sort of instructor will I learn the best from? If you are looking for Tai Chi for stress relief, working with a coach who prepares students for competitions will stress you even more. In the same vein a person who wants to learn the martial art applications of Tai Chi would be bored and frustrated with the peace-of-mind-type of instructor.
There is still a lot to consider when looking for a Tai Chi instructor, but we hope this information will help you begin to narrow your search. If you find the opportunity to go to a class where several forms are displayed, you may be able to decide which one works for you. Alternatively, if you know what your Tai Chi goals are, you can narrow your options and choose a class that is convenient in location, time and cost. If you go to the class and you find that the form is not right for you or you do not care for the way the instructor teaches the form, do not to give up on Tai Chi. Keep looking until you find the right fit for you.
It is well worth the search and will pay big dividends in terms of a lifelong exercise program that will help keep you fit, healthy and happier as you grow older.
Troyce Thome, Tai Chi for Health
Picture by Marco Belluci