T'ai Chi Musings

There is a paradox that faces every T'ai Chi Instructor. "Should I teach what the student needs, or should I teach what the student wants"? Because they are certainly not the same thing. Sometimes what the student perceives is not necessarily what the Instructor is trying to teach!

In the traditional Chinese way of teaching students would spend weeks if not months, repeating the same move until the teacher was satisfied that they could not only do it, but they had a thorough understanding of what was happening within the move itself. This was a daily routine and not a once a week class. Today in the west we are in such a hurry to get things done, to learn all the moves of the set in a very short time, that we convince ourselves that having learned all the moves of the set, that we are doing T'ai Chi. Indeed, in some T'ai Chi organisations you can become an instructor within a year of starting to learn the set.

Of course, the beginning student does not know what is good instruction and what is bad. Having said that, if we taught the traditional Chinese way we would have very few students! When I began learning some 26 years ago, I used to get frustrated when a student missed a class and the Instructor spent nearly the whole class going over what the student had missed. I wanted to get on and learn the whole set. What I didn't realise then was that repetition was one of the keys to learning.

Herein lies the paradox. The student has paid their hard earned cash to learn T'ai Chi, not to keep repeating the same thing week after week. But in order to learn good T'ai Chi, we need to keep repeating week after week. Repeating and refining the same move. For instance the most important move in the Traditional Yang Family T'ai Chi form is "Grasp the Birds Tail". This is the whole essence of the form. If you only ever practised Grasp the Birds Tail and noticed and worked on all its nuances, you would have enough material to keep you busy for a lifetime.

Tell that to a beginning student!!

Enough for this session. Certainly to be continued.

Alistair Sutherland
Principal Instructor.

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