How To Find The Right Tai Chi Teacher


Why Practice Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is practiced for many reasons.  One reason is for self-care which is used for enhancing your health and healing. The breathing techniques used during Tai Chi can really help you to reduce your stress levels and increase the amount of oxygen in your body. 

Many practice Tai Chi and martial arts to learn how to defend themselves in a fight. We learn how to use what we have with our surroundings, and even with the opponent’s power and strength to defend ourselves. 

Practicing Tai Chi puts you in a flow state of movement. Some people describe Tai Chi as a form of dance. While I wasn’t brought up with that idea, I now see it as a way for somebody to open up their heart as if they would open their heart in dance. The dance isn’t with a partner, it is with yourself. 

Tai Chi is a philosophy of Taoism and can become a spiritual practice in your life. Tai Chi is all about finding your true self, understanding the true nature of the world, and being at peace with it all. Tai Chi can also be about finding acceptance in life, in your being.

Tai Chi can be used yet another way. You simply do Tai Chi as a physical exercise.  You can do the movements quicker to get yourself into a sweat.  Or, you can add weights to your body for strength training. It all depends on your priorities.

Whatever the reason is, it will send you on your way to finding the right teacher.

If you’re interested in martial arts or fighting, then it doesn’t make sense to learn from someone who’s interested in Tai Chi as a movement art or a dance form. If you want to learn to fight, then you have to learn from someone who has fighting experience. It all depends on what you want and why you want to do Tai Chi.

My Tai Chi Story

For me, I asked myself this question years ago, when I was tired of work, and felt frustrated about my circumstances.

I wasn’t making any progress with my life. I was just sitting around in front of the computer typing away and I found myself in stagnation, a state lacking in growth and development. I found my body atrophying, and it wasn’t really healthy for me. 

I wanted to do something that was also part of my Chinese heritage. I looked into doing some martial arts and I ended up doing something called ‘Tai Chi’, which is an internal martial art. I chose this type of art because I was someone who was very much introverted, who was very much in search of what was really inside of me. I felt that it was the right thing to do and a good fit for me. I also wanted to learn more about Taoism, which is a path to inner peace.

I set myself out on this journey to really learn Tai Chi for health reasons. I wanted to get back in shape.  I wanted to have mental clarity and I wanted to make some spiritual progress in my life.

In the beginning I learned the Tai Chi form.  I learned how to breathe as I practiced my movements with tranquility.  I progressed very quickly, moving into advanced classes and push hands practice.  Push hands is sensitivity training that is practiced with a partner.  You feel your partner’s energy coming at you and you respond accordingly.  Then I put on boxing gloves and things changed dramatically…

Tai Chi turned into much more for me as I found myself in competitions. I went through the tournament circuit, doing push hands with the goal of winning. I even found myself fighting in the boxing ring against san shou (kickboxing) fighters.  This was the path that was set before me, and having a few fights made it that much more fun.  But, it wasn’t why I started doing Tai Chi.

So Why Do You Want To Do Tai Chi?

It all depends on what you want and what you can get out of your teacher.  As I said before, there are many benefits to doing Tai Chi.  

Picking the right teacher is important.  You have to have a sense that the teacher you decide to study with is someone you can have a relationship with, someone you respect, and someone you can follow without forcing yourself to do so.

Fortunately, I was lucky and found Grandmaster William CC Chen in NYC. 

Look for a teacher you feel is authentic and ask the teacher for their lineage. Ask the teacher about their tradition and history.

Be careful. There are many teachers who call themselves masters, and who are not really at that level. As a teacher, I never call myself a master. From where I come from, it’s a title awarded to the teacher from his or her peers.  It’s not a title you achieve by attending a certification program or passing a test.

I strongly recommend you learn from someone who is part of a lineage or a tradition, and who continues to learn. Master Chen would always say in class, “I’m always learning, even while I teach, I’m learning.” 

You may also want a teacher who is part of a larger family with Tai Chi brothers and sisters whom you can also learn from. You want to be in a place where there is a large network of support, where there are other students you can partner with in your practice.  Share ideas and advance your art with them.

Here are three things to look for when you are finding the right teacher.

1. Look for the type of relationship a teacher has with students. Some teachers are very formal and their training environments are strict, where students have to wear uniforms for example. Students in this setting have to observe certain rituals and they have to follow a standard curriculum. Students attend classes with a definitive structure where the class begins and ends exactly on time. 

I’m not saying that this is right or wrong. There is no right or wrong. There’s only what’s right for you. 

You may want to have that level of discipline. You may want to have a set structure to help organize your life. 

Then there are others who want to find an environment where you are encouraged to talk or share during training. This is a good way for both the teacher and the student to learn and teach at the same time. Sometimes, a teacher can be unresponsive to the students’ needs. You want to be aware of that.  Teachers can overlook the varying needs of the student.  Some teachers insist on following a certain procedure. And no matter what, it’s their way or the highway.

Other teachers are more spontaneous in their presentations. They are ready to vary the curriculum if the situation calls for something relevant to what happens in class. There are different ways of transmitting ideas.

Teaching Tai Chi does not necessarily follow an instructional book. While you are instructed to learn a form, don’t go about learning Tai Chi as if you are studying math or science academically.  Teachers also transmit their behaviors, attitudes, how they conduct their lives and treat others, in addition to sharing their information and ideas of their art. This is very important to understand. There’s a mind-to-mind transmission that happens with a very special teacher.

Again, it depends on what you want.  Do you want spontaneity or do you want formality?  Do you want a transmission of knowledge or dissemination of information?

Different plants need different growing conditions and how you bloom depends on where you are at your stage in life.

Master and Friend

2. Find a teacher who can also be your friend. During your time with your teacher, you will become friends.  You will be practicing Tai Chi or learning about the Tao together. 

A good teacher tends to treat students as friends rather than underlings. Even though the teacher is more developed mentally or spiritually, they come down to earth and really work on you as an individual, one on one.

There’s a level of respect for each other. The teacher wants the students to decide for themselves how to live, what to learn, how much to practice, and so forth.

There really is no right and wrong. A good teacher wants to create fully independent spiritual beings.

3. Seek out a teacher who wants to work with individuals who are serious about concentrating on their internal practice.  If you care about balancing your body, then find a teacher who cares about being calm and steady, who also cares about being in a  state of equilibrium with nature.  If you want to open your energy channels, then find teachers who make their emotions clear and nonreactive. Most importantly, find a teacher who is serious about calming and soothing their students’ hearts and minds.

These are the riches of Tai Chi and you want to find a teacher who will help you to discover the riches inside your body, inside your being.

Do you want to learn Tai Chi as a martial art?

Do you want to learn Tai Chi to stay healthy?

Or do you want to learn Tai Chi as a spiritual and philosophical tradition, which emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao?

I offer free tips and learning on my social media channels, like my LINKEDIN channel. 

Consider learning Tai Chi from an instructor in your neighborhood where it is possible to show up locally in-person. If there isn’t a teacher in your area you don’t enjoy learning from, then consider taking ONLINE TAI CHI CLASSES. I offer online classes for you to take from anywhere.

Let’s end by doing a quick flow. It’s easier to follow along with my YouTube video for this portion. The video is at the top of this post.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Energize the fingers up and exhale.  Relax back down. Energize the fingers, and relax back down. 

Exhale all the way. Drop into your left foot. Energize ward off right.

Exhale all the way. Drop into your right foot. Energize ward off left. 

Exhale all the way. Drop into your left foot. Energize one hand up one hand down.

Exhale, relax and energize.  One hand up, one hand down.

Exhale drop, and energize. 

Exhale drop, and energize. 

Exhale into your left foot. Then energize with your right.

Shift your weight from right to left and then left to right. 

Find yourself in this flow state. Up and then down.

Energize and de-energize.

Find yourself in this flow state of the beautiful movements of the Tai Chi form.

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