What to look for in a good Tai Chi teacher


The Movement is Clear


When exhibiting, the observer should be able to distinguish each technique that comprises each movement in the Tai Chi form.  The teacher should be able to break down each movement into a series of steps when teaching. 


As an example, “Cloud hands” will always have three distinct techniques: 1) Step  2) Shift weight & block  3) Turn waist to deflect


In this example, the weight shift is crucial because it allows the practitioner to “root” into the step and put power into the “block”.  However, it is not uncommon to see this movement done with the block before the weight shift, even by masters. 


Unclear movement derives from lack of ongoing correction for at least the first decade, sloppy practice, or having learned in a sub-optimal manner by simply following.


Unclear movement and careless teaching results in greater and greater dilution of the art over generations.  Therefore, the approach to teaching and practice should be rigorous.


Good posture


It’s impossible to over-emphasize the importance of good posture in exercise and martial art.  Good posture means different things in different arts—grapplers and western boxers stand in distinct ways, often hunching, because of the body mechanics in those systems.


In Chinese internal martial art the head and spine must be straight because all power derives from the “dantien”.


By dantien we mean the waist and, more specifically, the root of the spine. If the back is not straight, the dantien cannot act effectively as a fulcrum to utilize leverage and direct internal power.  Constant whole body connection is required to maintain the continual inertia of tai chi.


Here we don’t mean ramrod straight, but rather naturally straight. [Link: Harvard Health Publishing, "Proper posture the tai chi way", 2018/3/5] There are of course exceptions to every rule, but one must learn to do things properly first before learning the exception cases. This holds true for any field or discipline, physical or otherwise.


Slouching is unfortunately so common it has become a trope to satirize the weak tai chi practitioner in “golden rooster stands on one leg” with a pronounced slouch and the head jutting forward. 


Poor posture indicates careless instruction or sloppy practice. This often arises via informal teaching, where it can be reinforced over generations.  It can also come from teaching the student to “empty the chest” before they are able to do so without hunching.


Many masters become quite old and the body naturally stoops. Some practitioners have a spinal curvature disorder, such as scoliosis.  Nevertheless, if you observe true masters and good students carefully, you will notice they keep their backs as straight as possible within those physical limitations.  However, students following elder masters will often copy their stooped posture, thereby diminishing their own practice and expression of the art.



Examples of good posture in Chinese internal arts


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Yang Chengfu (tai chi)

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Fu Zhengsong (bagua)

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Xia Bohua (bagua)

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Xia Bohua (wudang sword)

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Chen Zhenglei (hsingyi)

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Bow Sim Mark (tai chi)

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Bow Sim Mark (bagua dragon)

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Bow Sim Mark (hsingyi)