Is it a Tai Chi myth or misconception that you can learn how to do Tai Chi Chuan from a book?
From the early days of the written word, Tai Chi Chuan Masters have passed on their knowledge to their students and whomever wanted to learn about their style of Tai Chi Chuan. Because of the scarcity of writing materials, most of the early material took the form of short cryptic passages that required interpretation. In the last 50 years, we have enjoyed an abundance of information about Tai Chi Chuan, the different lineages, the many styles, and the various Masters who have devoted their lives to their Arts and it’s transmission to the next generation.
Most of this information has been interpretations of the early Masters and detailed explanations of the various forms and applications. Magazines are devoted to the different Tai Chi Chuan styles and a month doesn’t go by without a new Tai Chi Chuan book on the shelf. Within the last 20 years, we’ve seen the proliferation of Video Tapes, and then DVDs. Ever since video sharing websites, such as YouTube, have gained popularity, a new Tai Chi Chuan video seems to be posted every day. Recently, I’ve discovered a few membership websites that offer Tai Chi Chuan or Qigong lessons for a monthly fee. On these sites, you get access to streaming videos, forums to discuss your training with other members, and email access to the “instructor.”
With all this information floating about, you may wonder if someone could truly learn Tai Chi Chuan from a book, a video, or the internet.
Before I answer that, let’s list the hallmarks of a good Tai Chi Chuan teacher.
Hallmarks of a Quality Tai Chi Instructor
- Deep understanding of their style of Tai Chi Chuan.
- Good teaching skills.
- Can trace their lineage
- Continually improving their skills
- Understand the needs of individual students and adjust their teaching accordingly
- Challenges the student to higher levels of proficiency
Now, let’s take that list and apply it to learning from books, videos, and the internet.
Without a doubt, there are many authors and makers of video and internet content who have a deep understanding of their Arts and the various intricacies of their Tai Chi Chuan style. I know of several who are excellent teachers with impeccable lineage and can trace their Art back to it’s roots in China. And any teacher worth their weight in gold is constantly learning, not just about their Art and Style, but about many topics.
There is one thing a book, video or internet site can’t do, at least not yet, and that is give you individual attention. They cannot give you corrections on postures and forms, they cannot assess your progress or layout an individualized training regimen that is individualized to your current level of fitness and knowledge of Tai Chi Chuan.
For the beginning student, this is crucial, not only for their knowledge and enjoyment of the Arts, but for their health and safety as well. There have been many times where I’ve had to modify postures or movements for a student because of chronic conditions, or even for temporary ones such as a sprained ankle. Only a teacher who has been training you for a period of time can know what you’re capable of and can push you to the next level. The great ones can do that without you realizing it!
Don’t get me wrong, all the information that is available to us is critical, not only of our continued education in the Arts, but for its survival as well. To be able to pass this material on to future generations is imperative. For anyone who has a firm understanding of the Tai Chi Principles, this information is priceless and can be a constant source of new learning.
The Downside of Learning From a Book
All this material can be overwhelming to a brand new student resulting in the them giving up. Tai Chi Chuan is for everybody and for every body. Learning in a group environment from a skillful teacher is fun and challenging. Tai Chi Chuan, and Martial Arts in general, can take years of practice to gain a high level of proficiency. Even if you’re not interested in becoming a high level Master, learning the fundamentals from an experienced and knowledgeable instructor can keep you from developing bad habits, give you in depth knowledge, and point out the pitfalls of incorrect postures and movements.
Use of books, videos, and the internet should compliment your training, not be the sole source.
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