It is very important to find the right teacher
If you’re new to Tai Chi you may be wondering what’s the big deal about finding a good teacher. There are a plethora of books and video instructions available on the topic, so why take the trouble to seek out a teacher? Like everything else in life, I believe it is crucial how we start building the learning blocks which form the foundation of what we are trying to master. We can learn on our own and try to be smart about it, but when nobody is there to correct our mistakes, we will only go down the wrong path without even realizing it. Stay humble and seek out a good teacher if you are serious about Tai Chi and you will never regret it. Also, to quote Steve Jobs, don’t settle until you find the right one! You will know in your skin and bones when you have found the right teacher.
1. An experienced teacher
It is good to find out the lineage of the teacher and who his or her masters/ teachers are. Years of teaching experience is as important as the teacher’s range of knowledge. Take time to feel out the teacher. It is equally important for the student to observe the teacher as it is for the teacher to get to know the student.
2. Good teachers tend to attract a harmonious community
The community formed by the teacher and students is important in determining the sustainability of your practice. Usually, there are social activities that the community participate together to develop the rapport between one another. The harmony within the community creates a pleasant energy field for one to practice in.
3. A teacher with good instructional skills and people skills
A Tai Chi teacher is more than just a teacher — he or she can be a mentor in life too if conditions are aligned. This is because Tai Chi is an integrated body-mind practice which is deeply connected to one’s thoughts and behaviour. The longer one practice Tai Chi, the more benefits and changes one will experience. It is important to match one’s teacher with one’s personality, temperament and needs because it is a long-term relationship if one plans to make Tai Chi a lifelong practice.
4. A comfortable environment in a practical location
One should feel very comfortable in the environment where one is practising. If it is located in a dangerous part of town or is far from where one lives, it will be more difficult to make the commitment to go to class.
5. Look for the right class size
The class size depends on one’s learning preferences. Some prefer one-on-one instruction, others prefer to blend in the class. Personally, I think it is important for a student to receive personal corrections from the teacher, so the class size should reflect the ability of the teacher to pay enough attention to each student.
6. Trust your instincts
Reflect on how you feel towards the teacher and trust your own emotions. You don’t want each class to be a battlefield, especially when you are trying to relax and sink into your body. Find a teacher whom you respect and can trust. Your instincts will be able to guide you to the right teacher. They say, when the student is ready, the teacher shows up.
7. Consider the costs
This is as much a practical advice as it is a way to gauge the teacher’s experience. Some teachers charge more because they have more to offer. Costs should not be the ultimate deciding factor in choosing a teacher because there are usually ways to work around it. One can volunteer for the community and contribute in ways that one can if financial means is a deterrent.
8. Understand your goals
Part of learning Tai Chi is getting to know oneself. However, everyone embarks on this journey with a different motivation. It is good to reflect on your intention and to communicate it clearly on why you have decided to take up Tai Chi. This will also enable you to align your goals to the right teacher.
9. Pick a style
Lastly, pick a Tai Chi style that suits your goals and temperament. Some teachers teach a variety, others concentrate on one particular style. I think it is more beneficial to train in one style and progress at it then to train in many styles as a beginner.
Reference: Wayne, P. (2013). The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart and Sharp Mind. Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boston.