Can tai chi be learned by video? What are the best resources for learning tai chi?
There are a lot of opinions as to whether tai chi can or cannot be learned using videos and books. Let’s begin by putting this argument to rest and then by talking about how to choose resources that give you the benefits of tai chi.
Opinion #1: You need a good teacher to be able to learn tai chi.
I think that everyone involved in tai chi would agree with this statement. However, this idea doesn’t take into consideration the life that 90% of us have. We work, we live in remote places, our income doesn’t allow us to take a certain class, attend a workshop, or fly to China. By believing this opinion too strongly we exclude thousands of people that can benefit from tai chi but who think “Well if I need a teacher then what’s the use?”
The email usually looks like this:
“I am highly interested in taichi but I live in Rhinelander, Wisconsin (pop. 8000!) and there are no classes available. I have researched a ton online but don’t know what is the best way for me to learn taichi. Any thoughts?”
So yes, having a good teacher improves tai chi, piano, weightlifting, everything. Why are we willing to dabble and have fun with so many interests in life but poo-poo pursuing tai chi alone?
Opinion #2: You can’t learn tai chi from a video or a book.
Again, I think that everyone involved with tai chi would agree that having a teacher is better but I have two questions for you: How did you start studying? How high was your motivation when you finally attended a conference, bought more resources, or met up with other practitioners in your community?
We all have to start somewhere. Even if you are in class, the initial stage of learning tai chi and qigong is choreography. This means that you are facing the right direction, the hands are where they should be, the movements are in the right order, etc. There is a huge celebration when the form is completed because you can start to reap the benefits of the form.
So let’s recap on the perfect world scenario and then work back down towards the reality of our situation.
1. Fly to China and study for a few weeks with an accomplished master in a style.
2. Study under a master who has classes in your community
3. Attend workshops of traveling masters
4. Attend a nearby tai chi class under someone who has been studying for a while
5. Find resources online that instruct you on tai chi or qi gong
6. *Do 4 and/or 5 and do number 3 AS MUCH as possible.
Opinion #3: You can’t learn real tai chi without a teacher
What I am about to say may sound weird. I am telling you that it’s weird not so that you think it’s weird, but so that you know – that I know – that it’s weird. Hang with me. If you do a form enough you start to get an inherent gut feeling when a movement is out of alignment. This is how tai chi has a huge impact on life. You are practicing and paying attention to these patterns, coincidences, and feelings and make adjustments. Then in life you begin to do the same. Someone says something at work that makes you feel a bit icky. So you hang back during a meeting when you would normally launch in with your opinion. It goes disastrously for the other person and you sit there unscathed.
Great instruction (video, book or live) sets your body up so that you inherently feel what is correct. Your weight is on the right foot, the joints are open, and blood flow is not restricted. In order to get to this point there are a few critical points that you need to take into consideration. If you do, then the form can begin to “speak to you.” I think these points are essential and that is why I use them as criteria to evaluate products.
What are the best videos and books for learning tai chi?
Clear, slow, repeatable actions get you moving in the proper way quickly. I would rather learn an 18 move form exquisitely than a 76 posture form poorly. Shorter forms still include the core movements of tai chi which will benefit you later because longer forms are highly repetitious.
Videos are incredible but we have been conditioned to absorb material by reading. Written accompaniment makes you say “oh, that’s what he is doing.”
In tai chi you are always moving as though a thread is being pulled up at the crown of the head and down from the tailbone. Proper posture is more important than deep postures. A video has to show several angles so that you can see the postural alignment.
Opening of “gates”
Properly learning tai chi requires that the armpits and hips are not closed and the knees and elbows never go smaller than a 45 degree angle. This is hugely important because closed “gates” restricts your blood flow, reduces sensitivity, and limits your power. A video needs to clearly show posture changes that can’t be seen with poor video quality or baggy clothing.
Learning tai chi initially is all about choreography. You have to be able to see where each foot and each hand are and which cardinal direction you are facing. This is the hard one with most videos. You can’t transpose yourself onto the screen and know if it is the right or left hand or which direction to go because the video is always opposite.
For those of you that don’t want to do your own research, this is a product that I absolutely love. It has the best of both worlds. It combines video technology and writing. The movements are shown in time-lapsed photography so that you get a real sense for what direction you should be moving in. In full disclosure, because we like this resource we decided to become an affiliate of the writer. If you like what we are doing at TaichiBasics then support us by purchasing it through our link.
Learning Tai Chi on Your Own
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The risk of the glass ceiling
How I learned tai chi. I became interested in tai chi and began attending a Yang Style class that was very convenient. I met great people who I am still friends with today and learned a form. However, my progress was limited by my teacher’s limitations. He was a really nice guy and was teaching me well but I mistakenly perceived his abilities as being really good. I did everything that he said and then would beat myself up for not experiencing all of the reputed benefits of tai chi. The power, the internal energy, the improvement on my daily life.
Then I attended a conference of a Chinese teacher who now lives in New York. In 2-3 hours I brought energy out of my hands, defeated classmates in pushhands, and improved my posture. So I left the class I had been attending to work on these skills “alone.”
Soon I found that I was not alone. I met three guys who arrived at the same realization that I did. They met in a park and were able to demonstrate mad skills. They refused to take a teacher, not because of bureaucracy or money, but because they didn’t want a limited view on what was possible. They saved their money and traveled to nearby cities for workshops and then got together to practice what they learned for 4-6 months.
Then the reading, videos, and online information began. Not because I was unable to find a class but because I was highly motivated and my appetite for new information was insatiable.
Through conferences I got to know the Chen family consisting of Chen Qing Zhou and his son Chen Youze and have consistently stayed with their form and practices. I regularly attended conferences of visiting Chen stylists. After a number of years Chen Youze suggested that I begin to teach to share tai chi and to improve my own skills through instruction. I continue to attend workshops, host workshops, and teach weekly for free.
I can’t express in words how tai chi has positively impacted my life and am constantly looking for a way to share. Choose your resources wisely but don’t discount your ability to learn tai chi where you live and within the limitations of your schedule. Any exposure (including videos, books, and online resources) can spark a person’s interest to get them moving along The Way.