If you are a teacher or a student of tai chi then this article is for you. Actually, this article conveys one of the main goals of this website; expanded practice of taichi. So many benefits have been ascribed to tai chi that it captivates the interest of nearly everyone. However, we lose a lot of students who start off highly dedicated and then stop practicing. So what happens? Let’s start with some reasons that attendance is important and then talk about ways to increase involvement of practitioners.
Why increase the number of tai chi practitioners or why keep practicing?
- Increased number of practitioners globally: Not to sound too Pollyanna but by practicing tai chi we are contributing to a global sense of community and wellbeing. If you are thinking “Meanwhile, back on earth…” and are not yet at a place where that is conceivable, it can’t hurt right?
- Deeper development of Tai Chi in the U.S.: The more advanced as a group we become, the better instruction we receive in visits from China. I have already seen a shift in workshop content from the basics to more advanced topics at times.
- The bottom line: We could get snarky and say that more students equal more income which is true. However, if you are good enough to earn a living from helping people then we would hope that you are compensated and can pay the rent.
How do we sustain the group we work out with or make it grow?
The following information comes from multiple teachers and from a survey that I conducted with my students. Attendance of a free community class was low or intermittent. I was reluctant to do a survey because I feared the answers but it was the perfect opportunity because pricing was not part of the equation. I was happy to learn that much of the concerns were things that I could easily fix.
Creating Progress in Tai Chi
- Show progress: Completion of a Qi Gong Set or a Tai Chi Form goes a long ways. And there should be some reward for it (applause? T-shirt?). In tai chi we don’t typically have a belt system so marking progress in tai chi is more nebulous. Dedicated practitioners often abhor the idea of belts because belts don’t equate to progress. Many tai chi practitioners gravitated away from other martial arts for this very reason but the Japanese and Korean system might have something to teach here. I would never advocate a belt system for taichi but the human intellect still likes to know that they are moving in the right direction.
- Make tangible progress: Refer to the articles marked “Key Concepts” because nothing hooks a practitioner like actual progress.
- Work out: No, this is not cross-fit but after 20 years of athletics, weight lifting, and a stint in the military, some of the most grueling workouts I have experienced were in taichi private lessons with Grand Masters. When my student’s thighs are sore from proper pole-standing or they break a sweat they are gratified (and asked for more!). Internal strength takes a while to develop and be sensitive to. Our society craves feedback and light fatigue and sweating is sometimes expected after “activity.”
- Ask about injuries: Share old sports injuries or repetitive (mousing) strains because the tai chi cannon and specifically the silk reeling sets have movements to cure and strengthen injuries. I invite students to share and when I can fix it we both are pleased. I have a friend who fixed the posture of a professional bass player, eliminating hours of pain, and gaining a long-term student.
- Share resources: The water cooler conversations include tons of topics that you have probably read in tai chi magazine, books, or seen online. Print those for the next class and bring them in.
I was extremely proud the first time I brought a student through the Chen long form. It reminded me of an artist I heard talk of the importance of his first $50 sale. When one practitioner advances we all do, and that includes society as a whole.
For more reading, here is a pretty bright and entertaining cartoon version of progress in tai chi. Brisbane Chen Tai Chi