I am extremely excited to be able to finally make suggestions for how a person can learn tai chi at home. This is something that I have never been willing to do in the past because most tai chi videos were poor quality or hard to find. Worse yet, some students coming to my class who worked to learn basic tai chi online hadn’t made much progress. Some time was even spent unlearning some of there movements. This has all changed because technology has transformed the way we can get access to high quality instruction.
The ability to learn tai chi at home is dependent on the quality of the materials. As a whole, practitioners need to see each movement multiple times from multiple angles and have a way to ask questions or contact the teacher. The tai chi form needs to be taught in segments and there should be specific teachings focusing on posture, stepping, and breathing,
I still teach tai chi and think everyone would benefit from attending a class if there is one near them. But not everyone is lucky enough to have a class nearby and the global health crisis is making tai chi distance learning the only option for some. The good news is that high quality online tai chi classes can now be found with real students getting real results. Here is what you need to know to find a high-quality class and suggestions for three incredible tai chi classes that are the right level for anyone.
Really? Can I Learn Tai Chi Online?
There are a lot of opinions as to whether tai chi can or cannot be learned online using videos or with books. Let’s put this argument to rest and then talk about how to choose resources to learn tai chi chuan at home.
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?”
Here’s an email I got that makes the point:
“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. The error in this argument is thinking that good teachers are not teaching tai chi distance learning courses. This used to be true. But now, with teachers from Wudan Mountain and Chen Village offering online courses, having a good teacher and learning online do not have to be two different things.
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 an in-person 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? Almost every skilled tai chi practitioner in the west began by watching a video or reading something, tried it out, and eventually found a class.
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. But in every style, the basic chorography is the first step. This can absolutely be accomplished with video instruction, not to mention further development as well.
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
What are the best videos for learning tai chi?
Great instruction (video, book or live) of tai chi have one guiding principle: to set your body up so that you inherently move correctly to feel and get the mental and physical health benefits from tai chi. Your weight is on the correct foot, the joints are not locked, and blood flow is not restricted. In order to get to this point your materials have to meet a few criteria.
- Visuals: Clear, slow, repeatable actions get you moving the proper way quickly. Some of the best courses out there show the move from both sides with the person not too far away. Initially, you just want the arms and legs moving in the right direction but eventually you will have to be able to see finer details like what the hands are doing.
- Organization: The best tai chi videos show the whole form and then break the form into segments. This is no different than how it is taught in person. One error that I do see in some tai chi instructional courses is when teaching a move, they don’t show it in terms of the move that comes before and the move that comes after. What happens is that a student doesn’t learn the transitions between moves and they look a bit robotic.
- Reading: Videos are incredible but many of us have been conditioned to absorb material by reading. Written accompaniment makes you say “oh, that’s what he is doing.”
- Movements: 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 part 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. So a good video talks about or shows the relationship between the individual moves and then entire form.
- Aside from learning the movements and their general order, there are four tai chi principles that must be taught throughout:
- Posture: 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.
- Breathing: Breath is life! Tai chi is driven off of slow, deep belly breaths and much of the health benefits of tai chi are due to learning how to breath properly.
- Stepping: Stepping incorrectly is the primary cause of soreness or injury in tai chi. We never step by landing with all our weight on a foot. You “empty” step and then transfer your weight onto the foot. The toe also has to be in alignment with the knee. This is the best tai chi for beginners advice I can give and it should be covered repeatedly when you learn the form.
- 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.
Lastly, 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.
Best Way to Learn Tai Chi At Home
You can imagine that we get asked this question all the time and even more now with people working from home and looking for ways to stay active. Here are three courses that we absolutely love. They combine great videos, a high level of organization, additional materials, and in some cases access to the teachers or other practitioners. Secondly, people who take these course actually complete them hinting at great organization and explanations. Thirdly, and most importantly, the forms that people are learning from these courses are proper, enjoyable, and people are benefitting
If you are new to Udemy.com you are in for a real treat. It is like an online university where instructors can keep their courses. This means that these courses are high quality, well organized, you can access the course creators, and they meet all the criteria mentioned above.
Your choice between these three tai chi distance learning courses is largely based on your preference and physical ability. All three are great but if you are brand new to tai chi and just want high caliber teaching, choose the Wudan course below. Some people know that they want to study a specific style of tai chi so I included a Yang Tai Chi course that I really like and a Chen Tai Chi course. Yang style is more focused on balance and health aspects. You are also more likely to find other Yang practitioners to workout with because it is the most common form. Chen style is equal parts health aspects and martial aspects and is therefore a little bit more physically demanding. It shouldn’t scare you off though. If you are looking to get in shape or want to do the original tai chi form, this course is for you.
I think this is the best tai chi for beginners and you get to learn tai chi with an actual Taoist Master, Master Gu!
Chen Village is the birthplace of tai chi and Chen style retains more of the original characteristics of tai chi, deeper stances, issuing of power, and martial applications.
The Yang 24 movement form is probably the most popular tai chi form out there. It’s fun, beautiful, and has a focus on posture and health. It’s more than likely that if you learn yang tai chi at home that you will be able to also find a nearby community to practice with.