Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.


Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Sunday, May 08, 2022

How to be a Great Taijiquan Teacher


Below is an excerpt from an article at Thoughts on Tai Chi about how to be a great teacher. This is a huge topic. The full post may be read here.

Lately, I’ve been asked by a few individuals who liked my writings to not only write something more about learning and studying, but also to write something that focus more on teaching aspects. So far I have written a whole lot about learning (like this post) and how to become a good practitioner. But teaching is something that I have always been reluctant to write about. First, teaching is something very individual and I don’t like to preach about how others should do it. As students are all different and different types of students need different types of teaching, there is no real point in telling people about what is bad or about who can’t teach. But still, teaching is an interesting subject which is hard to completely disregard.

But also, before getting starting with trying to verbalize my thoughts on how to be a great teacher, I should be honest about that, as a teacher, I don’t consider myself as anywhere near great. Nowadays, I only teach in private sessions to individual students, or for small groups not larger than 3 or 4 persons. I teach in my own way, and only things that I like myself, so there are a lot of things I won’t teach, and because of this my teaching is limited and not suitable for everyone. Maybe the people who like me and the things I do might consider it fun and rewarding to learn from me. But they don’t expect me to teach “like everyone else“.

So here are my dos and don’ts regarding teaching, and what to do to be a great teacher. If you want to fill in the gaps with things I have forgotten to mention, object, or if you have ideas related to these things, please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

Don’t try to earn a living on teaching

Just let’s face it, there are already very few people who get a liking for tai chi enough to consider practicing it, and even fewer who are really serious and want to dig deeper into the art. If you want to earn your living on teaching Tai Chi, the income will always be more important than the content of teaching. You can’t really get around this. Then you need to arrange your school, classes and teaching in such a way that you will make sure you can have an income that you could live on. This would mean that you would always need to deliver what people expect.

If you teach Tai Chi as a martial art, you would probably at least consider some kind of grading system, some standard types of clothing or uniforms, or maybe print your logo on T-shirts. You would need to teach using a standard curriculum which everyone has to follow. If you want to develop your school into several classes, or even more schools, you would need to build up Some sort of hierarchy, which is something maybe not every serious practitioner would find an easy thing to accept. But you would really need to do this as senior students could take over your classes and teach their own classes.

It would take time to build up a larger organization, but it’s not an impossible thing to do, not even with Tai Chi Chuan. But every step you take in this direction would have to be more about building up a brand while figuring out what people want and expect, rather than about teaching Tai Chi as it was supposed to teach or even what Tai Chi could be if presented through it’s full potential. So obviously, the quality of your teaching, and what you teach, will have to suffer in one way or another if building up a big organization to secure an income is your main goal. There’s just no way to get around this problem.

So if you are going to focus only at being as a great teacher as possible, it is likely that you would not be able to earn much on teaching. But of course, if you are a great practitioner who has developed some rare skills people are looking for to learn, you might have people paying big money to learn from you. However, this would more likely be through smaller classes and private sessions, because teaching larger classes is the second thing you should not do if you want to become a great Tai Chi teacher.

Keep the classes small

Think about it for a while, think about how different types of classes are usually taught in music, arts and handicrafts. The real good teachers who teaches the most gifted students and produce the most high quality students always teach only very small groups or in private. Of course you would want to rather hire a great private teacher for your kid‘s piano lessons than put him or her in a public class. You would get full attention every single minute of those private classes. Learning and developing would go much faster. For a gifted student, there is often no other way to continue to develop further than to find a great private teacher.

Now, think about professional magicians, how they actually teach their students or disciples who really learns the art and the methods that are always hidden away from the public. The illusionist as a teacher usually only has one or two, or maybe a handful of students. This is how the art of professional magic is transferred from teacher to student, through a close relationship. This might be the modern type of teaching that comes closest to traditional Chinese martial arts teaching.

In the older days, teachers in the Chinese martial arts would mostly teach only through their own blood line, like someone in older days who dealt with pottery for a living, who learned from his own father and passed the skills onwards to his own sons, so they in turn could make a living on it. In older China, Martial Arts were mostly either a tradition only kept within the family or to very close friends, but sometimes they could be transmitted just like how professional illusionists do today. Still, they would mostly only teach it to maybe two or three trustworthy students or disciples in order to keep the secrets from reaching the public. Sometimes a martial arts skill was a kind of trading skill, but still, those skills were mostly only taught to a few.

And this is the way a Chinese Martial Art should be taught, within closed doors and in private, or at least in small classes. This is how a student can build up real skills (if the teacher really wants his or her students to become skilled, but this is for another topic.). However, If you only want to teach Tai Chi as a lightweight health exercise, there doesn’t need to be any kind of skill involved, and you don’t need to keep the classes extremely small. 

 

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