At all levels of learning Tai Chi, having a good experience is about finding the right instructor.
Because it affects your health and well-being, your search is almost as important as finding the right doctor or dentist. It takes time and energy, and it’s difficult to even know where to start.
First, you need to understand what your goals are, and what you hope to accomplish by learning Tai Chi. Do you want to learn the martial aspects? Do you want to learn Tai Chi to compete? Or are you looking for a way to improve your health, flexibility, balance and peace of mind?
It also helps to understand something about the various styles and forms available, as well as the lineages and nuances within each. Some styles are more athletic, and may not be appropriate for all ages and/or physical conditions. Others are more adaptable and can be performed sitting, in a wheelchair or even in bed. Be sure to consider your body and physical condition as well as your goal when you choose. For a good overview, check out Which Tai Chi Form is Best for Me.
What about your learning style? Do you learn best by hearing, watching or doing? Or do you learn best in another manner? Also, keep in mind there are many styles of teaching. Teaching can be done silently, with the student emulating the instructor. In other cases, a student works with a junior instructor until they reach a certain level, at which point they are eligible to learn from a more senior or master-level instructor. Some instructors are more hands-on and teach form by breaking down the movements into smaller segments. You will want to choose an instructor whose style you are most comfortable with.
Finally, you can narrow your search by location, time and cost. Depending on where you live, you may find a Tai Chi school. Otherwise, look for classes at community education centers, exercise facilities and senior centers. If you live in a rural area, your choice of instructors and/or classes will likely be more limited. You always have the option of learning online or from a DVD, but keep in mind that it takes a great deal of body awareness to ensure that your alignment and movements are done correctly and safely. For this reason, some instructors offer online classes along with face-to-face time via a program such as Skype.
Though it may seem overwhelming, finding the right instructor and class will be worth your time, especially when you find the form that feels like a good fit.
Watch for Part II of Find the Right Tai Chi Instructor, where we’ll take a deeper look at instructor qualities, personality and training.