(Originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of USTCC News)
My mother sometimes would say that I was “sharp as a marble”. I am still not sure what she meant, but I like to believe that she was referring to my tendency to learn by the school of hard knocks. Well, regarding teaching Tai Chi, I now have three years under my belt and these are Ten Lessons learned from trainers, workshops, books, participants, and of course a hard knock or two.
One.Always be prepared. If you are not, your participants will know and they will tell you. One of my participants asked me if the Dan Tien was an organ and she commented that she had never studied about it in her anatomy and physiology class. Well, I did my best to explain that it was based on Chinese beliefs and it was related to Qi. She frowned at my answer and next asked me to define Qi. I mumbled that it was a form of energy and quickly hastened to move onward in the class letting her know that I would get back to her by the next class. Well, I can tell you that I went home and visited my buddy Google. My knowledge level and confidence level was up when I talked to her a week later. Her frown became a smile. I learned that by staying on top of my Tai Chi both I and the participants would benefit.
Two.If you don’t know, say so and get back to your students after you do your research or review the form. The students will respect your honesty and openness. Conversely, if you know, as one of my professors would like to say “know that you know”.
Three.Listen compassionately to your participants. They have come to you to learn and deserve your utmost attention. Each one of us wants to feel important and heard. No question or comment is unimportant.
Four.Remember that each participant is unique. Each one has their learning style and innate abilities. It is your job to learn about them so you can be more effective in your teaching. Watch everyone closely when they show you what they have learned.
Five.Have fun with and in your class. Start with a smile, end with a smile and take time to laugh in between. Anecdotal information and sensible humor go a long way when we “play” Tai Chi.
Six.Take your time in teaching the form sets. Learning Tai Chi can feel awkward at first and repetition will hone in the skill. Remember that when you learned it was not as easy as it looked.
Seven.Embrace the “do”. I like to tell the participants that the benefits of Tai Chi only come from doing it. I add that learning Tai Chi is learning about ourselves, mentally, physically, and spiritually. We do this through the “playing of Tai Chi or the “do”. I sometimes add “to do or not to do, that is the question”.
Eight.Challenge the participants cognitively and physically. I find that most of my participants are hungry for knowledge regardless of their age or abilities. Incrementally add new information. Encourage them to go slower and to song the joints. You will know when you sense that they are ready for more.
Nine. Remember that safety is never compromised. If you see someone struggling with balance take the time to approach the person and ask them if they would like to learn a modification that would help. You will be pleasantly surprised that most will say yes.
Ten.Always remember lesson number one. Continuous learning and preparation is critical to the success of your program. Always be yourself in your preparation by practicing what you preach. You are as unique as your participants and you must know your limits and abilities. One of the best resources when I started teaching was Dr. Lam’s book, Teaching Tai Chi Effectively. I have read it twice and still use it as reference. Read it with humility and continue onward!
Mom, thanks for pointing out that I was “sharp as a marble” which now I know has many benefits. It taught me that to truly master something, first you must ma.ster yourself and sometimes that comes by ebbing when you should flow and flowing when you should ebb.
Art lives in Clovis, California.