While having a tai chi (pronounced tie-chee and also known as taiji) teacher is the best way to learn tai chi, sometimes that isn’t an option and you may want to know what is the best way to learn tai chi at home. That’s ok because today there are a few other possibilities that can carry you over until such time as you are able to find a good teacher if you choose to do so.
For the longest time the West had trouble understanding the deeper teachings of tai chi and branches of the breath–energy healing art of qigong (pronounced chee-gung). Not only were there language and cultural barriers, but many families and schools in China made great efforts to keep the arts secret or some governments even tried to abolish them. Much of the older material can be found in books; however, the translations sometimes leave you more confused than when you began! However, recently some excellent books have been published in plain English that divulge the arts’ deepest mysteries.
Whether you are a complete beginner or have been practicing tai chi for years, there are two books I recommend: Arthur Rosenfeld’s Tai Chi–The Perfect Exercise: Finding Health, Happiness, Balance, and Strength and Inside Zhan Zhuang: First Edition. The Chinese masters state that to benefit the most from qigong, you must practice both moving qigong (such as tai chi) and static qigong (or zhan zhuang). These books cover each of these aspects, respectively, and are clearly and simply explained.
Tai Chi–The Perfect Exercise: Finding Health, Happiness, Balance, and Strength and Inside Zhan Zhuang: First Edition are, in my opinion, some of the best examples of how clearly we are starting to understand this material to teach it in the United States. I advise reading these books even if you have a teacher or a school. Don’t just trust one teacher to know everything about these arts. People have been taught inaccurately for a very long time and perpetuated much misinformation, often with great confidence. Luckily, the good thing about tai chi and qigong is that even if taught and practiced poorly, it is still safe and difficult to hurt yourself (unless you are learning tai chi as self-defense).
While certain books can convey a great deal of information, my personal favorite when no teacher is available is video, either on DVD, VCD, or even Youtube. In the past, Chinese masters passed on their deepest secrets to only a small handful of students, which has resulted in a struggle to keep the knowledge available and the material alive. Easy access to video cameras has opened up a new opportunity for many Chinese masters, many of whom have decided to release their knowledge to keep their art from being lost forever.
While some of this material has good instruction by masters who speak English or with English subtitles, a lot of it is only in available in Chinese. When studying any internal “energy” art (such as qigong/tai chi), the spoken details are critical. If you do not speak Chinese, though, it is not too hard to find an affordable teacher or freelance translator, either at a university or even through the Internet. When I first got serious about learning some of the material, I was ready to move to China! So the first thing I did was hire a teacher to learn some of the language and culture before heading there. I made sure to find someone native born so I knew the language being taught to me was accurately spoken. I also made sure to find someone comfortable about talking openly about the country’s culture and history.
I studied hard and built a good relationship (guanxi) with my instructor. I then told her why I was so interested in learning Chinese. As soon as she found out my desire was to learn the genuine traditional Chinese martial and healing arts, she became excited and explained that I didn’t need to travel to China to obtain this knowledge. She showed me the countless videos available and helped me find the best for my purposes. I was very lucky to find such a teacher.
Beyond all the modern conveniences, you may even contract an instructor to come to your home or place of business to give you private lessons. The choices are many so there has never been a better time to start doing tai chi.
In the end, whether you read books or watch videos, make sure you remember that your tai chi and qigong is for your state of mind and your health. You don’t need books or videos that are confusing. Google reviews on the teachers to check their credentials. Youtube is also a great place to see how people teach before you buy their DVDs. Keep searching until you find what you like, don’t settle, and remember that getting started in any new endeavor is the hardest part.