I hope by now you have decided to try tai chi (pronounced tie-chee and also known as taiji) or the breath–energy healing art of qigong (pronounced chee-gung) for yourself. Now your only challenge is finding good instruction. There are many other options, such as DVDs and videos on Youtube, but unlike a teacher, these can’t correct you if you’re unaware you’re doing something wrong.
When learning tai chi, a group environment can be very helpful, especially in the beginning but it can be tough knowing how to choose a tai chi teacher. For example, you can watch more advanced students for inspiration and bond with others at your own level for support. There is also something very powerful about a group of people all focused on one thing: The calming energy generated by the “moving meditation” of tai chi alone can help you feel better.
Because the arts of tai chi and qigong rely on internal energy, that is, no physical force or strength is involved (as they are, for example, in the external arts of kung fu and karate), it is difficult to determine when a teacher knows only the superficial levels of the art. However, tai chi is extremely safe and, even if the teacher knows little, it is difficult to get hurt and you will still obtain definite benefits. However, if a teacher ever shows you a tai chi move that you cannot perform fully relaxed, consider looking for a new teacher, for the fundamental principle of tai chi is relaxation.
Some tai chi teachers run their classes by only using a “follow the leader” approach. While this can be fun and is good exercise, by itself such instruction will not allow you to progress past the point of a “dance.” A good teacher will let each student learn at his or her own pace, for everyone is different. As you progress and learn the moves, a good teacher should be showing you how to breathe properly and increasing levels of detail.
The point of tai chi form practice is not to learn as many forms as possible. There are enough levels of tai chi for a lifetime of practice, even if you know only one short form! If you are learning tai chi as a martial art, a good teacher will not teach students any weapons until they are quite advanced in breath and energy control. Schools that teach swords and other tai chi weapons to beginners or that boast a curriculum of many different forms are turning a powerful and profound martial and healing art into superficial calisthenics.
Many schools advertise online. If you search for “tai chi classes” combined with the name of your town in Google, Yahoo, or other search engine, you should be able to find many listings and ads for tai chi schools in your area. Take your time looking at the schools’ websites and their reviews. Check also with your local community center. Call the schools and see how the teacher is over the phone. Many schools offer at least one free class, so grab a friend and take this opportunity to start learning tai chi!
One very good thing to do is look for a teacher who holds any type of certification from a known and trusted organization like the American Tai Chi & Qigong Association. This type of certification speaks volumes as to the teacher’s desire to maintain high teaching standards.