When someone asks me how to learn Tai Chi Chuan (or Taijiquan), I usually explain this by comparing it to learning a language.
Imagine you want to learn Spanish. What do you do? You search for classes near you, select one that is convenient in terms of location and time and go there. You actually go there every week. You enjoy it, because it is nice to meet the people and learn together. And of course there’s homework! Because if you want to learn a language, you need to learn vocabulary, grammar, etc. You do the homework and if there’s something you don’t understand, you can ask the teacher during the next lesson. You do that for some weeks or months or years and you get better and better at Spanish!
Basically it’s just the same with Taijiquan. You search for “Tai Chi near me”, select a teacher with a Tai Chi for beginners class that is convenient for you. And just like you’d want a language teacher who is nice and friendly, you want to find a good Tai Chi teacher (if you are unsure about how to identify a good teacher, read this article).
Tai Chi classes
Ideally, you go to Tai Chi classes at least once a week. I am sure you’ll have a great time there. Most likely you’ll meet a bunch of nice people, laugh a lot and learn together. And of course you’ll feel relaxed and more balanced when you go home again. (This should happen no matter if you go to a Chen style, Yang style or other Tai Chi style school!).
Going to Tai Chi classes is really the minimum to learn Tai Chi. Make it a habit to go to your class regularly!
But remember, even though the teacher might not explicitly say it, there is homework, too! Just like learning Spanish, you need to rehearse and repeat whatever you learnt in class. Most likely you will want to learn the terminology (have a look at my Taijiquan & Qi Gong Dictionary). And of course you need to practice the moves and exercises. That is one aspect of how to learn Tai Chi: you continuously practice the form.
You might not get a piece of paper that says “page 3 exercise 5-8 and vocabulary from lesson 1”, but it is important to practice at home. I actually think that the most important point in your Tai Chi journey is when you start practicing at home. Because then you a) really reap all the benefits from this “meditation in motion” and b) you start taking your well-being in your own hands!
I know a lot of students in Tai Chi for beginners classes who struggle to practice at home. If you don’t know how to start, these blogposts might help you to get into it: how to do Tai Chi at home or how to do Tai Chi in the park.
The best thing about practicing at home is that you discover which moves you feel really good about and which ones you still have questions about. And when you go back to class, you can ask your teacher about that! You do that for weeks or months or years and you will get better and better at Tai Chi!
This process of learning in class and practicing at home will basically not change over time. I started my Tai Chi journey more than a decade ago and that is what I still do: I go to class at least once a week and then I practice at home. And I still practice some of the exercises I learnt during the very first lessons 12 years ago! Obviously, the number of exercises and moves I know has increased since them, but I still put a lot emphasis on practicing the basics.
Sometimes I like to go to workshops on the weekends. Usually I go there because I want to meet a certain teacher (or Chinese master) or I want to check out a weapon or a special Qi Gong routine.
practice Qi Gong
Actually, when I started Taijiquan I wasn’t aware how important Qi Gong would be. I feel it’s like I “prime” and warm up myself with Qi Gong to then become better at Taijiquan.
Sometimes, when I am really short on time, I actually prefer to practice just some Qi Gong exercises. And I am sure you will learn some from your teacher. Just use one or two for warming up before you get into the Tai Chi moves.
Push Hands (Tui Shou)
And then, as Taijiquan is a martial art, I think it is crucial to try Push Hands (Tui Shou). That is the two-person routine of Taijiquan. I myself consider this my “weak spot” because I am ALWAYS initimidated by all the other push hand participants. Even after all these years. But I really learn so much about myself and about Taijiquan whenever I go to a push hands workshop. Thus I truly believe Push Hands is a very important part of how to learn Tai Chi.
learning from books & online
Another route to learn Spanish or Tai Chi is to subscribe to an online class or to read a book. And of course, you can learn at lot from those sources. But as you can imagine with a language, learning the proper pronunciation purely online or from a book is tough. And having “real” conversations is hard to learn online, too. But it could help you with your vocabulary, grammar, and knowledge about the cultural background.
With Tai Chi online courses and Tai Chi books, I think it is pretty much the same. You can learn Tai Chi at home – at least a little bit. You can learn some basic Tai Chi moves. You can listen to someone talking about the Tai Chi principles just like in any real-life-workshop. You can read about some background information. I love to read books and personally I like to use online courses to broaden my routine, especially with Qi Gong online courses or meditation.
But just with a book or in a pure online setting, you won’t have a teacher to correct your position. You won’t be exposed to standing tests or push hands. And as I mentioned above, push hands is vital to really grasp the essence of this Chinese martial art. Overall, you cannot teach yourself Tai Chi alone completely. You need proper Tai Chi instructions and other people. Thus I really recommend that you search for Tai Chi beginners classes and show up there!
Finally, I would like to know: what do you think about how to learn Tai Chi Chuan (or Taijiquan)? If you are an experienced practicioner, do you have anything to add? Or if you are a beginner, do you have any questions? I would love to hear from you via eMail or in the comments below!