5.a.xiv.-teaching-taijiquan-1 Section

Teaching Taijiquan: 1

Some Observations and Analysis

Written by Nick Gudge - December 2009

There is plenty written in English from such eminently skilled individuals of Chen Xiao Wang, Chen Zheng Lei, Zhu Tian Cai, Wang Xi An, Wang Hai Jun, Yang Zhen Duo etc about what taijiquan is, how to go about training taijiquan, taijiquan’s various theories, even how training progress can be measured in taijiquan. There are now a small number of well written books in English (I am thinking particularly of those from Gaffney and Sim and thev recent volumes by Chen Zheng Lei) that are good primers on Taijiquan.

There is very little available on teaching taijiquan. What skill set is a teacher trying to impart to their students? How is this skill set to be learned? Do different students need different teaching approaches? What makes a good teacher? How should we tell whether someone is a good teacher or not or how can we best measure a teacher’s performance? I think the answers to these questions are worth the investment of a little time and effort.

Perhaps the first place to start is in recognition that teaching someone else and learning are two significantly different skills. Simply because someone is knowledgeable does not mean that they are able to teach. Knowledge of a particular subject matter is not the same as the capability to teach that subject matter. For a variety of reasons these two things are commonly confused, particularly in the martial arts.

With this said, in taijiquan, unless someone has some ability and experience of the skill of taijiquan it seems unlikely that they will be able to teach it. Since the route to skill in taijiquan is neither obvious nor intuitive, without accomplishing a certain level of taijiquan then it is unlikely that someone will ever be able to teach even the most basic of fundamental taijiquan physical principles. The principles themselves, e.g. song (looseness or relaxed,) are not easily grasped. The intellectual understanding of these principles is not the same as the physical understanding of them. So unless these skills are physically and intellectually understood by the teacher, it will not be possible for them to teach them. In this all too frequently occurring situation the teacher simply will not understand what they are trying to teach.

What skill set is a taijiquan teacher trying to impart to their students?

In short they are trying to get their students body to obey the principles of taijiquan. (This may or may not first require that the students mind understand. At a low level of skill this is less necessary, at a higher level it is very necessary.) These principles I think are now beyond much doubt and have been stated by all of those currently alive who have attained the highest levels of skill. The most important principle is “song” to loosen or relax the body. The five most important principles according to WHJ are:
Song – looseness or relaxedness
Peng – outward supportive strength
Ding - uprightness
Chen - rootedness
Chan su jing – reeling silk skill

How is this skill set to be taught?

Do different taijiquan students need different teaching approaches? I think they definitively do. No successful teacher has a “one size fits all” approach to teaching. Frequently a teacher may use a successful strategy that simply does not work for all students, but works for sufficient students not to care about broadening their teaching methods and strategies.

What makes a good teacher?

This can vary from person to person, but ultimately it depends on the teacher facilitating the student to reach their objective. To do this I think requires that the teacher understand where the students current understanding and ability is, where the student is trying to get to (the next step,) and can utilise an appropriate method that will help that student get there.

How can we best measure a taijiquan teacher’s performance?
I think that the only effective measure of a taijiquan teacher’s performance is the degree of skill of their students.

The most common mistake I think teachers make is one of substituting postures for principles.


Nick Gudge is a student of Wang Hai Jun and teaches Chen style taijiquan (tai chi) classes in Limerick.


Other Teaching Taijiquan Articles you might be interested in:

Teaching Taijiquan 2 – Motivation & Progress (2 page article)

Teaching Taijiquan 3 – Suggestions for Beginning Teaching (5 page article)

Teaching Taijiquan 4 – Why does it commonly not work (1 page article)

Teaching Taijiquan 5 - Effective Teaching Methods (1 page article)

Teacher’s Training Outline (3 page article)

Six Stages of Training Taijiquan Skill (4 page article)

A Good Teacher (6 page article)

Good Understanding (3 page article)

Good Practice (3 page article)


More detailed technical information can be found in the first two parts of my four part series

Gaining Taijiquan Skill – Part 1: Theory (10 page article)

Gaining Taijiquan Skill – Part 2: Beginning – reaching Level 1 (10 page article)