Can a student learn Tai Chi from a book or video?
On the Tai Chi Network, which is a group on Linkedin, members of the group are commenting about whether reading books or watching videos can be an effective way to learn tai chi.
The books, depending on the authors can be valuable tools. However good this tool is and however well written it is, there may be an inherent problem. This can be complicated, because a proficient master, but may not be a good writer and may not be able to effectively translate his/her knowledge. Just because a tai chi teacher is proficient in tai chi he/she may not be able to clearly translate his/her skills in writing .Of course this assumes that they are competent to start with. A not so proficient “teacher’ may be able to publish a book but it may not really have the knowledge.
Similarly, the producer of a video may not have the video skills to get and keep the viewers attention. This may also be another instance in which skills may not translate and be an effective learning tool. The producer of the video may be a great videographer, but not be a proficient tai chi practitioner.
However, both books and videos can be effective tools and help students remember the teachings that they received during an “in person” lesson. After watching a video…which should be broken down by movement…..watch yourself in a mirror. Are the body mechanics, or the way your body moves the same as seen in a video and is the body’s movements coordinated effectively?
When you are reading a “how to” book about tai chi try to notice how well the distribution of balance is described and when to breathe in and when to exhale is explained… In a well documented book you should be able to see how the weight is distributed ….is 80% of your weight on the left foot and 20% of your weight on the right foot when completing the third movement of a Yang style short form. The movement called Ward Off with Left Hand. is pictured in Grandmaster William C.C. Chen’s Tai Chi Chuan: Art of The 60 Movements Yang Style Short Form. (Published by William C.C.Chen, a disciple of Professor Cheng Man-Ch’ing, phone 212-675-2816)
It is also important to know when you should breathe in and when you exhale. This is difficult to integrate into the movements without a Master watching and correcting.
An experienced and proficient teacher is essential to correct your movements. Your positioning will usually need tweaking; are you beginning to feel energy flow? The arms and legs must move in a correlated manner. How you arms are positioned; how is your back positioned, and how are you moving your feet.
Body movement must be such that one limb moves in a way that relates to the rest of your body movement. Are your palms facing in the correct positions? How fast or slow are you moving? Are you coordinating your arms, as your action hand moves in one direction, is the other hand winding up or setting up the next move. They must be coordinated.
Without getting too technical, particularly for a beginner, the movements require focus and should be consistently practiced. As a beginner it’s a good idea to get into the habit of to setting aside the same time every day for 8 to 10 minutes of this slowing movement, stress reducing movements
An experienced tai chi practitioner knows that consistent practice is important to exclude outside thoughts, so that you can focus on the tai chi movements, weight distribution, and breathe control
In a future blog entry I will discuss energy or chi development and flow during the form practice…