Contributing Editor: Charlotte Zinsser Booth
For years, when I’ve taught The Eight Ways, I had the attitude that it didn’t offer the same level of transformation as practicing the full form. While it is a great introduction to tai chi practice, I thought it didn’t convey the singular experience of learning the full form and principles. However, within the past few years as my teaching has evolved to include more observations about principles from my own practice, I’ve seen how short-sighted that attitude is.
I now find using The Eight Ways as a framework for teaching principles reveals many possibilities for bringing tai chi awareness into everyday life. Even though we may have just eight to ten hours to give students a meaningful experience, learning to move in principle can extend far beyond the content of the class. In an Eight Ways class last fall, one student delighted in describing her new awareness of how her feet met the ground as she walked. What was I doing differently?
From the first hour, even as we practice shifting weight from side to side and turning the foot out from the center, we emphasize the sensory experience as it occurs when walking outside of class. Observing the students’ body mechanics in sculling provides the next opportunity to ground these movements in principle. We can then introduce the qualities of relaxed straightness and moving from the center.
As students begin to experience greater ease of movement, we point out possibilities for transferring that awareness into daily activities such as waiting in line, emptying the dishwasher, and more. In teaching each of The Eight Ways, I continue to find new opportunities to connect principles to the students’ experiences, including students with mobility, balance, or posture issues.
I have begun to consider whether access to tai chi principles may be greater for many beginners in an Eight Ways class than in a Beginning Form class. Since each Way is a discrete, repeated movement, the new student’s opportunity to experience principles is not challenged by the need to retain the choreography of the solo form. Especially for those with memory challenges, the format of The Eight Ways may be a more direct route to kinesthetic awareness.
I am sure that many of you have had other insights about teaching The Eight Ways; if so, please share them within our teaching community.
Lee Felton started taking tai chi classes with the School of Tai Chi Chuan, New York in 1979 and began teaching as an apprentice in 1982 until 1986 when he moved to Arlington, Virginia where he worked with the Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. teaching teams. In 1993, he cofounded Blue Ridge Tai Chi in Charlottesville, Virginia and has been teaching classes in the region since then. Lee is also a part-time performing musician, currently with the band, 21st Century Limited.
After a career in alternative education and a lifetime of studying various forms of dance and dynamic alignment, Charlotte Zinsser Booth began studying tai chi with Lee Felton in 2013. She became an apprentice in 2018 and is grateful daily for the opportunities provided by the Tai Chi Foundation to contemplate and experience this transformative work.
Photograph by Jordan Steranka