Many of you may now be thinking about how to teach Tai Chi online to brand new beginners.
Here are some thoughts from a ten-week pilot we ran in HSTCC earlier on this Summer – just before the SOI. The official guidance from TCF / the Legacy Holders at that time was not to teach B1, so we kept to that. Instead we worked ‘pre B1’, assuming that any new students who joined this online ‘Introduction to Tai Chi’ would go on to do the more traditional B1 in September.
The reason I’m sharing now (with encouragement from MO) is that it worked so well that we are thinking about running a second pilot in the real (rather than online) world. We had some great feedback from participants, and we could see (at least, the non-active teacher watching the gallery view could see) that people were doing well with it.
Our goal was that by the end of ten weeks, people would have:
- experienced the internal feeling of different energies (Yin and Yang and the five elements)
- understood some of the physical principles of Tai Chi movement (e.g. relaxation, straightness etc)
- started practicing on a regular basis (using just the simple daily routine of TYB / BYT)
I’m not sure we achieve all this in one term of the traditional B1, so we were being ambitious.
We decided we could achieve these outcomes by focusing on individual positions / postures in B1, without teaching the transitions between those postures. It’s the transitions that are hard to teach online. The result was something like a Qigong class, mixed up with a dash of Fundamentals. It’s not anything new that we don’t all already teach, just a slightly different way of putting things together.
I guess it’s important to start with how we positioned what we were going to teach. In our first class we did a demo round (as we normally would) and then, as we talked about Tai Chi, we focused on the commonly quoted saying, that ‘Tai Chi is all about Yin Yang and the five elements”. We then talked about Yin and Yang, and we invited them to experience the two extremes. We did this at the start of every class – our warm-up always has a Yang section (e.g. our ‘silent disco’) and a Yin section (e.g. a focus on breathing or feeling your feet on the floor).
This took us naturally into TYB, which we taught in the first couple of classes, and which we reviewed as the first main exercise each week – adding reference to new principles as we covered them. We wanted to make the TYB (and BYT) routine the basic daily practice people could do over the duration of the programme. It’s easy to remember, and easy to fit into a normal day – thus removing two of the usual excuses B1 students have for not practising.
In week 3, we started to teach the postures. We talked about the fact that the Tai Chi form is itself a type of Qigong – because each posture is related to one of the five elements / energies, so that doing the form both cultivates and balances those energies. However, Qigong can also be done by working those energies individually. We taught most (not all) of the B1 postures over the remaining weeks, working on each posture twice, in order to focus on the two different types of work:
Qigong work: When we first introduced each posture, we focused on the energetic aspect of the posture – and how we taught it is pretty much how we teach in any Qigong class.
Principles work: When we came back to review each posture, we talked more about the application of Tai Chi principles in the posture – a bit like we teach Fundamentals.
We didn’t do every B1 posture – just the B1 postures we normally teach in our Qigong classes. And we didn’t link specific principles to specific elements / energies. We could have used any posture to illustrate any principle – we made the choices we did simply because we thought they worked well.
For example, we first taught ward-off left and right as we normally do in a Water element R&B class. Then in the review we talked about the principle of relaxation (not unusual, as this is something we might often do when working the Water element). We showed them how to find the quality of ‘sitting’ while still standing. And we took sitting into the ward-off posture – inviting them to explore how they could make it feel more comfortable (hence relaxing) by sitting in each position.
We taught Tui / Push as normal in a Wood element R&B class, then in the review talked about the principle of straightness. Tui / Push is a good place to feel that straightness comes from maintaining both the downwards connection to earth and the upwards connection to heaven.
The review of the Press, first taught as in a Fire R&B class, is good for talking about body moving the hands, i.e. moving from the tantien / dantian. People can very easily feel the difference between clapping their hands using their arms vs creating the spark from the body.
One unusual choice was that in reviewing Lifting Hands and Playing the Guitar (initially taught as in an Earth R&B class) we focused on beauteous hands. This was because we wanted to focus less on the mechanics of opening the wrist joints, and more on the result of opening them – it allows you to be sensitive and connect all the way to the fingertips. We asked them to imagine holding a baby in the LH/PG posture – nobody would do that with ‘hard’ (unfeeling) hands or broken wrists.
Normally, we would use the earth element (LH/PG) to focus on being secure in your 100%, but we chose instead to focus on this principle as part of the review of White Stork / White Crane – initially taught as in a Metal R&B class. This is clearly another 100% posture, but it more easily illustrates the deeper principle behind being 100%, which is separating Yin & Yang. We didn’t talk explicitly about that principle – only about the separation between taking in what you need (top hand filling) and letting go what you don’t need (bottom hand emptying).
We know the students enjoyed this course and got some real benefits from it, because they told us so in their feedback. Only when we teach the traditional B1 in person to these same students will we know how much of it has stuck. We are hopeful that, if nothing else, pre-B1 exposure to the wider context of energies and principles will bring a different, less mechanical, quality to the B1 class.
Good luck with your own experimenting. And share something yourself if you have other new ideas.