Tailoring Taiji Classes to Audience

Just like in any field of teaching, you have various types of students, with different backgrounds, abilities, interests, and some may even have minor physical or mental handicaps.  Therefore, there is not a single type of class that fits all the students.  Similarly in Taiji, you need to tailor your Taiji classes to various types of students.  This article discusses the different types of Taiji students, and how to tailor your Taiji classes to your students.

Different Types of Taiji Students:  There are many different types of students.  First of all, there are the usual two basic differences:  (1) differences in the performance skills of students in learning and performing Taiji, and (2) differences in the speed of students in learning a particular exercise.  Besides these two basic differences, there are also other types of differences that one must take into account.  There are students who are interested in Taiji only as a health exercise.  There are students who are interested in Taiji as both a health exercise and as a martial art.  There are students who want to learn only one set of Taiji forms within a single Taiji style.  There are students who want to learn different sets of Taiji forms from more than one Taiji style.  There are students who have memory problems that make it difficult for them to remember a set with many different forms.  There are students who have mobility problems.  Therefore, there is not a single type of Taiji classes that can satisfy the needs of all these types of students.

Based on my own experience in teaching Taiji during the last dozen years, I believe that we can classify Taiji students into the following six types:

  • Students who are interested in Taiji only as a health exercise
  • Students who are interested in Taiji as both a health exercise and as a martial art
  • Students who want to learn only one Taiji form set to practice on a regular basis
  • Students who want to learn more than one Taiji form set, and perhaps learn more than one Taiji style
  • Students who have memory handicaps
  • Students who have physical handicaps

Of course, a student may belong to more than one type.  One example is a student who is interested in Taiji only as a health exercise and wants to learn only one Taiji form set so that when he/she practices, he [1] doesn’t get mixed up with the different movements from different form sets.  Another example is a student who is interested in Taiji both as a health exercise and as a martial art, and is interested in learning more than one Taiji form set from more than one Taiji style.  In the next section, we discuss how to tailor the Taiji classes for each type of students.

Tailoring Taiji Classes:

1.  Interested in only Taiji as a health exercise:  For these students, you will teach them one or more Taiji form sets from one or more Taiji styles.  You will include selected Qigong exercises, most likely as part of the warm-up exercises.  A popular Qigong exercise to include is the Eight Silk Brocade (八段錦).  Even though Taiji is an excellent martial art, for these students you will not teach them to practice the application of Taiji from a martial arts perspective. You will not teach them “Push Hands.”  Basically, practicing Taiji will be an individual exercise.

However, even for these students, it is still important to explain to them the martial arts principles behind doing the forms in a particular way and to show them the martial application of selected forms (although not necessarily every form).   Often there are reasons for doing a particular form in a certain way from the health perspective and from the martial arts perspective.  For example, when doing certain forms, why do we want to have waist rotation?  From the health perspective, waist rotation can increase the range of motion and also strengthen those muscles around the waist.  From the martial arts perspective, waist rotation can increase the power of the punch or kick due to the momentum generated from the rotation of the waist.  Explaining to the students the reason from a martial arts perspective can impress upon them the importance of doing a form in that particular way.  Furthermore, seeing the martial application of a particular form can help the student to understand the origin of that form; it can also help the student to remember better the correct way of doing that form.

I can speak from experience the desirability of showing the martial applications of selected forms even to a class of senior citizens, some even in their 80s or 90s.  Not only that it helps them to understand and to do the form better, they also appreciate seeing the martial applications even though they are not going to practice it or use it.

2.  Interested in Taiji as both a health exercise and a martial art:  For these students, besides teaching them the things discussed in Item 1 and showing them the martial applications of the forms, the students will also practice the martial applications.  You will also teach them Push Hands, and the students will be engaged in Push Hands exercises.  Practicing Taiji will no longer be an individual exercise.  You will also teach them some Qinna (擒拿, also spelled as Chin Na) techniques, or Chinese joint locking techniques.  When practicing the martial applications or Qinna techniques, you must emphasize the safety aspects of such exercises, and the students must keep that in mind to avoid injuries to themselves, and especially to their practice partners.

3.  Interested in learning only one Taiji form set:  There are students who only want to learn one Taiji form set, because they just want to have some Taiji exercise to practice on a regular basis.  They don’t want to learn more than one Taiji form set because it is more likely that they will forget the form set they are doing, and they are concerned that they will get the different form sets mixed up when practicing.  This is especially the case if they don’t practice on a regular basis, such as everyday, every other day, or at least a couple of times per week.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the student will take a Taiji course just once.  They can take the same Taiji course multiple times, because they can always improve their form when taking the course again.

A good Taiji form set to learn and practice is the Simplified Yang Style 24 Form.  It can be taught in a 15-20 week course meeting for about 1.5 hours for each session (or in a 20-25 week course meeting for one hour for each session).  For shorter duration courses, you can teach the Yang Style 16 Form or the Yang Style 10 Form.  This could be a good beginning, but I strongly suggest that they progress to learning the Simplified Yang Style 24 Form and choose that to be the form that they practice regularly, instead of the shorter 16 or 10 form.

4.  Interested in learning more than one Taiji form set and perhaps more than one Taiji style:  After the students have reached a certain level of proficiency with one particular form set, you can teach them another form set or another Taiji style.  Learning more than one form set or another style is useful because different form sets or different styles may exercise different parts of the body in slightly different ways, and they may have different martial applications.  For example, the movements of the Yang Style are essentially all soft and slow, and while the movements of the Chen Style are still mostly soft and slow, the Chen Style has a mixture of soft and hard, and a mixture of slow and fast movements.

After students have learned the Simplified Yang Style 24 Form, you can teach them other form sets or other styles.  For example [2], you can teach them the Mixed Style 42 Form, the Yang Style Taiji Sword 18 Form, the Yang Style Taiji Sword 32 Form, the Hun Yuan Chen Style 24 Form, the Hun Yuan Chen Style 48 Form, or the Chen Style Taiji Sword 48 Form.  It is important to keep in mind that it is better to learn a smaller number of form sets well than learning more and more form sets before having a good grasp of previous form sets.

5.  Students with memory handicaps:  For students who have trouble remember things, teaching them a non-trivial form set is not the best approach.  Perhaps they can remember only simple form sets such as the Yang Style 10 Form.  Another alternative is not to teach them any form set at all, but the class will be doing mostly warm-up exercises, and will also include some simple Qigong exercises, such as the Eight Silk Brocade.

6.  Students with physical handicaps:  For students who have physical handicaps, then the class will need to be tailored depending on the type of physical handicap.  For example, if the students have mobility handicap or have to sit in wheelchairs, then you will not teach them form sets, but choose certain warm up or Qigong exercises that do not require standing up or walking movements.

Summary:  There are many types of students with different backgrounds, abilities, interests, with or without memory or physical handicaps.  We have classified students into six general categories.  Of course, a student is not necessarily associated with just one category.  For example, a student may be interested in Taiji from both a health perspective and a martial arts perspective (Type 2), and also want to learn more than one form set or more than one style (Type 4).  Students may have different athletic abilities.  The athletic ones can learn very quickly, easily learning more than one form per session.  The non-athletic ones may take several sessions just to learn one form.  Therefore, the speed of teaching will have to tailor to the type of students in the course.  There may also be differences between children, youths, and adults (e.g., youths in general can learn faster and may be more interested in the martial arts application), and between males and females (e.g., males may be more interested in the martial arts applications, or females more interested in warm-up and Qigong exercises).

Unless you are teaching private lessons on a one-to-one basis, there will be differences among the students in a class, so you have to compromise and tailor the course to the majority of the students in that course.  Similarly the expectations of the students also have to be managed appropriately.

 

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[1] For simplicity, in the rest of this article, we will use “he” as an abbreviation to mean “he/she.”

[2] The examples I give in this article are from the Yang Style and the Chen Style, because these are the styles I am familiar with.  One can definitely replace the Yang Style and the Chen Style with other styles and other form sets.

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