At the beginning of every year people make new resolutions for doing things. Some people decide to learn Tai Chi Chu’an because they heard it could promote good health, body balance and coordination.

But if you have never taken a Tai Chi classes before how can you know who is good?

In Asia many Asians think all white people speak English and can teach English even if their mother language is not English. Before I moved to Canada in 1999, two Caucasian girls came to my house and said they would like to learn Tai Chi with me. Because they spoke broken English I ask them where they were from and what their job was. They said they were from France yet they still taught English at a kindergarten. I felt they were misleading the kids and causing harm to our young. So, just as we know not every white person can speak English, we can also surmise that even people whose first language is English may not be able to teach English.

Here is some advice about how to choose a Tai Chi teacher:

Ask yourself: Before you start the Tai Chi classes ask yourself whether you have time to practice after each class or if you want to take a Tai Chi class just like you go to the gym; to do exercise then go home. Also, what is your goal? Today most people want to learn Tai Chi for health promotion and stress reduction. But for health or to reduce stress you still need to spend time practicing. If you don’t have time to practice then it doesn’t matter whether or not the teacher is good.

By word of mouth: Today, it is easier to find a teacher than in the past. Most teachers and schools advertise what they teach in newspapers, magazines, the yellow pages and/or the Internet. You can easily get most of the information you need from contacting each teacher or school. But in ancient times, many teachers didn’t advertise so how did students find them? Just by word of mouth.

By lineage: In ancient times, lineage was very important. It referred to members of the same family as sons or disciples. Masters didn’t pass on skills to the public so lineage guaranteed quality. Today in China or Taiwan if you go to a park every morning you can see many people practicing Tai Chi Chuan, it is no longer so exclusive. Lineage no longer guarantees quality because many people may spend a very short time with a teacher just to establish lineage. However most teachers who teach the public will still choose some serious students and give them private lessons. They teach their students focal points and train them to become assistant instructors. One day the student takes charge of a major task unaided. So it is possible to find a good teacher through lineage.

Go in person to try it: Before you start the Tai Chi lesson you also can borrow some Tai Chi books from library. Do some research so you have some idea what T’ai Chi Chu’an is about. You will also raise some questions books can’t explain and thereby provide yourself with a way to choose a teacher. Go to a T’ai Chi class and ask the teacher your question, then see how it is answered. This will help you decide if the teacher is knowledgeable about T’ai Chi Chu’an or if he or she can only do the forms.

Skillful in martial arts but not boasting: Traditionally Tai Chi is a very skillful martial art. The teacher should know how to use the forms in application. They should also know how to use “Fa Jing”(power). Today many instructors teach T’ai Chi only as a form and don’t know how to apply the movements in real life scenarios or how to use Fa Jing. But also beware of teachers who do know how to use forms in application and also boast about their skills. For example, about ten years ago in Taiwan, Master Hong, the owner of a Chi Kung school, was charged for cheating money out of his students. He told his students that his Chi Kung had special powers able to protect his body from any attack. His chi would cause any assailant within a meter from the Master to shake and then fall to the ground. Police officers became curious about his skill and invited him to the station. They asked him to demonstrate his skill but he could not. In actuality Master Hong had colluded with some of his private students. I have also heard stories about a Master who claims he can blow out a candle on the other side of a wall with just his chi. Martial arts are not free of fraud so be wary of any boasters.

More like a family than a business: Traditionally Tai Chi teachers and students were like a family. Some modern schools treat T’ai Chi instruction more as a business, evident by a list of fees. A school that is more interested in profit than in the betterment of its students doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

This is my advice: Globally T’ai Chi’s popularity is increasing and becoming more available. Places like Fitness centres or Spas are beginning to offer courses. If you can’t find a teacher who satisfies all these requirements don’t worry. T’ai Chi is still very good for you so even courses at a gym or Spa will provide you with benefits.

-Danny Lai