What made me leave my tai chi school of nearly 14 years to become an instructor for the Tai Chi for Health Institute?
I had been stuck on a plateau for some time, due to the ‘one size fits all’ or ‘cookie cutter’ approach of my then tai chi school. I searched for more stimulation and development; I read books, trawled through the Internet and tried a couple of different tai chi schools. I even organised a tai chi tour to China in 2015 and climbed sacred Wudangshan (Wudang Mountain), the tūrangawaewae of tai chi (spiritual home and place to stand for all who feel connected to tai chi).
Other tai chi schools were iniitally helpful in my quest but they didn’t have what I was looking for long-term, or their type of tai chi aggravated an old injury I had.
On YouTube I discovered Dr Paul Lam, the founder and director of Tai Chi for Health Institute (TCHI). I was instantly struck by his openness, his formidable tai chi, his philosophy that tai chi is for everyone and the thorough medical research that he’d conducted to prove the health benefits of tai chi.
A quick search of the TCHI website revealed that one of his two master trainers for New Zealand, Tamara Bennett of Smiling Dragon Tai Chi & Qigong, offered classes at Pukekohe, only 25 minutes away from my home. I soon rocked up to her classes and was impressed.
As I am a qualified teacher for the New Zealand education system, I instantly spotted that Tamara understood teaching methodology and was following a lesson plan. This was the first time I had encountered this in my 20 years of learning martial arts. If someone is good at one skill (whether karate, tai chi, music, maths, cooking, etc) it doesn’t automatically follow that they’ll be good at teaching it. Teaching is an acquired skill that must be learned, just like any other skill. I found out later that Tamara was following the Stepwise Progressive Teaching Method, which had been devised and perfected by Dr Lam.
I was also blown away by her tai chi ability. Throughout my 14 years of tai chi, I had been told by my (now ex) instructors that people who teach it for the health benefits don’t do ‘proper’ tai chi. Well, this was ‘real’ tai chi alright. All of the essential tai chi principles were there in Tamara’s movements and form.
What’s more, she and her students were friendly and welcoming. The barriers I had previously encountered (my age, ethnicity and being female) were not held against me.
Very soon I was flourishing with TCHI’s mix of the Chen, Sun and Yang forms, especially the welcome addition of Qi Gong in the Sun style of tai chi. I loved the blend of Chinese and Western philosophy and medical knowledge. I knew that this was the tai chi school that I would like to be part of.
I had not wanted to become a tai chi instructor until then. As a professional teacher, tai chi gave me a break from teaching. However, a career change meant that I was more open to become a tai chi instructor. When I discovered that TCHI had well-thought out and proven programme to teach instructors, I knew that I would take that path.
I met Dr Paul Lam at recent instructor workshop. He is as genuine and open as he is on YouTube. His tai chi was even more formidable face-to-face than it is on YouTube.
Tamara and my fellow instructors encouraged me to start teaching my own classes. Two came along to my very first opening night to support me and, along with Tamara, they continue to be trusted colleagues that I can call on for advice. Thank you so much Tamara Bennett, Aria Tauroa and Ian Blaine.
A big ‘shout out’ to the Sunday Club guys, too. You know who you are. I could not have come this far without you so thanks for ‘being there’ for me.
I love teaching and I am able to incorporate all of my tai chi skills and knowledge, including from my wider martial arts and teaching background. My students come from all walks of life, are friendly and helpful with each other, and they all want to do well with their tai chi. I can see that they practice between classes and that’s pretty amazing when compared with my experience at other tai chi schools.
After being stuck on a plateau for so long I feel energised and excited about my tai chi and the future. TCHI has been the right move because it offers:
- A thorough teaching syllabus and proven teaching methodology, the Stepwise Progressive Teaching Method, which is backed up by teaching DVDs.
- Medical research and case studies to prove the health benefits of tai chi.
- Well-established Tai Chi for Health Programmes that maximise these health benefits.
- A TCHI Board-Certification process to become a Tai Chi for Health Instructor.
- Support from the NZ master trainers and fellow instructors (of TCHI) and through my membership of Tai Chi for Health Community in New Zealand.
- Adherence to the essential tai chi principles, i.e. this is ‘real’ tai chi
- A mix of the Chen, Sun and Yang tai chi styles, plus Qi Gong and meditation
- Tai chi for everyone including making it accessible to as many as possible, particularly those less able or who have health issues.
- Acceptance that people learn and move in different ways, according to their own style, body-shape, age, etc
- An open, welcoming and safe environment where know-how is shared and questions encouraged.
- Greater diversity and range of tai chi skills and knowledge, due to the acceptance that one person or ‘guru’ cannot know everything.
- Opportunities to advance my own tai chi, including weapons training, whether I wanted to be an instructor or not. I.e. advanced students are not held back because they are not instructors.
- Friendly people that know when to be serious about tai chi and also how to have fun with it.
- The positivity and determination of Dr Paul Lam (the founder and director of TCHI) to ensure the above points and over-arching kaupapa (guiding principles and thinking) are embedded into everything that TCHI stands for.
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Photos from Wudangshan (Mt Wudang), Hubei province, China: