How do you go from Tai Chi student to Tai Chi teacher?
The transition from being a tai chi practitioner to a tai chi teacher or certified instructor can take lots of time and practice. Anything that has any depth usually does.
Add to that the esoteric or spiritual aspect of tai chi, and there are a number of really important considerations that may not figure into the picture with other subjects. When you are teaching something that helps people go inward there are always things that come up both for you and the student.
Am I Good Enough to Teach Tai Chi?
Some people feel that they’ll never be good enough to justify teaching. They could train for 15-20 years and still feel the same way.
So the first questions you must ask yourself are: Do I have a basic level of confidence? Do I have enough to offer my students that there’s no way, after training with me for few months or even years, that they’re going to be anywhere near my level of knowledge? Basically, what can you bring to the table?
There’s a great need for people to learn energy arts and other practices related to spirituality, health and the nature of the mind. We live in a time when people are clearly shredding at the seams–on some level or another.
So if you can do something to help your fellow human beings, it’s a good thing to do.
If what you’ve learned from the energy arts has helped you, and you have the confidence and desire to help somebody else, and you know your subject well enough, then teaching others can be a wonderful gift.
The money you could earn should not figure in your decision. Of course, you need to make money to live though and you’ll incur expenses to teach, so you must charge something. The general rule in a capitalistic society is that if people don’t give something, they also don’t value it.
The most common form of giving in our society is money, so that’s usually the exchange. It also frees the student from going through issues about whether they’re unworthy to learn.
Now the next question is, why should you teach?
Encouragement from a Tai Chi Master
I offer instructor certification programs throughout the US and Europe, and although the purpose is to prepare those who teach as their primary profession, I also get many students who come just to learn for their own practice.
I’ll teach you regardless, but I highly encourage everyone who puts in the level of effort required to certify at one of my trainings to go out and teach. More than anything else, it’s a means for helping our fellow human beings.
There is also a secret that anyone who has achieved success in any area knows: to get significantly better at anything you must teach to others. Teaching is the fast track to mastery.
You clarify what you really know and what you really don’t know. Once you learn what you don’t know then you can focus on those aspects in your own practice.
You must also become creative in teaching different types of people. You develop your ability to look at someone doing tai chi or qigong to see the internal and external movements and alignments.
As you do this, you hone your own practice. You must not only demonstrate how to do the movements but also teach it in a clear manner so that your students can also integrate it into their form.
I realize that for many, it’s not that easy to share of themselves. Teaching can really challenge you. Students can ask you all sorts of questions and some even test your ego. If your ego is put on the line, then you must recognize it and figure out what you’re going to do about it.
Are you going to try and resolve it? Will you try reasonable methods?
Teach to Develop Compassion
There’s no question that teaching provides the opportunity to develop your ability to be compassionate for others. Some students are royal pains, and it takes a lot of compassion to look at who a person is, where they are coming from and what you can do to help them.
On the other hand, some students are a joy to be around, they may even become your friends, so you will be utterly glad you have made their acquaintance. They may train with you for a temporary or long period of time.
Whatever the case, you must expand your personal compassion to teach others, which is an invaluable lesson in life. When is someone ready to do that? Each individual must answer this question on their own.
Basic Requirements for Teaching Tai Chi and Qigong
Beyond a willingness to teach, there are a few critical factors that influence good teachers of all skill levels.
Beginning Qigong Instructors
Some of the arts I teach are fairly simple. For example, Dragon and Tiger Medical Qigong is not as complex as the other qigong programs I offer.
So the right person, even if he/she has very little qigong background, might be able to attend an instructor training and basically be capable of teaching at the end of it. My hope is we will have many hundreds teaching this set in the coming years. That said most people who have Dragon and Tiger certifications have studied qigong for a minimum of three and five years.
I’ll be doing a Dragon and Tiger Medical Qigong course this summer in Boston at Brookline Tai Chi for those that are interested. This is not an instructor training but will be a good way to learn this important qigong exercise and prepare you for a future instructor training.
The people at the beginning level that I’ve certified tend to have a certain level of confidence and desire to help their fellow human beings. So I feel good about certifying them because I know they’ll do their best for their students. You have to start teaching somewhere to get on the teaching path.
Generally, the instructors in this group maintain busy schedules (often 9-5 jobs) and teach as a service to students looking to maintain their practice rhythm.
So they usually only offer classes one or two times a week, typically in a community center or a college. They might teach a workshop here and there, but their focus is not intensive training.
Beginner-to-Intermediate Qigong and Tai Chi Instructors
If you plan to teach more, make teaching a full-time profession, you need no less than five years experience under your belt. You must also have a great level of honesty about what you can do, and maybe more importantly, what you can’t do.
The type of person who fits this requirement usually starts teaching because they think it’s such a cool thing that they really want other people to know about it. They generally like to share what will benefit others and they naturally grow into a teaching position over time.
That said, most of the instructors I certify that teach on a more regular and in-depth basis have ten years experience or many years more. They are passionate about the internal energy arts and devote their lives to helping people in a wide range of health-care professions.
The Teaching Trap
The danger can be when instructors get really positive feedback, they start believing that they are wonderful and can start teaching with an attitude to match. Many do it. At the end of the day, this approach slows down personal progress, and it’s clearly not the best way to go about it.
If you actually are having a positive effect on people, then do the best you can and slowly recognize that you have an ego. Recognize that the more you reduce it, the happier a human being you will be, and the less mental and emotional dissatisfaction you will suffer. This is true for your whole of your life–not just teaching.
We live in a culture where many people are satisfied with taking a weekend workshop and then going out to teach. When I trained in the martial arts, there were students who would receive their green belt and then go around acting as though they were fifth-degree black belts. They would push people around and do things for which they weren’t qualified.
I obviously would never recommend this approach but encourage you to dig your well deep, putting in the practice time required for excellence.
Many people will be satisfied with learning something, trying it out for awhile and making some money from it. Teaching the internal arts is about a lifelong pursuit for personal development though.
I love martial arts and equally love teaching people martial arts. It comes easy for me.
I also love studying chi and teaching people about chi. However, it requires much more energy to teach people about chi. It can be tiring because you must literally take energy and give it to someone else to show them how chi flows operate. I do it because I think it’s a good thing to do.
Teach! The World Needs You
When I certify people, I encourage them go out and teach. Just begin even if it is with family and friends because you may find you love it.
In fact, the primary reason why I offer instructor trainings is because we’re now in a time when there is a great need for people to help each other. This era of history is a bit of a dark period. Part of the journey in this particular moment in time is to offer gifts to people that bring more positivity to life.
Tai chi and Qigong help people feel more alive. What could be better than helping people become healthier and more aware of what is happening inside of themselves?
I encourage anyone who has been trained in an authentic lineage – either my own or with other knowledgeable teachers – to go out to teach because there is a lack of highly qualified teachers in the marketplace. Make a commitment to yourself to keep advancing your studies getting better and better every year.
If I’ve certified you in the past (or you get certified with me in the future), please go out and teach with my blessing. Just be sure you keep up with your re-certifications because it is essential to maintain standards and know that what you’re doing is the proper thing, the right thing for the people you encounter.
So if you have the desire, skill, patience and all the other elements needed to teach any given subject, especially the chi arts, then share it.
The world needs it. Do it as honestly as you can. Do it as well as you can. And don’t look back.
Keep practicing and keep teaching,