Tai Chi or Not Tai Chi?
That is indeed the question. With so many styles and systems and so much mis-information about, how can you know if what you are getting is the real thing?
One way is to check that your teacher is an instructor member of the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain. Though not all good Tai Chi teachers are in the TCUGB, most of those who are have undergone a technical assessment or have been referred by some of the best teachers in the UK.
Real Tai Chi follows the Tai Chi Principles . Though you may never have done any Tai Chi before, you can gain some impression of whether or not someone is teaching authentic Tai Chi by going along to a class and having a look at what they are doing. Here is a checklist of what to look out for.
Real Tai Chi
In a good Tai Chi class, when the teacher and their more experienced students perform a Tai Chi sequence, they will be moving according to the basic Tai Chi principles. In particular:
Their shoulders will be dropped and level.
Their elbows will normally be below the level of their shoulders.
They will move in a relaxed yet controlled and well-coordinated manner.
Their posture will be upright and balanced, as if suspended from above by a piece of string. (Although in some branches of Wu style, the body slopes forward, the spine remains in proper alignment which is not the same as bending forwards or "jack-knifing" in the middle.)
The movements will be smooth and fluid, like the flowing of a river, without jerkiness, stiffness or interruption (stopping and starting).
They should also, at the very least, acknowledge that Tai Chi is a martial art, even if they have chosen to practice and teach it only for health and relaxation .
Ideally, an experienced teacher should also be able to explain how some or all of the movements of their sequence can be used for self-protection.
A genuine Tai Chi teacher should also have an authentic lineage.
Not Tai Chi
In a beginner's class, some of the students may be making some or all of the following mistakes, but if the teacher is doing Tai Chi sequences this way, you would be well advised to try elsewhere:
Leaning in different directions.
Lifting the shoulders and elbows.
Throwing the hips out, as in Salsa.
Arching the back and sticking the bottom out.
Moving stiffly with tense hands and shoulders and/or straight legs.
Also avoid any class or course in which a teacher is encouraging you to sign up for an instructor-training programme lasting only a few days or weeks (and probably costing a large amount of money) with no previous Tai Chi experience required!
Becoming a Tai Chi instructor is the equivalent of gaining a black belt in karate. Even if you have no interest in the self-defence skills and wish to teach it only for health, relaxation or falls prevention, this process takes time, effort, patience and a certain amount of natural aptitude. Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely to be a con-artist (albeit probably a rich one!)