I'm starting new tai chi classes in Boulder City, Nevada at the first of the year - a culmination of my work this year on creating a new curriculum and "scientific" method for teaching tai chi and building a body of qualified teachers for new schools as I open them. What the heck is a scientific method for tai chi? This is what I asked my teacher George Hu long ago when I heard that Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming, an esteemed kung fu and tai chi teacher, was using that phrase to describe his teaching. Since Dr. Yang is a retired engineer it's not a surprising choice of words, but also not obvious.
While it's not a technically correct use of "scientific", he, I and others are making an effort to put a method behind the teaching. Of all the master teachers I've
trained under, few had an apparent method of any kind. They would simply teach whatever they wanted to teach each day. Classes
were often not segregated by experience level, which meant the curriculum was often rebooted when new students came along. It was great for beginners
but terrible for the rest of us. My goal is to avoid those shortcomings in order to enhance the student's experience.
There are a lot of implications in the decision to structure the teaching. Among other things it means classes need to be segregated by experience level.
And to show progress in this context, a ranking system of some type is needed. I'm not interested in a belt system per se, but I am tending more toward a
Japanese-style 20-level (10 and 10) system than I am toward the 9-degree system being adopted in China today. My concern is that rank differentiation is most
important in the early years as the student absorbs new material, so more levels are needed.
Another implication is that as teacher I must have control, or at least signficant say, of the class schedule at the venue. For this reason the best possible
choice, if finances are not considered, is to open a stand-alone tai chi school. How can this be financially viable? How many tai chi schools in America are not
only viable but give a respectable living for the teacher(s)? Not many, but I have ideas about that as well. Part of the answer is that a full school must not revolve
around a single teacher, but around a common body of material taught by many, which is the reason for building a body of teachers. Another partial solution is
to add closely related curricula such as kung fu, qigong and yoga.
Building a body of teachers is a tricky subject. As many of us know, it is hard to find students dedicated enough to become authentic teachers. Some teachers
succumb to the allure of providing quickie certifications for "coaches". Often these certifications are expensive and occur in exotic locales, which makes it
more of a vacation experience than a learning experience. Even so this approach shows recognition that teachers are not created overnight, but still creates a body of people who
think of themselves as teachers but who are really only intermediate students.
I'm writing curricula right now, and testing it in my new round of classes beginning January 4. The interesting thing is that the curricula can easily be adapted for
other tai chi styles. If you teach or own a school, do you have ranking? Did you creating the ranking system, or inherit from someone else? Do you uses sashes for the ranking? Please send your comments to TaiChiInYourLife@hotmail.com.