Outside the Classroom: One Approach to Learning Taiji Online

by Sandy Doeur on 2012/02/03

Learning taiji online is impossible, but not impractical.  The key to getting the most benefit outside of the classroom involves understanding what can be achieved and what can not be achieved and through this understanding develop goals that are obtainable.  Through the course of studying theory and my own personal encounter with Master Chen I have come to realize that taiji is an art of deconstruction.  It is about taking all of the human habits that are not taiji and slowly deconstructing these habits to make them into something that slowly becomes taiji.  This idea that taiji is an art of deconstruction has offered me guidance towards this approach to learning taiji online.

Since I didn’t have access to anybody that could teach me taiji, following the online videos was my only alternative.  I wanted to be prepared for my first workshop so I decided that I would start learning the basics with one important rule in my mind.  That rule was, “quality is more important than quantity”, or in Master Chen’s words, “it is better to do one thing right than many things wrong”.  My game plan was simple, I wanted to learn the first 13 movements.

In order to know what I needed to do I had to familiarize myself with the rules.  I wanted to know what movements were allowed, so I purchased a series of videos:

  1. Suspended Head
  2. Thigh in Tai Chi Chuan
  3. Hand, Elbow and Shoulder Functions in Tai Chi
  4. Function of the waist in tai chi movements
  5. Kua, knee and foot.

Once I got a general idea of the rules I looked for a video of the first 13 movements.  I found that,

“Yilu first 13 moves simple lesson”

was the best video to learn from.  At the initial stage the choreography is the most important since the understanding of the deeper meanings can not be seen, but must be felt.  I had one month before the workshop so I decided to learn 3 moves a week.  I was more focused on quality than quantity.

In the, “Yilu first 13 moves simple lesson” Master Chen breaks all the moves up into counts and this makes learning the choreography a lot easier.  By following my game plan I was able to learn the choreography before the workshop and follow along with the group.

In conclusion, I believe that it is more beneficial to take it slowly and learn things right even if it is just one thing at a time, as progress will be about making fewer mistakes.  Do not expect to be perfect with the form.  Finally, the only way to know if you are doing things correctly is to attend a workshop and to receive instructions from somebody that knows taiji.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

bruce.schaub February 4, 2012 at 7:11 am

That is a very intelligent way of looking at it. I couldn’t agree more with your approach. I look forward to meeting Master Chen and want to make the most of the opportunity when it arises, so i am attempting to prepare myself with as much “context” as possible to lay the groundwork for actual learning. There is a tremendous amount of information, not only in the form of movement, but in Master Chen’s taiji language that he uses, so we might actually be able to comprehend in english things that generally remain confused, or lack clear meaning in there more generalized translations. I think it’s important not to waste the time of someone who is able to teach at such a high level. Though he seems infinitely patient, we should not take advantage of that.


bruce.schaub February 4, 2012 at 7:49 am

I would definitely add Basic Foundations to the list…… learning to do these movements in a stationary position helps tremendously once you begin learning the first 13 movements of the Yilu form.


Sandy Doeur February 4, 2012 at 11:27 am

I specifically neglected the Basic Foundations because to me getting the movements right on the building blocks was more important than understanding the choreography, whereas for the 13 moves I was focusing on choreography. I found the 9 count positive circle extremely difficult to comprehend and since it was too technical I didn’t want to make up my own ideas regarding what was really happening. It is difficult to undo bad habits and I wanted to start off with good ones. “Does the hand draw a circle?”, or “Do other parts of the body create a larger circle?” These questions created enough of a doubt in my mind as to what was going on, so I left them out. I saved those things for the workshop. There is a YouTube video with circles where Master Chen does a 3 count positive circle. I would suggest this as a starting point. I don’t have the right method, just a few ideas. A lot of these videos will make more sense after the hands on experience and I plan on using the Basic Foundations to further my studies.


Alex February 4, 2012 at 9:42 pm

no doubt the building blocks are proper mechanics as well, but the basic foundations are building blocks of a different sort and would be a great prep for someone’s first seminar. They condition the body to move with the overall ‘big’ movements without thinking too much, that way, details can be worked on easier later on, in the form, and in the foundation exercises too.


Asad H September 10, 2012 at 6:15 pm

I am a transatlantic online learner and having the same problem of not having immediate access to Master Chens workshops (i am saving for this currently). As a complete beginner to Chen Style practical method Master Chen specifically told me to learn the following videos online:

1) Basic Instructions.
2) Yilu
3) Energy Alignments.
4) Yilu applications.

In between these i have also purchased:

1) Ken Huang 13 corrections.
2) 13 Phoenix workshop.
3) Kua,knee & foot.

The only advice i can give is the basic instructions positive and negative circles change my yilu, so every month it looks different from the last. I cant really explain it. I agree a little about the Quality over Quantity bit but do think it is both. I am currently only about half way through Yilu (after about 4 months of daily practise, mainly 20-25minutes per day). I usually.

1) Do positive and negative circles.
2) Twist towel.
3) Draw water from well.
4) Do beginner 13.
5) Add 2 or 3 moves to Yilu per week.

(with the occasional full Yilu but then very much about choreography).

I know that a lot of what i learn may be irrelevant when i hope to finally meet Master Chen, but for one thing that his highly motivational as (sometimes you do feel incredibly down that their is no one to correct you) is the realisation that the body is going through tremendous change.

I would definitely say it is hard to shed the old tai chi chuan but very important that you do because old habits die hard.


Kelvin Ho September 10, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Please do share videos of your circles, and the first 13 moves of yilu. You are not alone in practical method.


bruce.schaub September 11, 2012 at 7:00 pm

I can definitely attest to the difficulty of learning from videos. Though it’s not ideal and has limitations, there is a lot that can be gained. I wouldn’t think of it as irrelevant. I have heard Master Chen say it’s like continually breaking pieces off of a rock until it’s round. Regardless of how you begin chipping away (whether alone or of course preferably with a qualified PM instructor) it will be very crude in the beginning and wrong, and that’s ok. Just learn and follow procedure the best you can and when you can go and get personal instruction and learn how to chisel away with more accuracy and efficiency. Iv’e also heard Master Chen say when he learned, he was only shown very rudimentary things, information was hard to come by, and the yilu was not even demonstrated. Partially a traditional weeding out process no doubt, but also emphasizing the importance of practicing rudimentary things, and forming habits that will ultimately be revised and improved upon. I practiced the foundations exercises for a year before I ever tried to begin Yilu and now after roughly 9 months have just completed the yilu choreography. It was really really difficult to learn it all from video, for me anyway, and I know I need a massive amount of corrections, but at least I am assembling the materials I need to begin laying some tracks and I think the familiarity will serve me well when I finally get to meet Master Chen in Phoenix this November. I would reiterate what Kelvin said, and post your movements when you comfortable. The feedback from the couple of times I’ve posted partial Yilu’s have been really helpful. After I’ve done it 100 times or so I’ll post my completed set, to hopefully get a few more corrections before the workshop. I’ve only just started counting repetitions since I finished…. 17 ! ……. 10,000 here we come!


Niko September 14, 2012 at 1:08 am

Since Taiji is a practical system, it is always usefull to start with the method. And starting it by learning from videos is better than doing nothing. I believe that foundations can be trained quite good through video support.


Niko September 14, 2012 at 1:30 am

Master Chen mentioned in one of the videos, that there has to be a “cramp” or “physical response” to happen. I´ve started to train home and i had an experience of this kind.
Master Chen, i would like to know, if this is in accordance with the normal learning process ?


Niko September 14, 2012 at 9:16 am

Additionally, i had an effect concerning the eye movement. It was similar like a rapid-eye-movement that happened when “something” reached into my brain.
Dear Master Chen, can you say something to this effect ?
It was similar like a light bulb was lit, to put it in my words. I was standing when it happened and did not fall down.


Niko September 14, 2012 at 3:47 am

Master Chen,
the experiences i made were quite strange and phenomenal. How should i deal with it in
communication with other people ? Is there a basic rule ?
So far, transmission of these experiences seem to be very disturbing for the people.


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