Thinking of learning Tai Chi but not very keen on taking lessons or finding other commitments are getting in the way of going to lessons? You’re not alone and you’re probably wondering whether you could just learn it from a video instead? Well, here’s what you need to know.
Can you learn Tai Chi from a video? You absolutely can learn tai chi from a video if you put in the work. Assuming that the quality of your video material is good, and you can complement your video learning with some personalized lessons (whether online or in person) you can definitely learn Tai Chi by following videos.
Read on to see the pros and cons of learning tai chi from video and how best to go about it!
Can You Learn Tai Chi From A Video? The Purist’s Answer
There is a certain school of thought that outright dismisses the idea of learning Tai Chi from videos. That’s not because these people are mean or because they sell Tai Chi lessons (though there are probably a few in either of those camps) but rather because they feel that Tai Chi is a more complex art than say calisthenics.
You can, of course, learn calisthenics from a video. Cindy Crawford, the famous model, demonstrated this ably enough with her video tuition series in the 1980s and there has been an endless deluge of such videos (with new faces presenting them) ever since.
One of the reasons that it’s easy to learn calisthenics from a video is that the moves within this form of exercise don’t need to be executed in an exact manner. If you’re running on the spot and bringing your knees up to just under waist height rather than to waist height – you’re still burning calories and you’re still improving the muscles in your legs. It’s not a big deal (unless you want to be a world champion calisthenics practitioner, that is).
Learning Tai Chi is not the same as learning calisthenics. The naysayers have a good point when they say it’s much more precise and that the exact positions of your body are hard to learn from watching a video and that you may end up performing “empty moves” with no-one around to provide the assistance you need to make a positive change.
They say that this will, in turn, make you unhappy. They say, that you will either find Tai Chi so unpleasant to perform when learning it from a video that you will just quit or, alternatively, it will drive you into the arms of a Tai Chi instructor who will then have to spend hours breaking the bad habits you thought you’d “learned” from the video before you can progress.
Can You Learn Tai Chi From A Video? The Optimist’s Answer
The purist has a point but then so too does the optimist. The optimist isn’t recklessly optimistic, but they like to find the positives in everything, and they believe that there’s more nuance to life than the purists allow for.
Optimists acknowledge that learning from a video isn’t perfect but they say that life is not perfect and that if you want to see bad examples of Tai Chi, you can find them in almost any Tai Chi course in your local area.
They quite rightly point out that most beginners are, by definition, not very good at Tai Chi and the first few months of lessons are mainly spent prancing about hoping that you’ve got the moves figured out when, in fact, you’re as far from getting it right as you were when you walked into the classroom.
They also note that many Tai Chi teachers aren’t exactly “proficient” either. As with all martial arts, there’s no law that defines any specific set of qualifications that a Tai Chi teacher must have before they can teach Tai Chi to others.
In fact, there’s nothing to stop you from watching a few videos on Tai Chi this morning on YouTube and then heading out this afternoon to start your own Tai Chi school. That’s how little regulation there is. That’s not to say there are no good Tai Chi teachers (there are many) but it does mean that many students will spend their lives idolizing a teacher whose basic Tai Chi is no better than theirs.
Can You Learn Tai Chi From A Video? The Realist’s Answer
OK, now to find the truth we need to walk a middle path (that idea is from Buddhism which is not related to Tai Chi but Tai Chi does incorporate some Buddhist practices such as meditation) between our purist and optimist.
You can, of course, learn some things from a video or a book or, for that matter, an online interactive course which teaches Tai Chi. Tai Chi basics are not so complex or mysterious that they must be taught by an ancient Chinese monk on a mountainside nor that it’s so simple that “anyone can do it”.
You can learn the very basics of Tai Chi using a video, and by the way, Jet Li (the super-famous martial artist) thinks so too. He runs a “learn Tai Chi” workshop series on YouTube. Sadly, it’s not taught by Jet Li but the program works as an introduction to the basics of Tai Chi.
You can check out the first lesson here, in fact:
There are, however, some advantages and disadvantages to this approach:
The Pros Of Learning Tai Chi From A Video
Let’s take a look at the pros of learning tai chi from a video first. There are some very good reasons to do so:
You Can Get Truly Professional Guidance
Most of us can’t afford Jet Li to tutor us in Tai Chi. In fact, we probably couldn’t even afford lessons with his 3rd cousin but his school on YouTube is there for anyone to use. Instruction that has been approved by the world’s best is something you’re not likely to get in your local area.
There just aren’t that many world class Tai Chi instructors to go around. This is a huge benefit of learning from a video and you don’t have to see this as a replacement for real life instruction, it can complement it. Learn from a teacher some of the time, learn from Jet Li (or whoever) in some of the rest of your time.
But if you can’t find a local teacher of Tai Chi then our money’s on Jet Li’s instruction being much better than no instruction at all.
You Can Keep Your Costs Down (or Even Make Them $0)
There is also the thorny issue of cost. While some people have plenty of ready cash on hand that allows them to lead a full and exciting life with whatever martial arts tuition they like on top – many of us are living on tight budgets. Thanks to the coronavirus lockdowns, this is likely to be a huge percentage of people for the coming years.
Video tutorials are going to work out cheaper than classroom training. You might find that you’re paying just a few bucks per session for a Tai Chi class but over a period of a few months that can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
A decent instructional DVD on the, other hand, might set you back $50-$100. Training with Jet Li on YouTube will cost you $0, all you need to do is supply the internet connection to stream it from. That can be all the argument you need to opt for a video.
You Can Workout When You Want To
This is huge. Not all of us have neatly scheduled lives. The days of 9 to 5 office jobs are in abeyance and many people work nights, shifts, weekends, etc. and that can mean planning attendance at Tai Chi classes becomes an impossible juggling act.
When you learn from a video, you’re not waiting around for anyone else. You can pop the video on the player and then get working out even at 3 a.m. when you’ve just got in from working in a warehouse. There’s a lot to be said for convenience and it might make the difference between doing Tai Chi and not doing it at all.
You Can Supplement Your Training With Other Video Advice (Diet, etc.)
You don’t need to stop at Tai Chi, either, when it comes to video learning. You can tackle other complementary practices at the same time. Two big things come to mind in the arena of wellness – diet and mindfulness.
Tai Chi practice does incorporate “meditation in motion” but as you can see from our article on meditation for martial artists – there are huge benefits to taking up meditation on its own for your overall wellbeing.
In addition, dietary choices can really help you lose weight, feel more energetic and happier and motivated to do Tai Chi. There are endless choices of diet videos and meditation videos that you can put into practice too.
You Can Tailor Your Own Program
Most Tai Chi instructors are pretty cool about working around your needs when they can but they do have a whole class to manage and that means, sometimes, you may want to do something that they just can’t squeeze into the teaching time.
With video learning, you can always learn what you want to learn. If you think there’s something you want to try or that you have a specific weakness that you want to overcome, you can focus on that. Nobody else will be around to make that difficult.
You can also switch between instructors at will. Don’t like the guy who’s droning their way through this form or that form? Then switch channels and let someone else talk you through it, instead. There are an endless number of resources out there – you can pick and choose the ones that work best for you.
You Can Expect Complete Privacy While You Learn
This can be a really big deal, if you’re just getting back into exercise after a long break – you might not want to hit a class and struggle within a few minutes of starting. You might feel a little self-conscious that you don’t know any Tai Chi and want to get a little grounding in things before you have to “perform in public”.
Video exercise can really make all the difference here. You can do it by yourself, at home in completely privacy. You should not aim to make this last forever (unless finances or opportunities are lacking to take part in classes) but its’ a great way to get started and to feel like you’re getting into the swing of things before taking the plunge and joining a more public workout.
The Cons OF Learning Tai Chi From A Video
Having said all this, there are some good reasons that learning Tai Chi from a video isn’t a perfect approach to things too:
You Won’t Get Any Feedback On Your Workout
The biggest issue of them all is that you won’t get any personalized feedback on your workout. This is a big deal and, even if you can’t afford to go regularly or there’s something else getting in the way of regular attendances at classes, that you go to a class every now and again and get some input on your forms.
The longer you leave bad habits in place, the harder it is to break them. Tai Chi is at its core a fighting style and it has some very precise movements to master. When you go wrong in front of a video, it’s impossible for you to know what’s going wrong. A little feedback can really help.
You Can’t Always Be Sure Of The Instructor’s Capabilities
While this is true in real life too, there’s something about the internet that brings out the sharks. You should always try to research any potential instructor of Tai Chi. You want to try and verify that they have some genuine experience and that they are recognized by one of the more official bodies in the discipline.
This is still no guarantee of them being capable, but it does significantly improve your odds. Not everyone can be Jet Li and that’s fine, but everyone can stop pretending to be Jet Li and give you the truth of what they can do.
You May Not Like The “One Sizes Fits All” Approach
All video workouts are tailored to the “average person”. But what if you’re not average? What if you have a weight problem, you’re too tall or you have a health issue? Well, there’s always a chance that the “average person’s” routine could do you some serious harm.
Again, just check in occasionally with a “live” teacher, just so that they can stop you from steering yourself too far wrong.
You’re Not Going To Be Held Accountable
The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. There’s no bigger “good intention” than the intention to exercise that never turns into action and exercise.
Possibly the second biggest drawback of learning Tai Chi via video is that there’s no-one else around to help motivate you and get you working out. For some people, this is no big deal. They’re born to self-motivate.
For others, though, this can be the deal breaker. If you find yourself slumped on the couch watching Sabrina again, then video learning might not be the right choice for you.
Your Tech May Let You Down
This shouldn’t happen all too often but for some people it will be an issue – internet connections go up and down like a yo-yo, DVD players can let you down, old-school VCRs suddenly decide to eat tapes, and so on.
If your tech isn’t reliable, you may never be able to get any Tai Chi done.
You Might Injure Yourself
If you are going to do Tai Chi and learn from videos then you must be very careful not to push yourself too hard. Tai Chi is a gentle form of exercise and you are not meant to do it at great speeds or to do anything painful.
If it hurts, stop. You can try again another day. Learning any martial art by yourself leaves you open to injury, always keep safety in mind.
You Don’t Get Any Social Benefits
One of the reasons that many people love Tai Chi is the social aspect of things. You go to a class and you make friends and get a bit of a social buzz. Now, some introverts might not want or need that, but many people really do like it. It’s not the end of the world not to hang out with other Tai Chi practitioners but it is a bit of shame not to if the opportunity arises.
Can you really learn Tai Chi from a video? Yes you can learn Tai Chi from a video but regular personal instruction is a great complement to video learning. There are a lot of positives to learning Tai Chi by yourself and only a few drawbacks. As long as you are safe and feel that what you are doing is beneficial – keep going.