This is a surprisingly controversial topic mainly because it’s hard to define what “learning Tai Chi” actually means. There’s a big difference between getting a handle on the basic forms of Tai Chi and absolute mastery. Then, of course, there’s also the fact that Tai Chi can be used as a martial art which makes answering the question even more complex.
So, how long does it take to learn Tai Chi?
It’s possible to learn Tai Chi by yourself in as little as 30-40 hours of practice. However, it will probably take about 3 years to master the basic forms and even longer to achieve mastery, whatever that means to you.
Moreover, if you want to learn Tai Chi to fight with it, then you need to learn at least one other martial art first (ideally a form of Kung Fu) and that can take longer still. Let me explain why.
What Is Involved In Learning Tai Chi?
Tai Chi, or to give it its full name Tai Chi Ch’uan, is a different kind of martial art. It is a neijia (internal) art which means that much of the focus of the discipline is not on learning the forms but rather on the meditative element.
Taiji is the Chinese concept of “Yin and Yang” which is the idea that elements of our life (and the world around us) must be in balance in order for us to achieve inner harmony.
It was originally conceived as a martial art but Tai Chi martial artists are something of a rarity today (though there are some Tai Chi competitive wrestlers out there) and most people practice Tai Chi for other benefits. Some like to compete to demonstrate the forms and many believe it leads to increased longevity.
To master Tai Chi you must master the five elements of the training:
- Taolu – this is the series of forms which relate to solo hand and weapons training
- Neigong and qigong – these two inner disciplines related to breathing, movement, awareness of your surroundings and mediation
- Tuishou – response drilling
- Sanshou – techniques for self-defense
These combine into three key aspects of practice:
- Personal health. If you are not healthy, you cannot easily meditate or take care of yourself. Thus, you learn to manage stress in Tai Chi to lessen their effects on your body, mind and soul.
- Mediation. To execute the forms properly, you must be truly present in the moment. Tai Chi practitioners learn to focus on the here and now through mediation.
- Martial art. Not every Tai Chi student learns the martial art side of the discipline but for those who do want to do this – you should be aware it’s not a walk in the park, you can expect to train for a very long time to be able to fight with Tai Chi.
There are also several different schools of Tai Chi, each with different forms and different techniques.
How Long Does It Take To Do Some Tai Chi By Yourself?
So, as you can see – Tai Chi is not a “simple discipline” which can be learned in a few hours. But, how long does it take before you can apply what you have learned at home and practice some Tai Chi for yourself?
Well, the good news is that it shouldn’t take that long. While you certainly won’t achieve any kind of mastery in a short time period – you can get to grips with some of the basic forms of Tai Chi in around 30-36 hours of instruction according to the Tai Chi Foundation.
By then, you should also be able to use some simple meditation techniques too.
The Tai Chi Foundation says you will go through several levels of learning as you progress with Tai Chi:
- Beginner. You learn the form and the movements that comprise that form. That is where to put your hands and feet and the underlying principles that are part of the form.
- Fundamental. Here you learn to apply your understanding of the whole form to your body and the world around you. How can you become more relaxed? How are you interacting with the ground? That kind of thing.
- Push Hands. That is, you learn to incorporate working with a partner into your Tai Chi practice. This scratches the surface of martial arts techniques and how you can work with safe force coming from another person.
- Advanced. Here you will internalize how Tai Chi works as a meditation and an exercise. You can also explore non-aggressive self-defense.
- Martial disciplines. You can learn the Tai Chi as an actual martial art and even the sword!
When they say 30-36 hours. They mean you learn a few forms at the Beginner level. There is a long way to go before you reach any kind of mastery!
How Long Does It Take To Master The Basic Forms Of Tai Chi?
If you were to dedicate yourself to learning Tai Chi a few times a week then you could achieve a basic level of mastery over the basic forms in around 3 years! Yes, Tai Chi is not something you can rush and unlike other martial arts, progress is generally much slower because mastering your mind takes much longer than mastering forms by themselves.
How many basic forms are there? Well, it depends on the school of Tai Chi that you are involved in. The answer is that it will be between 20 and 30 forms at most schools.
If you want to compete in Tai Chi there are 42 official competitive forms and it’s going to take a little longer to learn these forms than it is to learn the basic forms. It’s also worth noting that basic mastery is unlikely to be enough to make a significant impression in competition.
How Long Does It Take To Master The 120+ Forms Of Tai Chi?
We now reach a “how long is a piece of string” question because there is no point at which anyone is considered to have truly mastered Tai Chi as there is always something more to learn.
Thus, mastery of all the forms is something that might well take a lifetime. However, it’s probably fair to say that you might gain a sufficient level of mastery of these forms to teach them to others in 7-10 years.
Much of the “mastery” of Tai Chi does not come through physical forms but by the ability to meditate effectively. Monks who learn to meditate often spend 3 years or more in a single act of meditation! It can be very difficult for people with jobs and busy lives to master the more complex acts of meditation.
However, this does not mean that you shouldn’t practice Tai Chi, the benefits of exercise and even basic meditation have long been demonstrated to provide both physical and mental health benefits. So, don’t worry about “mastery”, as you’ll learn while you meditate, there’s no such thing as “mastery” because the self is something of an illusion anyway.
How Long Does It Take To Learn Tai Chi For Combat?
Most people who learn Tai Chi as a martial art in its original sense, will learn another martial art to the level of mastery first. Unsurprisingly, given the similarities between Gong Fu/Kung Fu/Wu Shu and Tai Chi (they have the same roots) most people will elect for a form of Gong Fu that is similar to Tai Chi.
With hard work, you can achieve a certain amount of mastery in one of these disciplines in around 7 years. Then you can add another 3-7 years of Tai Chi before you are likely to be able to fight with it. That means for the vast majority of martial artists this is simply too much time to devote when other disciplines can be learned much more quickly.
Thus, Tai Chi as a martial art is now something of a rarity and the majority of Tai Chi fighters are Chinese people who come from one of the traditional schools of Kung Fu as there is a natural path to progression.
How long does it take to learn Tai Chi? Well, it depends. If you want to learn enough Tai Chi so that you can practice at home, you might be ready in as little as 30 hours! If you want to master the basic forms, it might take 3 years or more. If you want to compete, 5 years or more, seems about reasonable. And if you want to truly master Tai Chi, you will need a lifetime of learning.