If you’re thinking about taking up Tai Chi, it’s very natural to wonder what it might be like to study Tai Chi and whether it might like studying other martial arts or how it might differ? Well, the truth is that each Tai Chi class is unique and there’s no “one size fits all” approach to learning but there are some things you can expect to find in all Tai Chi lessons.
So, what should you expect on your first Tai Chi class? On your first Tai Chi class you should receive a formal introduction to Tai Chi followed by basic guided warm ups or stretches. You should enjoy a place of quiet, and together with a group of people (possibly also on their first Tai Chi class) learn the first moves (or forms) by repeating after your instructor.
Your first tai chi class will typically finish by warming down and a few moments of conversation with your new instructor.
What Are Tai Chi Classes Like? The First Time And Beyond
Tai Chi has a lot in common with Kung Fu or Wu Shu, in fact, the disciplines all share many movements. However, while Tai Chi is, formally, a martial art it is much more relaxed and slower paced than the other two martial arts and it is a gentle way to exercise.
This is good news because it means that Tai Chi is suited to everybody from any background, including people who have not done any formal exercise in a long period of time. So, with that in mind let’s take a look at what you can expect in Tai Chi classes.
A Formal Introduction To Tai Chi
The good news is that while you are going to learn, you’re not going back to school. Your instructor is likely to give you a genuine introduction to the general philosophy of Tai Chi and why you’re there, but they aren’t likely to go into major detail.
It’s not important to learn the details, in order to enjoy and benefit from Tai Chi but you should be aware that your instructor is not, as in some martial arts, unapproachable and you can ask any questions that you feel might help your practice or understanding and they will do their best to give you the answers you need.
Warm-ups And Stretches
While Tai Chi is a slow and gentle exercise regime, it is still a full-body workout and that means before you can start with the Tai Chi, you need to warm up. Warming up allows you to get your blood flowing and to condition your muscles so that they are prepared to work, this, in turn, prevents injury when you do start working out.
You can expect to do some shoulder workouts, leg workouts, hand workouts, etc. to get things moving. None of these exercises are strenuous. They are measured slow-paced activities in keeping with Tai Chi itself. You won’t end up sweating and out of breath from the warmup.
A Place Of Quiet
Tai Chi is practiced in a calm and quiet environment. Many people liken Tai Chi to meditation and it’s certainly true that the breathing exercises you will learn as part of your practice serve a very similar function to meditation.
Also, most Tai Chi classes tend to be held outside and in public. It’s just polite to ensure that the classes aren’t full of people screaming “kyah” and it wouldn’t really be in keeping with the nature of Tai Chi which is relaxed and measured rather than combative like most martial arts.
In fact, before you start to learn the “moves” of Tai Chi, your instructor is likely to walk you through one (or more) breathing exercises to get you in the mood for the workout and to help you clear your mind and develop the kind of concentration that’s likely to help you succeed.
Mainly Mixed Groups
Tai Chi is truly open to all. If you wander the streets of any Chinese city early in the mornings, then you will quickly come to encounter groups of Tai Chi participants on nearly any street corner. Everyone from very young children to the most elderly members of the community is free to join in and they do.
This can be a new experience if you’re used to going to the gym and being graded by your fitness level. Nobody will be grading you when you join a Tai Chi class, instead they’re going to look to you to find your own place in the group.
You simply find a place to be where you won’t interfere with others around you and then you follow the instructions as you go. In Tai Chi, everyone is focused inwardly, there’s no need to worry about being watched by others but if you feel self-conscious, feel free to stand at the back – nobody will object.
Tai Chi Teaching
Tai Chi “moves” are known as “forms”. The instructor or group leader, once they’ve helped you master your breathing, will walk you through a number of forms in a Tai Chi session. The names of these “forms” tend to be drawn from the original Chinese and thus, they can sound a bit strange when you start learning.
It’s useful to learn the names, however, as it can help you develop muscle memory for when a form arises in different Tai Chi sessions. Most beginner classes will start with very simple forms and you can learn more complex forms as you gain mastery and progress with your Tai Chi study.
Repetitive Learning With Inputs From Other Students Or The Instructor
The best way to learn anything from driving to times tables, from reading to Tai Chi, is to practice and to receive feedback on that practice. You learn the forms of Tai Chi by carrying them out, again and again, under the watchful eye of your instructor and fellow students.
If you find you are struggling, you can ask for help. It’s very common, particularly early on in your Tai Chi journey, to find this process a little confusing. Don’t worry. Everybody goes through this and the longer you stick with it, the easier it become to master the forms. You can do it.
Once you’ve finished practicing the forms for the day (normally for a period of time between half an hour and an hour), you haven’t finished for the day. It is important to spend a little time warming down – this is the warm-up but in reverse and it allows you to combat the chances of injury by properly putting your muscles into a resting state.
7 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your First Tai Chi Class
Here are some simple tips to help you get the most out of your first Tai Chi class:
- Try to copy your instructor carefully. There’s no rush to get a form mastered. It’s better to go slow and get things right, than to hurry the process and find yourself getting confused.
- Try to know your left from your right. It’s easy to get confused by this distinction, even as an adult, if you don’t often think about it. But the instructions you get are likely to be things like “move your left foot forward” and it’s very helpful to know which foot that is.
- Don’t push yourself too hard. The objective is to learn new skills and not to injure yourself. If you find a form is pushing you farther than you can go – adapt it to something more comfortable and explain why if your instructor asks.
- Don’t be afraid to move to get a better view of your instructor. You’re not nailed to the floor in Tai Chi and you won’t offend anyone if you move around, and if you can’t see properly – how are you going to learn?
- Be aware of other people around you. It’s rude to bash into other people, try to be mindful of others when you move.
- Try to discuss anything you didn’t understand with the instructor at the end of the session. It’s OK to find out what you want to know but it’s best not to interrupt the flow of the rest of the group, either. Waiting until the end shows respect for everyone.
- Enjoy the social aspect of Tai Chi. One of the best things about Tai Chi is the chance to meet and talk to other people. Before the session or after it, walk around and greet other people and introduce yourself. Stop for a chat and talk about what you enjoyed or what you’re finding difficult.
So, what should oyu expect on your first Tai Chi class? You’re likely to encounter a pleasant group of people, in a quite environment, where you warm up, learn to breathe, receive some instruction, get some practice, warm down and then get to socialize. It’s a very different experience to learning most martial arts and there’s nothing to be afraid of – learning Tai Chi is a very pleasurable experience and anyone can enjoy it.