Is it Possible to Learn Tai Chi on Your Own?


Tai Chi is one of the few martial arts done almost totally alone without a partner. This would seemingly make it ideal for learning and practicing at home. But is it possible to learn Tai Chi on your own?

Here’s what I know from doing a lot of Tai Chi over the years:

It is easy to learn the specific movements of both the Tai Chi short and long forms. However, some of the subtle positional nuances, as well as the flow of the chi energy through your body may be harder to master without direct instruction.

But that’s just a simple overview.

And you can still get a lot of benefit and enjoyment out of practicing Tai Chi at home. But if you ever get a chance to work with a true master of Tai Chi, you’ll be able to take your practice to the next level.

So today, we’ll explore some of the different types of Tai Chi (full name Tai Chi Chuan) and what the best way to learn these will be from home.

Let the fun begin.

What is the best Tai Chi style to learn at home?

The Yang Style short form is the best Tai Chi style to learn at home. It only contains 24 individual movements and can easily be memorized from watching YouTube videos.

It’s a style that’s been codified into a set of steps that one could go through with relative ease.

It’s a series of gracefully flowing circular movements that can be done by anybody, irrespective of age, size, gender, or race. Tai Chi is traditionally 103 forms, but it has been condensed to 24 for the short form.

It’s not complicated, so it’s ideal for self-study.

These simple postures and movements are like a coordinated, graceful dance. The forms are practiced as a whole, helping with integrating the body-mind-spirit. The practitioner pays attention to their breathing as they execute these effortless movements.

In addition to other benefits of Tai Chi, the Yang style offers full cardio-workout, makes the practitioner more flexible, and is safe when practiced alone.

The movements are soft, and like Yoga, the practitioner can go deeper into the postures as flexibility and mastery improve.

Is Tai Chi difficult to learn by yourself?

The Tai Chi movements are very easy to learn alone. The biggest challenges come from the fact that so many of the practitioners on YouTube don’t do the movements exactly the same, and it can be hard to know if you’re actually feeling the chi.

One essential secret to Tai Chi is that you must be flexible. Truth be told, flexibility training is easy. It’s just that you’ll need to make it a daily practice.

You need to be flexible to excel at all martial arts. It’s almost impossible to attain mastery without being flexible. In fact, it’s dangerous. To be flexible, you’ll need to stretch at least twice daily before and after training.

To be really masterful at Tai Chi, you’ll need a lot of training, no doubt.

It’s easy to learn the basics, but there’s a lot to learn. And it’s one of those arts that the more you learn, the more you realize there’s still a lot you don’t know.

But there’s a key component you can’t teach yourself. This facet relates to the Chi. You’ll need to be guided at that point in your learning.

But if you invest a considerable chunk of your time in self-study and practice, you’ll glimpse the fundamentals of Tai Chi in a short time.

But compared to most types of martial arts, I would much rather practice Tai Chi at home alone than most others.

But honestly, don’t practice it inside your home (once you know the movements). Practice barefoot in a park with your toes in the grass feeling the energy of the world around you.

A martial art that’s similar in spirit to Tai Chi is Aikido. It’s also a “gentle” art form. If you’ve ever wondered if you could learn Aikido at home, you’re in luck.

Because that’s exactly what I explored in a recent article of mine, where I offered effective tips to help you learn it on your own.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How long does it take to learn Tai Chi practicing alone?

You can learn the basic 24 movements of the Tai Chi short form in as little as a month practicing 20 minutes per day 4 or 5 days per week. But it will take a year to really know the form such that you can practice without actively thinking about the next movement.

But mastery, which involves knowing how to channel the Chi, would take some years. I keep mentioning devotion and consistency because you’ll be teaching yourself.

And that can be a tough call.

Not because Tai Chi (TC) is inherently difficult, but because you’d have to motivate yourself, which can be hard for some people. Naturally, you’ll need to get started by doing in-depth research to get the best resources for self-study. Sure, it will take some time.

But, 12 months is not a long time, if you ask me.

A key challenge you’d probably face is that you may not be able to accurately gauge your progress as you learn at home, seeing as there’s no instructor or sparring partner.

So, you won’t be able to know if you’re really getting the techniques or whether your progress is a figment of your imagination. How can you overcome this?

Simple:

  1. Record yourself and compare your performances with the ones in the videos you’re using as learning resources
  2. Conduct objective appraisals so that you can improve
  3. Don’t be discouraged or be in a hurry

Kaizen (small daily improvements) is the secret to success in all pursuits.

You can teach yourself Tai Chi, but it may also be worth seeing if there are any groups in your area that practice in local parks as that is far more common than with other types of martial arts.

The other thing that’s different about Tai Chi is that you could easily go through the short form in under 10 minutes, and simply do that twice a day whenever you had a few minutes to spare.

In that sense, you can make a lot of progress in a short time as opposed to going to an hour-long class a couple of times per week.

Are YouTube videos the best way to learn Tai Chi at home?

YouTube videos are the best way to learn Tai Chi at home unless you can find an online class where the instructor can also see your movements and provide feedback.

YouTube is full of exceptional Tai Chi videos. There’s hardly anything you want to learn that you won’t find on the platform.

But one problem with the platform is that in a lot of cases, the content producers may not be qualified instructors.

So if you do go the YouTube route, look for videos or channels with a high view count, and no more than 10% thumbs down compared to thumbs up.

Here are my top sources for learning Tai Chi Chuan online (not paid endorsements):

Platform Name/Link Why I Like It Cost
YouTube Tai Chi School Tons of lessons and over 3,000 subscribers! My biggest beef is that they don’t just have a video that walks you through the Short Form. But it’s otherwise well worth checking out. Free
Online Course Dr Paul Lam’s Tai Chi for Health Programs A large database of classes, exclusive new monthly content, information, and recipes for health, and an online community where you can ask questions or share tips. Prices range from $11.75 every other month to $59.95 every other month based on the program.
YouTube Master Li Jing Taichi Kungfu Her channel does have lots of good content, but since it was missing from the channel I mentioned above, I’m linking here directly to her tutorial on the Yang-style Short Form Free
Free Live Online Classes Tai Chi Foundation Live streaming classes done via Zoom at specific times at different time-zone locations around the US including both Tai Chi and Qigong classes. Free, but also donation-based

In order to master Tai Chi, it’s vital that you’re not just learning in a haphazard manner.

As I mentioned above, many different people on YouTube do the form slightly differently from one another. So unlike a Karate kata, it’s considered OK for different Tai Chi Chuan masters to do the form a little differently from one another.

And the one Tai Chi master I know (who wouldn’t call himself one) does the form differently now than he did 2 years ago. And both ways were excellent.

So all that is to say, don’t jump between many different YouTube channels. 

Find one you like where the video and audio are clear and stick with them. That way you’ll learn it a set way and not get confused if someone else does a move slightly differently.

Conclusion

In the preceding paragraphs, we learned about the best style of Tai chi to learn at home.

We found out whether it’s difficult to learn, how long it’d take, whether one could teach oneself how to feel the Chi, and we wrapped things up by considering whether YouTube videos are the best way to learn Tai Chi.

Now go repulse your monkey!


Photo which requires attribution:

Still frame from video Basic Tai Chi for Beginners | The Crane Spreads Wings Mindfulness Meditation by David-Dorian Ross is licensed under CC2.0

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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