Become a TCAA qualified teacher

I once asked my teacher, 'Who teaches you?'

He said: 'You do'.

Classes need teachers and teachers need classes, and without a doubt the best way to develop yourself is through assisiting the development of others.  I am a teacher, and my teacher was a teacher too, as was his teacher and a long line of teachers before him, and without the dedication of such people there would be no Taoist Arts for us to study today. That is why I believe teaching is so important and why I will always encourage anyone who sincerely wishes to become a teacher. The Lee style has a long tradition of studying and teaching of the Taoist principles although for many years this was kept strictly within the family until Chan Lee - who was the last of the Lee family line - decided to pass his knowledge on to Chee Soo our teacher. Chan Lee formulated a grading syllabus when he established the first Taoist Arts school in London in 1934, and it is that exact same syllabus of core activities which forms the basis of our school today.

Unfortunately with the ever growing popularity of T'ai Chi there are now many teachers who have watered down the original style and cut out the more difficult exercises to make it more palatable to westerners and increase class numbers. It is precisely these more challenging exercises which do the most to develop people on all three levels, mental, physical and spiritual. It's a sad fact that many of today's teachers who were themselves assessed according to this syllabus and proudly display their grade and belt do not use the same syllabus to assess their own students and do not adhere to it in the classes they teach to others. The result is that there are many students today who are completely unaware of the true depths of these Arts.

The Taoist Cultural Arts Association aims to promote the highest standards in teaching and preserving the authentic Lee style of Taoist Arts, that is why we have the exclusive right to publish the Lee style training manuals written by Chee Soo. With this in mind we run an advanced training course for instructors and assistant instructors only which is based in the West Midlands at Princethorpe College. Students who have studied at their local clubs generally start training at the regular weekend courses held in their area or at the Midlands training centre, and when they have reached a sufficient standard which usually means passing through the first six grades on the syllabus, they may be invited to attend the senior course. Usually gradings will take place once per term or three times per year. Students who wish to take their studies further are also encouraged to attend the residential training course at Easter and in the Summer, each one of these weeks is roughly equivalent to six months training under normal circumstances.

In my personal experience T'ai Chi training is a powerful set of skills which can be adapted to almost any kind of situation which you are likely to encounter in your life. It enables you to work harder for longer and in a more relaxed way, it helps with interpersonal skills both at work and at home. In actual fact it has never ceased to surprise me not only in the sense that it has fulfilled my expectations because to be honest when I started training I didn't really have any expectations about what T'ai Chi was. What has amazed me the most about it is that it has developed a set of skills that I didn't even know existed or thought were possible before I started. This I suppose is the outcome of sensitivity training in that as you become more sensitive to what is going on in the world around you then parts of yourself which were previously dormant begin to wake up, and light is shone into areas which were previously unknown. In the words of my teacher Chee Soo:

You cannot tell the depth of a pool by looking at the surface, you have to dive in and swim to the bottom.

TCA grading syllabus

(click the links in the heading to see a detailed explanation of each section.)

Grades

Stances & Steps

Chi/Li demos

K’ai Men

I Fu Shou

Lun Pei

Lun Shou

T’ai Chi Ch’uan

T’ai Chi Dance

T’ai Chi Silk

T’ai Chi Fan

T’ai Chi Stick

T’ai Chi Sword

Tao Yin

Clubs

9th Pan

Eagle

1

3

Left

Left

Left

11

10





2


8th Pan

Bear

1

6

Left

Left

Left

20

20





3


7th Pan

Dragon

1

9

Right

Right

Right

30

30





4


6th Pan

Snake

2

11

Right

Right

Right

40

40





5


5th Pan

Riding Horse

2

13

Front

Front

Front

50

50





6


4th Pan

Cat

2

15

Front

Front

Front

58

60





7


3rd Pan

Leopard

3

18

Rear

Rear

Rear

69

70





8


2nd Pan

Monkey

/Duck

3

20

Rear

Rear

Rear

80

80

10




9


1st Pan

Crane

3

22

Down

Down

Down

89

90

20

10



10


1st Teng

Cross leg

4

30

Down

Down

Down

101

100

40

30

30

10

15

1

2nd Teng

Chicken

/Scissor

5

40

Up

Up

Up

114

120

60

40

60

30

20

2

3rd Teng

Lion

7

57

Up

Up

Up

126

150

80

60

90

70

35

3

4th Teng

Dog

10

68

All areas

All areas

All areas

136

169

110

90

120

100

55

4

5th Teng

Frog

15

100

Two Hands

Two Hands

Two Hands

140

185

120

120

140

140

80

5

6th Teng

Drunkard

21

160

Two Hands

Two Hands

Two Hands

140

185

140

140

200

180

110

6

Grades

There are nine Pan or student grades, each student attends a grading usually at a weekend course at the end of each term in your local area or at the Midlands central area coaching school. There is also a grading held on the last day of the Easter and Summer Course weeks. Gradings are an essential part of your training because they give you important feedback about your progress from experienced qualified teachers.

Usually the first three grades are tested in an informal manner by continuous assessment at the weekend course. This means that the senior teacher in consultation with your own teacher will look at your progress in the class and assess you on the basis of your performance in your group.

However the next three grades require a more rigorous approach so by this stage students can elect to attend a formal grading where they will be looked at by a panel of teachers not including their own teacher. This really can help both a student and their teacher to get an objective perspective on their progress.

The final three grades also require a formal grading and here the student is asked to demonstrate their ability as a teacher, their attendance at their local class and the weekend courses will also be taken into consideration. If everything goes smoothly then the student can decide to be assessed for their master grade or Tengchi grade. This is a more rigorous grading where the student is assessed on the standard of their forms and partner exercises, their attendance, and also in consultation with other teachers their general attitude and performance helping others in the courses is looked into. If they pass this grading then they are qualified to teach a club.

Stances and Steps

T'ai Chi stances are called after traditional animal names and represent the positions of the feet, the legs and weight distribution. A student is expected to know the stances for their grade plus the steps or transitions between stances which are various stepping patterns either staying in a stance or moving between stances.

Chi and Li demos

Chi and Li are types of energy which are utilized and developed through T'ai Chi training, it's not just a matter of learning the physical moves. In order to make sure that students are developing their internal energy as well we teach various demonstration exercises usually in partners which teach how these energies can be used. At a grading we ask students to demonstrate these exercises.

K’ai Men

K'ai Men - also known as Taoist Yoga - is the Lee style form of Chi Gung or energy building exercises. Chi Gung opens the energy meridians to encourage the flow of energy through the entire body. Students are expected to be able to demonstrate a number of K'ai men exercises from memory, and prospective teachers need to show us that they can teach these exercises confidently to a class of people.

I Fou Shou

I Fou Shou or sticky hands and is an exercise with a partner which improves balance and sensitivity. Students must demonstrate the ability to keep their balance and be able to effect control of their partners balance but without using physical force. Advanced grades are expected to be able to break their partner's balance in a particular direction only, and using either or both hands.

Lun Pei

Lun Pei or Whirling Arms is an exercise which involves standing opposite your partner in a fixed stance and making circles whilst staying in contact with your partner's arms. The objectives can be to make them step in a particular direction or to make contact with their body but without breaking the circle, and learning to give way to force.

Lun Shou

Lun Shou or Whirling Hands is an exercise with a partner which involves joining hands and moving with a circular motion to effect the partner's balance. Both Whirling Arms and Whirling Hands develop the awareness of basic self defence principles such as balance, timing, strategy, range, sensitivity and reactions.

T’ai Chi Ch’uan

The T'ai Chi form is a series of 140 stances divided into sequences. Students are expected to know the number of stances for their respective grade from memory without following someone else. Teachers assessing students in the form will be looking at three aspects in particular, the stance, the posture, and the technique or hand movements. Upper and lower body movements need to be co-ordinated together in a relaxed natural way without stiffness. The posture should be correct which generally means a straight spine and no leaning forwards, back or to the sides. The hips should not sway whilst moving forwards or back and the weight distribution should not generally exceed 70%-30%. Steps should be conducted with a heel-toe movement and all the movements of the hands and arms should follow a curve or straight lines avoiding locking the joints.

T’ai Chi Dance

The principles of the T'ai Chi dance are very similar to the T'ai Chi form above except that the dance sequence is more flowing and lighter in style. Less emphasis is placed on precision and more on flow and relaxation.

T’ai Chi Silk, Fan, Stick and Sword.

T’ai Chi Silk, Fan, Stick and Sword forms are traditional forms of exercise which accompany T'ai Chi training. Although weapons are considered to be more advanced forms many students practice them from the outset. In terms of gradings weapons forms are not absolutely required until a student reaches the higher grades. In actual fact if for example a student does not know any moves of the fan form but is good at the other forms then they will be unlikely to fail their grading based on this alone. More important are the stick and sword forms and their accompanying exercises such as sticky sticks and sticky swords. Weapons forms training is unlikely to be assessed directly at a formal grading but is more likely to form part of a continuous assessment which will be taken into account in the grading alongside other considerations such as attendance and performance during a course or class.

Tao Yin

Tao Yin are the Taoist Breathing exercises, many of them are linked to aiding recovery from specific types of illnesses. Students are expected to be able to perform a particular number of basic breathing exercises from memory depending on their level of attainment. Students or assistant instructors approaching master grade also need to show that they are confident in teaching these exercises in front of a class.

Clubs

Students need teachers and teachers need their students. Without a doubt teaching a class is a fast track to learning the Taoist Arts. When a student has reached a high enough level of attainment in the various sections outlined above then the next step is for them to start to put into practice what they have learned in the field. In my own experience there is no greater aid to mental focus and memory as when I am questioned by a student and I have to find the appropriate answer with no one there to help me out. In reality our students are well coached to a high standard and all our teachers have been given ample opportunities to develop their teaching skills at evening and weekend courses before they are allowed to go solo. The Lee style is a traditional Taoist family style and what this means in terms of a club is that it's not just a matter of the teacher dishing out instructions and the students following along by copying. In reality there is far more learning goes on in the various interactions between students in the group and it is the teacher's job to facilitate this process rather than to dominate it. I sometimes explain this process to students using the following analogy:

A computer can connect to the internet and download a file from a server, and as more computers log onto this server and demand files then the server has to work harder and harder, each computer's share of the available bandwidth becomes reduced and download speeds become slower and slower. Eventually the server may crash under the load and the entire process breaks down under the demand for more and more information.

In more recent years peer-to-peer file sharing methods such as bittorrent have become more prevalent. A user logs onto the server and downloads some information then immediately starts sharing it with other users, in fact users looking for information are likely to retrieve far more information from other peers than they are to receive it from centrally located servers. With this method, as more and more users log on to the system, the speed of information retrieval increases because more and more opportunities to share information exist. The more load is put on the system the more efficient it becomes.

Learning T'ai Chi is a bit like doing a jig-saw puzzle. Each piece has a bit missing, and it also has a bit which fits into the missing bit of another piece allowing the pieces to interlock. At first it all seems like confusion, but as more and more pieces start to fit together we begin to see how similar pieces form sections of the puzzle and can be grouped together. Eventually we can see where these sections need to be placed in order to make sense of the picture as a whole. It wouldn't be much fun if someone gave us a puzzle already completed, and we wouldn't learn much from doing it either. The point of the puzzle is not in finishing it by copying what someone else may have done before us, but in the Art of solving puzzles in itself, this is the kind of skill we will find useful in a variety of spontaneous situation that might arise in our day to day lives.

When it comes to assessing teachers, especially with the higher grades, we are not looking only at how well they can do forms or demonstrate exercises in a class, but we also look at how successful they have been at encouraging others to learn and develop through establishing and teaching clubs. Clubs are the lifeblood of the Association, they keep the Arts alive, and we expect to see teachers opening clubs, and senior teachers training their students to become teachers too and opening their own clubs.