Is it easy to learn Tai Chi at home?

You may have recently bought a DVD or started watching a YouTube channel with the aim of learning Tai Chi at home. Now you’re wondering, is it even possible to get good at tai chi from home, without attending a class? The answer is yes, to a certain level – you could call it a vanity level – and then to progress further you really need to practise Tui Shou (Push Hands) with a partner.

Practising Tai Chi alone, with Qi Gong and Forms

Tai Chi statues A lot of people who practise Tai Chi (also called Tai Ji) only ever do it in a solo manner. They like the exercise, a bit like Yoga, it’s a bit of stretching and movement, nothing too strenuous, and plenty of deep breathing, quite meditative.

Practising alone, you might be doing Qi Gong (standing mostly on a spot, doing breathing exercises with simultaneous postures and repetitive movements).

Or you might be doing traditional sequences of moves (‘forms’). For example, in Yang style tai chi, most beginners practise a 24-move / 24-step form, often called a Simplified Form. Then there’s a 42-step form often used in competitions, often referred to as the Competition Form. There are also older forms comprising over 100 moves each. Wu style, Chen style, Sun style, Wudang style and pretty much every other style of traditional/classical Tai Chi also has long and short sequences of moves known as forms.

By practising solo, you can get very good at Qi Gong breathing exercises and you can appear good at Tai Chi forms. You can look very good, and able to win competitions, but you will still have weaknesses, because your balance has not been pressure-tested by a training partner. This is where Tui Shou (Push Hands) comes in, to take your Tai Chi to the next level.

The importance of Push Hands (Tui Shou) pairwork exercises

Tai Chi Tui Shou Not just for taking an experienced practitioner to the next level – I’d also recommend Push Hands (Tui Shou) exercises as the most important training method for beginners whose primary motivation in doing Tai Chi is to learn self-defence / combat techniques, and for anyone who has attention deficit disorder, as Tui Shou pairwork makes for a much richer, more stimulating and more practical learning experience than solo Tai Chi practice does.

How does Tui Shou work?

You touch hands with a partner and push and pull each other, either in a sequence or freely, and you feel how easily your structure is compromised – your partner essentially feels where you’re tense or off-balance and exploits it by pushing or pulling you off your spot (without moving their own feet) until you learn your lesson and improve your posture and balance! All the while trying to maintain correct tai chi postures and hand positions.

These ‘pressure tested’ lessons simply can’t be learnt by practising solo, therefore if you wish to truly master Tai Chi you will need to practise for long hours with training partners. However, if your aim is simply to get to the level of ‘looking good to most people’ you can actually achieve this by practising forms alone at home. Whichever route you choose to go down, it is quite easy, because it’s all basic learning, nothing complex here, it’s just about practising balanced, efficient movements, it’s really quite easy, it just takes time, lots of time. Practice makes perfect. Do you have the patience for it? Good luck on your journey!