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Beachside Qigong & Tai Chi

How Qualified is Your Tai Chi Instructor? Certified Instructor vs ShiFu: What’s that even mean?

TCA Instructor Certificate

Like all students getting tested, I was nervous when my Master Trainer Pat watched me perform my tai chi sets, assessing my skills and accuracy to determine if I can continue to lead Tai Chi for Health Institute (TCHI) programs. In fact, I got nervous about an hour before our Zoom meeting started: just me and the Master Trainer, one-on-one for 90 minutes with her eyes on me alone the whole time, judging, nitpicking the details, watching every nuance of every movement. . . .nerve-racking!!

That’s just one part of getting recertified to teach Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention parts 1 & 2 and Tai Chi for Diabetes. Also required is 1) taking a paper test of various teaching skills including the globally acclaimed Stepwise Progressive Teaching Method 2) video recording a live class session as well as personal practice sessions 3) demonstrating the ability to lead a class safely 4) paying a hefty fee ($200 this time) for the recertification process every 2 years 5) agreeing to follow a Code of Ethics 6) once complete, paying a $20 annual fee to be licensed to teach these programs.

TCA Instructor Certificate

WOW! That’s a lot of time, effort and money that is NOT required by law to lead a tai chi class. So why do I go through all this again and again every couple years? I do it to be the most competent instructor possible. Every recertification I go through, I learn new things that I then pass-on to class participants. It’s also an opportunity for me to work on improving my tai chi skills with someone more knowledgeable and experienced than myself. My TCHI Master Trainer Pat Lawson has 60 years of martial arts training, several 4th degree black belts and is as sweet as any grandma can be!! Just like my class participants want feedback on how they’re progressing, recertification is my turn to receive feedback on how I'm doing. It's also one of the few times I get professional level tai chi conversation on any and every aspect of the art I want to discuss. At recertification, I get to ask questions of the teacher, instead of answering questions like when I‘m the leader. I get to be a student again. I love being a student!

To me, being a board certified instructor testifies to my level of professional commitment and competency in my field. It says I’m not just in it to get your money. I actually care about doing a good job for you so you get the most health and well-being possible from your tai chi classes and practice. After all, would you put your house in the hands of someone who wasn’t a certified electrician? Unfortunately I have, in a manner of speaking, so I've experienced firsthand what makes an effective and a non-effective chi arts teacher.

TCA2 Instructor Certificate

With 30 years of tai chi behind me now, I’ve studied with masters, grand masters, famous teachers, people I’d never heard of and some I wish I’d never heard of. As in all fields, some people are the best at what they do and some people are not so good. Gratefully, most of my qigong and tai chi teachers through the years have been good or at least competent at what they do. Some were amazing martial artists but terrible teachers. Some were great teachers but really had no idea what tai chi is. Unfortunately, one of those teachers told me there’s no such thing as chi and all that chi stuff doesn’t matter anyway. 🙁

Another one of those uncertified, untrained teachers continually told me and everyone else in her class “no, you’re doing it all wrong.” After a few months of being belittled in every class, I stopped going back to that teacher who wasn’t teaching but trying to boost her own ego by putting us all down. The worst of them all was a local tai chi “teacher” who frequently came to class giggling that he was high on marijuana and often couldn’t remember the tai chi set he was leading. He was a kind person with a big heart and he really liked tai chi, but probably had no training in leading classes and obviously wasn’t consistent in his own practice.

All of these untrained or poorly trained teachers drove people away from tai chi. I saw with my own eyes - how people brand new to tai chi never came back to the class I too was taking simply because the teacher made it so complicated or hard or was unprofessional or even unethical. This was the one shot someone had to get the newly interested hooked on the healthy tai chi habit and instead, the so-called teacher drove them away from it. This type of class leader makes all of tai chi look bad. They make my profession appear unprofessional.

TCD Instructor Certificate

Since there are currently zero regulations in effect regarding who is and who isn’t qualified to teach qigong and tai chi, many unqualified people lead community classes and frequently “get it wrong.” I went to one local class that was called tai chi but wasn’t tai chi at all. When I politely asked the instructor what style of tai chi that was after class, she commented “it’s not really tai chi but they don’t know the difference anyway.” She was knowingly lying to her students and lying about what tai chi is, misrepresenting thousands of years of tradition. WOW! Talk about being unethical!

Yoga professionals are required to take a minimum 200 hour qualified yoga instructor training accredited by the Yoga Alliance and to maintain professional standards by updating their teaching certificates every 2 years, like all other health care professionals. Currently people are working behind the scenes to make this a standard, national requirement in qigong and tai chi as well. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for legal standards to be set in place to have a professional tai chi and qigong teacher. I make sure you have the best, most professional teacher I can be for you each and every time I show up to your class.

Sun 73 Tai Chi Certificate

I’m old school. I have and will always go above and beyond the just-getting-by average standards that seem to be the new normal of America. Being old school, I actually take pride in my work and my profession and hold myself to a higher standard than just average. That’s why I was honored with the title ShiFu (expert) of Nei Gong by a seriously badass martial arts master. He too, holds himself to a higher standard. My esteemed teacher Grand Master Jeff Cook, isn’t just a world class martial artist and lineage holder, he’s also a Purple Heart decorated Airborne Special Ranger from the U.S. Marine Corps. This man does not mess around! He means business! So when he first called me Shifu in a class, I was taken aback. Surely he doesn’t mean me, I thought.

I thought wrong. Before I became a board certified TCHI instructor, Grand Master Cook promoted me the old school way, he bestowed me with a title. Since there’s some confusion around the title Shifu in the martial arts world, he had to explain to me what it really means. Shi or Si in Chinese means “to know.” Fu means “expert skill acquired through work.” So ShiFu means one who is an expert in knowing or knowledge. If qigong and tai chi were competitive like most martial arts and held to a ranking system, you could say ShiFu is “second in command” or “yellow sash” just under the master; someone who’s qualified to lead in the master’s absence. That’s his personal red wax seal all over the certificate he gave me. When he handed it to me in a private ceremony, he said if I presented this to any legit master anywhere in the world, even China, I would be recognized as someone who had reached a high level of training.

ShiFu Certificate

A ShiFu can be a teacher but doesn’t have to teach. A true ShiFu does not give themselves the title, as so many do nowadays, not understanding what it means. It is an honor given only from a Master or Grand Master to a student who proves themself worthy. The title ShiFu is not given to oneself or by one’s peers or students. A teacher, even a board certified teacher, isn’t necessarily a ShiFu. And a ShiFu isn’t necessarily a teacher.

With almost 12 years of daily tai chi behind me, I first became a certified qigong instructor 2006 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Then, after returning to Florida and moving beachside in 2012, I became a board certified Tai Chi for Diabetes instructor. In 2016, I was awarded the title of Shifu. There’s way more in my unusually long list of certifications and accomplishments, but my goal here is to make clear why being a certified instructor matters and why you should seek no less from your own teachers now and into the future.

Qigong Instructor Certificate

Simplified Wu Style Tai Chi Certificate


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