I was recently asked to teach a Tai Chi class for a fitness program. In my interview with the program director and another Tai Chi expert from China, I demonstrated my old Tai Chi form which I amped up by incorporating my Wujifa skillset.
After my performance, the director asked me if I had any certifications. "Well, not with me." Luckily, the other interviewer, the Tai Chi expert, told her my Tai Chi was "professional level". And I got the job.
This experience raised a curious question for me. My skill is recognized as being professional level by an expert and yet I appeared questionable to the unknowing because I didn't have a certification.
As you may or may not know, the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association (ATCQA) offers independent, "third-party" certifications of Tai Chi teachers.
ATCQA Tai Chi Certification is not affiliated with any particular school, program, style or lineage. ATCQA provides independent accreditation of Tai Chi practitioners and schools.
Outside of the ATCQA, I'm not aware of any other independent third party certifying organizations. Email me if you know of any. I'm curious.
Without a standardized, independent certification system, comparing Tai Chi teaching certificates from any of the many Tai Chi and Kung Fu schools is like comparing apples and oranges. There's no basis for comparison. That said, I do think certificates from these schools or organizations serve a purpose of providing a level of credibility to the unknowing such as I encountered in that interview.
Once upon a time, I was teaching Tai Chi at an Adult Education class. The following semester I learned that one of my students who was a first time learner, was now teaching Tai Chi at another club. So surely certifications serve to protect both the teacher/school (No, that person is not certified to teach my material.) as well as protect the unknowing public from such learn-one, do-one, teach-one hucksters.
Unlike American public high schools and colleges where the entire school is certified or accredited by a third-party organization, when it comes to Tai chi schools, the only accreditation the school proper has is the certificate of the teacher from his/her teacher. To me, this is the same as no accreditation.
I recently saw one school's website which posted an extensive list of apparently every training certificate the teacher had accumulated. I think this is how certificates can be abused to mislead the unknowing. Breadth of attendance at seminars does not necessarily translate into depth of ability.
There are also many who claim to be part of a "lineage" which I do not consider to be a certification but rather a setting of an expectation. Advertising one's lineage may impress the unknowing, however, in itself, one's lineage is not an assessment of one's skill level. I used to belong to the camp that valued one's Tai Chi lineage until I woke up to this dark truth about the lineage claimers.
For me, the central question regarding Tai Chi teacher certification is, "Certified at what level to teach Tai Chi at what level?"
Even though a certified and lineaged Tai Chi teacher may have a long-standing, reputable and profitable Tai Chi school, and may have published books and videos on Tai Chi, and may have even won Tai Chi push hands and/or sparring competitions, and may have enough certificates to wallpaper a lavatory, this does not in itself mean that s/he can demonstrate or teach internal strength skills and full body connection which I consider to be the hallmark of real Tai Chi.
It happens that long-time certified teachers remain stuck at an amateur level and their advanced students remain stuck at the same level no matter how advanced they are in that teacher's system. On the other hand, a certified teacher may be "professional level" and provide advanced students higher level instruction and yet, according to the current ACTQA criteria, these two certified instructors could appear to be equal.
I applaud the efforts of the ATCQA and all involved to establish a baseline, third-party certification. However, a huge downside for me is that their certifying criteria (as of this writing) is based solely on counting hours in training or teaching and counting reference letters. There is absolutely no criteria involving an independent exam of academic knowledge nor assessment of skill level in specific skill sets.
I would like to see certification levels that get beyond counting hours and reference letters and gets into distinguishing functional skill levels such as:
Demonstrated skill in sinking/dropping.I think by establishing certification levels based on functional skills would help distinguish teachers from masters and could provide a training path for those teachers who want to advance to master class certification.
Demonstrated skill in whole-body connection; internal strength.
However, there are probably issues to resolve like, finding the rare individual who has whole-body connection/internal strength and who would participate in assessing those interested in advanced certification.
And then too, there is probably little interest in establishing a certification level based on skill level because many "masters" may find themselves demoted to advanced teacher status.
What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of certifying Tai Chi teachers? What do you consider to be essential skill sets? How would you test and distinguish skill levels in these skill sets? I'd love to hear from you.