Teaching in a Gym

I've been teaching my tai chi class at the gym for just about two months now, and I think I've finally got the hang of the hang of the hour long class in a gym environment. It's been an adjustment going from a 1.5-2h long class structure with people specifically seeking out an internal martial art class to an environment where people come and go constantly and may just be looking for a short exercise class diversion. The hardest part about teaching an art in any sort of detail is that there's not always continuity week to week. People can't make every week, new people drop in randomly, and then there's the loud top 40 music blaring in the background.

Despite the less than ideal circumstances, I think I've figured out a formula that keeps the door open for newcomers while still keeping the regulars learning new stuff. The first thing I do is warmups (stretching, qigong, etc). I then do a combination of basic exercises, mobility drills, muscle activation exercises, etc. Usually, I start with a few of the 15 basic I-Liq Chuan exercises and note what movement dysfunctions people seem to have. Lately, that has included lack of hip control, tense lower backs, and knees going out of alignment with the toes. The movement dysfunctions give me feedback I use to choose exercises to improve body mechanics; after that, I then revisit the basic ILC exercises with attention to the corrected body movements.

The particular one or two exercises and body mechanics principles emphasized are then used a focal point for practicing the form. I lead the class into the form as far as most people have learned. To deal with the fact that there are sometimes newcomers, I focus on the last couple of learned movements rather than repeating a longer form sequence. Those movements get repeated many times and tied into the basic exercises/body mechanics corrections done earlier.

My approach seems to work relatively well. At some point in the future, it'll get tougher since I'll have to delve into greater detail. I've spent some time discussing hip control, knee alignment, opening the back (expanding the mingmen), center of gravity, and keeping the shoulders over the hips. Those topics were treated separately so as not to overwhelm the class with too much info and overly challenge their neuromuscular control. But I'm going to have to inter-relate all those body movement principles in the future. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to pull that off. Hopefully, my classes will continue surprising me in how fast they pick up and integrate what I'm teaching them. It'll make my task of tying together concepts easier when I get to that nebulous point in the future.