I think a majority of taiji classes on the market basically consist of a monkey-see, monkey-do approach. That is, someone in the front of the class is working through a form and the individual person tries their best to follow along. I used to train in this yang style studio and on my first day of class, I was thrown into the mix and tried my best to work my way through the ENTIRE yang long form! Sure, I had someone in all four directions from myself to follow, but it was quite a feat and very humbling at the same time. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to go through that ordeal again..
But then after the initial group run of the Yang long form, we broke out into smaller groups and worked on various parts of the form. Since I was a beginner, I was grouped with other newbies and we worked the open taiji and first grasps swallows tail with a senior member of the class. The corrections were very high level and usually focused on form sequence. This was the basic structure of the class. If you wanted more correction or ‘face time’ with the head instructor, it usually entailed getting private lessons. From what I heard, private lessons lasted 1 hour and costs about $40/hr or so. Topics ranged from philosophical insights to physical form corrections to applications.
With my first Chen instructor, the class size was pretty small (around 5 students), so it had a different vibe to it. There was some ‘follow along’ in the beginning of the class to briskly do a single execution of whatever form we were working on at the time. After that, he would normally teach us the next couple of postures in the set and then individually work with folks on corrections. The corrections in this class were mostly on form sequence with some detailed physical corrections sprinkled in. The physical corrections addressed things like formation of the wrist in a given posture, the height of the hand, the angle of the elbow, the arc of the circle, etc.
With my second Chen instructor, the classes were pretty much all private and consisted primarily of physical corrections. It was assumed I had the gross form sequence down pat before coming to class. These corrections were like the ‘Pizza’ in Chen Xiaowang talk. The class time frame was usually 1.5 hours and we would sometimes get through corrections for 2-3 moves. I’m serious, we only covered 2-3 moves in 1.5 hours, but the corrections were very detailed. These topics ranged from dantien rotations, qi intention path, angle and motion of the kua, testing of ‘fang song’, etc etc.
One of the things I really liked about the detailed corrections route is a majority of the corrections can be universally applied. The angle and motion of the kua correction can be applied to almost any posture in the form for further investigation. Likewise, the dantien rotation can be applied to any posture in the form. Basically, once the core principles of the teaching were understood, these core principles or concepts could be applied to any movement. This allowed for me to really work on concepts and principles on my own time instead of worrying about form sequence or minute physical placement of elbows, hands, etc.
While I feel there is merit in all of the approaches above, I think the goal is for us to find a teaching/school style that suits our own learning style. I know for me, I will probably never again take large group lessons. I just prefer either the small class setting or the private instruction route. But to each their own, some like the social functions, some like the laid back approach, others prefer to eat bitter 😉