I cringe -- downright cringe -- whenever I hear about someone being "self-taught".
Every once in a while, you'll find a music prodigy who taught themselves how to play the guitar and piano and drums, or an academic genius who taught themselves geometry and calculus. Usually, you get people like the drunken brother in The Wedding Singer, strumming madly at a poor guitar like it is being punished, all the while shouting, "Self-taught! No lessons, Dad!"
Teaching yourself something is a pretty treacherous road. It's essentially like writing a book and refusing to let other people review it for you. Maybe you'll land every step perfectly. But, more often than not, you are going to miss your own flaws and end up in a worse place than you were before.
In some ways, my tai chi instructor going on hiatus worked out to my benefit. The yoga studio I worked at contacted her about teaching tai chi, and she sent them my information. But, because she's been on hiatus, I haven't had any tai chi lessons myself. Life threw everyone into chaos at roughly the same time: I was quitting my job and prepping for a cross-country road trip (as well as house-searching/closing on a house), and she was changing jobs and studying for her CPA. I was halfway through a new form when all this happened. As a result, everything got dropped, and it wasn't until I was recommended for the tai chi job that I even got back into practicing the form that I teach to others.
After a few months of teaching tai chi, I decided it was time to get back into the swing of things with my half-learned form. I studied the videos that my instructor had sent me until I got a good feel for what I had already been taught. But that only got me roughly 2/3rds through the form. Tai chi has so many subtle shifts and nuances that it was impossible to try to teach myself what came next.
It didn't help that, as I searched for more and more videos to give me different perspectives on the form, I came across a sword form that I fell in love with. My husband bought me a proper tai chi sword when we were in New York's Chinatown a few years back. My instructor taught me a few "ooh and ah!" sword tricks, but saved any forms for a future date. I decided that, while teaching myself the rest of a higher-level form was out of the question, I could at least teach myself a base-level sword form.
I go into this knowing full well that I could be completely botching the form. Even with my background firmly planted in tai chi, I can only imagine what I'm missing as I compare my steps with the video steps.
And that's why it's so important to have someone else teach you. Someone who can objectively tell you where you are going wrong. A peer to review your work and let you know where it bogs down or where it gets confusing. While we can be our own worst critics, we can also be our biggest fans. There was nothing I hated more than being told I was doing a portion of a form wrong, especially when I swore I was doing it right. But I needed that attack on my pride to make me realize that there are no points for "forging my own path" if I'm just moving my legs and arms around with no meaning.
While I'm out of options until my instructor gets her CPA, I'm excited for the day when we can start up classes again and she can teach me the rest of the form -- as well as point out what I'm doing wrong with the sword form. Last thing I want to do is pull a William Hung and declare that I've had no formal training. All that would be missing is Simon Cowell going, "Well, I can see that!"