The No Fu Teaching Method
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This is a teaching method for teaching mahjong, based from the famous Tibet mahjong teaching method, but more fine tuned for the Japanese variant. Although the Tibet method is good for introducing mahjong, I've found that it fails to capture the nuanced complexity of its Japanese version, so I've tweaked it a lot of times until I got a working formula that works. I've used this with a lot of success, even to little kids in the park with nothing to do. The "No Fu" name comes from the basic scoring introduced later on that doesn't rely of fu.


Before Starting
Phase 1: A Set and a Pair, One Suit

Phase 2: Two Sets and a Pair, One Suit

Phase 3: Two Sets and a Pair, Two Suits -- Basic

Phase 4: Two Sets and a Pair, Two Suits -- Advanced

Phase 5: Three sets and a pair, Three suits

Phase 6: The Three Dragons

Phase 7: Winds

Final Phase: Refining


Before Starting

Let's face it; for new beginners without any background knowledge of mahjong, it would be impossible to teach them everything about the game in one sitting. So first you must establish both a time and a place to play mahjong. Only through constant exposure to the game can anyone learn it thoroughly. You can try to introduce them to video game mahjong, but some of the ones I've done that to dropped interest in the game as soon as I left my eyes from them. As for my example, I meet the kids in the park once every three days, and I bring snacks along with me to hook them in.

Try meeting daily for the best possible results, weekly at most. Establish a place where you usually place so they can feel at home. You are probably the only one who has a mahjong set among them, so it takes dedication in your part.


Phase 1: A Set and a Pair, One Suit

Just with the Tibet method, start with a single suit, most preferable pin. First explain that each tile has 4 copies. Teach them that to win, you need a set and a pair.

Explaining a set

Say that there are two types of sets: chii and pon (don't introduce kan yet as it isn't relevant for now). Each set is composed of three tiles. Chii sets are consecutive numbers, 123, 345, 789, while pon sets are triplets of the same tile, 111, 444, 888. Show this on the table for maximum effect. I find it nice to use the Japanese terms immediately so they can get used to proper calling later on.

Explaining a pair

A pair is a pair. Just two same tiles, easy.

So you and the rest gets four tiles. Don't play yet; show all the tiles face up and explain how the game goes. Draw a tile, analyze it, discard. If you win by drawing your winning tile, say "Tsumo", and when the enemy drops the winning tile, say "Ron". Do it for a few turns until everyone gets the hang of it, and start playing! No calling, no kans, no yaku, only tsumo and rons. Just keep playing until everyone understands the concept of a set and a pair.


Phase 2: Two Sets and a Pair, One Suit

Up the difficulty by adding another set. This time, everyone gets 7 tiles. Nothing new here really, just letting everyone get used to saying ron and tsumo. If you think everyone can understand sets and pair, you can move on to the next harder phase that introduces new rules...


Phase 3: Two Sets and a Pair, Two Suits -- Basic

Now add the bamboo tiles to the pile. It is at this point we reveal that you need a yaku to win. This part WILL TAKE TIME, but if mastered will lay the foundation for their future mahjong career.

Say that now, it's possible to call other people's discards to finish a set. Demonstrate a chii (23 chiis 4, 57 chiis 6) and say you can only do that for the player to your left, while a pon completes a triplet and can be called from anywhere.

But you can't just call, you need a yaku, a certain state of your tiles/however you want to explain it. But you're not about to unload the full package. No, you're just going to introduce three:

Tanyao (All Simples)

If you call, you shouldn't have any 1 or 9 in your tiles. Your hand can only be composed of 2 to 8.

Chinitsu (Full Flush)

But if you want to call for 1 and 9, then this is the yaku to go. All your tiles must be of the same suit, either bamboo or pin.

Riichi (Reach)

But if you can't satisfy any of the above, then you can't open your hand. So this is the only yaku available for you (yes, Menzen Tsumo is a yaku, but that'll only confuse them). Just keep your hand close, and when you're one tile away from winning (DEMONSTRATE, this is hard for many to understand), call riichi for that yaku requirement. YOU CAN ONLY DO THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT CALLED. Turn your tile sideway and shout RIICHI for maximum effect.

Try some example games. If they've mastered these three yakus, good for them! If you want, introduce chiitoi and toitoi slowly in between games (DON'T HIT THEM WITH CHIITOI, TOITOI, OR WHATEVER YAKU WITHOUT TEACHING THEM FIRST). Then junchan. We'll get into close hands yaku later. Keep playing until everyone gets a hang of Riichi in particular and the other yaku mentioned.


Phase 4: Two Sets and a Pair, Two Suits -- Advanced

This part is suited more for 3p At this point, we'll introduce scoring, dora/uradora and kans. "But anon, I can't even score my own hands, how can I teach others that?" No, what we are first going to do is to use a very rudimentary version of scoring just for everyone to get used to scores:

That's all. No fu, no dealers. Just some plain old scoring for everyone to get used to it. This is to get them used to the fact that more yaku = more wins. Each yaku has a certain amount of han:

If possible, you should print it out/write it down with explanations for everyone so they can follow the game without that much memorization. The point is for everyone to recognize the basic yaku as much as possible.

For points, start with something simple, like 12,000 points

Time to introduce dora. Make a dead wall tile of 6 tiles long and 2 tiles high. Flip the dora indicator and show that each tile after it gives you 1 han.

Explain kan sets. A kan is composed of four of the same tiles, and is considered a set. If you have a triplet and someone drops the 4th tile, calling an open Kan makes you draw a tile from the dead wall (if you win with that tile, it's another 1 han) and lets you flip another dora indicator after your discard.

If you have four of the same tile in your hand, you can call a closed kan. You immediately flip the dora indicator and you draw a tile from the dead wall.

Then after that, talk about the benefits of Riichi. Riichi not only gives you a yaku, but also (1) earn an additional han if your get your winning tile in the first turn [One Shot]. Not only that, you get to flip the tiles underneath the open dora indicator for extra dora points! Of course, before you riichi, you bet 1000 points in the table first.

As they get used to this, introduce some new yaku as well, and distinguish from closed and open hands:


Pure Straight: a hand that has 123, 456, 789 sets of one suit.


Pinfu: If all your sets are chiis, and you have a two sided wait (34 waiting on 2 and 5 as an example), then that's 1 han. You can win even without a riichi.

Pure Double Straight: 112233 pattern. Basically twice of the same chii set.

Just keep playing until everyone gets used to scoring. Tell them that this isn't actually how you score hands, and that actual scoring in Japanese Mahjong is a lot harder since even a 3 han hand can reach up to a mangan in certain conditions.



Phase 5: Three sets and a pair, Three suits

If you think everyone is ready to get to the next level, then add the man tiles. Let them memorize what each tile is (no need if you've got numerals on it). Quiz them for a bit. Now, introduce the yaku 3 suited straight (sanshoku doijin) of 1 han, amd 3 suited triplet (sanshoku doukou) of two han. Bump Chinitsu to 5 han open/6 han close. Just keep playing and let everyone get used to the flow of the game. At this point they've got a pretty good idea of how the game works.

It is at this point best to introduce furiten. Explain the two furitens, permanent and temporary.

Temporary: You can't ron if one of your waits is dropped and you didn't/couldn't ron. Refreshed when it becomes your turn again.

Permanent: if one of your winning tiles is in your discards, then you can't ron at all. Only tsumo.


(ignore riichi furiten for now)

I think this is the best time to introduce seat rounds. East, South, West then North. Maybe show the wind tiles and use them as seat markers for everyone to get used to it. Don't need to memorize the order, do that for everyone: they'll familiarize with it sooner or later. East is always dealer, and they get 1.5 times the points. Each player gets a chance to become East, and if they win, they get to repeat (Explain honba for later). So a 2 han hand becomes a 3000 points hand, 5 han becomes 7500 points and what not. EAST IS ALWAYS DEALER, THE ROUNDS ROTATE UNTIL WE GO FULL CIRCLE.

Add some red 5s if you haven't already for them bonus points.


Phase 6: The Three Dragons

We're so close to actual mahjong. This time, introduce the three dragons: Green, Red and White dragons. Explain that these dragons can't chii, but only pon and kan. Also, the order is important for the dora. A good technique for memorizing this is that it goes down the alphabet: (G)reen, (R)ed, (W)hite, then back.

It's only at this time we introduce the yakuhai yaku. A pon of these dragons will give you a yaku you might need to win. DEMONSTRATE.

With the inclusion of the dragons, finally clear up the chinitsu/honitsu yaku and their difference. Show them a yaku chart. EXPLAIN THAT THEY AREN'T ALLOWED IN TANYAO.

The dead wall is now a proper 7-tile distance. Hooray.

If you want, introduce the Yakumans possible. It's fun to dream after all.

And if you think you're confident enough, introduce the proper scoring method. Give them a scoring app if possible. In the case of my kids in the park, I didn't introduce it until the very end of the tutorial because none of them had phones. Plus, the actual math needed is too advanced for them (they were about 8-12 years old).

Once they're used to the concept of the yakuhai triplets, it's time to bring out the big guns...


Phase 7: Winds

I think winds is the hardest part to teach. But if you did the winds round from Phase 5, it should go down a bit easier since they are a bit familiar with them. Just like the dragons, they can only form pons and kans.

Then explain yakuhai. A pon of the current round wind or your seat wind will give you a yaku, anything else is useless.

Shove the yaku chart on their face. Shove it hard. They know most of them already, but just let them revel in how much they've gone through.

At this point, you might as well play a REAL game of mahjong. Congratulations. You can teach them how to actually score hands once they're comfortable.


Final Phase: Refining

It might have taken a few several days, but now everyone is invested in the game itself after putting so many hours on it, plus they have a solid foundation to learn the more nuanced rules of Japanese mahjong. Also, you don't have to follow this guide phase-by-phase; depending on everyone's learning speed, you might kick it up a notch. I don't recommend it though.

There might be some things I missed. All in all, just teach by feel nyaa.