From the archives of "Don't fight the Tao", on spaces.live.com. I am slowly moving my old blog post from there to here on Blogger.
Feb 14th, 2008
Ting Jin: Listening Energy
In Taiji push hands, "Ting Jin", or "listening energy", is one of the concepts practiced. The idea here, is to utilize the whole body as a listening device. I guess "listening" is the wrong work to use, but I can't think of another word! As opposed to listening with only our ears, or reacting to something based on sight alone, we try to train the whole body to "listen" or feel to what really is being "said", and not merely hearing what we want to hear, or misunderstanding the "speech".
One of the hardest things to do in push hands, is to not plan our our attack or defense, but rather, to let go of preconcieved notions of our partners and to move with what is going on "right now". Easier said than done. With any martial art, "what happens in drill, happens for real". Isn't it ironic, that we have to learn pre-planned drills in order to learn how to act instinctively and with no thought?
A friend of mine (who does fencing) called me yesterday, and said "You know how you're always talking about having 'spirit' when practicing martial arts? I was watching my fencing class today, and now I think I get it".
"Its true", I said. "One should have spirit while practicing...without it, I would imagine that a fencer would only merely be holding a sword, instead of skillfully wielding it."
She talked about the drills they do, and spoke how difficult it can be sometimes to have one's spirit reflect the martial intent of the 'fight'.
"Sometimes," I said, "....they're too busy talking to themselves, instead of allowing their bodies to listen to the opponent". For me, I believe that "ego" has no place in a fight or a duel, especially when blades are in play. Looking good or winning is one thing.....getting skewered is another! I surmise, that mindset too, is a factor. In fencing these days, some schools use"bird blunts" (rubber tips) on the ends of blades so as to not cause severe injury to other players. Protective equipment is also used. My theory is, that with all the safety precautions, the reality of swordplay is lost with some people, and that some players will only look for the sound of sword hitting mask or the 'thwip" of the bird blunt hitting vest......hence, not learning the ability to listen, feel, and pay attention to not only finding the opening, but also keeping one's guard.
So how do we effectively "listen" in martial arts? First....get your ego or pride out of the picture. Honestly...and I don't mean to say this is a rude fasion, but no one else outside your choses art know or cares if you're a black belt or great fencer or a popular figure or celebrity. The only people that would really know or care are people associated with what you do, and that's about it. In short, if you think you're "all that", you'll carry alot of pre-conceived notions that will hinder your ability to effectively listen to people outside your space. We have to remember that although there are techniques and concepts universal to all martial arts, there are variations of these concepts from school to school, and from art to art. To assume that another player from another system is lesser skilled or not good at their art just because they don't do the same techniques or their variations look foreign and "unusable", is a very egotistal and narrow minded way of thinking. Sorry to say it folks....but "YOUR ART IS NOT THE ONLY ART, AND YOUR WAY IS NOT THE ONLY WAY". So keep the ego, smirking at other, or turning your nose up, OUT OF IT.
Also, pay attention to the big picture...don't just hear the "words" (techniques and concepts)....understand them. Ask for clarification if needed from peers and instructors. Pay attention to body language if possible....body language many times speaks louder than words. "Feel" the conversation.
Understand that engaging in a physical bout or even a conversation, is a very intimate thing. Whether you're in a fight or in a heartfelt conversation, the intimacy of the situation is there. In order to win a bout, survive a self defense situation, or talk about a difficult subject, we have to keep our emotions in check yet allow ourselves to feel the emotions of not only ourselves but our opponent or partners. Martial arts combat, just as much as deep conversations with another person, are indeed some of many true forms of interpersonal communication. The connection one makes with the opponent (or person you're speaking with) has to be a committed effort if you really want to "listen" effectively.
Listen, feel, understand........see what your sense of "hearing" can allow you to gain.....