Sensitivity in Tai Chi

The following is an essay written by Phil a long distance student. As part of his training he was asked to write down his thoughts on sensitivity in Tai Chi. We will follow this up next week with Sigung Clear’s response and thoughts on the subject.

The term Sensitivity has a number of differing connotations it is variously is defined as

  1. the state or quality of being sensitive; sensitiveness.
  2. Physiology.
    • the ability of an organism or part of an organism to react to stimuli;
    • degree of susceptibility to stimulation.
  3. Electricity.
    • the ability of a radio device to react to incoming signals, expressed as the minimum input signal required to produce a specified output signal with a given noise level.

tai-chiThis has several interesting interpretations when applied to the martial arts. In martial terms sensitivity (“listening” or Ting jing) may be defined as the skill or ability of perceiving an opponents intention through a heightened state of tactile sensitivity using the whole body.

The traditional method of developing sensitivity is the practice of push hands. which is generally seen as the bridge to developing self-defense skills. To effectively sense or capture the opponent’s center of gravity immediately upon contact is the primary goal in push hands. Its self-defense strategy is to allow your opponent to come in and make contact with you so you can “sense” or “listen” and thus control, deflect and lead/entice their power/body into a disadvantageous position (lead into emptiness).

This sensitivity needed to capture the centre is acquired over thousands of hours of   slow, repetitive,  exercise and then later adding more “realistic,” , fast, martial training; forms, pushing hands and sparring.

Some modern masters believe this progressive push hands approach is unnecessary and has been abandoned completely in favor of a more geometrical system that uses principle derived techniques as its foundational framework.

Regardless of which approach is used, sensitivity or listening is developed by following two key principles. The first is to relax, sink, dissolve all tensions and simply let go. The second is to follow your opponent.

The manner in which you develop listening energy is expressed in the Tai Chi classics.
“Through silent remembering and thorough examination, you will gradually arrive at the state of being able to follow your own mind. The fundamental is to forget yourself and follow others. In this way you can listen, otherwise your mind is so full of tension and anxiety…
…you cannot hear anything else.”

Developing sensitivity is therefore a crucial building block for the improvement of interpreting (understanding) and neutralizing skills in any of the internal arts.

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