Any serious Taijiquan practitioner should develop the ability to listen and observe. Most people consider understanding the mind and the way it works to be a useless and impractical skill to learn, especially when studying martial arts. I believe that it is not only important, but a crucial part of learning any skill. Understanding the mind and the way it functions helps one go deeper into subject matter and can potentially help a student discover latent abilities and knowledge that might not be obvious. I believe a serious student with the ambition of becoming a well rounded martial artist who is able to independently learn and progress should not only focus on the physical aspects of training, but also on the mental.
I think one must start by asking himself what it actually means to truly listen and observe. We have all seen and heard countless stories, explanations and teachings, but how often has the mind really grasped what was actually being conveyed? In my opinion, true listening and observation can only happen when the mind is silent. Because the mind instantly analyzes, dissects and judges any and all information presented to it, I believe the mind to be the main hindrance on a person’s ability to truly listen and observe. Even though the educated mind has the ability to grasp deep and complex ideas and concepts, I feel its ability to silence itself and truly listen are in most cases, non-existent.
If one were to stop and observe the mind and its thought processes while listening to other people talk, one would quickly realize that there is very little listening happening at all. Generally, people go into most conversations with preconceived beliefs, opinions and ideas about what or who they are listening to. This creates a sort of mental barrier or block which forces the mind to constantly dissect, compare, analyze and judge the information while it is being taken in. Because the mind is preoccupied with sorting out its own thoughts and ideas, important information and subleties are often missed and the true meaning of the message is often misinterpreted or not properly understood.
Silently observing and listening without the compulsive need to analyze and judge can also be applied to many other aspects of Taijiquan training. The ability to step out of the mind and listen to the body while doing the form and movements can be extremely beneficial to any internal martial artist. Even though Taijiquan is a physical activity, most people seem to spend most of their training time in their minds. All too often, students are overly concerned about what they think should be happening based on what they have read or heard and forget to observe what is actually taking place in their bodies. I feel that this approach of trying to force things to happen in the body is unnatural and actually retards progress considerably. First of all, the expected changes are happening in the body and not in the mind. Therefore, the bulk of one’s mental energy should be focused on looking at and observing the body closely during training to see what subtle transformations are taking place and what abilities might be present. Instead of working on non-existent things that the mind regards as important, the practitioner should be able to trust and listen to his body and consciously develop the skills and abilities which are actually present in practice. This deeper understanding of certain areas naturally leads to the development of other areas which might not have been present previously. This is similar to an upside down pyramid where one idea or skill can be developed into many different levels and areas of growth.
I believe that this type of natural progression ensures that the body is only training what it is capable of doing and not wasting time on things that are far beyond its ability. This type of learning also reinforces the intellectual aspects of the practice as everything that happens in the body is built on experience, not on hearsay. Concepts become clear as the body and mind learn thetogether as a unit. When this occurs, the mind steps back and natural instincts and ability take over to speed up progress even more.
Indonesia – Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method