Ting Jin is like petting a cat
Ting Jin is translated as “listening” energy and it really means to listen with the body. To listen with all of the senses but particularly touch. Master Li’s Ting Jin was very highly developed and as soon as he touched someone he could feel everything about them including their intentions. I once asked Song Zhiyong if he was ever able to unbalance Master Li even a little. He just smiled and said it was impossible because he could never feel where Master Li was so he had no place to use his strength.
Of course all martial arts of any kind need to develop the ability to read with their body the intentions of an opponent and all of the arts I have studied do this. However the development of Ting Jin in Master Li's art is different than what I have experienced in the past.
It’s very common for a new cat owner to be petting their furry new friend and suddenly find themselves attacked. While putting antibiotics on the wound they may find themselves thinking their lovely new pal is crazy. The truth is that they just failed to listen to their kitty. She has been trying to say “stop” with her body language but the human just failed to listen. The petting went on too long or was too hard or too soft etc. Petting a cat requires you to develop some Ting Jin. Not too much pressure and not too little. Now she wants this. Now she wants that. Eventually we get the hang of it to the point where we have an unconscious communication between us. We develop a certain body knowledge and begin to be able to read our cats intention. The same skill applies to contact with a person.
A lot of people seem to think that Ting Jin is developed just by doing Tui Shou. The idea being that if I do a lot of it i will gradually develop the skill. To a certain extant, that may be true but only in a limited way. Of course if our Tui Shou is using a lot of strength and wrestling and force against force we will only get so far. We also can’t get very far if our Tui Shou is just about uprooting someone. I’m sure anyone reading this has had some teacher insist that in Tui Shou you can’t hit someone. Of course that means to ignore the seven stars. One of the eighteen necessities is “expect the seven stars” which means to develop the ability to feel if someone is going to hit you with the fist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, foot or head. If you are doing a fundamental exercise to develop this kind of skill and consistently ignore anything but pushing and throwing you will not develop much realistic skill. If I can’t defend myself from being hit while doing Tui Shou than the whole exercise is rather useless. If I can strike you at will while you are huffing and puffing trying to “uproot” me I would say you have wasted a lot of time in your martial practice. I also remember Song Zhiyong saying “no pushing in push hands”. If my opponent feels the pressure of my push like an unmoving object feeling pressure against it than I have failed. If instead he/she feels almost nothing but finds themselves moving out with force I have succeeded.
If doing Tui Shou alone is not the key to mastering Ting Jin what is? “To actually know someone else you must first know yourself. The body has to be properly cultivated. Both the outside and the inside must be developed”. Of course we have all heard this before! Any teacher, no matter how bad will say the same thing. Usually people do a fairly good job of cultivating the outside. It can be aligned correctly and the muscles can be soft and supple (or even firm and supple depending on the style) and the whole body moving at the same time and this can be accomplished in a fairly short space of time. Maybe not as fast as in a Jackie Chan film but timing can be developed and techniques learned and forms and fighting skill, if not mastered, at least be adequate.
The key to developing higher levels of Ting Jing is to develop the inside of the body. Let’s just take the waist for example. We have all probably heard the expression “the waist governs all” but what does that actually mean. Many years ago as part of my learning process Song Zhiyong would have me feel his waist while he moved. It felt like a small animal moving inside or several flexible balls moving around. At one point he stood in Santi and had me feel his waist while, without moving on the outside, he did all of the elements internally. This was so I would understand that internal movement was not imaginary but was in fact real physical movement. It was also to show how the movement happens internally and the outer body follows. Of course added to this is spinal flexibility and the ability of the torso of the body to “crawl” like a snake shedding its skin or an insect coming out of the ground in the spring. And added to that is the twisting, spiraling and wrapping sensations inside the four limbs. If the torso of the body doesn’t have these qualities than no matter how good the movement looks the body is empty.
Once the body is developed this way it becomes much more sensitive to contact. The body itself, without the mind being very involved, becomes able to ‘read” the other person. Of course this is not immediate by any means and just develops over time. Just like petting a cat.
If anyone has any questions about this please feel free to contact me.