There are many "energies" (Jin) in Taijiquan. The term "energy" has been misinterpreted by some people who take the translation too literally. The word "energy" when applied to Taiji simply means a physical method of sensing and dealing with your opponent's force in a way that follows core internal strength principles.
The most important energy in Taiji is Peng Jin. That is the expansive feeling that fills the body and pushes outward. When you touch an opponent, Peng Jin is necessary to test your opponent, "feel" and respond to your opponent's force and the direction that force is going. But the ability to be sensitive to your opponent's force and direction is Listening Energy, or "Ting Jin."
I once belonged to a school where we were taught that if we stood in front of our opponent, if we just worked hard and gained a high level of skill, we could actually "read" his chi -- we could read his mind and know that he was going to attack us even before he made a physical move.
Well, bull crap. Try using that as a defense when you are sued for striking someone before they attack you. Try bringing in a credible scientist who can testify and explain how you hit your opponent because you could read his chi.
Instead of trying to develop a mystical connection with your opponent, it is more effective to calm your mind, detach, and put your body in a relaxed state of readiness. Observe your opponent as if you ARE him. Connect with him. Then respond like the image in a mirror when he moves. There is an old saying in Taiji -- "When my opponent moves, I move faster. When my opponent arrives, I am already there."
You cannot use Listening Energy until you make contact with your opponent. Until then, you are dependent on your sense of sight and perhaps hearing to know when your opponent is attacking.
Once you make contact, Listening Energy is what you use to determine how much strength your opponent is using and which direction that strength is moving.
In Taiji, after we learn the form, we use push hands to begin developing "sensitivity." We start with single push hands and put in a lot of hours to develop the ability to feel what our partner is doing. Is he tense or relaxed? Is he weak in his movement? Is he collapsing in any particular place? Does he overextend or show other vulnerabilities?
As we practice, and "invest in loss" -- in other words, we get pushed around a lot -- we hope to develop the ability to read tiny changes in force. We hope to be given just a glimpse of our opponent's "intent" with enough time to adjust, adapt, and neutralize an attack.
That's what Listening is. It is not mystical and it does not rely on psychic abilities. It also does not depend upon an invisible "chi" energy. It is a physical skill of sensitivity that you earn through a lot of hard work.
Taijiquan is a close-up fighting art. It is most effective when you are touching your opponent. That is quite handy since most fights end up in clinches, with both people trying to gain the advantage. Listening Energy is made for moments like that.
The two photos on this page illustrate one example of Listening Energy. In the top photo, my opponent and I grab each other and I feel that he is pushing on my right arm.
In the second photo, I "empty" my right arm -- making it seem that what he is grasping is no longer there -- causing him to go in that direction because he had been pushing, and that is where his energy was wanting to go at that moment. At the same time, my left hand is pushing him to the right. He goes off-balance, opening him for me to counter effectively.
Although Peng Jin is the most important of the energies in Taiji, Listening Energy is used in many others. For example, if my opponent is exerting force forward into me, I will move backward to neutralize that energy and take him off-balance. If I feel his Peng collapsing, I will move forward, taking him in the direction his energy is going and forcing him off-balance. Both of these require Listening to his movement and force.
The photos on this post were taken from a video lesson on Listening Energy that you can watch on my website, which is a membership site that contains more than 600 videos on the internal skills and techniques of Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua. If the information in this post is not familiar to you, I encourage you to try two weeks free on the site by following this link and signing up. You can cancel at any time, and you can sample all the videos for two weeks before owing a penny. It is well worth your time to check it out.
Listening Energy can help you feel an opponent's center of gravity, tension, strength, weakness, direction, speed, and ultimately, his intent.