Why, in Tai Chi Chuan, "to feel" is called "to listen"
From Martin Bödicker (wu-taichi.com)
Whenever I remember a lesson of Pushhands with Ma Jiangbao, I think first of his saying: "You have to have a good sensitivity of feeling". The Taichi technical term which fits this requirement is called ting or tingjin. In a literal translation one would have to speak of "to listen" or of a "listening jin-power". But why does one call "feeling" in Tai Chi Chuan "listening (ting)"? To explain this there have been many speculations in the secondary literature, for example that feeling in Tai Chi Chuan must have the same passive quality as listening and therefore one does not speak of feeling but of listening. This explanation may be clear, but I think it is not sufficient. Inspired by the Chinese strategic thinking and a text of Wu Gongzao (the uncle of Ma Jiangbao) I would like to present here a further possible explanation.
The classical Chinese strategic thinking has many graphic technical terms. Thus the aggressor is called guest (ke) and the defender host (zhu). The guest comes to the host, i.e. the aggressor marches into the territory of the defender. If the defender is unclear about the situation of the aggressor, he will try to clarify it. Therefore he will "ask (wen)" the aggressor, e.g. he will implement a small, simulated attack. As a stratagem this is formulated as follows: "Throw a stone into the dark, to ask for the way (Tou shi wen lu)." The aggressor will now answer and in this way reveal information about himself.
From the above, one can now draw the following picture of a defence situation in the language of the strategists: A host sits at home and expects the guest. As the guest appears, the host asks him about his situation and waits for an answer. One finds this "asking" also in Taichi theory. But asking is here not sufficient, one must also listen (ting) to the other person. This connection can be found in the text "Questions and answers (Wenda)" from Wu Gongzao:
"I have questions, the opponent has answers. One question - one answer. This creates stillness and movement. If there is stillness and movement, full and empty can be differentiated clearly. In Pushhands one uses the intent (yi) to explore and the jin-power to ask. While I wait for his answer, I already listen (ting) his full and empty. If one asks, but one gets no answer, one can advance and strike. If one gets an answer, one must listen (ting) immediately to the differences in stillness and movement and to the orientation of advancing and retreating. So one can differentiate from the outset his full and empty."
"Listening (ting)" is thus a substantial link between guest and host, aggressor and defender. In the case of the Pushhands, "listening" becomes "feeling", which gives one the possibility to check the intention of the aggressor. Of course, in Tai Chi Chuan one still says ting or tingjin to maintain the technical context.