Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

Listening Power


I’m sitting here at Lulu’s, hopped up on Advil and coffee, trying not to move my neck. Let me tell you about my weekend, and two very different experiences with the same concept.

Pushing Hands

In Tai Chi class on Friday, we did pushing hands. This exercise is done with a partner, very slowly, and is supposed to help students develop their “listening power,” which Wikipedia describes as

the sensitivity to feel the direction and strength of a partner’s force and thereby avoid or redirect it.

For me, the first five or ten minutes of pushing hands is about listening to my own body. I need to find my balance. And I mean really find it. That involves minute changes to weight distribution, spinal alignment, body position, focus, hand and arm movement, the works. When I find it, I can feel the connection of my feet to the earth, and draw strength from it. It’s very cool.

After my balance, I focus on my partner’s. We barely touch each other as we perform the exercise; just my fingertips on his elbow, my other hand lightly touching his wrist. Only a slight connection, but enough. As we circle our hands between our bodies, we’re listening. Trying to feel each other’s power, its direction, its weaknesses, its strengths.

Eventually, I’ll be able to do both things at once. Balance should come more easily — it already does — and the more you listen, the better you are at really hearing. Pushing hands feels like a true marriage of Mind, Body, and Spirit. When you understand those aspects of yourself, you can see them — and feel them — in everyone else, too.

The Clinch

Saturday afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending my second Muay Thai Kickboxing workshop at my kung fu school. In addition to basics (stance, punching, kicking, footwork) and sparring, we focused on the clinch.

Two men clinching.When you’re in this position, you don’t feel like you have a lot of time to listen to much of anything besides your own survival instinct. Still, the same principles apply. Feel your opponent’s power. Feel her balance, her timing. Understand your own. Use both to your advantage.

We must have practiced clinching techniques for a good 30-45 minutes. I was drenched, huffing and puffing, covered in scrapes and bruises, and suffering from a very battered ego before we were done.

Judging from the pain in my neck today — Those muscles got a workout! — I won’t be rushing to practice clinching again anytime soon. But boy, when I’m watching my next fight, I’m not going to underestimate the skill and finesse required to be good at this. All martial arts, even the kicking and punching ones, require listening power.

I couldn’t come up with a way in which listening power relates to the theory or craft of writing. Can you?

About the author

Jenn Reese


  • the sensitivity to feel the direction and strength of a partner’s force and thereby avoid or redirect it.

    The sensitivity to feel the direction and strength of story and character and thereby absorb or reflect it.

    • Interesting idea. I think “shape and reflect it” hits a little closer to home with me, but I’m not sure. In my LiveJournal comments, H. pointed out that understanding of other human beings (attained via a type of listening power) is what shapes her writing. I like that interpretation a lot, too.

  • I wonder what it takes to listen to messages on your voicemail and then follow up with a return phone call… :P

  • Oh yeah, Jenn. It applies. While in the martial arts it is very important to listen to what your opponent is telling you, it is just as important to listen to oneself. And that's a trained skill.

    One of the most useful lessons I received in martial arts was how to listen to my body instead of my mind. The mind is tricksy, it is. It can fool you into so many things it isn't funny. Here's a great exercise:

    Have a friend hold up a dollar bill in front of you, from the top corner so it hangs perpendicular to the floor. Then, take your thumb and index finger and place them on either side of the dollar bill, right around good old George Washington's face. Once you have your mighty, might pinch prepared to pinch, have your friend drop the bill. You try to catch it by closing your fingers.

    Then try it again. And again. Still haven't caught it? Looks really easy, huh? It isn't. As a matter of fact, if you rely on your hand/eye coordination, you will never catch the bill.

    Now, let's modify the exercise a bit. Stop looking at the dollar bill. Start to feel it when that little, "pulse," jumps into your hand. It's sort of like the feeling of flinching during a game of "hot hands." Just a twich. A pulse. Your initial inclination–as it is in hot hands–will be to ignore it, or at least try to verify it with your eyes. If you do, you won't catch the bill.

    Within ten tries, if you listen to the beat of your own body, you'll catch it. Do it some more, and you'll be catching it five times out of ten. Then seven.

    Then ten.

    Once more, modify the exercise:

    Close your eyes. :-)

    How does this relate to writing? You ever notice how well you write when you're having fun? When the critical voice (I can't just follow stupid instinct, I have to see the bill FALLING first) has been silenced and you are just writing. When you consciously forget all the lessons you've learned on how to tell a good story and let the sub-conscious take over, do you see how wonderful it turns out?

    So yeah, I know this was long winded, but it applies Jenn.

    Big time.

    • Forgot to add one thing:

      When you start to be able to catch the dollar bill, apply this technique next time you spar. Try to identify the pulse and then start your technique when you feel it hit. Don't try to pre-plan it. Trust it. You may not see an opening. That's okay. It's because it isn't there yet. But by the time your technique reaches your opponent, the opening will be there. It's waiting for you to happen.

      Then, watch some other highly trained martial artists spar. After a little bit, you begin to feel the pulse from them. Yeah, I know. Sounds weird, but you can tell who understands this knowledge and has trained their bodies to act and those that don't.

      Matter-of-fact, you'll start to catch yourself watching other people and thinking, _Missed it. She missed it again._

By Jenn Reese
Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

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