The Student's Voice

Listen to Understand

Cam Evans returns with another thoughtful article to reminds us why becoming a good listener in training is critical for skills development and for reaching a deeper understanding of the system.




I’ve spoken before about how, as I continue to train, I start to notice how the things I learn can extend into other aspects of my life. In this article I’m going to share some of my thoughts on the idea of listening, specifically:

  • What is listening and why is it important?
  • How relaxation and patience can help you listen.
  • Three different kinds of listening, and
  • How you can train your listening skills.

One of our goals is to be able to overcome an opponent that is twice our size. We attempt to reach this goal by using body mechanics to dissolve, redirect, or avoid their force or attack; while putting ourselves in a position from which we can strike quickly and with knock out power.
Simply put, we want to be in a good position while our opponent is in a bad position. It’s an ambitious goal, to be sure. Especially considering that, most likely, your opponent is always moving. This means that you must always be adapting towards a new good position.
This is why a lot of our training is spent with Chi Sau; it helps develop our sensitivity. This sensitivity, when properly developed, is a vital source of information that aids our success. It can tell us what an opponent is trying to do, where they wish to move, where their balance is, and lots of other fun tidbits.
This is all well and good, but you have listen, to be receptive, for that information to make any difference.
When we first start practicing Daan Chi Sau, or Single Hand Chi Sau, we start to learn about the idea of Doc Sau, or Discussing Hands. Partners in this drill take turns ‘talking’, or initiating an action such as a punch, and ‘listening’ by waiting for the right timing to roll that punch off the center line with their bong sau.
A common mistake that occurs in this drill is to rush the bong sau, sometimes fully rolling it over before the punch is thrown.

Why does this happen?

I can think of a couple possibilities. Maybe one or both partners are no longer listening, and instead have fallen into a rhythm or pattern. Or, maybe they are listening, but they aren’t really listening in the right way.

I remember, earlier my career, a training class I had attended. In it, we had discussed the idea of listening. It was suggested that there are 3 ways to listen. You can listen to agree, listen to disagree, or listen to understand.

To me, two of those – listening to agree or disagree – occur when someone has a predetermined thought they wish to share. At this point, they may just be waiting for a pause in the conversation so that they can start talking, whether or not it relates to what the other person (or people) just said.

Listening to understand, however, requires that you absorb the information you are given, and consider the best way to respond. This is true if we’re talking about the fight or about a conversation with an old friend.

Before you can understand what another is saying, whether it’s with their words or with their hands, you must develop a skill in listening. At this point in my training, I think that starts with trying to develop things like relaxation and patience in Chi Sau.

For example, if you anticipate what a partner might do, you may react too soon to something that isn’t there. This can be true in conversation as well. However, if you are patient and relaxed, you can start to open yourself to what they are doing or saying.

To develop this, practice lots of Chi Sau, with an emphasis on waiting for certain conditions to be true. For example, let’s say you get an early read on a technique your partner is trying. Instead of reacting immediately, try waiting for the punch. See if you can hear, through the sensitivity you are developing, when that punch is thrown, where it’s headed, where it’s coming from, and so on. This new information can help your hands to understand the best response.

Now you can really have an engaging conversation with your Kung Fu brothers and sisters!

‘Talk’ to you later.


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