Reading widely is important because it helps us to reconcile traditional teachings to new discoveries in science that can help us to explain what we do to today’s practitioners who lack the imagination to learn abstract concepts.
The Greatest: The Quest for Sporting Perfection by Matthew Sayed has some information that helps us to explain what we do in Tai Chi.
One of them can be found in under the chapter The Paradox of Time. Sayed wrote :-
Psychologists talk about the time paradox. This is the well-versed observation that the greatest of performers seem to play at a different tempo to everyone else….. In the latest rounds of his bout with Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard was fighting at what seemed like half-speed.
This paradox has been well studied by cognitive psychologists and there is nothing mystical about it. It emerges from a highly sophisticated form of perceptual awareness. Great sports-people are able to ‘read’ the subtle cues of their opponents, extracting information about their intentions through early-warning signals (postural orientation, tiny alterations in body language, etc). When you know what an opponent is going to do before he actually does it, you have all the time in the world.
Pretty amazing skill wouldn’t you say. Many masters display such skill. In Tai Chi there are two ways to learn this :-
a) The easiest way to do so is by pushing hands. In this context I am not referring to the competitive type of shoving, wrestling type of push hands that is popular today.
Instead, I am referring to the use of pushing to develop a sensitive feel as to what the opponent is doing. At a certain stage the opponent may feel as if you are reading their mind.
However, I would postulate that it is more of the case of your hand acting as a 6-axis accelerometer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerometer) that is sensitive to how fast your opponent is moving, where he is moving towards, how much strength he is using, when he is speeding up, changing direction, and so on.
b) The more difficult way is to study is by training the solo form. Form training requires us to achieve a certain level of sung. The more sung we are the more we can feel even a very light amount of pressure acting on us.
At another stage when you have developed the use of intention to map out mental grids in front of you as you are performing the techniques it becomes possible to use them to predict the movements of the opponent.
This is something we study in our Push Hands Game. As Sayed mentioned this is not mystical, rather it is how you apply principles to your training. On the same page Sayed also wrote the following which is highly similar to what we do in Tai Chi :-
Messi has started basking in this capacity during this World Cup. He takes the ball, and literally stops. He stands there, like a mongoose facing a snake, daring his opponent to take a bite. These are fascinating moments in the game because they demonstrate that almost all the important action is going on not in the feet, but in the brain. The ball is stationary, the players are stationary; Messi’s eyes are trained on his opponent, scanning and rescanning, picking up on clues that nobody in the world football is able to see. Then his opponent lunges at the empty space where the ball used to be. It is beautiful and revelatory.