Some might argue that you should train to never take your eyes off your opponent, even an imaginary opponent while doing the slow form, and that this method violates that rule. I would argue that such an opinion is short-sighted. Using this argument, then one should not practice slowly either as slow movement would not be effective in a fight. The slow movements of the traditional long form are a method of training the body to move according to the Tai Chi principles and the methods of using the eyes in this manner are part of this training.
If you watch old films of some of the masters, sometimes you can catch them still doing this training of the eyes on some movements, maybe even looking down at the hands.
As one gains more experience and matures in their training of Tai Chi Chuan, the movement of the body becomes unified. The practitioner acquires what is known as a “Tai Chi body”. At this stage the body and the mind begin to be united. The waist starts to turn as needed for the movement at hand. The following of the hands with the eyes is not so important at this stage, as the mind intent is now trained. This becomes very important for when you will use your Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art. Even so, if you watch films of some of the old masters, sometimes you can catch them still doing this training of the eyes with some movements, maybe even looking down at the hands.
The Tai Chi martial artist does not want to take his attention away from their opponent. It would certainly not be a good idea to focus on the direction of your hand movement in a fight situation. When the practitioner of the traditional styles of Tai Chi Chuan journey through the training syllabus of their styles, all the different elements of the training syllabus take into account the training towards proficient martial skills and work together to achieve that goal.
Yang Zheng Ji wrote about the usage of the eyes in his family’s Yang style of Tai Chi Chuan. Here is a section from his book on the Yang style about the usage of the eyes. To see the full translation about the usage of the eyes in Yang style Tai Chi, click here to view the article.
Yang style Taijiquan is very particular about the method of using the eyes. Tradition has it that when Yang Cheng Fu pushed hands or engaged in combat, when emitting jing would look at the opponent and the opponent on receiving the strength would fall in the direction which he looked. Looking at Yang Shao Hou’s precious image, his eyes appears to have brightness shooting forth, this is a result of long term training fully concentrating on the eyes as well as the internal qi.
How can the eyes help? It is more than just having the direction you look towards helping to guide the movements of the body. Using the eyes in the proper method will also help you remain consistent in keeping the focus of your attention on the training of your movements with having less distraction from your practice. The use of the eyes in this method is essential in building the connection of the mind intent, the mind leading the body, and ultimately a higher level of achievement in Tai Chi Chuan.