The internal way of moving
Internal work/whole body strength

classes     qigong     tai chi     kung fu     about us     reviews     a-z


Neigong is concerned with whole-body strength expressed via whole-body movement.
This is distinct to how most people normally move in that every body part should be involved in every movement. Accomplishing this is not easy.
As a child you possessed whole-body movement, but as an adult you have lost it from a lifetime of bodily misuse and bad habits.

Why bother?

Imagine that you have a large amount of work to do and you give it to 1 member of staff... Now, consider sharing that same amount of work amongst 100 members of staff?
Instead of 1 staff member working extra hard to do the job, 100 people are working together.
The job will be done more quickly and each individual has less of the overall responsibility for completing the job.

A new way

Conventional muscle use involves a limited number of muscles being assigned to a given task. Whole-body power entails all of your muscles being used together.
Consequently, the task feels less strenuous and is more easily fulfilled.


Connection is literally the process of uniting body parts. It is the most basic and simplistic concern.
Instead of moving your arms via the shoulder or relying upon local muscle strength, you 'connect' the arms to the back and move via the torso and legs instead.
Maintaining connection when performing different tasks is a major undertaking for the new student.
It is not enough to do a movement. You must move in a whole-body manner. The hardest part of this requirement is to remain relaxed but not floppy, flaccid or crumpled.


Here are a few examples of 'disconnection':

  1. Localised arm and shoulder movement

  2. Tensed muscles

  3. Over-extended limbs

  4. Locking the joints

  5. Deep, long or wide stances

  6. Bending the knees too deeply

  7. Hunching-over

  8. Lifting/puffing the chest

  9. Bending from the rib cage or waist

  10. Leaning

  11. Fixed legs - disconnected upper & lower

  12. Over-emphasis of the waist

  13. Incorrect use of the pelvis and hips

Once you can connect, work on neigong, peng and sung.

Still external

In itself, connection is not internal at all. Any martial artist could cultivate connection in order to increase power. It is merely a start.

Shedding the external

Having gained a crude sense of connection, a student may feel like a robot. This is not correct. The aim is to move freely, comfortably - in an agile, supple, flowing way - without ever losing connection.
How is this accomplished? By incorporating subtle yet sophisticated concerns into how you move. These neigong qualities serve to unite the body in a manner that is not awkward or clumsy.

What is the catch?

Whole-body movement will take years to accomplish. The main impediments are the mind and failure to practice adequately or accurately. Train the basics. Be patient.


An exercise designed to cultivate neigong is not a neigong itself. Neigong exists in your body all the time. It is part of how you move.
A habit: unconscious and familiar. As easy and present as speaking or drinking from a glass.
If you have to think about a neigong quality or practice it, or engage it when needed... what good is it in combat/application?
An exercise is a training tool.
It helps you to get the hang of the habit, to feel how it works and to incorporate the feeling into your framework.
When you have the neigong quality as part of how you move, the exercise is no longer required.


Some neigong can be cultivated by exercise. Others are more subtle and need the mind to be engaged in a particular way until the neigong is habit.
The more advanced neigong arise because existing neigong are in place. With practice and experience they arise by themselves. Tzu-jan concerns cannot be made to happen or directly cultivated.
They are a by-product of ingrained internal movement habits.


How you move and use your body in everyday life will radically affect your progress in tai chi. Day-to-day habit patterns are the strongest. These are the hardest to lose.
If you spend all day hunched-over, tensing-up, nervous, over-extending... this cannot be ironed out with a 90 minute class. It is necessary to think about body usage as you are using it.
If you catch yourself off-balance, strained, tensing - then stop. Re-establish equilibrium and perform the task again, with mindfulness. 
This may sound a little difficult, and it is, but with practice you will improve very quickly.
As new habit patterns emerge and you begin to move as a unified whole, disconnection will be immediately evident and feel physically uncomfortable.

Training internal movement

Qigong exercises train the body to move in a unique, connected, relaxed way. These exercises are simple and quite easy to learn.
The student focuses upon basic movements without additional concerns intruding.


Whilst learning the fundamental movements, a student is introduced to form. Form serves to challenge the student.
The movement principles and habits must now be employed in a significantly more diverse manner. Variety, combinations, permutations and stepping all require the student to extend their range of skill.


Form also has the added difficulty of being martial in nature. Not only must the pattern be accurate in appearance, it must also contain whole-body strength.
Long-term, the student must possess the knowledge of how to apply the form in combat.


Weapons forms and drills require the student to take all of their existing knowledge and utilise those skills when wielding a weapon.
This may sound easy, however, extending your peng through the weapon is difficult. Practicing a weapons form in a martially-viable manner is another consideration entirely.

Partnered exercises

Training partnered exercises enables the student to determine whether or not they are employing the principles correctly and effectively.
Inappropriate body use becomes immediately apparent when working with a partner.


The real test of your understanding lies in your ability to apply the art in a thorough and convincing manner against a diverse and varied range of attacks.
It is difficult to remain connected, relaxed and composed if the internal way of moving is not ingrained and intrinsic.

Applying the Weber Fechner rule, we know that gentle movement leads to a more accurate and discriminating perception of the mechanics of the movement. In other words, there is more detailed and refined information available to the brain to build the movement map. The map becomes clearer with greater resolution. Itís like clicking the zoom button on Google Maps. Thereís more detail, more side streets are revealed, more information about how to move around that joint.

(Todd Hargrove)

school database

Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023