|Internal martial arts
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Wudang or Shaolin?
People commonly separate Chinese martial arts into the classifications: 'Wudang' or 'Shaolin'. These names supposedly indicate the origin of the martial arts styles and whether they are internal or external.
This form of distinction is seriously flawed e.g. not all internal systems come the Wudang Mountain range in Hubei, China. Tai chi does. Bagua comes from Mount Emei.
Similarly, how many 'external' kung fu styles come from the Shaolin Buddhist Monastery in Henan Province, China? Nobody knows for sure. Wudang and Shaolin are inaccurate generalisms.
The majority of martial arts are 'external':
Force against force
Using the arms independently of the body
Locks and holds
Striking a balanced, centred body
martial art takes the student's
existing habits of physical
usage and re-shapes the students to suit that particular system.
Aggression, tension and machismo are encouraged, not quashed.
Everyone starts externally
New starters in a tai chi class employ external habits. This is all the student is capable of doing. As with any martial art, a great deal of time, effort and practice is necessary in order to shed the old.
External habits are of no use in a tai chi class. They represent a major impediment to progress. Unlearning is necessary. The student must train the body to do things differently.
'Internal' principles of body use are introduced, explained and explored from the very first lesson, but these will take some time to become habit.
Certain styles of fighting are referred to as being 'internal'. Internal martial arts employs insights and principles from the ancient Chinese wisdom of Taoism for fitness and combat.
These arts are very sophisticated and intelligent; relying on subtlety, sensitivity and speed, rather than brute force and aggression. And they can be trained for a lifetime...
To eradicate any erroneous
ideas you may have, let us compare both the internal and external
types of martial arts.
If we examine the substance and function of the two types, we will see that there is a great deal of difference between them.
(Robert W Smith)
What makes a martial art internal?
Exploring the internal martial arts is not the same as practicing a mainstream/conventional/external martial art.
There are many different considerations:
|Conventional martial arts
|Internal martial arts
|Principle e.g. yin/yang, change
|Hard, brittle, bracing
|Soft, fluid, loose
|Combat is the main concern
|Health and combat equally important
|Significantly more detailed and sophisticated
|Favour military-style warm-up exercise
|Strength is built using unconventional means
|Hard on the body
|Gentler with the body
|Uses existing body habits
|Body must be trained to move in a 'natural' manner
|Typically focuses on striking or grappling, seldom both
|Striking and grappling trained together
|Force versus force
|4 ounces of pressure, stickiness, sensitivity
|Favours the younger, stronger student
|Age is less of an obstacle
|Incapacitation is the aim
|Allowing, leading, misdirecting
|Spontaneity and timing
|Isolated limb use
|Listening, sensitivity, adaptation
|Being in your head thinking about what to do next
|Being in the body and sensation-oriented
|Denying your vulnerability
|Feeling your vulnerability
|Contracted, locked musculature
|Loose, fluid and relaxed musculature
Works the joints
|Works tendons, ligaments, fascia and muscles
Waits to be told the answer
|Figures things out
Looks outside for answers
|Figures things out
Is it really internal?
Studying tai chi chuan (dynamic balancing boxing) does not make a student an 'internal' martial artist. It all depends on how you train the art.
It is possible (and common) to perform the martial art 'externally'. Also, most tai chi classes are 'tai chi for health' and therefore not an internal martial arts class at all.
A common misconception is that any martial art offers the opportunity to reach an 'internal' level of practice i.e. a karate man can become internal. This is not true.
Internal forms are quite different to external ones. They were designed to be a vehicle for the exploration of a very unique way of moving and using the body.
Movement is initiated by the centre (not by the hips) and entails moving every part of the body as one fluid unit. The joints do very little work.
The combat skills and sensibilities of the internal martial arts require a perceptual shift: blending, yielding, listening, stickiness. There is no blocking, struggling or forcing involved.
Eight internal styles
There are only eight known styles of internal martial art:
• Tai chi chuan (dynamic balancing boxing)
• Baguazhang (8 trigrams palm)
• Xingyiquan (form/intention fist)
• Liuhebafa (water fist)
• Tongbeiquan (spreading power from the back fist)
• Ziranmen (natural fist)
• Bajiquan (eight extremities fist)
• Yiquan (mind fist)/dachengquan (the great accomplishment)
We teach tai chi chuan. We no longer offer baguazhang.
essence fa jing incapacitation neigong peng sensitivity sticky yielding
Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 04 January 2024