“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” That is Revelation 13:18. Over the millennia it’s been variously thought to refer to Rome, its emperors, Popes, Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler. Even Barack Obama. Some see it as a mystical prophecy foretelling the coming of the demonic son of Satan,some as mumbo jumbo…yadda yadda – you get the picture. Personally, I see it as just meaning that to understand the nature of a thing you need a bit of wisdom – much as we say thesedays: ‘it’s the nature of the beast,’ or ‘I’ve got your number!’ Maybe St John did have a specific meaning. We can never know, I suppose. But what we can know is something about the mindset of the people who choose to interpret it, based on the interpretations they choose. If someone genuinely thinks it is a reference to Barack Obama, that tells me something about that person. Likewise if they think it is mumbo-jumbo, or a reference to the Catholic Church. It tells me a little something about what kind of person they are. And it also tells us that often, people interpret things not in a way that follows any logical uncovering of meaning, but in a way that simply confirms and conforms to pre-existing biases. Ideas that are open to interpretation can easily be made to conform to pre-extant agendas, providing just the conclusion we want. So with the Chinese martial art concept of ‘internal/external’. Maybe our Western view is too centred on having one specific meaning for things. Maybe not. But it is true that where the meaning of an idea has become obscure, there is room for more than one interpretation. In fact, each interpretation of internal/external ‘works’ in some way for the person who holds it. It confirms something to them. And it tells everyone else – at least, those who have enough wisdom to understand the nature of this beast – something about them. My interpretation of Revelation 13:18 tells you something about me. It tells you that I look for interpretations of things that are practically useful. I especially look for interpretations that grow in usefulness the more you understand them. The idea that Barrack Obama is the Anti-Christ has zero value outside of some specific, fixed fantasy. As an idea, it stops dead at that point. It has no further depth to explore. However, the idea that wisdom and insight is required to understand certain aspects of the world never stops being wise. My interpretation may not be true, but it’s far more useful as a conceptual tool than most of the other interpretations. And it continues to reveal itself as ever more useful, ever more true, the more I understand its implications. Because the more you understand what makes people tick, the more you understand why they choose to interpret things in certain ways. And the more you understand that, the more you understand why certain interpretations of things achieve popular acceptance, despite being cobblers. Most interpretations of ‘internal martial arts’ are dead ends. By all means, follow them, keep to them – hold them and promote them – but they are dead ends that lead nowhere useful in the end. On a general level, they simply promote some dead ideological idea. But on a personal level, if you really want truth, you have to ask why you choose to believe the things you do. It’s not a coincidence – and it never was – that you chose certain interpretations over others. Dare to ask yourself why you chose them. There are only two destination in Quan – one, to find the true heart: the essence of Quan; and two, to build a self image that serves the self and only the self, and leads to no insight in to Quan. I do believe everyone starts out on the latter path. And only some people take the very simple, yet astoundingly difficult step on to the former. Those (so called ‘internal’ Chinese martial artists) who feel weak and powerless in daily life are the ones most likely to interpret what they do – i.e their hobby of ‘internal martial art’ - as being something powerful; something that grants them power. They are the ones most likely to speak of things like ‘spine wave power’ or ‘massive internal energy power’ etc. Even when, in reality, they know full well that they don’t have massive power levels. They are also those most likely to issue threats; to claim that they will teach others a lesson for daring to question their power. Their interpretation of ‘internal’ is simply like boasting of owning a weapon. Nothing more. And it’s a weapon that they don’t even own because believing in fantasy power diverts you from real training for real power. Those who feel a lack of self worth are the ones most likely to see ‘internal’ as some kind of crowning achievement of their training. These are the people who talk of taiji, bagua and Xing Yi as ‘the three crowns of Chinese martial arts’ etc., and see what they do as not necessarily ‘better’ than other martial arts, just far more difficult to master. It grants them worth. For them, ‘internal’ means high accomplishment - even when they know full well they have not really accomplished much. Those who suffer with feeling a little inferior to others are the most likely to see ‘internal’ martial arts as better than other types. It is superior, and by osmosis, grants them superiority. They are the ones who see what they call ‘external’ stylists as in some way lesser to themselves, and can not help but make snide remarks, such as ‘oh, that’s too external’ – because they have to let people know that they are superior. And they are one of he types who therefore constantly seek to put themselves in conflict with people of genuine accomplishment, and so always fulfil their own cycle. Why seek it? Because they have to. They have to put others down if they can’t raise themselves up. The fearful see ‘internal martial arts’ as a ‘get out of serious training free’ card. Imagine how difficult it is for those who feel afraid, who want to train to look after themselves but are afraid of the sparring and contact necessary for real training. And imagine what a relief it must be to be told that they can simply do some meditation, slow forms and a bit of push hands, and that will make them in to martial artists. But in truth, they never get past the barrier of fear – they are always hiding from it, and the more senior they become in their ‘art’, the more they are both in line to face a fight, and unable to cope with it. Result – fear. As with all these standpoints, they are all self fulfilling – the more you run away from the ‘issue’, the more you end up building a world where you feel it even more acutely. And there are those who want to be alone. They are the lonely Internal Boxers; wandering Xia warriors, following the noble and righteous path of Tao through internal martial arts. Often, true seekers. But it’s still simply ‘something to be.’ You’ll notice that so far I haven’t given any definition of ‘internal and external’. Well, you’ve heard them. You’ve heard them all, over and over. And if you haven’t, you will. Now think about where those definitions have gotten people. Where have they led to? Here is wisdom; real, true, undeniable, self proving wisdom: there are only two kinds of philosophical ideas – ideas that have the power to get you somewhere, then only to keep you there; and ideas that continue to unfold in to deeper and deeper implication, offering ever more profound insight. Which kind of ideas are you looking for? Here’s an idea. Maybe in the West we’re a little two influenced by the binary nature of our language. We want meanings to be fixed – and we want to search and find meanings, and know them – own them, even. ‘Own the meaning now! Only twenty dollar!’ Well maybe you can’t own this meaning. Maybe it doesn’t have a fixed point that you can latch on to and hold down. Maybe ‘internal/external’ is a different type of idea – what I call a ‘true principle’ – that never has any fixed meaning; it’s meaning is fluid, and dependent on the wisdom and insight of the person holding it. And the wiser they are, the deeper the implication they see in it. So often I’m told ‘you’re saying nothing new!’ Well, I know – I know it! It’s not hearing the idea that counts, it’s how deeply you understand its implication! I think there are only a handful of true principles in Quan. Maybe five or six at the most. It’s not, and never was, about hundreds of techniques or forms – it’s about a core, handful of true principles whose implications are profound, maybe even never ending – the wiser we are, the more implications they reveal. Not only that, the more the true principle simplifies in its form and expression, the more profound, and wider, the implications become. Meaning, the real lies and red herrings are the big, complex theories of meridians and qi and times of day. The more complex the principle, the less implications it has; in fact, you have to buy in to the whole ideology to believe it. As ever, it has to be believed to be seen. True principles don’t. They are self evidently true – even for the ignorant, because ignorance also gives its own level of insight. There is a saying in taiji – ‘invest in loss’. I think it may be one of the true principles of Quan. It has a fluid, ever deepening meaning – ever revealing more and more implications, the more you ponder it. Sadly, most people only ever see it in the most superficial sense. Internal as qi based, soft movement martial art with meridians and arm waving doesn’t do that – it gets you to a certain point – of exploring certain ways of movement, but then it dies, and it takes people no further. That’s why so few people can actually use the ‘internal’ martial arts to any degree. The idea that got them there kept them there. They didn’t invest in loss – in this case, reaping a wonderful reward for letting go of old interpretations of old ideas, and going deeper, to circle them again – like an eagle going round and round, lower and lower to its prey. You have to keep circling – invest in loss; allow old ideas to give way to new awareness. Actively seek insight. Why do I say that? Well, because I’m tired of arguing with people’s ideologies. Where are the wise ones, who actively seek further insight, not further ideology? Who actively seek more useful, more powerful expression of Quan, not word games and threats to keep the lid on their empty pot? Where are you, my kith and kin? Now, there are those who don’t want deeper insight. Of course there are – there always are, in any system. And usually they’re right at the top, because ignorance is like cream – it rises right to the very top of the bottle. There are those who actively seek to reinforce their particular view. And there are a lot of reasons for that. But mostly, those reasons are base and shallow. Some people even just want to provide a fuller curriculum, so they make sure that they teach both ‘internal’ and ‘external’ martial arts – just for the sake of it. And it looks good – like the more styles they know, the better they are. Actually, it’s depth of understanding of the implications of the handful of true, core principles that makes a person an expert in Quan – not how many styles they know. Xing yi, bagua, taji…. How many styles can one person master? And yet, those who understand the true principles understand all of Quan. Which is which, and who is who? I know who is who. I know. There are those who shift to ‘internal’ martial arts because they’ve been pushed out of the real fighting market by real fighting styles. Teaching taiji or ‘internal’ styles is a way to still make money, and happily catch up all the people who aren’t interested in fighting, and at the same time never have to get involved with the people who are and might embarrass them. But then there’s another category. There are lots of people who really have invested a great deal in their training and in teaching and helping others progress. They’re often innovators themselves. Fixed interpretations of ideas have got them to a certain point. But don’t ever feel that you have to maintain the same views as others – every teacher worth their salt wants their students to progress to higher levels than themselves. Everyone understands that we each have our own potential – maybe we’ve reached ours, but we don’t want that to limit our students. It’s in the nature of this thing, this wonderful, profound art of Quan, that only certain combinations of mindset and will to train are going to achieve serious level understanding. We all have to work together to support those individuals. We are the platform for the next generation, just as the last generation was the platform for us. What I’m saying is don’t feel owned by the past. The real, profound meaning of core principles isn’t first of all any fixed meanings, but rather, to understand the types of ideas that they are – fluid, powerful, meaningful – and multi-faceted. They have unfathomable depths. They can’t be pinned down to one simple interpretation. And they grow more simple. Their expression becomes more simple, even going past the point where you can put them in to words, because even that over complicates them. But their implications – I think their implications cover everything, if only we understand them. And that in itself – to understand that – IS one of the core principles itself. Now, how to unlock that, and what will it do? Well, I’ll tell you where I am at with ‘internal and external.’ I am at the point where I see ‘internal’ as meaning intuitive progression; finding the natural, human martial art principles through experimentation and capturing natural insight. I see ‘external’ as meaning the copying of other people – the learning of drills, best practices, even forms. And I see those two as harmonious essentials that work together – and Quan, therefore, as a natural ability that is honed through learned methods. Quan itself is fluid, profound idea that can not fully be put in to words. So I hope you get my meaning, somehow via intuitive understanding. But – I also see internal/external as referring to the mind – to learning; to ideas. And not only to ideas, but to emotional information. We have to explore the ideology of what we believe about martial arts – including training methods. And we also have to explore the emotional side. And that last one – that’s the hurdle; the real, true barrier point that every true seeker, I think, comes to. Notice I say every true seeker. A lot of people never get there – not ever. They never have to face this. They never, ever, want to consciously articulate or explore what it is that they ruthlessly exploited Quan for. They never want to face that they use it in some way to stop them feeling worthless, or inferior, or lonely. It’s too much to ask of them. But those that do have the balls and stomach for that – that’s the golden point: the crossroads where you stop, and you’re forced to think about your direction – about why you train. Why you truly train, and what you really, really want Quan for. It’s modern sports psychology, but it’s profound, Taoist philosophy too – understanding why and how you made you. How you chose your enemies just to be the yin to your yang. How you took on board ideas to form and hide aspects of yourself. Check it out, as they say on the legendary ‘street’ – you made you, every step of the way. You designed yourself. And that, in itself, is the true internal method of Chinese martial arts – the intuitive exploration of knowledge; physical, ideological, emotional knowledge, to come to deeper understanding. I can’t fix it any more than that for you. You have to explore which way of punching is best, and you have to explore why you invest belief in the things you do. You have to explore why you choose certain enemies and opponents. But it’s the exploration that matters. Invest in loss – old landscape is left behind; explore new territory. I can’t tell you exactly why the internal method works, or why it leads to better martial arts. You still have to practice an enormous amount - but somehow, practice itself becomes more efficient the moment – the very moment you understand, truly, why you wanted Quan – it’s an insight in to you, and who you are that changes everything - including direction and ambition, and away from using martial arts- or indeed other people - for yourself, and towards truly understanding it, or them. Beware though. You may find that once you realise the true heart of your ambitions and motivations, that you no longer want to even train. Give it time – a big lull is a part of the process. In short – temei nosce. And – good luck!