I started this thread because I wanted to share some of my ideas regarding the ‘Nei Gong’ side of training in Internal Martial Arts. From my experience their is a severe lack of martial ability amongst the majority of Internal Martial Artists. In my opinion, ‘Nei Gong’(internal aspects of internal martial arts, e.g. specific Chi Gung, Alchemy, etc) is the only way to develop that which is known as internal strength in IMA. I am sure many of you have previously heard of things like the 16 keys, 72 gates, or more recently the 16 part ‘Nei Gong’ system of Bruce K.. Frantzis. To my knowledge there are two main variations in the way to train the internal aspects of IMA’s, there is the ‘water’ and the ‘fire’ methods. I am a practitioner of the latter and thus will expound my ideas on this specific method. The fire method is characterised by using visualisation exercises and then macro and micro cosmic orbit balancing. I am going to attempt to explain how all this is relevant to Tai Chi, with regards to their martial and health benefits. Firstly I would just like to mention my thoughts on ‘Chi’, so that it is clear what I am referring to. To me ‘Chi’ does not really signify anything specific, it is a lot of different things. It carries with it various phenomena such as intention, focus, control, breath, relaxation, concentration. Furthermore, strong or good ‘Chi’ in an external context can relate to a natural environment with clean air and pleasant atmosphere(e.g. a forest). Internally it can relate, to strong intention or smooth, strong flow (e.g. blood, synovial fluid), likewise bad or weak ‘Chi’ would be taken in the negative context of the above descriptions. Overall, the best way to describe it is the vital principle or vital energy. I’m sure many people here will doubt these words, as so would I, if I never felt it for myself. In fact, there are even ‘Nei Jia’ practitioners that don’t accept it, the thing about it is, whether you believe it or not, if you do the exercises correctly they will have an effect. But personally I feel that if one closes oneself off to the idea of ‘Chi’, one limits their experience in IMA. In any case, the ‘Nei Gong’ exercises and all ‘Nei Jia’ styles are based on the same principles, ‘Chi’ is amongst these principles, thus the way ‘Nei Gong’ works cant be explained very accurately without it. Fundamental to all ‘Nei Gong’ practice is ‘Diaphragmatic’ breathing. As I’m sure some people are aware, all breathing in essence is diaphragmatic. I refer to it in the context of controlling the abdominal muscles in order to create a greater space for the diaphragm to descends in to, thus in turn taking in a greater volume of air in to the lungs. This process may also be reversed for a technique called ‘reverse breathing’, this method is used in internal power generation, though will not be further expounded here, unless that is someone else wishes to post about it. The ‘fire’ method is started by visualisation exercises, whereas the practitioner visualises specific channels within his/her body, These exercises serve the purpose of strengthening the focus and making the consciousness open to perceiving the insides of the body and mind. In other words this is a trick on the mind, which allows the eyes or focus to see , not physically, like sight, but feel the inside of the body, as opposed to only focusing on external phenomena. As these exercises progress, they start to integrate in to them two main energy channels, namely the ‘Conception’ and ‘Governing’ channels. These channels are located as such, one runs up your back from the perineum up to the crown of the head and down to the soft palate of the mouth. The other channel runs from the tongue, down the front of your body, to the perineum. The more one practices, the more one moves from visualisation to actual feeling of these channels. In the latter stages these exercises start to incorporate in to them breathing techniques, in other words specific breathing methods are coordinated with moving the intent. The intent is your focus, which with sufficient practice, one should be able to use internally. The intent has a most important characteristic, this is the ‘Yi/Chi/Blood’ connection. This basically means that where intent concentrates, the chi accumulates, and the blood flows, or follows. In other words one gains the ability to move ‘Chi’ and blood inside the body. One of the finals stages of these beginning exercises is to learn how to move the ‘Chi’ from outside oneself in to the lower ‘Tan Tien’(like a battery, something that ‘Chi’ can be stored or increased in). This specific exercise is retained and upgraded throughout future practices, and is used as a means to restore used ‘Chi’ to the body’s ‘Chi’ storage centre. The above methods form the foundation for all internal and external practices to come. With regards to martial ability and health, these exercises increase breath capacity, digestion, metabolism, stamina, focus, blood flow, peripheral and central vision and coordination. The above are a result of controlling breathing, abdominal breathing massages the viscera increasing blood flow and tones the organs, which in turn increases digestion, which in turn increases metabolic rate. Better peripheral and central vision and coordination, are a result of learning how to coordinate breath with focus, and exercising one’s focus. After the aforementioned exercises have been mastered, and the ‘Chi’ channels and pathways have begun to open up, one progresses to further practices, which serve to balance and strengthen an individuals energy system. The reason the ‘Chi’ channels and pathways begin to open up as a result of increasing, or making strong the ‘Chi’ in the ‘Tan Tien’ and the ‘Conception’ and ‘Governing’ vessels. This is analogous to heavy rains making the flow of a river stronger, which in turn opens up new paths for the water from itself, and strengthens the flow in its existing paths. Along the ‘Governing’ and ‘Conception’ channels are several smaller ‘Chi’ storing centres, these are known as the ‘eight extraordinary vessels’. These ‘eight extraordinary vessels’ are what feeds your internal organs with ‘Chi’. Alternatively these eight points can be seen as areas which are connected to the vitality of the organs. Each organ has a corresponding vessel, and some organs have two, such as the heart and lungs. When the ‘Chi’ in the organs is either depleted or excessive illness can occur. By circulating ‘Chi’ through the eight ‘extraordinary vessels’ we first balance out the ‘Chi’ in the organs. After the organs regain a youthful vitality we then enhance their function, by strengthening their ‘Chi’ in a balanced way. This group of exercises is referred to as ‘Microcosmic’ circulation. Amongst ‘fire’ traditions, it is common that in ‘Microcosmic’ circulation one may utilise the ‘Ching Chi’ The ‘Ching’ is the essence of human beings, it is what drives life, or in other words sexual energy. This energy is primarily stored in the kidneys, and additionally in the testicles in men, and ovaries in women. The ‘Ching Chi’ is also utilised to activate another important vessel. This vessel runs along the waist like a belt, and is the connection for all the channels running up and down your body, its other function is to do with the health of the kidneys, which in turn relates back to the strength of the ‘ching’. The belt channel is activated by circulating ‘Ching Chi’ through it. The bones and skin are also often worked on using the ‘Ching Chi’, in order to increase their strength and vitality. One may notice that in healthy virile people the waist is usually strong and flexible, and the opposite is true for the unhealthy and weak. One may also notice that for a man, a sexy waist on a woman is very attractive, and for women a toned waste on men is also attractive. I believe this is an instinctual trait, which recognizes the connection between health and sexuality. In a martial context, as one gains the ability to control the ‘Chi’ in the ‘Conception’, ‘Governing’, and belt channels, one simultaneously increases ones ability to control all the muscles and soft tissue along the paths these channels take. In other words one gains the ability, and this increases with practice, to internally control all the soft tissue running up the spine and around each vertebrate, all the soft tissue running down the front of the body, such as the abdominals, and all the soft tissue associated with the waist. These factors contribute greatly to the force one can generate and absorb with the body. These methods also work the nervous system by enhancing the connection between the mind and body. Additionally, the breath, peripheral and central vision are further enhanced. In the health context, the main benefits come from increasing the chi supply to the organs, correcting the posture, and strengthening the muscles which support the posture and mobility, this in turn makes the blood flow smoother, and increases vitality. All the aforementioned exercises are also conducted in specific postures, which strengthen the core or postural muscles of the body, further enhancing the effects of the practice. The next set of exercises are usually trained after one has become proficient in the aforementioned methods, and gained some level of vitality in ones internal environment. The following set is referred to as ‘Macrocosmic’ circulation. This exercise is practised by moving the intent and ‘Chi’ along the channels running on the insides and outsides of the limbs. Basically, these channels run from the inside and outside of the arms, along the body, and down along the inside and outside of the legs. ‘Macrocosmic’, circulation is done for the following effects. Firstly, this exercise revitalise, strengthens, makes supple and lengthens the joint of the arms and legs, i.e. shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, hips knees and ankles. This has an effect of opening up the aforementioned joints, this in turn increase their flow of ‘Chi’ and makes their movement stronger and accurate. It also works the nervous system by enhancing the connection between the mind and the limbs. Each organ in the body and in turn its corresponding ‘extraordinary vessel. Have channels running from and away in to the limbs. These exercises connect the outside and inside of the body, thus, the ‘Microcosmic’ exercises make the organs stronger and their related ‘Chi’ flow, and the ‘Macrocosmic’ connect the limbs to the new enhanced ‘Chi’ flow. In this way the rivers of ‘Chi’ inside the body are further strengthened resulting in healing, increased mobility, increased coordination and increased power. After the above exercises are mastered, one learns how to root and sink oneself in to the ground. This is done by connecting ones own ‘Chi’ with that of the earth. This results in further increasing strength, and balance. The above processes are then incorporated in to the form, which by now should be well learned, and performed with ease. These internal aspects add a whole new dimension to from practice, as every posture and transition has its appropriate ‘Chi’ and ‘Yi’ movement, these are set up as per the eight internal energies of push, pull, press, rollback, lift, drop, elbow stroke and shoulder stroke. When these aspects are incorporated in to the form one then practices the newly internalised form and the ‘Nei Gong’, throughout the practice, the teacher usually adds further refinements, these serve to further strengthen body, mind, health and martial ability. As one enhances ones energy system one develops skills such as ‘listening skill’, which is a subconscious knowing of every weak point of your opponents movement or stillness, this skill also transfers to the environment around you. In other words you become extremely perceptive to any changes in your internal and external environment. This skill allows you to, as described in the classics ‘move after your opponent but arrive first’ and ‘you know your opponent, but they don’t know you’. Furthermore, after some time of continues practice and perseverance the body and mind become open and full of ‘Chi’, this results in the ability to ‘Fa Ching’ or discharge energy as well as affording one the chance to develop other forms of ‘Ching’, this is very useful in martial applications. For some additional information on ‘Ching’ in the martial aspect, one may refer to the following article: http://web.singnet.com.sg/~limttk/lunjing.htm I would just like to mention that my writing here is very brief, and by no means cover all aspects of ‘Nei Gong’. This is just to give those who don’t know, a brief idea of what the ‘fire’ method of ‘Nei Gong’ entails. I would also like to add that these exercise should not be experimented with, as it can be very hazardous to mental and physical health if done incorrectly, in fact these exercise should only be learnt under a competent teacher. Thanks for reading. I look forwards to any thoughts, disagreements and questions any one may have.