What is "Internal MA"?

Discussion in 'Internal Martial Arts' started by alister, Dec 1, 2005.

  1. alister

    alister Huh?

    Forgive my ignorance and if this has been asked before...but what are "Internal Martial Arts" and what are some common examples?

    How does it work, what does it do etc etc... So many questions.

    Just curious. Cheers :D
  2. Johnno

    Johnno Valued Member

    Chinese martial arts are traditionally divided into 'internal' and 'external'. Internal are Taiji, Bagua and Xingyi. External is everything else. The inetrnal arts are sometimes refered to as the Wudang tradition, and the external arts the Shaolin tradition, by the way.

    The division is more a matter of convenience, and shouldn't be treated as being watertight. A lot of mistaken assumptions seem to be made about various arts based on whether they are classed as one or the other.

    For example, when I studied Taiji, I was under the impression that all 'external' arts rely simply on speed and muscle power for effectiveness, and 'meet force with force'. Now that I study Shaolin I realise that this is actually far from the case!

    As I understand it (and other people will undoubtedly post far better explanations than this) internal MA's are so-called because they utilise effective body-mechanics rather than muscle strength to generate power. (Although practising any internal MA will require you to develop greater muscular strengthn in your legs.) Not that 'external' arts don't do this too to some degree. It's really just a matter of emphasis as far as I can see.
  3. onyomi

    onyomi 差不多先生

    I'm surprised people don't ask this question more often. My definition is: "a martial art that incorporates the training of vital energy/qi in its training methods and then makes use of the cultivated qi in actual combat application." While the "big three" (Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua) all fit this description, so too do MOST CMAs when practiced at a high level--only the method of doing so is becoming rarer and rarer to be seen or known. This is why people think Shaolin is "external" when Shaolin is actually the creator of probably the largest body of qigong and internal cultivation-type exercises to be found anywhere. Shaolin styles (which mostly fall into the broad category of Northern CMA known as Long Fist) are designed to make use of the energy cultivated by these exercises, but so few people even know them anymore that there is a mistaken impression that Shaolin or Buddhist CMA don't have an internal aspect. Internal and external are two different aspects of CMA training, not two different kinds of CMA.

    There are lots of other definitions which people seem to be operating on whether they know it or not of "internal martial arts." Among these might be "martial arts that emphasize relaxation, redirecting/dissolving/transforming force, don't require the use of too much muscular strength, can be easily practiced by the elderly, have a spiritual side, etc. etc."

    I disagree with all of these because they just don't hold up to any comparison or scrutiny. Relaxation? Pretty much all CMAs and probably most other MAs require it. Redirecting/transforming force? Aikido and others do plenty of that. Certainly not unique to Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua in the CMA world either. Can be practiced slowly or by the elderly? The "big three" are a lot more strenous than they seem when practiced with the intent to use them in a fight. I could probably invent a version of Long Fist with slow movements, no jumps and high stances that old people could enjoy... would that make it an internal martial art? As to the philosophical part... I just don't think the creators of any CMA had self-improvement and learning to dissolve conflict peacefuly as their primary goals. If you look at the applications of Chen Taiji or Bagua, for example, you'll see that they are never the least bit merciful and always designed to inflict the greatest injury possible on the opponent. The only MA I know of with a relatively strong "moral" element is Ueshiba's Aikido in that he seems to have emphasized in the training and application of his art the method of stopping attackers without hurting them.

    Ultimately, I think the only meaningful definition of an "internal" MA is the one I mentioned above. As far as I know they exist only in China and possibly in India. Many other countries have developed sophisticated and highly effective methods of bare-handed combat, but CMAs are the only ones I know of that really make use of the vital energy cultivated in qi/neigong (or even in certain types of Yoga, for that matter) for martial purposes. I think this is possibly the greatest innovation of CMA, which is why I hate to see qi/neigong dismissed as an unnecesary relic.
  4. MartialArtN00b

    MartialArtN00b New Member

    High level kungfu should be the same level regardless of internal and external classification.

    Onyomi is right they are only two different aspect of training in CMA that are linked together.

    internal training trains to me sensitivity and awareness of my own mechanics. To which i can use to maximise my power easier as i get a better feedback from my own body and a better coordination because of internal training.

    If that makes any sense...
  5. middleway

    middleway Valued Member

    on internal and external martial arts

    "They are only relative terms, flesh is internal compare to skin, "Jin" is internal compare to flesh, Qi is internal compare to phisical body, it is no meaning to define them, we should understand them in our own practice with our own feeling."

    master He Jin Han.

    i think this sums things up well...

  6. cloudz

    cloudz Valued Member

    it so does. :)

    thats a great quote..
  7. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant


    KRONOS Valued Member

    An internal art can be considered a MA that was passed down from teacher to inner door student.

    An external art was learned by watching through a window what was being taught to the inner door student. Missing all the subtle nuances that make applications work, all the instruction on qigong and neigong, all the descriptions that illustrate how movement comes from the center. Etc.etc.

    Too many arts were stolen or taught incompletely on purpose. An art that can't apply itself is a dead art. (wushu?)

    A lot of good lineages have died in recent times. When asked why they aren't passing it on the teachers say "look at my students, I'd rather the art dies with me."

    Other arts that were dead and had poor teachers have been brought back by good students who surpass the teacher in skill become famous but still retain the name of their teacher.

    A lot of CMA styles could be internal if corrected.
  9. onyomi

    onyomi 差不多先生

    I like something my Shifu said: "外家拳就是練不出來的拳." ("Waijia/External" boxing is just boxing you don't learn well.) Nobody would want their boxing to be called "waijia" in China, because that implies they are out of the loop/aren't getting to the true understanding.

    I read that the original neijia-quan may have been tongbei-quan, because it was taught only to the guards of a certain imperial household. It was literally, "within the home boxing" because it was the style taught to the palace guards. In the late nineteenth-early twentieth century some practitioners of Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua decided to collectively call their arts "neijia-quan" because they thought they complemented each other well. "Waijia" or "external" is only a term invented to contrast to that term that no CMAist would actually want applied to their art.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2005
  10. pete_e

    pete_e New Member

    When I asked one of my grandmasters how he defined internal martial arts he said that internal arts are ones that emphasise the use of the mind (yi), rather than physical strength.

    There's a lot of different definitions about, but I do rather like this one, as it allows for any martial art to be internal dependent on the practitioner. This fits with my theory that, at a high enough level, there is very little difference between most martial arts.
  11. alister

    alister Huh?

    Interesting....so how does the training work?

    Presumably there are techniques, but how do you get all the "internal" stuff - qi etc etc? How is that "taught" and how do you know when you've got it?

    The only thing I've got to perhaps compare is meditation - I've meditated a bit, but only experienced something "different" from everyday experience twice - hard to explain how that felt or to give an explanation of how I did it - it just happened.

    So how would you "teach" someone this type of thing?
  12. inthespirit

    inthespirit ignant

    Check the Nei Gong thread in the Tai Chi section (http://www.martialartsplanet.com/forums/showthread.php?t=26944), I mentioned some of the stuff that I was taught and how it works in the begining, there are many other ways too though. Feel free to ask if you have more question..
  13. onyomi

    onyomi 差不多先生

    You do qigong. Qigong are exercises designed to train the internal energy. There are many types of qigong. Generally they work by a combination of physical movements or posture-holding with deliberate control of the breathing. The mind is used to direct the energy in some exercises and in others the qi is allowed to flow where it will.

    You will feel the qi as a kind of energy like electricity once it becomes strong enough. You should start to get some indications of whether you're getting anywhere within 1-3 months of beginning serious qigong practice. The longer you practice the stronger and clearer the feeling becomes and the easier it is to guide the qi with the mind.

    Meditation is only a type of qigong if you do it with that intent... i.e. using qigong breathing, concentrating on the dantian and flow of the du and ren mai. Simply sitting and clearing your mind might make you feel calm and peaceful, but it will not do anything for your qi system unless you practice qigong meditation.
  14. KRONOS

    KRONOS Valued Member

    I'd put more emphasis on moving and proper body-mechanics. Work on moving the hands/arms from your center. Think of timing the movement of the shoulders and arms with the movement of the waist. The movement should eventually originate from the true dantian which is basically the center of gravity but the waist is easier to feel in the beginning. There are exercises called 'silk reeling' that develop the coordination and timing. They are called silk reeling because when silk is being cultivated its wound around a small stick that must be spun at a contant steady speed without change or stopping or else the silk will break. In IMAs you are trying to develop and maintain a steady unbroken link between the hands, your center, and the ground or else the power will be broken and uncoordinated.

    The joints of the body must be kept flowing and open, qigong will help you find and open areas that are blocked. Blockage is like a limb falling asleep when bent or constrained, when opened you feel the tingling. Qigong is awakening parts of the body and one of the sensations felt is the same as that tingling. I would think about it in terms of blood flow though. Look for warmth, color, and sweat. Its more of a tangible feeling that you already know, plus the qi guides the blood so it will already be there.

    Let your mind be concerned with "is my hand moving in front of the waist? or being pulled by the movement of the waist?" Your parasympathetic nervous system has gotten you to this point so best not to dwell on certain aspects until you get to point where what onyomi says makes sense. :)
  15. El Medico

    El Medico Valued Member

    Historical note- The tradition of referring to TCC.HI.and PK as internal arts was started by Sun,Lu-tang in his public writings.He felt the 3 systems shared common points of emphasis in their ways of training the body and energetic development/expression to make them sister arts.Prior to this (1st or 2nd decade or so of the 20th century) there wasn't the external/internal designation.
  16. Taiji Butterfly

    Taiji Butterfly Banned Banned

    My first teacher also used to say that before the Boxer Rebellion and the rise of the Boxer Societies all CMA was trained in a slower more internal way, eventually producing great power through long training and avoiding the risks of injury that go with full on EMA. The Boxers favoured EMA methods to get people ready to fight quicker. Her view was that EMA trains faster to be martially effective but forgoes the health and longevity aspects and only (generally) suits people under 40 or 50 whereas IMA can be practised at any age.
    I do not 100% agree with her on everything BTW, but I suspect her first point to be largley correct and would explain the apparent IMA/EMA schism around the turn of the century....
  17. El Medico

    El Medico Valued Member

    Well TJB,if the meaning was a greater emphasis on internal power development,possibly,depending on the system.But a lot of systems were learned by folks just to have some skills to keep the wheat in the village safe from brigands.Weaponry played a much greater and more important part than today.(As you know,most folks in China today don't have to carry a spear or sword or staff to travel between villages,but some basic skills could come in handy then).Highly serious students,as today,would spend a great deal more time training,so they would probably get more of the nei/chi gung training.If you mean slower in terms of time,as today that depends on what's being taught and how much time one trains(correctly).(If the meaning was a greater emphasis on slower movement we have no evidence to that).To attain high level in any system requires time,but in most systems a basic applicable skill level shouldn't take several years.If they had ,in what were often chaotic and somewhat lawless areas such systems wouldn't have survived.As I've said before tho',some systems may require a little more time and effort initially.I don't think Sun meant to create the rift we sometimes see today,he was just noting the emphasis on the way the body is used/developed in the 3 systems.Other northern systems have a lot of those same methods,but they come in later in training rather than from the get go.Let's remember that pre- or post rebellion,in China or somewhere else the vast majority of practitioners were/are just folks who have some skills,but aren't high level,and may not have the time nor inclination to pursue things to that end.
  18. Narrue

    Narrue Valued Member

    Internal: look inward

    External: look outward

    Martial art with predominance of internal training is classed as an internal martial art.

    Martial art with predominance of external (physical) training is classed as an external martial art.

    Flaw in the system: Martial art with 50% internal and 50% external cannot be classed using this system.

    Actually it a bad classing system because it causes separation in the martial arts world.

    Internal martial arts are not only about Qi, prana etc but all internal aspects i.e. spirit, mind, vital force, breath, marrow etc

    What you need to ask yourself is what brings health i.e. can you neglect your physical body by not doing physical exercises and expect to be healthy, allowing your physical body to wither away becoming physically weak. Is that what you call health?

    Can you neglect internal/inner aspects of the human body, just pump iron and run miles and expect to be healthy? A strong physical body, a shell with no core, a house with no foundation.

    A man can not live on bread alone but neither can a man live on water alone. The smart man eats bread and drinks water.

    True health will result from balance!
  19. averan

    averan New Member

    when Sun Lu Tang coined the term Nei Jia, it never entered into his mind that a Nei Jia artist (IMA) would only meditate and not train their body.

    what we need to do is improve our western definitions of the terms we use.

    Internal Martial Arts doesn't mean "internal" so literally. they are COMPLETE systems of study----"arts"! He only used the term to describe that Ba Gua, Xing Yi, and Tai Ji are sisters (closely related) because they uniquely share the same approach of "soft overcomes hard", ie, the "watercourse way". they are Daoist arts.

    ps. any art can be practiced and taught as a complete art. (some might insist you change the name though!)
  20. Jekyll

    Jekyll Valued Member

    Listen to averan.

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