Chinese Internal System of Exercise
Internal arts training is about self-cultivation. These arts may appear to be about martial arts: They are actually about refining a wisdom of the body. By practicing these methods you become a better person. The lessons, practices, and principles of internal martial arts increase self-awareness, body awareness, and environmental awareness. They build your skill in how you inhabit and perform with your body. They feed your tissues and organs with Qi and physical intelligence. You will build health and movement proficiency.
The internal arts of China are complex, full bodied, get better over time (with practice) and are intoxicatingly fun.
Lines, Rectangles and Circles
The main three internal arts are Taiji Quan, Bagua Quan and Xing Yi Quan (and Xin Yi). Within each of these three arts are many styles. There are others besides these three, some not even shared yet in the West.
Xing Yi (and Xin Yi) practices look more vigorous than Bagua and Taiji, but like the others, employ the internal principles that lead to self-cultivation. Most Xing Yi drills and forms are done on a line. Though the moves are vigorous, internally they employ all of the sophisticated methodologies that the other internal martial arts do. In addition there is a rhythm of movement that creates restful, internal gathering times within each series of more intensive moves.
Taiji Quan (Tai Chi) is the most well known and widely practiced of the internal martial arts. Its basic form consists of graceful movements done in slow motion. Taiji forms are usually wide-ranging in space within a big visualized rectangle on the ground.
Bagua Quan is best known for its circle walking methods and whole body turning.
All of the internal martial arts deserve and require not just practice, but a great deal of introspection, observation, and study. They are intellectual pursuits as well as physical practices.
Which is the Best One?
They all offer great methods of training and magnificent gifts. Whichever internal martial art you have available to you is usually the best. Whatever you have before you, if it is based on genuine principles and gradual growth, and if you have an attentive teacher, is good. Practice it well and learn it well: You will have a set of valuable skills to be used in many situations throughout your life. Learning the internal martial art available to you will also give you a good foundation for learning other versions in the future, if the opportunity arises.
What Exactly is Meant by Internal?
Let us compare internal with external.
External martial arts, the harder styles, are more about muscles and straight line force. They are about expressing a lot of power fast and directly. The focus on arduous training, muscle power and hyper-enthusiasm require a lot of Yang energy (and takes a lot of energy to do.)
Internal martial arts seek to create a softly strong body, a resilient, flexible, relaxed coil of power. The nourishing exercises and techniques of internal martial arts emphasize relaxation over rigidity. Unlike many rigorous pursuits, this is a body and practice you can take deep into your later years.
External Martial Arts are usually more suited to younger people. As people age and experience various traumas along the way, such forceful approaches become more and more of a struggle to engage in.
Internal martial arts—with the focus on sensing inside, emotional tranquility, opening Qi flows and relaxed muscles—are usually more intriguing to middle-aged and older people. At least this is true in America.
Internal martial arts train for health, martial skill, and longevity. Internal martial arts make you more fit; and make you healthier.
External martial arts such as Karate, Tae kwon Do, Shaolin, and cage fighting tend to train for martial skill and fitness. Fitness is not health. The tense muscles of many hard arts block the flow of Qi, blood and lymph and create even more tension. The hard training of most external martial arts leads to many more injuries than the internal methods, particularly serious joint traumas, wear and tear on the body, and a weakening of the organs.
In Internal martial arts training you will learn many practical, powerful, profound lessons. The Internal Martial approach understands that how you do something is more important than what you do. Rather than just exercising, you learn insightful structural and movement principles. You integrate the body, mind and spirit with the techniques to create a fluid whole movement.
Cultivating your skill, you exercise and practice in nurturing ways, even when expressing power. It is an understanding that basic brute force and aggression are not that effective in training your body. You might hurt yourself to defend yourself or attack another with such force. Instead, Internal martial arts teach you to utilize less force to create more power, fostering softness instead of rigidity. Relaxing in movement leads to speed and greater endurance. It is a self-massage rather than a self-beating. Internal martial arts develop a natural flexibility, one that is pliable and strong, not just stretchy. Internal martial artists seek to become familiar with such skills as tendon-power, bone energy, internal organ energy, Qi flows, sequential joint dynamics, felt visualizations (Shen), relaxed power, spiral movement and the effective use of energy points.
Internal martial arts engender calm and peaceful states, even in fighting. No animal howling or monster rages. Internal martial artists are more interested in building skill and power through walking the middle path—avoiding extremes of training, exertion or militaristic and patriarchal dogma. Extremes in training lead to weakening of organs, injuries to the joints, muscles, and nervous system.
In the Chinese internal martial arts there are usually no belts and no rankings. There is teacher and student, but even that is usually more informal, a mutual respect between everybody.