Internal / External: What's the Difference? by Jay C Shrewsbury

Discussion in 'MartialTalk Magazine Articles' started by Bob Hubbard, Jan 1, 2006.

  1. Bob Hubbard

    Bob Hubbard Retired

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    Internal / External: What's the Difference?

    Though there are many schools of thoughts on what makes a martial arts system internal or external, I believe that there are a few key points that divide them. I have heard such things as: that one who practices internal arts will know the external, but those who practice external will not know internal. I do not believe this is so. After over 25 years of study I have seen many pure internalists and externalists, neither would be sufficient at the other.

    In the Chinese arts internal usually refers to arts that are “internal” to China, arts that were developed in China, and “external arts” are arts that were developed outside of China and brought in by foreigners.

    The vast majority of Chinese external styles turn internal in their higher levels, but this is not true for internal styles, they are just internal. Tai chi would be the perfect example of a style that is just internal and Hung gar would be the perfect example of an external system that turns internal at its upper levels. Fu Jow Pai would be the best example for an external style that stays external. Xing Yi on the other hand would be a perfect example of an internal system that appears external in movements.

    Many claim that body alignment, rooting, and the use of “body energy” is what makes a system internal, this certainly could not be true. Many systems use correct body alignment, such as Shorin Ryu, the waist, legs, and arms all work together to create alignment. Body energy, ki, chi, or whatever you prefer to call it is in many external systems as well. Styles such as Choy Li Fut and many others systems use this energy in their art
    Even styles that are supposed to be internal are not. I have seen many styles of Bagua that I certainly would not classify as internal; walking in a circle does not make something internal. I have also seen many Tai Chi practitioners who I would not consider internal, moving slowly does not constitute internal.

    Now to the key points I strongly believe divide the external from the internal.

    1)Energy: both internal and external systems use the energy created by nature (chi, ki, qi) but the true internal styles use soft, relaxed energy, and external uses a more direct energy force. When seeing a true internal stylist use their art you will never see force or strength, rather through blending and redirecting, their energy seems soft and evasive. An external stylist will use both direct and indirect energies, sometimes vary obvious to the observer and sometimes not.

    2)Intent: external stylists intent can be strong and opposing. This is seen in many tiger styles of gung fu. Facial expression and body language can be very obvious in nature and their intent can be seen clearly. Internal stylists intent is spontaneous, hidden and only known to them, they will always appear the same in attitude whether they practice Tai Chi, Xing Yi, or Pa Kua. The art is always blending and changing, there are no set forms, only foundations.

    3)Body and Breath Use:
    In external systems the body can use muscle force, and often does. The use of “external” strength is quite apparent, and the breath is often forced during movements. The techniques are often generated from muscle. Internal systems used relaxed movements in there techniques, not sloppy or weak, but relaxed and using the whole self to begin and end a move. The moves are generated from the mind and require the whole body to perform, for example a punch is generated from the intent and grows from the ground through the body, and ends the same. The feet, legs, hips, shoulders and so on, work separately yet together to create the desired outcome.

    Written by:
    Jay C Shrewsbury
    Martialarts@oberlin.net
    http://www.bodyelectricmethod.com/

     
  2. Gaoguy

    Gaoguy Orange Belt

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    Taiji, Xingyi, and Bagua use a very particular shen-fa, or body method that is seldom present in external styles. Although it could be argued that other northern systems such as tong bei and baji use a simialr method of whole body power.
     
  3. ggg214

    ggg214 Blue Belt

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    external arts give practitioners the way starting from body movement ending to dao, or other mystery things. internal arts is in the contrary, starting from mental or internal body, ending to the same aim.
    so i think it's just the two sides of CMA.
    but it's no use to seperate these two ways.
    even in taiji praction, there are many ways which could be easily sorted in external.
    in my knowledge, Ba ji, a kind of external martial art, has some internal training courses too.
     
  4. Steel Tiger

    Steel Tiger Senior Master

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    This seems to me to be a very interesting statement. It speaks to a basic misunderstanding of the subject regardless of over 25 years of observation and practice. It is clearly stating all external arts, wujia, come from outside China. I'd like to see him convince a Shuai Jiao or Chang Quan practitioner of this.


    The difference between external and internal, wujia and neijia is that one works from the outside to the inside while the other works from the inside to the outside. In truth, that is the only real difference. It is not in their appearance but in their methods that they differ.
     
  5. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng All weight is underside

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    I have looked into this division for a long time and there are multiple explanations as to were internal and external came form. One of them is the inside and outside of China description and that also divides a bit further into Taoist being inside or internal and anything with Buddhism origin being outside or external. I use to buy into this definition until I thought of Shuaijiao (Shuai Chiao) then it kind of fell apart.

    There is also the Internal working on internal Qi development and working at moving that out were external works on building Qi in the limbs and working to bring that in. The internal goes to external and external goes to internal stuff.

    And there is another that appears to actually be more based in written history that is a complete fabrication made by the literate less than talented martial artists of the illiterate rather talented. It was a division that was used to make them sound better than they are and superior to external stylists who trained harder than they did, the my kung fu is far superior to yours so I need not fight lest I hurt you because I train internal styles kind of thing. It was then adopted as time went by as a way to differentiate styles into general types.

    And the there are some old writings on CMA from Chinese martial artists that show no such division at all. There is a rather good article on this in the last issue of Martial arts magazine that form all I have read and studied prior to this makes the most sense to me.

    And if you really look at the way internal and external styles train they do have some pretty big similarities that make the division a bit of a grey area. Wing Chun is a good case to look at how they train, Xingiquan is another. Wing Chun is considered external but yet there is a lot of internal work in Siu Lim Tao and Xingyi is considered internal and sometimes (as I call it) internal/external bit it is really into a major use of power at the moment of the strike.

    As to the inside and outside of China description, these days I find that doubtful is for no other reason Shuaijiao (Shuai Chiao). And as I train more CMA to be honest I begin to see little difference between Neijia ad Wujia if they are trained properly.


    EDIT

    Yet one more possibility I have read as well that internal external came about as a kind of rebellion by the remnant of the Ming Dynasty towards their rulers of the Ming Dynasty. This is also been suggested as the reason for the invention of the Taoist Monk Zhang Sanfeng and making him a Taoist made all martial arts that come form Taoism internal to China or in this case the Ming.
     
  6. Steel Tiger

    Steel Tiger Senior Master

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    There is a lot more to this than it first appears. If the internal arts are so overwhelmingly devastating why do the Chinese practice anything else. The three main neijia are all at least 200 years old so why haven't they completely obliterated all the other arts. I believe its because they aren't so overwhelming just different.
     
  7. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng All weight is underside

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    Absolutly true, there is a lot more that appears as you begin to really look into it and much of what is found does not clear things up much to be honest, it just leads to more possibilities and more questions
     
  8. yinyangpalms

    yinyangpalms White Belt

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    Hi Everyone... new here...

    I don't think there was much distinction between internal and external before Sun Lutan made one. He made the distinction due to the way the arts are expressed. i.e. the external postures and movements are expression of internal energy/body movement. I agree that most arts end up internal, it's just how you get there.

    Even taijiquan is external until you learn to internalise it, even when taught internal from the start (possibly my lack of understanding). This may be due to the fact that most people who learn taiji these days have never done a martial art before and have jumped straight into one of the most advanced styles, with no foundation. The same goes for Baguazhang as it was mainly taught to people proficient in another style. It's a way of moving that can increase power and maneuverability, with training adapted to the students abilities (the reason why my bagua looks different to yours).

    To answer a question about why the whole of china doesn't just practice the internal arts... Maybe there is a lack of genuine masters that can teach the real art and having trained internal for nearly 18 years, most people don't have the patients in this "just add water" society we live in. Plus it takes years to begin to understand how to deliver energy in a relaxed manner. I'm sure there's an element of ego and pride involved too.
     
  9. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng All weight is underside

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    Actually the Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan (1669) talks about Internal and external schools of martial arts as well as the first association of Zhang Sanfeng with Neijia (not taiji by the way) but it is likely more of an anti-Manchu statement than a historical reference. But there is no doubt Sun Lutang certainly made a destinction between the two
     
  10. Errant108

    Errant108 Purple Belt

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    You'd have to prove that ki actually exists in order for this to be a difference.
     
  11. mograph

    mograph Master Black Belt

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    Actually, no ... replace the word "energy" with "movement" or "intention" and the distinction still stands.
     
  12. Errant108

    Errant108 Purple Belt

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    From the conversations I've had with people who've trained IMA for competition...

    Nope.

    Tim Cartmell has done much work discrediting the completely false "IMA/EMA" dichotomy.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2009
  13. redantstyle

    redantstyle Blue Belt

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    anybody see which way that dragon went?
     
  14. Xue Sheng

    Xue Sheng All weight is underside

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    He went that way [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    :boing2:
     

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