What is Internal or External Kung Fu?

7starmantis

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A discussion on a different thread led me to start this one. It seems there is a big differing of ideas in the CMA community as to what is or is not "internal" or "external" training or kung fu. I would like to focus on defining what makes a style or system internal or external. There are many ideas about this here are a few:
  1. Styles with Buddhist roots are external because Buddhism originated outside of China. Styles with Taoist roots are internal because Taoism originated within China.
  2. Hard or fast movements are external while soft or slow movements are internal.
  3. Overpowering or destroying an opponent with technique and application is external while using the opponents own force agains them is internal.
  4. Lots of movements or big movements (circles) is external while simpler smaller movements is internal.
  5. Using force or generating power from the waist is external while yielding to force or generating power with the whole body is internal.
So which is it? Is there really a difference between these so called "internal" and "external" systems? In a different thread Adam Hsu's book, "The Sword Polisher's Record" was brought up, here is a little bit from it regarding internal and external kung fu:
"Taijiquan, baguazhang, and xingyiquan were all clasified as the popular internal styles. The credability of this was, and still is, upheld by conveniently pointing to ancient and highly esteemed religious and moral philosophies that shared similar terminology bet were unrelated to martial arts in any other way."

"In Chinese, the words used for external and internal are wai and nei respectively. Chinese people never would willingly like to be refered to as wai hang or men wai hang, which means an outsider, amateurish, unskilled. Because of these connotations, everyone naturally wanted to be considered nei or internal. It was allways the other people who were wai, external, outside."

So it appears he feels the seperations or divisions of these styles was never meant to be or was brought about incorrectly. So, what do you think? Can any style be internal and/or external according to the practitioners understanding and skill? If so, what are the definitions of "internal" and "external" in kung fu? What about fighting? Since CMA is really based around fighting, are the principles of fighting different from internal to external systems? Do they share any similarities at all? Is internal training as different from external training as CMA is from JMA? Can the two work together or are they opposing ideas?

7sm
 

dmax999

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7starmantis said:
  1. Styles with Buddhist roots are external because Buddhism originated outside of China. Styles with Taoist roots are internal because Taoism originated within China.
  2. Hard or fast movements are external while soft or slow movements are internal.
  3. Overpowering or destroying an opponent with technique and application is external while using the opponents own force agains them is internal.
  4. Lots of movements or big movements (circles) is external while simpler smaller movements is internal.
  5. Using force or generating power from the waist is external while yielding to force or generating power with the whole body is internal.

Umm... I'll respectfully disagree with the possible differences between external and internal you have listed.

1) I would think most would agree internal and external doesn't mean developed inside or outside China.
2) If we agree Xing I and Tai Chi are internal then this doesn't hold water. These two arts are designed to allow the user to move extremely fast, specifically the ability to move faster then the opponet. Just in solo form practice is it not done fast, in application they are very quick.
3) Many external styles rely on opponent's force, such as Eagle Claw. Xing I, an internal style, overpowers oppoents. So we can find tons of exceptions to this idea.
4) BaGua, anoter internal style, shows examples of large circular and complex movements.
5) Actually in external systems the power is generated with the legs and transfered through the waist. Correct striking in both external and internal systems are mechanicaly similar.

One of the big problems people have describing internal vs external is they look at a Shaoling Kung-Fu style and compare it to a Tai Chi solo form. However, you get the Kung-Fu guy fighting and the Thi Chi guy fighting, they both move fast, and both strike similar. In application there isn't much difference between internal and external when done correctly.

Whats the real difference? The training methods to achieve high skill. External is more physical work and moving at full speed earlier in training. External styles you refine your techniques while practicing at full speed.
Internal you perfect the technique slowly while practicing slowly. There is a lot that goes into a correct strike and by working slowly you have more time to think about each aspect, correct weight placement, correctly using joints together, correctly transferring the power through the waist, etc. Internal styles think you can't correctly perform a technique at full speed until you can correctly perform it slowly perfectly every time.

Both internal and exteral styles are achieving the same thing over time, its just two different ways to get there.

But this is only my current opinion. I currently practice both internal and extrnal styles and there is no difference in correctly applying the techniques in a real situation. Their practice however is completely different.
 
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7starmantis

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Good point, and that list was just a list of explinations I have heard used over time. I think we agree on the similarities of internal and external kung fu. So then the words "internal" and "external" refer more to a method of training than to a specific style or stylistic technqiues? An internal style is chracterised by its methods of training slowly while an external style is characterised by its methods of training fast. I would agree that is probably a very common and widely accepted deffinition. But there are those who break those molds or definitions. For instance, my training in northern mantis is "external" yet we practice our applications slowly, "taiji slow" we call it. We even begin our fighting that slow. If you can hit someone or throw someone that slow you can certainly do it fast. So I guess on a spectrum there would be systems that contain both internal and external aspects. Such as the graph I made below. A person could assign their training on this scale.

13918293796.jpg


But this distinction between internal and external is just a characteristic of training and the principles behind fighting and application are the same across the board.

Thoughts?

7sm
 

Gaoguy

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"I would agree that is probably a very common and widely accepted deffinition. An internal style is chracterised by its methods of training slowly while an external style is characterised by its methods of training fast."

No, it's a different body method, a different method of generating power. Your definition is not common nor widely accepted. Fast or slow does not matter. Please don't again ask what it is because it has to be shown, not just explained. Sorry, that's just the way it is. I know you find it frustrating and will once again accuse me of being purposefully obtuse, but it's just the truth.
 
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7starmantis

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Gaoguy said:
No, it's a different body method, a different method of generating power. Your definition is not common nor widely accepted. Fast or slow does not matter. Please don't again ask what it is because it has to be shown, not just explained. Sorry, that's just the way it is. I know you find it frustrating and will once again accuse me of being purposefully obtuse, but it's just the truth.
I appreciate your willingness to continue posting but I think you misunderstand my purpose with this thread. I'm not atempting to seek out and learn about internal martial arts, I train in two styles of taijiquan and have my Sifu for questions regarding how to practice them and I have him to learn from by being shown and felt. I am not frustrated but just looking to have some good discussion. The deffinition I said was comon was a response to dmax999's post regarding slow and fast training. I think it is very common and widely accepted as I've heard many, many people use it to define internal and external kung fu (common and widely accepted do not mean correct). I dont think its 100% correct and I said so in my post. There are systems that break that mold, like my own training, we don't fall into either of those categories as we contain both.

My reason for this thread is to discuss the differences and similarities between internal and external systems of CMA. To explore the labels "internal" and "external" and define what they are meant to describe or contain. To define what makes up an internal system as opposed to an external system. My belief is that there really aren't the huge differences and seperating characteristics as many believe there are. For example, I looked at your website (Empty Flower) and read through the definitions of principles in fighting using any of the three main internal systems. Those principles match my own in external northern mantis fighting. We may have more principles written out and focus more on some different ones as well, but it seems the three internal styles listed on that website match my own training in terms of fighting principles. Thats interesting to me since you guys are very set against there being similarities between internal and external kung fu.

That is what I wanted to do with this thread, get down to what the words are meant to devide and contain. So by your definition internal kung fu is defined by a different body method and a different way of generating power than external systems? That is the main difference and the reason for internal and external devisions?

7sm
 

Gaoguy

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Yes. I could end my response here and probably should.
But rather than read what is written at EF (because sometimes the same words can be interpreted in a number of ways) why not actually ask there. For example Jake Burroughs teaches mantis and studies Zhaobao Taiji and Song Xingyi. Even there you will find differences of opinion. There a number of very experienced people there (I am excluding myself as I have already given my years of experience). BTW, for the record I spent over ten years with B.K. Frantzis learning neigong, bagua, xingyi, and taiji; and the last seven or so with Luo Dexiu of the Yizong system (Gao bagua and Hebei xingyi). Now obviously it's the practitioner not the teacher so I mention it only in passing. Their pedigree doesn't mean anything about my own ability.
"We may have more principles written out and focus more on some different ones as well, but it seems the three internal styles listed on that website match my own training in terms of fighting principles. Thats interesting to me since you guys are very set against there being similarities between internal and external kung fu."
But you could be confusing your perhaps "blended" training with the fact that there is a difference. In the past ten years IMA have opened up quite a bit and their basic principles are much more well known now. And I would say a lot of people have seen that those principles are, in fact, sound and have adapted them into their curriculae.
 

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Gaoguy,
I believe you have struck upon something I have been thinking about for a while.

Internal MA training is different from external. However, if you have someone who can fa-jing well in Tai Chi, and he teaches the exact body mechanics to a Karate guy without any explaniation of Chi or any Chi-Gong exercise. Is it possible for the Karate guy to use fa-jing strikes? If not, why not? It should also be possible for other MAs to "discover" fa-jing strikes on their own and call it something else (I believe top quality western boxers have done this)

Going with this theory, eventually every MA would evolve to include fa-jing type strikes for everything since that is the most effective, efficient, and quickest strikes. Even MAs that didn't have it would eventually develop their own version of basically the same thing. Combine that with the fact that so many Kung-Fu styles now cross train with Tai-Chi, and it becomes logical that all Kung-Fu at high levels start to become indistinguisable from internal styles.

I would never presume to argue that this was always the case, but to me it seems the logical conclusion given time and the current exchange of information and cross training that goes on now.

I also think those who truly have excelled in "external" styles in the past have individually figured out the secrets of internal styles on their own. The real advantage of internal training is that it can be taught to anyone and doesn't rely so heavily on natural talent to figure it out. Look at your individual schools, those who also practice internal MAs (And I don't mean just attend classes) improve their external MAs even if they lack great natural talent.
 

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I would say anything is possible, but I find it very improbable given the tendency for many karate styles to use tension and less-than-whole body power. Of course, someone had to discover it. But here's a real life example. One of my students has black belts in Kempo and Tae Kwon Do. When he first came to me he asked the same question you asked. I told him yes you can use fajing but your art will have to adjust and you might not think it is those two arts anymore. After several years he told me he doesn't do those arts anymore even if he uses the same techniques. His body had changed.
BTW please just call me Buddy.
 
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7starmantis

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I think the distinction is more semantical than anything else. dmax999 made a good point that basically any style could incorporate "internal" elements into its training practices. Its like Buddy's TKD example of the student who said he doesn't train TKD anymore but still uses the technique learned. Are you only training in TKD when attending TKD class? Is the TKD he does outside of the TKD school not still TKD? Its the same with CMA styles that are "external" in distinction but yet include the "internal" principles and methods. The internal doesn't change the system, its still the same style (ie mantis) its just focusing on more internal principles. I think this is the case with many CMA styles. In fact I think its an exercise in futility to try and label CMA styles at all. They are too complex and cover too much ground to really confine in a label.

Outside of CMA I would agree, I think most karate styles rely on muscular tension and strength and that goes agaisnt the so called internal principles so it would be hard for a karate system to incorporate or "discover" them as its opposing to their own principles. Within CMA I think there are far more systems that include both internal and external qualities than ones that include only one or the other. In fact, I would almost be willing to say a system that only relys on one is in fact ignoring quite a bit of usefull principles.

Now, there are many systems that are technique driven, but most CMA are principle driven which means the technique (ie gwa choy, kwa, upper cut, etc ) do not make the system but rather the way in which one uses the tehcniques and such (this is of course over simplified). This being the case I think its much easier to see CMA systems that focus on both internal and external methods. I think there are systems that focus more on some principles while others choose a different set of principles, but I think the core fighting principles are the same across the board of CMA systems....or at least contain a little of both and the inception of more external or internal would not change the system at all, simply make the practitioner better rounded. CMA as a whole are based on these principles whether the style chooses to train them or learn them is another question, but internal principels and methods do not oppose external methods and principles, they work together which tells something of the CMAs as a whole.

Just my opinions,
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dmax999

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The discussion is more relevant to CMA because of the extensive cross training in external CMAs with internal CMAs.

As for Karate not being able to incorporate internal techniques, wouldn't karate using internal techniques look very similar to Akido? The story is the founder of Akido, O-Sensai, was a karate master. He traveled to China for four years and came back to tell the Japanese that "everything has changed" and wammo he invented Akido. MAs evolve all the time, I just think the speed of evolution for them is increasing with the increased ability to get information on them now.
 

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I really do not want to get to deeply into this, since I have not posted for a while. But Internal and external are, as previously stated, more just how the energy is used and or manifested.

Slow, fast are not parts of it. Xingyiquan can be considered a combination of the two as is white crane, but Shaolin is external where Tai Chi is internal. Look at the styles how they approach learning their art and you can see the differences.

You can get really really hard really really fast by a bagua guy and you can get hit the same way by a Shaolin practitioner as well.

Could Karate do internal work?

Could Shaolin?

If you can answer yes to question 2 then question 1 is yes as well.
 

Nebuchadnezzar

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dmax999 said:
The discussion is more relevant to CMA because of the extensive cross training in external CMAs with internal CMAs.

As for Karate not being able to incorporate internal techniques, wouldn't karate using internal techniques look very similar to Akido? The story is the founder of Akido, O-Sensai, was a karate master. He traveled to China for four years and came back to tell the Japanese that "everything has changed" and wammo he invented Akido. MAs evolve all the time, I just think the speed of evolution for them is increasing with the increased ability to get information on them now.

Karate wouldn't look anything like Aikido. Karate is a striking art while Aikido is pure self defense. Morihei Ueshiba did not practice Karate, he was a master of Aikijujutsu as well as swordsmanship. He combined his jujutsu with sword work to create Aikido.
 
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7starmantis

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So then we could say an internal system is one that focuses mainly on internal principles while an external system is one that focuses mainly on external principles.

Saying one is without or excludes the other is in my opinion incorrect as there are many, many systems that contain both internal and external aspects, principles, and training methods.

Thoughts?
7sm
 
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7starmantis

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7starmantis said:
Saying one is without or excludes the other is in my opinion incorrect as there are many, many systems that contain both internal and external aspects, principles, and training methods.
I thought about this post and realized I didn't make myself clear. I shouldn't have used the word "excludes" because there are many, many CMA schools that exclude one or more internal or external principles or methods. What I should have said was "opposes". To say internal principles or methods in CMA oppose external principles or methods in CMA is incorrect in my opinion. True skill comes when a practitioner can use both and even switch effortlessly between them or even use them both at the same time. Many people say its impossible to use them at the same time, but with what we call disconnection you can have part of your body using fajing, part of your body yielding, or soft and hard, etc. This brings me to this post here:
Gaoguy said:
But you could be confusing your perhaps "blended" training with the fact that there is a difference.
My question then is this: Is training that uses both internal and external principles or methods really "blended". We call it blended because we subscribe to the harsh disctinctions between "internal" and "external" CMA. However many branches of mantis have had both internal and external qualities (believed to be) since its creation. So then is it "blended" or is it simply "complete"? I think to say its blended one must believe there are major distinctions and seperations between internal and external kung fu, but why do we believe that so adamantly when these distinctions are relatively new to CMA?

7sm
 

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