Internal martial arts, also known as 'soft' martial arts, are those which concentrate on cultivating and using the power
of the internal energy called 'chi' rather than the conventional muscular power of so called external or hard martial arts.
most widely known internal martial art in the west is Tai Chi, but other examples include Bagua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan, Dacheng
Quan and Liuhe Bafa Quan. In addition to this most styles of Chinese kung fu have some kind of internal element, even though
they are primarily external. An example of a kung fu style with a particularly strong internal aspect is Shaolin White Crane
style kung fu.
Some people would tell you that all Chinese martial arts are both internal and external. According to
this view internal styles like Tai Chi begin with studying and cultivating chi and then move on to manifesting this as external
muscular strength at the advanced levels, whereas external martial arts like Wing Chun kung fu begin by learning the external
physical forms and using them with external muscular power, and then move on to learning about chi at the advanced level.
In the end they would both therefore attain a balance of internal and external.
The whole concept of chi can be difficult
to understand, but when you practice internal martial arts you gain an awareness of chi through experiencing it, rather than
through an intellectual understanding. Basically chi is described as the vital life force, somewhat like the Prana of Indian
yoga. Some modern practitioners describe chi as being a magnetic phenomenon, similar to the descriptions of the 'astral light'
of the soul given by western esoteric philosophers like Mesmer and Levi.
Internal martial arts are built upon the foundation of chi kung (or qi gong), which can trace its origins back to the
early history of the Shaolin temple and the teachings of the Boddhidharma. Chi Kung is composed of a set of exercises designed
to teach you to cultivate and direct chi energy, and to use it to strengthen the body, improve health and increase vitality,
heal illnesses, and ultimately to attain enlightenment. Chi kung is used to completely rebuild the body, and the most well
known traditional text is the Sinew Metamorphosis and Bone Marrow Washing Classic.
Internal martial arts combine chi
kung with martial arts forms. Because of this internal martial arts can be used for both self-defence and for improving health
and vitality, healing diseases, and so on. Both chi kung and internal martial arts are approached as a dynamic, moving form
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The main difference that a practitioner would notice between the
forms and practices in an internal martial arts class and those of an external martial art would be that internal martial
arts emphasise the need to keep the body relaxed and 'soft' and to make the movements flowing and harmonious. A relaxed body
allows the chi to flow through the limbs. Internal martial arts also emphasise the control of the breathing, and the coordination
of breath and movement.
Internal martial arts also incorporate aspects of traditional Chinese medicine and other Chinese
philosophies such as Taoism. Xing Yi Quan, for example, makes great use of the five elements theory, whereas Bagua Zhang emphasises
the eight trigrams of the I Ching philosophy. To truly master an internal martial art you must be a philosopher as well as