What is the ‘Internal’ in Internal Boxing-Part 2

Posted on August 9th, by Michael in Blog. No Comments

As I have already mentioned in Part-1 the three main boxing systems that are associated most commonly with Nei Jia Quan are Hsing Yi, Ba Gua and Taiji quan. These three systems are bound together by a common conceptual framework, hence their grouping. Internal Boxing systems are an ’embodied’ principle/concept and this separates them from most other systems that have developed primarily around the mechanics of attack and defence, speed, strength and of course stamina. Internal systems are developed out of traditional Chinese cultural concepts and ideas. These same concepts/ideas also can be found manifest in other aspects of Chinese culture like Daoist religion, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Qi Gong, Chinese Art and Feng Shui etc. They are culturally defining and express a cosmology, theories of origination, explanations of natural process and phenomena, illness and disease, seasons, growth and decay, body functioning and the inter relationship of all things plus much more. They are the fundamental ideas that have formed much of Chinese culture and especially the arts and specific to our purpose the martial culture that we call Nei Jia Quan.

Each of the three Nei Jia Quan systems takes a traditional concept as their root. Hsing Yi Quan (Shape/movement – Mind/Intention) has evolved around the central principle of Wu Xing (Five Elements/Phase Theory – Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water); Ba Gua Zhang (Eight Trigram Palm or Ba Gua Quan Eight Trigram boxing) evolved around the theoretical framework of the Yi Jing (Book of Changes) which seeks to explain the laws of continuous change observed within Heaven, Earth and Mankind. Taiji Quan (Literally- very big/great and a grammatical superlative Ji or word meaning ultimate/limit and Quan, fist/boxing. Hence Supreme/Ultimate Boxing refers to a fundamental unifying principle called Dao. Dao is expressed by the concept of Yin/Yang. The martial art of Tai Ji Quan is therefore sometimes referred to as Yin Yang Boxing or Great Polarity Boxing.

Nei Jia martial systems embody principles and concept that are rooted in Daoist philosophy and concepts. They all ‘draw water from the same well’ and those ideas are the roots of all the training methods, martial vocabulary and strategies of these arts. It is these ideas that give these systems their specific characteristics and internal and external dynamics.

To understand further how these concepts/ideas/principles are manifest in a martial system we must take a step closer to the system itself. All Taiji (Yin/Yang)styles (Wu, Hao, Sun, Yang Chen plus some other variants)try to balance or reconcile what we describe typically in the West as opposite forces. This form of classification (Yin/Yang)allows us to explain conditions of change, inherent qualities, cause and effect and function. A typical classification for Yin/Yang would be Female/Male; Moon/Sun; Earth/Heaven etc. but Yin/Yang are also used to describe different more abstract qualities. Yin for instance would be soft, inner, yielding/contracting, still; Yang would be hard, outer, unyielding/expanding and active. When we look at Internal systems of training, movement and martial vocabulary according to this theory and with those specific qualities in mind we begin to see how theory can become reality. Martial arts is always based upon a complex energetic exchange between opponents which is both interdependent and reactive and in constant flux between opposing forces. A theory that sets out to explain how those forces can be understood and controlled according to ‘natural laws’ (Yin/Yang)obviously has great appeal in martial theory. When we analyse the martial artist and fighting strategy using the ideas of Yin/Yang we begin to see how this theory determines the qualities and functional skills (mental and physical) needed to practise this art as well as determining the training path, methods and the fighting strategy.

It is impossible to understand or train Taiji Quan to any significant level without paying attention to this theory. Understanding how to embody these ideas and the qualities associated with them in training is key to developing Taiji skills and key to understanding the meaning of Internal in the Nei Jia Quan systems. In Taiji Quan this idea not only is expressed and explicitly trained in the solo training ‘forms’ but also in Tui Shou (Pushing Hands)applications, sparring and fighting strategy.

Because Taiji Quan is a fully formed system of martial arts there are specific paths of training to cultivate the desired qualities that express Yin/Yang. The primary expression of Yin /Yang in Taiji practice concentrates on the relationship between the Internal (Yin-Inside body sensations and trained qualities) and the External (Yang- outward physical expression and movement vocabulary etc). Crucially the ‘inner’ state guides the ‘outer’.
In Taiji it is desirable to gain complete control over the physical body, (inside and out) co ordination and functional movement so that it can be totally integrated to function in a holistic way and be fully responsive to mental intention (Yi). It can be said in the Internal arts that the mental and inner components are far more important than the physical external component. Since the mind is the weapon of intelligence the body must be trained to respond to its instruction in a seamless integration.

Internal Schools are often referred to as ‘Soft’ arts and Tai Ji Quan especially is labelled as such. Typically most fighting arts build upon natural attributes of speed, strength and reflex response plus techniques that are predominantly either offensive or defensive. They exhibit martial attributes in an obvious understandable way and appear robust and are very effective. Basic skills in External systems can be achieved relatively quickly.

Internal boxing however, which notoriously takes a long time to cultivate to even a foundational level, does not appear to use speed, strength or reflex response or a specific vocabulary of defensive and offensive movements in the same way. Anybody looking at a Taiji Quan Slow Hand Form {Da Man Quan – The foundational form of martial movement and primary means of training) would not easily see how the movements translate into a useable martial vocabulary yet it is the primary means of training the ‘mind’ and ‘body’ and contains a rich martial vocabulary comprising striking/kicking, grappling, seizing and throwing.

Taiji as with all Internal boxing systems considers flexibility, yielding, postural precision, alignment and balance to be more important attributes than speed, strength and trained reflex response. Consequently it has been named as a ‘soft’ martial art since the training strategy uses ‘softness’ and ‘slowness’ plus constant repetition as training to achieve the desired body state before martial practice can begin. This form of training aims at the relinquishing of tension within the musculo-skeletal system, the consequent dissolving of bad postural habits and behavioural and habitual tensional patterns as well as an understanding of balance and ‘centre’. Such practice is like a ‘reset’ where the body is brought back to a more natural state. This can be referred to as developing the Taiji body (Hsing Yi and Ba Gua use the same developmental path). So instead of developing from the outset, conventional strength and speed and striking/kicking skills, Internal arts try to gain integration of ‘mind’ and ‘body’ as a fundamental of the system. When the body becomes soft and pliant it becomes responsive to intention (Yi). This does not mean that you become sloppy, weak and useless which might be a common understanding of ‘soft’. This is a misunderstanding of the Taiji body and condition. The training path in Taiji as in other Internal and External arts alike is severe and demanding but in the case of the Internal systems it is also paradoxical since you need to train the body to a high level but simultaneously you need to relinquish conventional thinking about what constitutes a martial body and skill set. Qualities other than strength and speed and conventional strike and defence literacy are considered more important. The primary method for cultivating Taiji Quan skills at least in the beginning is solo repetitive practise of the hand forms that comprise the physical and martial vocabulary. It also is the method by which internal components are developed. Constant repetition allows you to study your own condition and work towards achieving the desired qualities required of Internal boxing Yin/Yang theory before developing application skills or working with a partner/opponent. ‘Understanding yourself’ through developing the mental components (Yin) and the physical components (Yang)is the starting point of the Internal boxing journey way before you even get to think about fighting.

I always say that Taiji Quan is both a mental and physical puzzle because you have to train the mind to relinquish pre conceived ideas and self perception then you have to train the body, both the internal components (more on this in Part 3) and the external components (regarded as the physiological material body) according to a complex theory of integration (Yin/Yang) How you go about that and what that means is the subject of Part 3.

Aug. 2017

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