What is the ‘Internal’ in Internal boxing. Part-3
The most important theoretical aspect to consider when reviewing the ‘Internal’ in Nei Jia Quan is that they are ‘embodied’ concepts/philosophy. These concepts are unique to traditional Chinese culture and they actively shape the methods and combat strategies of these boxing systems.
The foundational framework in Taiji Quan is Yin/Yang theory. As the primary method and martial namesake (Taiji = Yin/Yang) it is obvious that we need to understand how Yin/Yang theory becomes a defining principle of this Taiji boxing system.
The cosmological theory of Taiji refers to the two emergent states of Yin and Yang. Visually this is expressed in the Taiji diagram often referred to as ‘two swimming fish’. In this diagram, Yang/White holds a balanced predominantly upper state in relationship to Yin/Black which sits below. Both express the theory of interdependence and continuous transformation from one to the other whilst each state always retains the ‘other’ as symbolised by the ‘fish eyes’. Yin/Yang are expressed as states of a fundamental cosmic energetic medium referred to as Qi. Qi is both material (Yin) and immaterial (Yang). Its primary characteristics are ‘stillness’ and ‘movement’ and consequently ‘change’. This expression of change is referred to as the Dao. The continuous changing state from Yin to Yang naturally seeks a ‘balanced’ and ‘optimal’ relationship. This is also graphically represented in the Taiji symbol. This state is sometimes referred to as ‘undifferentiated unity’. Yin/Yang theory is applied to both macro and micro processes, conditions and qualities and it is always considered as relative. This theory is exemplified specifically in Traditional Chinese medical theory which is also rooted in Yin/Yang theory as well as the martial art of Taiji Quan.
Within our own physiology which is most pertinent to our subject of ‘Internal’ boxing, we need to take into account specific aspects of Yin/Yang theory. In Chinese traditional philosophy and material ‘natural’ sciences, Heaven (above/immaterial/Yang) and Earth (below/material/Yin) agglomerate to form humankind. As such we manifest Yin/Yang qualities via the medium of Qi (energy) throughout the body both generally and specifically. This is explained in the Triple unity of Heaven, Man/Woman, Earth manifesting as Body, Breath and Mind or in Chinese terms, Jing, Qi and Shen. All three characteristics are regarded as energetic dynamic states (Qi theory) constantly in change and constantly seeking balance (homeostasis) Jing being most Yin (essence/material nature of our existence) and Shen being most Yang ( consciousness/intelligence/intellect and spirit). These two are moderated by Qi (mobilising/breath/spirit of vitality) Taiji Quan therefore trains each component of Body, Breath and Mind to balance the relationship between ‘Heaven’ and ‘Earth’, Yin and Yang both within our outer environment and within ourselves. By doing this you can restore/maintain health and in the case of Nei Jia Quan cultivate skills that can be transformed into martial usage. Achieving the Taiji state is a process of realisation that is considered to be firstly therapeutic, secondly martial and thirdly Spiritual. However, it is the martial we are most concerned with here.
Translated into martial theory you have a cumulative sequential training process for establishing the essential ingredients of Taiji as a boxing art. This means that firstly you must understand the balancing of the Yin/Yang of your condition, structure and dynamics. Then you can engage with a partner to understand their condition within their Yin/Yang dynamics and finally you must understand how their dynamics affects you and you theirs. This is the essential training strategy in Taiji Quan.
In real terms this means you firstly train your body. Secondly you train and integrate your breath as the mobilising energetic force that balances and mobilises both Yin and Yang dynamics. Thirdly you have to develop your ‘mind/intention’. All three components are trained in that sequence. It is after this has been achieved that you begin to apply this conditioned state in a partner/attack,defence context and begin the martial training.
In Taiji as a Quan (Fist/Boxing art) the starting place is always the study of a Da Man Quan. This is a Form/Set that contains the essential martial vocabulary and provides the framework within which principles of movement and structure, are developed. This is your primary self training practice. As a Taiji player you learn to perform this Form in a way that reduces conventional muscle force (Li/Yang) and increase smooth and soft flexible movement based upon circularity, rotation and the spirals (Yin). This must be done according to strict guidelines for alignment and structure (External/Yang) as well as a adherence to the principle of directing and active intention/awareness (Internal/Yin). From a body mechanics point of view this can be referred to in the beginning as ‘cultivate the Yin to transform the Yang’. Its the beginning of a reversal process where the Yang of the exterior is dissolved and merges towards Yin and the Yin of the Interior is trained to become Yang. This is an essential and defining characteristic in the ‘Internal’ arts and is in direct contradiction to ‘external’ boxing training methods.
This idea of transforming the relationship between the exterior and the interior is most easily expressed in the idea of ‘Song Jin’ and this along with body structure and physical literacy (Form training + associated exercises and Qi Gong practice) is a foundational skill. ‘Song’ though often interpreted as ‘relaxation’ refers to an ‘intelligent and actively aware state of reduced physical and mental tensioning’. ‘Jin’ is generally defined as ‘trained martial force’ or ‘intrinsic energy’. It is not physical strength (Li). Achieving this state brings about a distinctive holistic, energising and deeply relaxing sensation of the ‘self’ both physical and mental. This is accompanied by a strong physical sensation of being a unified force. This signifies a more efficient usage of functional energy (’No excess/no defficiency – Taiji classics) This is also accompanied by a strong relationship with the Earth (Yin) and Heavens (Yang) referred to as ‘rooting’ and ‘central balance’ (Zhong Ding). These sensations are the beginning of the ‘Internal’ qualities necessary to practice Taiji Quan as a martial art. Achieving Song Jin means that your Body, Breath and Mind (Jing, Qi, Shen) have achieved a good level of integration. Song jin gives Tai Ji movement its characteristic fluidity, softness, balance, rooting and naturalness. It is a major milestone in training and self perception but needs maintaining and continuous refinement over years of practice. As soon as you are able to sense ‘song’ you can begin to work at an ‘energetic’ level rather than a gross ‘physical/muscular level. This means that although you obviously are using the muscles to move the body, the sense of the body is no longer held within the muscle groups alone. It means you can access through ‘inner awareness’ your joints, spine, lines of force and connectivity without excess internal tensions clouding your perception. Importantly you also begin to sense the all pervasive tensioning and elastic architecture of the connective tissue that communicates more effectively and holds more potential to deliver unified movement and energetic expression (martial power) than the nervous system or the muscular skeletal system alone which is the conventional modus operandi of ‘External’ boxing.
Song Jin in itself however is not martial energy but it is the basis of developing martial Jins which can be used to impact upon an opponent.There are many different expressions of dynamic force that can be developed and called Jin in Taiji Quan. Song Jin is essentially a Yin Jin and in itself is not dynamic enough to provide martial ability. However it permits the development of two defining martial characteristics of Taiji Quan; Peng Jin and Hua Jin.
Peng is a powerful Yang expression and is considered both supportive, buoyant and expansive. It is the primary energy used in Taiji boxing and a quality that must be present in all aspects of Taiji Quan. Without it there will be no boxing skills. Peng Jin does not use physical force (Li) which is why it is referred to as ‘Internal’. It is instead a dynamic force that is trained by combining structural integration, breath and our gravitational/energetic relationship to the ground. In Peng Jin we are seeking to transmit the return ground force resulting from the ‘sinking/releasing’ skill of Song Jin to fill the body rather like an inflated balloon. This is the first truly martial force that is developed in Taiji Quan and is found in both Hsing Yi and Ba Gua. It is truly the root energy in the Internal boxing arts without which the art cannot be seen as ‘Internal’.
From Peng Jin seven other defining Jins can be developed giving rise to eight essential Jin expressions which constitute the defining skills of Taiji Quan (Ba Men-Peng Jin, Lu Jin, Ji Jin, An Jin, Tsai Jin, Lieh Jin, Zhou Jin, Kao Jin) these are the basis of Taiji Quan boxing skills and are applied to Four martial categories. They are: Da (striking) Fa (emitting) Na (Seizing) and Hua (Neutralizing). Peng Jin is trained through repetitive form practice, Qi Gong practices (notably Pile Standing – Zhan Zhuang) and engaging in partner practices referred to as Tui Shou (Pushing Hands) to ‘test’ for Peng Jin.
Hua (Neutralising) is our second Jin that evolves from our primary Song Jin. Hua is also a defining characteristic in that without Hua there is no Taiji Quan. This is because whilst Song retrains the body and inclines us towards a different understanding of how our bodies should be cultivated and maintained by relinquishing muscle in favour of breath and mental guidance, Hua is the ability to dissolve external forces that contact and try to penetrate the body. Hua is not a rotational force (as in Lu Jin for instance) Hua requires the body to be ‘rooted’ so that when force/energy is applied to our body it is earthed through us by virtue of our ‘structure’ and ‘non resistant’ inner conditions. I can’t stress this last point enough. Internal boxing systems require that your body can ‘earth’ force applied to it so that the ‘centre’ and the ‘body’ integrity is not disturbed. Obviously this is by degrees and I have not mentioned ‘return’ force which in any case also requires Hua Jin. Hua if you like is the skill of ‘no resistance’ within the body frame or indeed mental frame. It is a specific skill that is at the root of Taiji Boxing skills. It is also very difficult to achieve since it is counter intuitive. From Hua rotational diverting skills like Lu Jin and other Jins can evolve successfully. So Hua Jin is the Yin expression to Peng Jin Yang expression. Both must be balance and both evolve from Song Jin. All three energetic skills are necessary for Taiji as a boxing art. It is these skills that are at the root of ‘Internal’ boxing and which are specifically exemplified in the Internal Boxing system of Taiji Quan.
As many of you will realise there is a lot more to be said on this subject and I expect I will come back to it again. However I hope I have said enough in this three part blog to offer a framework in which you can begin to understand what the ‘Internal’ in Internal boxing is.
How to train it though is another matter entirely.
Practice. Patience. Persistence.