If you’re reading this online, as I assume you must be, you can surely Google or Wiki the terms “internal martial arts” and “external martial arts” and there you will find the answer. Now, the problem is that everyone has a different focus so you may hear that external arts focus on fast movements and physical strength, while internal styles have a more spiritual or relaxed focus. There is some truth to this, but in reality the differences begin to blur at the most advanced levels. You cannot fight without muscular strength. You will not be most effective using only brute force. You must at some point train both! However, as we’ve chosen an “internal” martial art, the focus of our training begins with learning to feel and control subtle and often supposedly subconscious movements. That’s what we do.
How do we do it? We learn to harness the power of our minds to move our bodies – no magic, no mystical “chi”, and like anything else it is a learned skill gained over time.
In five simple steps, here is what we learn to do, to develop internal power:
- Get the structure in place, first. This might seem obvious but because internal martial arts can be done by people at any age, there is a tendency to think that physical ability, fitness and strength don’t matter. Of course they do! A body that’s in shape and flexible will be able to be more efficient, and most of what we learn in internal arts is how to use our bodies to their greatest efficiency. The result is that someone with a small physique who has learned technique and speed can certainly achieve great effects on bigger opponents. But be realistic – a bigger and stronger opponent with the same skill and speed will win every time. So the message here is, train to be at your own personal physical best and learn the mechanics of the movements first.
- Develop sensitivity of body and mind. How can you move someone else’s body when you aren’t sensitive to what’s happening in your own body? We learn to notice what’s happening in our own bodies, and to observe others. We learn exercises to develop a mind that observes situations without attaching an emotional overtone or judging the meaning of what’s been observed. This frees the internal martial artist to act and respond naturally.
- Use “intentions” to develop subtle skills. Here’s the part where things seem almost magical. You learn to use your mind to control your body in a much more subtle way. Do you recall the experiment with Pavlov’s dog? He discovered that by ringing a bell consistently when feeding the dog, resulted eventually in the dog salivating just on the ringing of the bell. Similarly we condition our bodies to react to certain ideas/images/words or conversely, our bodies already react a certain way so we elicit those reactions by creating a stimulus. In this way the internal martial artist learns to feel then control subtle movements that may even be subconscious for most people.
- Doing it wrong to do it right. How can you tell when you’re doing it right? We practice feeling how we move with others, and we test our structures and movements by doing it wrong and feeling the difference between “wrong” and “right” structure. Of course, we then practice the heck out of doing it right.
- Feel it! Besides partner practice, we train with equipment. We train with imaginary opponents: just like boxers we “shadow box” and ensure that we add these subtle feelings in to our movements. We find opportunities to feel these internal feelings in everyday life, meaning that we can actually practice 24/7.
And that, in five simple steps, is what you need to do to learn the feeling of an internal martial art.
It takes hard work and time, but if you apply yourself regularly, go to classes, and practice, then you too can find the real internal power.
I hope to see you in a class or practice soon!