Internal Martial Arts (Neijia)

This section is an overview of common principles and benefits of Internal Martial Arts.

The only way to understand and appreciate Internal Martial Arts is through (dedicated) practice. As in other martial arts, one learns techniques for fighting and self-defence but in internal martial arts there is one extra requirement that must be learned first - how to acquire Internal Power.

Internal Power and Qi
In Internal Martial Arts, one of the aims of the training is to move in such a way that at any time we can bring the maximum power of the body to bear on any potential opponent. At the same time we have to be able to move easily and respond spontaneously in any direction without becoming tense and rigid. This type of power is called Internal Power and this where Internal Martial Arts got their name. A working definition of Internal Power could be:

  • connecting the whole body with all movement and power originating from the centre (dantian) - whole-body power
  • an ability to create a relaxed spring-like power in any direction (peng)
  • an ability to use contraction into the centre
  • an ability to use the minimum amount of muscular power whilst maintaining the above three points
    and its use as:
  • a range of specialised skills for handling an opponent (sensing their movement, strength and intention, ability to control them through 'sticking', ...)
  • a range of strategies/tactics for dealing with an opponent (not opposing strength with strength - i.e. the concept of Yin and Yang, using opponents' own strength against them, etc.)

    After an initial period of practice, resulting in becoming more relaxed and centred, students must learn how to use their mind to guide their practice. This can take a number of forms, one of the more 'traditional' ones being use of the concept of Qi.

    Using the concept of Qi is not necessary and as it is a concept that has no real parallel in our understanding of how things function, it often leads to confusion. Further, in Chinese culture, the word Qi has been used for a wide range of phenomena and this only adds to the confusion. However, if used properly, it is a highly convenient concept as its methodology had been worked out over a long period of time to guide the practice of Internal Power training. To use an analogy, learning to ride a bicycle can only be accomplished by paying attention to one's balance rather than to the action of muscles. Acquiring balance is not a motor skill that can be learned through practising a set of moves. In balancing, we need to be able (somehow) to guide postural muscles to 'do the right thing' and yet we have no (conscious) control over them. Similarly, to acquire Internal Power we need to be able to 'access and guide' deep structures of muscles over which we have no conscious control, nor even any awareness to speak of. We can use either Qi or adopt the approach of Yiquan where the concept of Qi was abandoned and replaced by use of mental images during practice (which really comes to the same thing). There are advantages and disadvantages to each method. In either case, the mental focus has the effect of promoting relaxation and freeing the body to do what is right without the interference of our conscious mind.

    Warmth, tingling and other sensations accompanying practice are regarded as manifestations of Qi. These sensations are not important in themselves, only what they tell us about our state of relaxation/excitation. Different people experience different sensations and even in one individual, they keep changing with time. It would be a mistake to give them any real significance.
    What is of great significance, however, are feelings/sensations that come as a result of increased body awareness. They vary between individuals and broadly speaking are related to the sense of balance and connection.

    Harmonising Body and Mind
    Each technique within any of the Internal Martial Arts must be in accordance with the principle known as Six Harmonies. These consist of:

    Three External Harmonies

    This serves as a guide to the structure and use of the body in static postures and in movement. This is a 'starting point' of practice rather than a definitive list of co-ordinations.

    Three Internal Harmonies

    This serves as a guide on how to use mind and body to produce Internal Power. Without that, the self-defence applications would be performed in an external manner and thus lose most of their effectiveness (and it would probably make more sense then to practice one of the external arts and save some time and effort!). That's why self-defence applications are traditionally not taught till the students begin to get some Internal Power skills. This explains the first difference one notices when comparing internal and external martial arts - whereas in the external arts (for example Karate) students learn self-defence techniques fairly early on and any other exercises are designed to strengthen and condition their body and mind, in the internal arts a lot of the time is spent on standing and slow, soft movements - Qigong - the very opposite of what one would imagine a martial art to be. However it is this process of finding and building the Internal Power that made internal martial arts so valuable as a system for improving and maintaining one's health.

    The health benefits flow directly from the requirements of Internal Martial Arts practice. To develop Internal Power, it is necessary to have the whole body connected so that it moves as one unit. In order to achieve this, the movements are performed in a slow, relaxed and unhurried manner, and with a great deal of concentration. This is obviously greatly beneficial in reducing the level of stress - and stress is one of the biggest problems of modern life. All movements should be performed with an all-pervading spiral motion which benefits circulation, helps with many joint problems and improves digestion and other functions of internal organs. In recent years there have been many studies done which document the benefits one can gain from practising Taijiquan. Similar things can be said of the other Internal Martial Arts, too.

    After a period of regular practice, the effects can be felt in one's enhanced physical, mental and emotional well-being. On the physical level, the body becomes more supple and movements gain poise and become more graceful. On the mental level, one can think more clearly and one's concentration is greatly improved. On the emotional level, one becomes more relaxed, tolerant and generally happier.

    When practising these arts for health only, the tendency is to concentrate on the slow, flowing movements. However, without the feedback gained from two-person practice, the benefits are somewhat limited. This does not mean everyone should practise fighting applications, but everyone should try Pushing Hands. All the benefits described above are enhanced in correct Pushing Hands practice. This can be easily easily understood when you consider that to stay relaxed and connected when your partner is trying to push and pull you off balance, takes more skill and mental effort than when practising in a solo manner.

    Pushing Hands
    pushing hands is the name used for a range of two-person drills which are designed to improve certain aspects of Internal Power. Their primary use is as a feedback mechanism so that students (and Masters!) can improve the alignment and 'whole body' movement and increase their body awareness. They can also be used to practise various control strategies for dealing with an opponent.

    Pushing Hands with no steps are used to develop a root; Pushing Hands with steps are used to develop the ability to step while maintaining balance and ground connection.


    - a strong connection (of the dantian) to the ground.

    - a centre of gravity of one's body (lower abdomen). Depending on context, the area varies from a point to the whole abdomen including pelvis and hips. All movement and strength should originate from here.

    of the body is initially achieved by slightly stretching all the tissue and extending the joints. This must be done with no unnecessary tension otherwise the result will be a connected but stiff body. Further practice is needed in order to strengthen this connection so that it can be of practical use.

    This is often a hotly debated subject. The policy of our school is that we do not practise for competitions. Students are not actively discouraged from taking part in competitions but they are also not encouraged. Our view is that practising for competitions (Forms, Pushing Hands or others) will necessarily cause students to take shortcuts in their training. Advanced students, however, who decide to enter competitions, will be given help and support.