Saturday, December 10, 2016

What's the Difference - Internal or External

In Chinese Martial Art, there is a distinction between Internal Martial Art and External Martial Art.

One of the major differences between them lies in the way as to how a learner is trained to acquire the requisite power to apply the application techniques.

In Internal Martial Art, a practitioner builds up his power through revival of his body and mind condition. The way to achieve this is to call up the "sleeping parts" of his body through some specifically designed exercises.

In External Martial Art, a practitioner obtained the power by strengthening his muscles. The way to achieve this is usually by sand bag hitting, weight lifting and various tool trainings.

It is not to say that the External Martial Artists do not need to call up the sleeping parts of their bodies. The external martial artists have their way of calling up their sleeping parts at the advanced training. It is just that sand bag hitting and weight lifting provide a junior learner the quickest way to acquire the initial power that is necessary to learn and apply the offensive / defensive skills.

Likewise, the Internal Martial Artists will use training tools, like the long pole and wooden/ stone ball, to strengthen their physical bodies at the advanced stage of training.

That's why many senior martial artists said that, at the end of the day, there is no distinction between Internal Martial Art and External Martial Art.

Whilst it looks as if the Internal Martial Artists start their lessons at high level training, such training method is not attractive for the new comers. Many junior practitioners soon abandon the seemingly "useless" slow motion training / standing. The more "practical" external way would appear to be their "cup of tea".

No matter you start from the internal way or the external way, the fundamental issue is whether you can make use of the same to coordinate your body and mind effectively such that you can utilize your body potential to its greatest possible extent. If your martial art practice is not leading you to this goal, you may probably be walking along a wrong path.

I believe that a further question a martial art learner should ask oneself is for what purpose(s) you are learning an art of martial?  - For health?  For fighting?  For art appreciation? Or for earning a livelihood?  These loop us back to the first post of this blog.

[P.S.  The above was part of an abandoned draft in Live Water Blog.  It was not published for a long forgotten reason.  I have not updated this blog for quite some time and have no intention to write further on this subject.  Upon discovering the draft, I modified it a bit and published it here as a small, though not satisfactory, conclusion.]

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Physical Strength and its role in Taiji

Some taiji practitioners believe that their art does not require any physical strength.

This belief probably arises from the view that pure softness can overcome pure hardness. Taking this view in their heart, the "soft" practitioners focus their training purely on the taijiquan forms and non-contentious pushhand exercises.

The "Pure Softness" approach originates from the Artisticalisation of the Martial Art - the art is practised as soft physical exercise. This aspect of the art lays importance on the spiritual and the will power.  According to "On the Art of Taiji", artisticalisation of the art at its highest level may enable a practitioner to act more "skillfully" than a man with great physical strength.

Having said that, it should be noted that the "Soft" practitioners are only partially correct as "Artisticalisation" is only one of the Three Levels of Achievements in Taiji,  In Martialisation of the art both "Chi" and "Lik" (i.e. physical strength) are important.

"On the Art of Taiji" stresses the importance of both "Chi" and "Lik" in the martialisation aspect.  Physical strength is not downgraded. "Chi" and "Lik" are utilized to complement each other.  Hence, there is nothing wrong in improving your physical strength if you know the basic principle of the art.  In this aspect, the difference between external martial art and internal martial art is that in internal martial art, we use "Chi" to drive "Lik" and not the other way round .

To improve physical strength in the taiji way, you will need to learn the weapons (sabre, sword and pole) and other training tools, including but not limited to the taiji ball. 

[updated: 20.07.2014]

Monday, August 26, 2013

Books on Taiji

I have a good collection of martial art books on Taiji.

These books were purchased by me in the past 30 years or so. The best book appears to be "On the Art of Taiji", a Qing classic, a photo copy of which was reproduced in a book published in early 80's. "On the Art of Taiji" discusses in depth on the importance of getting back to the "original body condition" through martial art trainings. It also talks about the stage of "Know your own self" and the stage of "Know others".

This book was written in old traditional Chinese language and is very difficult to understand - even for a native speaker.  I have tried to explain the contents of it in simple English Language - see some of my previous articles.

It is not an instructional manual. You need to learn the basic trainings and application skills from a master who knows the art.

Another book I like most is "A Collection of Taiji Classics" published in the mainland in early 90s. It includes the texts of most well known Taiji classics (including extracts of "On the Art of Taiji"). It is a documentary textbook and does not include commentaries by contemporary writers (that's why it is good).

The classics provides:

1. The definitive principles on the art - what the art is about, what to learn and what the goal is.
2. Guidelines for the students to follow so that they will not depart from the basic principles in their trainings.

No matter how good a book is, it cannot replace a master - the classics do not teach you "how" to do it. A good master should be able to demonstrate to his students in action the taiji principles (as set out in the Taiji classics and not some contemporary "invention") and provide the right training methods to the students so that they can do the same thing within a reasonable period of time. A student can also know if he has been following the right master, using the classics as the yardstick against what has been taught.

I also have a lot of books published by contemporary Taiji practitioners. I regret to say that many, if not all, of these books are not helpful. It may be that some of these writers are skillful (giving them the benefit of doubt), they did not disclose any valuable information to the readers in these books. Many of these books usually include a set of photos (covering more than 2/3 of the book) with the writers practising the form, plus a reproduction of a few pieces of Taiji classics (covering 10 more pages), with some simple (or intentionally complicated) explanations. It is unlikely that a learner could improve his skill by reading these books.

I wish I could find out some positive methods to get rid of these contemporary writers' books on my bookshelf. I of course wish to have all my money back - together with interest!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What is / are the "Nine Crooked Pearl(s)"?

I see that there are various interpretations on what is / are the  "nine crooked pearl(s)" as referred to in "Tai Ji Quan Xing Gong Xin Jie".

One interpretation is that there are nine different energy generating points (Nine Crooked Pearls (plural)) in our body and we coordinate them together to generate "chi" power. 

Some say that there are nine joint obstacles and we need to break through each of them and the method use is the "Nine Crooked Pearls" (plural).

Some say that it is some sort of "Chin Na" techniques.


I do not wish to comment on these views.

My understanding:

The "Nine Crooked Pearl" came from an old Chinese story - Confucius was challenged by a lady as to the way to pass a string through a pearl with complex routes inside - the Nine Crooked Pearl (singular).  The answer was to tie a string to an ant and used honey to lure the ant so that it led the string through the routes inside the Nine Crooked Pearl.

The classic simply said that we have to direct our energy, through the "chi" channels / routes within our body, to each and every part of our body - that's it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Harmonization of the Yin and Yang

The Taiji Classic said "to 'understand the force', we have to harmonize Yin and Yang".

But what does this mean?

The idea of "soft embodies the hard and the hard embodies the soft" sounds great but it brings you nowhere.

It does not mean, as those misinformed speculate / imagine, using 50% hard force and 50% relaxed force.

Yin and Yang, in the context of "understanding the force" (and in the "Know Your Own Self Stage" to be more specific), refer to the Yin portion (the contracting muscle group) and the Yang Portion (the extending muscle group) of the body.

To understand what is the harmonization of the Yin and Yang, you have to know what it meant by Turning Yin and Yang Upside Down.

The classic was referring to the harmonization of the contracting muscle group and the extending muscle group, so that these two antagonistic muscle groups work together.

Workable? Yes, but to achieve this you need the "bowl" to deal with the "fire" and the "water".

What represents the bowl?

Think about it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The ABC's of the Multiple Rings

First, we build two rings.

Think of a perpendicular ring and a horizontal ring.

Connect the two rings together.

If we look at it from the front, the two rings' connection part looks like a cross. There are 2 crosses - don't forget the cross at the back.

We now have a basic structure of a ball.

It rolls back and forth. It turns left and right. It diverts incoming force from the front , the back and from the two sides.

Build more crossed rings. The ball can then turn side ways and it can now divert incoming force from all directions.

In any combating action, there is always a set of master rings.

The "cross point" of the master rings , in particular the one at the back, is a weak point. Once the connection is dislocated, the structure collapses.

-last edit 05.05.2011

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bamboo and Mercury - training with a sabre

One of the characteristics of the bamboo is straight outside and hollow inside. Ancient Chinese scholars used it to signify the upright character of a respectable gentleman.

Internal Martial Art requires a practitioner to utilise his internal force like "mercury in a bamboo pipe", to facilitate non-dissipation of power during force transmission process. In an ideal situation, the force as transmitted should like mercury flowing freely within a bamboo pipe.

In the classic article "The General Principle of Consecutive Taiji Sabre Techniques", Master Wang Yu Yau (1615-1684) disclosed the secret of using a heavy sabre to develop the free float of energy. Wang criticizes the mistakes of those people who use physical strength to maneuver a saber of light weight. In reality, such a practitioner gathers his strength first before moving the sabre. The end result is unsatisfactory as his strength has been locked up in his bones - the movement turns out to be slow and the weight of the sabre will not assist.

Making use of the weight of a heavy sabre and maneuver the same with a relaxed body, a practitioner's internal energy flows towards and inside the saber - like the flowing of mercury inside a bamboo pipe.

The weight of the heavy sabre leads the body, assisting a practitioner to develop the connection of power channels within the body.

Unlike training with a sword (with "gate of life" opened most of the time), sabre movements lay importance on the closing of the "gate of life".

Trainings with heavy tools should be performed with care - do not go for it if your body is not fit enough to master the tools.