integration of external & internal


  • Firstly, an understanding of the integration between Internal and External martial arts only becomes manifest at the higher levels.


  • To recognize the amalgamation of these two elements takes many years of hard work and soul searching. This merging will result in highly effective placement and evasion techniques.


  • Ones instinctive reaction, within a combat scenario, also become vastly superior. This is the consequence of a well developed intuitive awareness, which can only be derived from years of study in both internal and external martial art applications.


  • The foundations of such refined movement lie in the basic structures taught from the beginning of external training. With this, comes a gradual increase of knowledge into the more insightful elements of the internal. These two aspects slowly but surely begin to blend together until they become one. It requires a great deal of patience and diligence to attain this level of understanding.

  • During the intermediate years of ones training, a student begins to comprehend certain aspects of both internal and external, but not necessarily as a unified entity.

  • To sense and appreciate when the body and mind become one is to perceive free-flowing movement through heightened awareness, with clarity of mind. From this tension-free fusion of body and mind, one can also produce tremendous power without muscular effort.

  • Instinctive reactions and free movement originate from the body moving unhindered by tension. This tension will always be present when the body is working within an external framework only. This is where the internal plays such an important role.


  • As one grows older it becomes harder and harder to maintain a standard of fitness through purely external training. The body will not cope with the stresses placed on it, therefore the mind must adapt as the body ages. Learning to use the body in a relaxed manner requires altering the mindset, also a deeper refinement of technique, this becomes imperative as one grows with the art.

Gradual integration

  • From my own experience, body and mind integration became apparent gradually, and only after many years of training.

  • There were small incidents that I noticed during sparring as well as through other aspects of my training, eureka moments, which imprinted on my mind and stayed with me, once learnt never forgotten.

personal stories

  • For example, on one occasion during a sparring session, I suddenly felt a calmness wash over me. I felt a harmonious sensation, my body moved effortlessly and only when movement was required. It did the absolute minimum in order to evade and strike my opponent. As I flowed freely around his attacks, there was no pre-conception of when and where to strike, no requirement for a pre-set game plan, it became absolutely instinctive. Either, I would sense a perceptual gap and then watch, as if belonging to someone else, my hand or foot arrived in that gap and struck my opponent. I countered or stopped at source everything that was thrown at me.

  • The whole thing was bordering on an out of body experience. Not only were my strikes executed with no thought but they were accurate and controlled. From this, I discovered that it is possible to always be in the right place, not only on a physical plane but also in my mind. The ultimate goal for me then was to make this a permanent state of mind every time I trained and sparred and to carry it through into the way I lived my life.

  • Another of my personal experiences during combat, when again I noticed that I had clarity of mind combined with stillness, further proved to me that changes were taking place based on integration. It was after the event whilst contemplating what had happened and how that I realised I had changed.

  • It was a Sunday afternoon and I was out for a drink with my wife and two of our friends, and we were celebrating my wife’s birthday. It was around 5 pm and not busy, I noticed three people one female and two men, walk in and go straight to the bar. They were all drunk and one of the males was obviously feeling aggressive as he perched on his bar stool. Inflating his chest, he began staring round the bar clearly looking for a fight. Sometime later another male burst in and immediately started to shout out the woman. Although I kept the whole scenario in my peripheral vision, I did not look directly over at them thereby avoiding eye contact with the hostile one. Within a matter of seconds the couple were screaming at each other, he then grabbed a hold of the woman’s hair and pulled her off the barstool. She sprawled across the floor screaming and crying. He grabbed her roughly by the collar and pulled her to her feet, swearing and shouting at her as he did so.

  • The whole time I was thinking to myself that this had nothing to do with me and I was not going to get involved unless it got really serious. I would forgive anyone that thought I was being cowardly and that I should have defended this woman, but I have experienced many such situations and it does not always pay to interfere. By now the bloke had managed to drag the woman outside and was now kicking her in the ribs as she lay on the floor screaming.

  • Just as I was thinking that maybe it was time I got involved, a girl who was sitting on a table next to us stood up and said straight to me, not anyone else in the whole pub, “are you going to sit there and let that happen?” What could I say? I stood up and went outside, my friend following behind. By the time I arrived the girl had got up and walked off but the guy was heading after her, placing my hand on his chest I intervened. He looked straight past me but seemed to acknowledge what I was saying. I was very calm and pointed out to him that he couldn’t go kicking women in the ribs. Just as he accepted my words of wisdom and began to walk away, his mate came flying at me from the doorway of the bar, cursing at the top of his voice accusing me of attacking his pal.


  • This is normally where I would have lost it. However, I surprised myself by remaining calm and casually assessing the situation. My left hand instinctively came up in front of me as a personal barrier (the crumple zone) and I decided he was not going to come past it due to his totally hostile actions. The second he touched my hand I immediately felt his forward-moving tension. Unfortunately, he kept coming towards me with violent intent, clenched fists rising as he did so. I had no choice but to pre-emptively strike him for my own safety. I hit him from about six inches with just enough controlled force to stop him.


  • I remember feeling calm, unperturbed by his show of hostility, and watched nonchalantly as his legs buckled under him and he sank to the floor dazed but still conscious. I had the presence of mind to hit him on the cheekbone, avoiding his chin so he did not fall unconscious onto the concrete. There was a time when this would not have been satisfactory and I would have taken the fight further. I knew for sure that what I had done was sufficient; I noticed I was not even shaking from the effects of adrenaline, something I always experienced in the past.

  • Stunned, he rose to his feet not knowing where he was, and he wobbled off in a daze, his aggression subdued.

  • This situation was in some ways far more intense because it was outside of the training environment. On reflection, I thought about how sensitive I had become to actually feeling another persons aggression from that first contact.

  • The second he made contact with me I knew exactly what his intentions were and how I was going to deal with him. I also stayed aware of my immediate surroundings, not just the problem directly in front of me; bearing in mind he was not alone.

  • My strike was accurate and I placed the shot with enough internal force to be sure he did not wish to retaliate but at the same time not to injure him too badly.

  • These points are vital because they show that I had grown as a fighter and with that growth, that integration of external and internal I felt I had become a martial artist, no longer a street brawler.

  • This hard-won knowledge was becoming a part of my psychological make-up, ingrained in my psyche as a consequence of traditional training methods. Following traditional methods sends circular ripples out beyond ones training environment and become a part of ones life. This is another certain indication of the integration between external and internal, training and private life.

  • As one grows with a traditional art one sees that the historical doctrines of tradition are far more philosophical than to only be applicable in a martial art training hall. These doctrines have their own natural pace that must be adhered.

  • The subject of integration runs far deeper and is more profound than the two aspects of internal and external alone. To understand fully, one must appreciate all other elements that play a part in this integration and these core elements derive from the three Chinese religions.

foundation for learning

  • First, we need to look at the foundation for a learning structure and its origin.

  • The learning structure is organised on an essentially Confucian basis. This structure offers a guiding principle for both teacher and student alike. We can see aspects of this hierarchical structure and the way in which it conveys all aspects of living and training by firstly looking at the three virtues of Confucius. We also see clear similarities between Confucian sociological etiquette and the training hall, and how these principles overlap.

Filial Piety: (Xiao)

Excerpt from the Analects:

  • Few of those who are filial sons and respectful brothers will show disrespect to superiors, and there has never been a man who is respectful to superiors and yet creates disorder. A superior man is devoted to the fundamental. When the root is firmly established, the moral law will grow.

  • My personal view-point on this statement is that it clearly shows the effectiveness of hierarchy within any social structure large or small.

  • Confucius also pointed out that even the people in the higher echelons of this structure, that have been shown to be worthy of their position, should be respectful to those below them therefore, respect is reciprocal. Everyone knows and understands their place within the group, it is human nature to have leaders and followers.

  • In the Chinese character of Xiao, the top half depicts an elderly man; in the bottom half he is being supported by a younger man. Meaning, the young support the elderly, as they were supported by their parents, a reciprocal bonding arrangement. Each person relates to the necessity for fundamental grounding and a moralistic way of life.


  • When a society believes in its moral values and understands its structure it generates harmony, emanating from a strongly established base. Within the confines of martial arts, at the higher levels, this structure will be transcended, although still required as a guiding principle it provides structure and non-structure, creating a whole.

  • So we have filial piety, a key manifestation of which is ancestral worship. When the old die they are to be revered and remembered by the younger generations. With regard to martial arts we can see that the necessity for a chain of command is vital. Also, to believe in the historic traditions handed down by previous masters, and the synergy that is created by this.


Humaneness: (Ren)

Excerpt from the Analects:

  • The humane man, desiring to be established himself, seeks to establish others; desiring himself to succeed, he helps others to succeed. To judge others by what one knows of oneself is the method of achieving humanity, goodness, and benevolence.

  • I feel that what Confucius is saying in this extract, can again be seen from both the martial training hall perspective and within a social or family environment.

  • From an understanding of the integral elements of external and internal, man becomes more humane as these intertwine. As he grows he wishes to share this knowledge and help those deemed worthy to grow. The act of helping others to develop is selfless and shows that one is secure and confident in oneself. With humaneness comes inspiration to succeed, and with this an aspiration to help others flourish.

  • I personally get a great deal of pleasure from helping my students to improve and as I have developed myself and reaped the benefits therein, I wish to pass this on to them. More importantly as I see my children growing, that overwhelming urge to see them do well, at times consumes me.

  • Also, the need to instil a steadfast sense of humanity in them is very strong. If society as a whole held these beliefs more strongly how much better would we all become?


Ritual Consciousness: (Li)

Excerpt from the Analects:

  • In rights at large it is better to be too simple than to be too lavish. In a more secular, humanistic context, it still retains that individuals have to defer to one another, have to show respect to one another. They have to be prepared to sacrifice for one another.

  • Responding to this excerpt from a personal perspective, knowing that it has many interpretations in both ancient and modern day society, I would say within martial arts, to simplify ones technique will always win over a more elaborate scenario. I feel this has connotations that can be acceptable in today’s society as well as in the training hall.


  • Here Confucius is saying that when carrying out rituals, whatever they may be, it is the recognition of the right or tradition, the act of remembering what the ritual is about that holds importance, not how lavishly one celebrates. With too much extravagance the true meaning can be forgotten.

  • Secondly, we need to observe the doctrines of Daoism and its part in the integral development of mind and body within the realms of external and internal. Here we can see that integration is the principal aspect of this philosophical religion.

Yin and Yang

  • The symbol of Daoism is that of Yin and Yang. This simple sign holds the most palpable insight for life.

  • From the Yin and Yang symbol we can see the two seemingly opposing forces; however, they are complimentary to one another rather than conflicting. These forces are in all life, heaven, and earth. Yin represents soft, cool, feminine, dark, the internal. Yang represents hard, masculine and hot, the external. Earth is the ultimate Yin symbol.


  • Heaven is the ultimate Yang symbol. Of the two “Chinese ways” Confucianism is the Yang or external and Daoism the Yin or internal. This is life and in all life there is Yin and Yang. We can see clearly that in martial arts these doctrines are the structure from which everything belongs. It can be instantly seen in the very prominent emblem of Yin/Yang, two forces blending and moving together as one.

  • Each part contains a part of the other. A symbol of life, of beginnings and ends, transition through life, life’s force ebbing and flowing, to understand this flow and move with it and offer no resistance is the key to happiness.

  • This integration is the Dao, “The Way”.

  • As I learnt this in the training hall it affected me at first on a subliminal level, soaking into my sub-conscious and flowing out into the rest of my life without awareness. As I progress in my training, awareness becomes more and more prominent and is always increasing with time.

  • We can see the significant connection between, Daoism, and Confucianism, within the Ch’an Dao School. It is the third faith, Ch’an Buddhism that is the intrinsic link that binds all three creeds. It gives us a cogent method with which to learn the “Way” through meditation, both seated and during training. From thorough observation in these two facets, enhancement of awareness on all levels follows. When we become aware in our minds this manifests in our bodies.


  • To conclude, we can see that to gain true integration takes a disciplined mind. It must be sort out with determination and meticulous research on an academic level as well as from a physical and philosophical one. During my time training in the last decade or so, there have been times of bewilderment, indecision, and mystique. Finally I feel I am reaching a point that at one time seemed so remote and inaccessible. With the correct guidance and by following strict tradition I have accomplished a great many things, not just in Kung-Fu but also in my life in general. With integration has come many benefits and a sense of achievement. Through attaining this height of understanding I have been lucky enough to be able to help others on various levels and this has been a great source of inspiration to me.

  • When I contemplate the achievements I have gained, with the realisation of what I once was I am filled with feelings of contentment. My life is whole again, I have insight and I have direction and this is the pay-off for hard work. Through being lucky enough to have discovered a truly traditional school of martial arts, I have grown on many levels and when I look to the future, I feel a sense of excitement for what is to come. The depth of learning is many life times long so I know it will never end and for that I am grateful. I found the right path and decided to stay on it. At times, it was very difficult to maintain this direction but nothing in life that is worth achieving is easy. I have seen many people come and go, but through tenacity I have continued with “the way” and as a result I have emerged a far better man. In the next ten years I hope to continue to grow and to help others grow.

Written By:

Neil Webster: October 2008.