internal martial arts

training of the mind

  • The fundamental premise for internal martial arts has to be the training of the mind. From a calm and relaxed mind comes smooth and efficient movement.

  • In internal martial arts one of the aims of the training is to move in such a way that at any time and from any subsequent position we can bring maximum power of the body to bear on an opponent. This force or energy is produced from within the bones, from the marrow outwards, through correct skeletal alignment.


  • In union with this we have to be able to move freely in any direction and respond spontaneously without becoming tense or rigid.  

internal power

  • This type of power is called Internal Power (Neijia Quan, internal fist). To define internal power yet further it is said that the whole of the body must connect with every movement, with the power originating from a contraction into the centre of the body. One must be relaxed and yet paradoxically, like a coiled- spring in order to produce power in any direction. To be able to produce such power it is essential that the body is aligned and the musculature is relaxed.

  • Each technique must be performed within the principle known as the Six Harmonies.

  • Three External Harmonies:

    • Shoulders co-ordinate with the hips.

    • Elbows co-ordinate with the knees.

    • Hands/wrists co-ordinate with the feet/ankles.


  • Three Internal Harmonies:

    • The mind leads intention.

    • Intention leads the Chi.

    • Chi leads strength.


  • These six rules must apply within static postures as well as in movement.

  • Throughout China, there are several Martial arts whose internal elements are essential such as; Bagua zhang, Xingyi chuan, Yi chuan, Chi gong and more widely known in the West, Tai chi chuan.

  • The internal rudiments of martial arts have been studied for centuries by the Chinese. It is an esoteric subject which takes years of training to begin to understand and use effectively within a traditional martial art or combative situation. Through years of methodical training in form work and meditation the mind which is the major factor in body control, begins to realise just how efficiently the body can move with very little muscular effort, when it is calm.


  • Within these styles there are many ways of training the mind. These include; methods of enhancing movement as well as calming and controlling the mind through meditation and systematic training regimes.

yang style

  • In the Yang style of Tai chi chuan, which is the internal style encompassed in the Chan Dao Martial Arts School, there are two main Chi gong static postures predominantly used in conjunction with three moving forms. Contained in these two postures are all the elements required. The first of these is a standing posture with the arms down. The second is a similar standing posture with the arms held out in front at chest height, as if holding a large ball.

  • When one initially adopts the primary Chi Gong standing posture, one begins to analytically align the body. Firstly the feet are placed approximately shoulder width, with the toes turned slightly in-wards.

  • The eyes are then closed; this is to withdraw the visual stimulus in order to focus the intuitive mind. The knees are a little bent, rounded and soft


  • This has the effect of concentrating the body weight through the centre of the feet and midway between them to the centre of the floor. The pelvic girdle is aligned over the ankles and heels.

  • The posterior is relaxed as the pelvis is positioned over the ankles. Working up from the base of the spine the muscles in the lower back become stress-free. This allows the natural curvature of the lumber region of the spine to be maintained. The shoulders are now aligned over the pelvic girdle and by rounding the shoulders, without slouching, the scapulars’ are gently pulled forward to open them. This permits the energy or Chi to flow freely from the feet up the legs and through the length of the back.

  • The arms will hang loosely by the sides of the body with the hands resting on or near the thighs. The head is then lifted gently. The chin is slightly tucked in; allowing the vertebrae to open in the neck the Chi can then reach the top of the head. After performing this stance for countless hours, these essential points become precisely arranged intuitively. This then is a correctly aligned posture.

  • With the skeleton is aligned in such a way the rounded structure of the posture becomes self supporting. As a result the complete musculature is able to relax. If there are any areas of muscular tension this will cause the relative bones to be pulled out of alignment. In the same way, if there are areas of bone misalignment through incorrect posture, there will be consequential muscular tension.

  • Tension of the muscles can be instigated by a number of different things. It can sometimes be due to the type of job a person does, or the kind of life style one leads. Stress is a common cause; in men, generally speaking stress related tension is stored in the upper back and or the neck region. Where as, in women it is normally stored around the lower leg or calf muscles. The manifestation of tension in various muscle groups can be very detrimental, for example, when those that surround the internal organs are contracted for extended periods, this restricts the efficiency of those organs, and they will not function as effectively.

  • Stress is a manifestation of an uncontrolled mind; this is why meditation is so beneficial. A good analogy of mind /self control is, when one is watching the television and sees’ something they do not like they can simply change channel or turn it off completely. The constant habitual bombardment of meaningless thoughts that enter the mind can cause stress but these can be controlled in the same manner.

  • Anger and aggression are also manifestations of an uncontrolled mind, the outcome of which often results in illness. This is because of the constant release of adrenaline often in massive doses that occur when the body is under mental stress. Adrenalin stimulates and raises the heart rate, dilates the smaller blood vessels and air passages. The body is then too busy dealing with getting rid of these hormones to concentrate on the job of healing itself. Some of these chemicals are very difficult to remove effectively from the body, especially when one leads a sedate existence. They are corrosive in nature and eat away at the body from the inside out. It is a fact that when tension is released that energy is absorbed back into the immune system and this aids the body’s healing processes.

  • The problem with muscular tension with regard to martial arts, internal as well as external, is that it hinders the flow of energy or Chi. It creates a slower more restrained movement of the body and limbs due to restricted flexibility and suppleness and is often responsible for injury. Reactions are slowed, and the mind cannot act intuitively. So, with all these elements in correct order the body weight, aided by gravity, drops downwards. The stability of the stance created by the body weight dropping is greatly enhanced and yet, although one becomes extremely difficult to be moved by an opponent or oncoming force, there is a heightened manoeuvrability experienced by the exponent. The weight sinking downward is drawn through the centre of the bones, into the bone marrow. As a consequence of this dropping force, there is a resultant equal and opposite rising force.

  • The constant rising and falling of this energy/ force massages the bones and bone marrow helping to cleanse the blood more efficiently and develops bone density.


  • The definition of internal power is energy produced from within the bones, from the marrow outwards. It is this rising force that is harnessed, and then emitted when striking. In an advanced practitioner, this can be done whilst moving or stationary. Consequently, allowing the full power of the body weight to be transmitted into the strike, emanating from the ground upwards. It is this transmission of rising energy through a relaxed musculature that produces devastating penetrative power that never depletes.


  • Due to the fact that there is little or no muscular effort involved, the muscles will not tire. The body weight is always present and therefore can be called upon when ever it is required; from any position the body is placed. Speed is another great asset gained from a relaxed musculature as tense muscles slow movement down as well as tiring them quickly.

  • Once the body is correctly aligned one can initiate the meditative aspect properly. These two components, alignment and relaxation, are juxtaposed from the beginning of a students training. However, to begin to enter a correct meditative state of mind is not easy when trying to find the correct bodily alignment and the pain that can often accompany this process distracts the mind from focusing and relaxing. To help speed up the progression to a relaxed meditative state, breathing techniques are brought into play. This begins by changing the focus of the mind to the centre of the body, known in Chinese as the Dantien, approximately two inches below the naval. This is done with the first breath.


  • At the outset each breath is deep and full, the focus drawn to the Dantien through expansion of the abdomen. A relaxing sensation beginning at the Dantien radiates outwards in a spiralling motion out to the extremities of the body. This expansion of the abdomen also utilises the lower section of the lungs which is an area not usually used in everyday breathing by the majority of people.


  • In babies and young children however this lower abdominal movement can be seen clearly, proper breathing seems to be lost in most people as they get older. This breathing technique encourages the full use of all sections of the lungs, the upper part of which is normally only used as a reserve for when the body is working hard under pressure. The middle section is where most people normally breathe.

  • The diaphragm also opens with this technique allowing yet further unrestricted air flow through the respiratory system. It is important to utilise the full respiratory system by breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. By breathing in through the nose, the entering air is warmed and cleansed. To breathe out through the mouth allows the maximum amount of carbon dioxide to be released.


  • When breathing in, it is said to be drawing in good clean energy. A charge of oxygen which energizes the body. As this is happening the mind should focus on any areas of tension, be they in the body itself or in the mind. Then, with the outward breath the mind focuses on drawing those areas of tension down and out through the ground and calming the mind.



  • Tension in the mind is caused by habitual thoughts. . The Chinese call it “The chattering monkeys.”  Through proper Chi Gong training, one can learn to control their mind. The human body is only as strong as his/her mind; the body is far more capable and stronger than most people believe. It is the mind that gives in under duress very rarely the body, unless through injury. By learning to control ones own mind through meditation one can focus on the body’s inherent strengths more effectively, and an intuitive environmental awareness is also developed.

  • Due to the static nature of this Chi Gong stance and many others like it such as horse stance, a student of little or no experience struggles to see the relevancy of such training. Traditionally, these stances were performed for many hours sometimes for a year or more by new students, without demur or understanding. It was only when a student began to gain an understanding of these postures that the teacher may then begin to show them more about the art. In the Tong Bei and Yang styles, Chi Gong postures are customarily performed after hard external training.

  • This is part of a systematic training routine devised traditionally in order to promote relaxation, as the body has previously been working hard. It is therefore more likely to relax when training internally due to the muscles being tired.

  • Personally, in my early years of training whilst doing external body conditioning exercises, I could not wait for it to stop. This was partly due to my low level of fitness at that time but also from the relentless nature of the exercise format. However, when eventually it did stop I was then told to stand in a single static stance which was on many levels much harder to maintain than the rigorous external moving exercises.

  • One finds in the early years, learning to control ones mind and body is intensely difficult. To an inexperienced on-looker, what could be simpler than standing still? To the practitioner though there are a many hardships to be considered. Firstly, trying to maintain the correctly aligned posture, this incidentally, made no sense to me at all for some months. Secondly, the task of focusing the mind on the cycle of breath for more than a few minutes, without allowing thought processes to wander off into something totally irrelevant, is very difficult.

  • The pay-off for this methodical internal training is an ability to strike with penetrative power from what ever position you may find yourself. This striking force by-passes the musculature and disrupts the nervous system. To anyone who has not trained internally or experienced this type of power it can be extremely difficult if not impossible to defend against. No matter how well developed a persons muscles are, this will not protect you against internal striking. An external shot spreads out over the impact area and a strong person can absorb this force. However, with an internal punch or kick, or even a push, the force feels unstoppable. It pierces like a needle and acts upon the nervous system. It is not only painful but also very disconcerting and one is left feeling drained of energy.

  • When I first started training in Yang Tai Chi, not with my current teacher, I was taught to combine my breath with each movement. Generally, the rule is, when moving backwards you breathe in and when moving forwards you breathe out. I thought I understood this at the time as it had the effect of helping me relax. The whole class was told to move through the form together, at the same speed. This can often be seen even in China today. I accepted this without question, due to my lack of understanding.

  • It was not until I started to train with my present teacher it was explained to me that everyone is different; therefore their movement and tempo will be different. This is vitally important from a combat perspective. In order to breathe correctly one must time the breath with ones own natural movement/tempo.

  • Even though I had been studying for four years, I decided something was lacking in my progression. I left this class and went in search of a new teacher. When I found my new teacher, he told me sometime later, that he could see that I had no power or Chi. I did not understand him at the time largely due to the fact that I had previously not been taught how to use Tai Chi as the Martial Art that it is. Although I could carry out the form with a certain degree of free flowing movement, I had no comprehension of martial application and the internal power development therein.

  • It was then a year or two before I could begin to appreciate that one of the primary reasons for practicing the form at a speed suitable only to me, was in order to find my own tempo. However, it must be noted that it is also important to practice the forms both very slowly and as quickly as possible and maintain correct technique. As this aspect became more apparent to me I could see that what I was learning was that you must always feel comfortable, especially during combat. As I searched for that feeling of ease I began to appreciate, through form work, pushing hands and sparring that it is paramount to being effective in defending yourself. To feel free in your space and utilize that space efficiently no matter how large or small.

  • Gradually as time passed, this combination of tempo and nurturing awkward movement aided me in my ability to produce increasing amounts of power and highly evasive movement.

  • During sparring, in my early years, I only recognised tension and consequently tiredness when it was too late. When I had reached the point where I was rapidly running out of energy and power, breathing became laboured and I found it was also very difficult to maintain good movement. My defence then began to deteriorate rapidly as well. Through learning to focus my mind on my own body I discovered the method to recognise tension arising sooner, before reaching the point of exhaustion. It was then possible to adjust my tempo until I had recovered before my failing energy became noticeable, a weakness every opponent will look for. Whilst still moving, in a combative situation, I could remain at my chosen tempo and comfort zone.

  • This same early recognition of tension fed back into many other aspects of my training both external and internal. When doing pad work, after a rigorous body conditioning session, I began to see the more reps I did, my power would not diminish, instead it seemed to increase.

  • With regard to internal striking, with the proper alignment and relaxation I found that I could produce tremendous power. Two or three out of ten shots would send my training partner reeling backwards. The difficulty then was trying to upgrade this to a higher level. I should be able to create this same force, every time I struck the pad. When I could do this I had to progress further by striking with the same or more force from different positions. For example; in a more upright position, with even less effort and with a reduced amount of movement. I began to learn to shave away unrequired movement and progress to a far greater level of efficiency and therefore power generation and control. As each individual aspect evolved within the internal realms of my art, the transition fed into other parts of my training. This evolutionary aspect shows clearly the depth of internal martial arts. As long as you continue to train, you continue to grow.

Written by.

Shifu Neil Webster: August 2007.