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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Internal vs. External

The debate continues: what is better, "internal arts" or "external arts"? First, the question must be answered: What is the definition of "internal" or "external arts"? Well, herein lies the problem. No one really knows. I'm sure there are those that think or believe they know, but extensive research as well as those within real kung fu circles, know that there really is no real distinction between an internal art or an external one.

Conventional thinking generally defines internal arts as soft arts, like tai chi or bagua, while external arts are thought of as hard-striking/training arts, like hung gar or shaolin fist. Well we have to go back to yin/yang theory - every art has both yin and yang, which means, a complete kung fu system, regardless of style is has both yin/yang aspects, hence both internal and external training forms and methods.

Some feel that "internal arts" is defined by the location of which an art originated (eg. wudang), but again, I doubt this.

An art that is completely external or internal is not combat kung fu anymore. It's not kung fu. Sure it could be a fighting system, but doesn't fall under the definition of Chinese kung fu. And this can't be any truer. Experts in internal arts are the last ones to deny that the system is soft and should be applied as such. Tai chi is to be used for combat (at least, used to) and we all know combat is ugly, gruesome, sloppy and well..full contact.

What's interesting is that in terms of my WT journey, some would classify the class to be a hard style, while others would call it soft. It depends on what was being taught that day. In my experience, I've noticed my Si-Fu take a turn for the "softer" route..but i'm not sure if this is because it's in his own recent discovery, or simply because it's time for me to learn this stuff and he knew this all along. Let me make it clear, that when I say softer, i don't mean weaker..but instead a more internal approach - the idea of not even being there for the attacker to hit, rather than deflect, wedge or bong, or whatever term you want to use.

If this is true, then perhaps internal or external is not means of classifying kung styles, but rather a means to distinguish levels in expertise, regardless of style. For example, as a student progresses, he moves from an external understanding and application to an internal one. interestingly, in the english language, I could say that as expertise is gained, the art is further "internalized" so well into our bodies and mind, in which one could use less effort to defeat an attacker, which could be interpreted either by an attacker, witness or defender as being a softer art. But note, this would be true in any style of combat.

Until then.

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