Internal Vs. External
A discussion of Internal Vs. External Martial Artsby Mike Patterson
Internal (Neijia) Vs. External (Waijia)
Before any real description of any of the Internal Arts of Hsing-I, Pa-Kua or Tai-Chi can be rendered, we must first examine in brevity what actually constitutes an "Internal" Art form verses an "External" Art form. Indeed, at an even more base level, we must address the western conceptualization that the term "kung fu" actually applies to all martial arts that are Chinese in origin. The term "kung fu" strictly translated means "a skillful ability attained through hard work" period.
It does not imply any specific style or system implicitly. In fact, one could be a concert pianist and be considered to have good "kung fu" as far as the Mandarin speaking population is concerned. In Asia, all art forms are referenced by their specific name to identify them from the myriad other forms of "kung fu". For example: ShanXi Style Hsing I Chuan, Lung Hsin Style Pa Kua Chang, Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan or Liou He Ba Fah Chuan respectively of the Neijia families. With that said, let us explore briefly what an Internal style is, and is not.
The original meanings of Internal vs. External kung fu have been largely misconstrued over the last generation due to many "oral" variations of the many different kung fu families trying to paint a picture showcasing their own individual style. So, nowadays a person hears many incorrect statements regarding these differences such as External Styles are "Hard" and Internal Styles are "Soft", but in reality the original meaning of this "difference" was entirely philosophic and geographic. The original meaning of the external styles was simply that those styles were originally started by Da Mo and the ShaoLin temples (Buddhist philosophy) who purportedly came from India, and was hence from outside China (External Style). And the original meaning of "Internal" was to denote those styles that were founded on the Taoist philosophy of Lao Tzu and were created inside of China (Internal Styles).
Of the over four hundred different styles of Chinese Kung Fu, only three types are considered "Internal" by that definition, and they are: Hsing I Chuan (Form of the Will Boxing), Pa Kua Chang (Eight Trigrams Palm) and Tai Chi Chuan (Supreme Pole Boxing). All other kung fu styles are considered External and derived from Da Mo and the Shaolin tradition. So, as you can see from this original and correct meaning, by definition there is no such thing as a style that is both internal and external. It would be a geographic and philosophic impossibility.
It is also true, because of certain historical events, that nowadays the Internal school of thought focuses on not only self defense and external manifestations of ability, such as strength, stamina, flexibility and physical prowess, but also explores the inside of the practitioner’s development. Internal kung fu strengthens the internal organs and circulatory systems. It increases lymphatic circulation to aid the practitioner in removing toxins from the body more rapidly. It improves focus of mind and concentration of intellect. We also learn to apply the principles of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements, principles of redirection, absorption and reflection, evasion and entrapment, etc. These lessons are just as applicable strategically in a business meeting as they are in self defense and confrontation. A person need only be taught their essence of expression in the practical sense. This is also part of Internal kung fu.