External to internal
   
     

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New starters

A new starter is always 'external'.
They use what they bring to class with them:

  1. Aggression

  2. Locked joints

  3. Force against force

  4. Over-contracted muscles

  5. Using the arms independently of the body

These habits are of no use in a taijiquan class. They represent a major impediment to progress.
Unlearning is necessary.
'Internal' principles of body use are introduced, explained and explored from the very first lesson, but these will take a long time to become habit.
Daily home practice will significantly speed up the process of change.


Monkey mind


New starters do not possess the necessary degree of 'presence' to use their mind fully.
Their thoughts are awry.
They worry, plan, extrapolate, have opinions, chitchat and space out.
As a consequence, they cannot exactly use the mind instead of force.
The training methods must reflect this.



The clouded mind sees nothing

In order to increase the mind component of the taijiquan, a student must undertake 'brain work'.
Brain work includes: meditation, awareness, clarity, composure, metacognition, constructive reading, memory and rest.
Working the brain is the real key to success.
A strong, pliable, flexible, adaptive brain is required for learning this art.



Physical habits


The external habits practiced by a new starter must be dropped.
In their place
new external habits must be acquired.
These are purely physical concerns.
Gross, obvious and simple.

Physicality is the first obstacle to address: shedding the old habits and acquiring new ones.


Start externally


Most training methods for taijiquan students are blatantly 'external' until they reach an expert level of practice.
Why?
This is all the student is capable of doing.
As with any martial art, a great deal of time, effort and practice is necessary.


Slow down

Training at speed stresses the nervous system and perpetuates bad habits.
Slow down.
Give yourself time to get used to new ways of doing things, new habits.
It takes as long as it takes...


Cultivate change


Do things differently.
Embrace the unfamiliar.
If it feels weird... good. You are doing something new. This is called 'learning'.


Impatience is stupid

Change can be encouraged but not forced.
Rushing to gain skill is counterproductive; it will not work.
You will simply carry on doing what you did on your first lesson.
No progress is made.
Your taijiquan vocabulary of jargon words may have increased but you not possess the skills those words are referring to.


Taijiquan fighting method

Internal principles of body use must be trained thoroughly and mindfully.
A verbal understanding is inadequate.
Tangible, functional application in your everyday life is the only way to truly understand the Art.


Form is external

The process of learning form is external.
A student is concerned with the movements and directions, not the internal biomechanics.
A form will remain external unless a student works diligently through the 5 stages and begins the process of internalisation.
This takes time.
Extensive, considered practice is inevitable, along with ongoing corrections and refinement.
There are no shortcuts
.


5 stages of form


The importance of the 5 stages cannot be overstated.
Many taijiquan people never get past stage 1 and therefore remain almost entirely external.
Each stage is necessary.
The different levels represent milestones on the journey from external to internal.
Cumulative skills build upon preceding material and understanding, taking the student from beginner to expert and finally; to a master level of skill.


Foundation


A significant amount of time must be spent practicing the basics:

  1. Standing qigong

  2. Moving qigong

  3. Form

  4. Reeling silk exercises

  5. Leg stretches

  6. Cardio work

  7. Core strength

  8. Taoist Yoga

  9. Partnered drills

A beginner who trains the fundamentals every day and attends as many lessons as possible will make good progress long-term.
Neglecting the basics means a weak foundation and the taijiquan will most likely remain external, and incorrect.


Internal & external

For a very long time much of your taijiquan will be external.
This is unavoidable.
As you gain skill the external will diminish and the internal will predominate.


100% internal?

There will never be a point where the Art is 100% internal.
The yin/yang diagram illustrates this. Each colour contains a dot of the opposite colour.


Square on the inside, round on the outside

You need to be externally and internally strong, and that requires hard work (kung fu).
In actual combat application, the external strength is subsumed within the internal principles of usage.


Beginner

The first level is primarily concerned with external body use.
Beginners are usually very external in their attitudes and body use.
Rare moments of increased physical awareness may emerge as their practice continues.
But no beginner can claim to possess any real sense of what 'internal' means at this introductory stage of their learning.


Intermediate

In order to apply applications against a non-cooperative opponent, the student must now begin to use their whole body rather than just their arms.
This will be a challenging new level of practice.


Barry was telling us a story about the woman who always cut the end of the ham and somebody asked her why she did it. She said, "Well I don't know, my mother always did it that way." And they asked her mother and she said, "I don't know, my mother always did it." And they asked grandma, and she said, "Well, I did it because otherwise it wouldn't fit into my biggest pot."


(Chungliang Al Huang)

Experienced

To train with skill requires the student to show a developing degree of internal progress.
New forms are learned, along with applications and more in-depth principles.
Neigong is now explored deliberately and consciously.
The student is still somewhat external at this stage but is making notable inroads towards the internal
.


Expert


An expert must work through very challenging material with the aim of internalising their taijiquan.
This difficult grade requires an immense amount of practice.
Eventually the student passes the essential
10,000 hours of practice threshold.
Only after 10,000 hours can the student potentially lay claim to being an 'expert' and begin to teach in earnest.
Now, the body should be integrated, flowing, and be moving in accord with the internal principles at all times.


Master

Master level practice signifies the completion of the external to internal journey, but not the end of the training itself.
The taijiquan now looks far less obvious.
Everything is subtle and understated.


Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 11 July 2017