Internal Martial Arts—Movement in Stillness

art_jones1Newcomers to internal martial arts (neijia) typically encounter a fundamentally different approach to training the body than associated with external martial arts. There is often a great deal to be unlearned. In the West, attaining physical skill is commonly associated with vigorous direct training of muscular strength, speed and mobility. To the Taiji, Xingyi, or Bagua novice, the different approach of internal martial arts training methods may seem somewhat counter-intuitive. Although speed, strength and mobility are ultimately desirable fighting attributes, traditional internal martial arts first train slowly without power and even in static postures (zhan zhuang). Of course, after building a proper foundation, a skilled neijia adept often can move with surprising stealthy speed, hit with startling power, and smoothly change nimbly in relation to his opponent(s). When watching a high-level neijia master, sometimes it seems as if his optimal body mechanics and tactical mastery of the situation enable him to win even without apparent strength or speed.

The basic distinguishing characteristic of internal martial arts is to focus primarily on developing the use of the mind-intent (yi) to direct movement. The three internal harmonies (nei san he) are commonly expressed: as heart (xin)leads mind (yi); mind leads qi; qi leads strength (li).

Training slowly without power is conducive to focusing the mind to consciously conduct force from the ground through the legs, directed by the waist,augmented by the spine, and ultimately expressed at the hands. Unless one trains slowly and deliberately, it is difficult to study the body in close enough detail to optimize one’s movement and structural alignments. If one uses power initially, one interferes with one’s ability to relaxedly repattern body movement in an optimal way, kind of like a plumber trying to connect up a plumbing system while pressurized water is running
through it.

However, traditional neijia training even goes so far as to learn to use the mind-intent while one is standing in a stationary upright posture to optimize relaxed body alignments that permit, and even encourage the “flow of qi” fully and completely through the body. If one is able to first develop this quality in zhan zhuang (standing post) training, one can then attempt to incorporate this skill while moving. Although one’s body is still, the mind-intent is moving. Later, while moving the body, one’s mind becomes still and calm.

Michael Jones, writing for Plum Publications for the first time, is the Editor of INTERNAL MARTIAL ARTS, a bimonthly print journal published by Six Harmonies Press since June, 1999. This is a publication dealing in depth with T’ai Chi, Ba Gua, Chi Kung, Xing Yi and others such internal arts. Please contact him at

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