Wednesday 30 January 2013

No internal without external...

The physical strength of Fu Zhengsong is evident. 
Fu was a famous master of Bagua who first learned
 Chen Tauijiquan under 16th Generation Chenjiagou 
master Chen Yanxi
To the average western Taijiquan student neigong or "internal training" can seem esoteric and is often over-emphasised. In Chinese Martial Arts: A Historical Survey Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Guo describe internal training as follows: "Neigong includes exercises to train such qualities as coordination of muscle groups to act as a single "whole", the ability to coordinate the breathing along with movements and the ability to stay relaxed and responsive in a confrontation. These exercises are called "internal" because they do not involve any obvious external actions". 

In Chen Taijiquan the following are all critical parts of internal training: 

  • Fang Song - loosening the body by relaxing the joints
  • Peng Jin - an outward supportive strength
  • Ding Jin - upright and straight
  • Chen - rootedness
  • Chansijin - reeling silk energy

But all traditional Chinese martial arts involve a balance of internal and external methods. Without an external basis this internal development is of limited value. ""Coordinated strength" means nothing if you don't have any strength to coordinate".

18th Generation Chen Taijiquan exponent Chen Zhaopi divided the training process into three distinct stages:

First training the body externally concentrating upon the extremities - this stage involved intense physical practice to "open up the joints". This stage, he said, should take about five years to accomplish - five years of daily training under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher. This stage was deemed successful when:

Stamping the foot in Jin Gang Dao Dui should sound like thunder
Punching during Yang Shou Hong Quan should make a sound like the wind
Leaping up to do Er Ti Jiao, the kick should be able to reach seven or eight foot into the air...

While these past Chinese teachers did express themselves in flowery terms, I think we get the picture - at the end of this first stage a practitioner is strong and agile. While this probably sounds heretical to many Taijiquan practitioners today, Chen Zhaopi was adamant that: "If first you don't train this type of brute jin, the body's joints will not be opened up and flexible. As a result, the neijin (internal energy) cannot be stimulated".

Push hands training with Chen Ziqiang - Some basis of strength and conditioning is necessary to
successfully apply the qualities of rooting and sinking against a 110kg opponent! 
Only when the first stage was complete  were practitioners deemed ready to enter the second stage of working towards understanding neijin. Since he was responsible for training the current generation of Grandmasters from Chenjiagou his advice is probably worth listening to. This is in line with a previous post where Chen Ziqiang listed the four qualities necessary for success in traditional Chinese martial arts as: strength, constitution, technique and finally gong. 


  1. I heard Chen Bing say essentially the same thing in a slightly different way: you cannot really relax (fang song) unless you are physically conditioned.

    1. Hi mike - yes and Chen Zhenglei explained similarly that without very strong and conditioned legs the upper body would be "afraid" to sink down and relax.


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