Internal arts

The 'internal arts' are so-called because the focus is within.
You are required to feel rather than do.
Outward movement must reflect the inner condition and should stem from what is happening internally.
This sounds difficult until you consider it further.

Every movement made by the human body begins under the skin; nerves activate muscles and muscles move the bones.
There is nothing special about this; it is the normal process.
Tai chi simply reconsiders the way in which the movement is generated; it explores the how.


Indications of the external

External bad habits:
  1. Force against force
  2. More than 4 ounces of pressure exerted by you or expressed by you
  3. Localised arm and shoulder movement
  4. Deep, long or wide stances
  5. Fixed legs - disconnected upper & lower
  6. Tensed muscles
  7. Over-emphasis of the waist
  8. Incorrect use of the pelvis and hips
  9. Pushing upon impact
These will all perpetuate an external approach to tai chi chuan.



Yang Cheng Fu said "Use mind not force" and this one statement holds the key to understanding the difference between internal and external.
Intention requires considerable presence and awareness.
The student must have a calm, clear mind; focussed on the here and now.

The mind is used to create energetic outcomes within the body.
For example: a student seeks to 'sink' and 'root'.
A beginner may accomplish this by dropping deep into the hips, bending the knees and bearing the weight down.
Such a method would be fine in most martial arts, but in what way is it internal?

The physical action needs to be slight. No deep bending. No bearing down.
Use your mind instead.
If this seems difficult to you or unlikely, it reveals the fact that your training remains largely 'external'.



Beginners treat tai chi chuan and baguazhang like external systems and rely upon deeply bent knees and exaggerated stances for power.
Their seeming root is accomplished through physicality not energy.
The jing of 'root' is created by mind, by energy, not-doing, by allowing - not by squatting.


In terms of something else

It can be difficult to perceive something new on its own terms.
The temptation is always to see it in terms of what you already know.
Yet, this approach closes your mind to the new.

Tai chi cannot be seen in terms of the conventional, external martial arts.
Yes, we require similar results:
  1. Success in self defence
  2. The ability to perform a variety of skills against a range of opponents
  3. Appropriateness
But the means by which we accomplish and manifest these skills is quite different to mainstream combat systems.


You may know two hundred different martial arts but what is the quality of your movements? It's still just movement, it doesn't matter how many forms you know.

People with wisdom will use a tool properly, but a person with lower knowledge will recognise only one function of the tool. In the same manner, internal martial arts can be used for many functions because you use the same tool. This training method is only one tool, but it has many different uses.

You need to use one form for practice and include everything in it - mind, structure, movement and qi. If you can easily do all of these within each motion, that is the internal martial arts.
(Luo De Xiu)


Benton class

Central equilibrium

To feel central equilibrium you must find balance within your body.
The upper and lower must be united.
The front and back.
The sides.
Yin and yang (but that comes later).

Everything must work together.

Central equilibrium is not just the ability to stand on one leg.
It is about finding the middle way between apparent opposites.
If you are too much one way or the other, you will be weak.



Gaining a sense of balance is essential in tai chi.
You must never lose your balance.
Every step, every arm movement must be within the natural range of your reach, without compromising balance in any way.

Martially, you are vulnerable as soon as you lose balance.
You do not have to be falling over to lose balance, you just need to lift out of your centre.



When people ask Master Waller about cross-training he typically advises people to be cautious.
Why is this?

The problem is tension.
When people exercise they typically end up exerting. This results in tension in the muscles and inflexibility in the joints.
The problem is not with the exercise, but rather with how you do the exercise.
If you can keep tension-free, then do whatever suits you.

The one kind of cross-training that never works is mixing two internal and external martial arts together.
The tension you learn in the other style (and the bad body use habits) are always detrimental to your tai chi.

Master Waller does not cross-train.
The training methods in our syllabus are extensive and offer an extremely comprehensive, balanced daily workout.


Limbo dancing

Bending and twisting your spine is not encouraged in tai chi.
It can leave you vulnerable to back injury.

Maintain an upright posture, unless bending briefly forward at the hips in order to evade a strike.

If you need space, turn the hips and/or step.


Bandy legs

Flaccidity in the legs can be as bad as tension.
Floppy legs fail to support the body appropriately and in combat you are apt to fall over unnecessarily.

Standing qigong is the remedy for bandy legs.
Sink into your hips, relax the back of the knees and drop your weight internally.


Empty centre

The danger with being floppy is that you lack centre.
Without a pliable but flexible root, you cannot yield easily.

If you are tense, you will be brittle and hard.
Your centre must be strong but empty.

You may be capable of relaxing your arms, but if your torso is tense you have missed the point entirely.



Tai chi teaches the student to be loose, flexible and mobile.
But this condition is not flaccidity.
Going limp involves being disconnected, and will not usually work in combat.

When you have balanced softness appropriately, you will no longer be tense or floppy.
You will be 'sung'.
This is going to take some time, so be patient and practice.



Rooting is a by-product of sinking - it is the feeling of inherent strength and stability that comes from the muscles and joints relaxing fully.
Allow the shoulders, elbows and wrists to become heavy and sink.

If you are successfully rooting then the insubstantial limb will feel heavy and solid when pushed.
This is a consequence of relaxed muscle, and is not a 'doing'. Be very careful not to brace or resist.


Many people translate sung/song to mean 'relax' but this does not adequately capture the nature of this neigong.
Sung feels like the limbs are moving by themselves; all doing is gone.

It is a composite skill which relies strongly upon yielding.
Sung requires the body to be naturally sunk at all times and for the joints to open & close without conscious effort.
Peng permeates the body constantly, creating elastic bow tension although no conscious will is required to manifest or sustain it.
Resistance to force should feel anatomically uncomfortable.
The waist should return to the centre by itself once rotated and the elbows should be heavy.
Sung is not flaccid or inert - it is a cat-like readiness within the mobile structure.

You will not master sung until much later in the curriculum, but you can begin cultivating it immediately.


Getting it

The true sign of skill in tai chi is your ability to remain absolutely soft and gentle throughout your practice.
You will find that grace and fluidity emerge and you will be hard to manipulate.
Your movements will become smooth and flowing, and you can spontaneously adapt to the changing nature of the moment.
Strength will be present in your every movement, yet you will be unaware of it.

Expert students learn to feel only the movement, and not their own body.

This is called 'sung'. Until you stop being tense, this kind of skill is not possible.
Every time you move, relax. Then relax again. Repeatedly remind yourself to let-go.


Internal approach

An internal form is different to an external one.
Postures are like snap-shots, with the final position representing where the hands end up.
That final position is not the emphasis.
The emphasis is upon how you got there: which combination of body movements powered your frame.

Neigong cannot be incorporated fully into an external art because neigong requires the body to let-go and release stored tension.
Muscular usage must be imperceptible; at no time should you exceed 4 ounces of pressure.

Tai chi limbs are like boneless tentacles; heavy, loose, fluid yet connected.

No sense of strength should be felt by the student.
If you feel strong, then you're external and tense.
You should feel to be weak and yielding - which takes a leap of faith in the practitioner.

Only by letting-go can jing be released. How can it come out when you hold it in?


External obstacles

Training internal and external martial arts at the same time is not so good - the approaches contradict one another.
The external art will impede your tai chi progress.
Tai chi is concerned with whole-body movement, with the emphasis upon the movement itself; the how rather than the result.
Physical movement is largely concealed within the body, and only a small fraction is visible during the application.

External arts are strength-based and focus on speed and aggression.

The limbs move independently of the rest of the body, with a more superficial connection throughout the frame.
Strength is used against strength.


Hard-style attitudes

Many tai chi self defence instructors have an external martial arts background.
This is valuable experience but also an impediment.

Tai chi approaches combat in a very different way to the hard-style arts.

If you apply external methodologies and tactics to tai chi, it simply will not work in self defence.
At best, you'll have an external parody of tai chi.
At worst, you'll simply be defeated. 
You cannot train external and internal arts simultaneously and hope for the internal to work.
Under pressure the external would come out, not the internal.



Where does the strength come from?

Qigong, neigong, form, connection, alignment and gravity.
Until you believe in the neigong and have faith that it exists within your every movement, you remain tense.
You imbue your form and applications with muscle tension in the hope of possessing a strength that is already present.
The irony is that you cannot use your whole-body strength until you stop exerting externally.

External effort is about trying, about doing - whereas the internal is about allowing.
If you have trained neigong for months and practiced qigong regularly, your limbs are already strong; so doing is not required.


Silk arms

Silk arms is more of a concept than a drill.
Your arms must be like silk ribbons; connected, flowing, loose, adaptable - with no extraneous tension whatsoever.

They must be free to move without the slightest impediment. Any stiffness in the joints or muscles will break the flow.


Tai chi skills

Your body alignment is important in tai chi; it supports neigong by using physics to your advantage.
By positioning your body in a favourable way - relative to an opponent - you have access to more strength.

Listening, stickiness, 4 ounces of pressure, 5 bows, yielding and softness - all serve to teach you how to have power without recourse to brute force.
Every tai chi drill is an exercise in practicing these qualities, but the exercise is wasted every time you resort to aggression and tension.

If you feel strong and powerful in your movement, you are not using neigong.
Whenever you find yourself thinking: "I hardly did anything" - you are learning.



The primary cause of unnecessary tension is habit.
You have spent a lifetime overexerting and now it feels perfectly natural and normal.

Being relaxed yet strong (without trying) seems counter-intuitive; it simply does not make sense to you.
It goes against everything you think concerning strength.
This psychological habit is what causes the physical problem to occur.

All change must begin in the mind - that is why tao/zen reading is absolutely vital.



Every student faces one obstacle that dwarves every other: muscular tension in the body.
The arms and shoulders are usually the most tense.
No matter how many times you are asked to relax, the tendency to be tense remains
Your body must be neither tense nor flaccid; you must find that point where the absolute minimum of muscular effort is sustained at all times.



Students begin by learning how to perform a whole series of qigong/neigong exercises which lay the foundation for reeling silk.

Later, the same exercises are then reconsidered with a different emphasis.
Coordination and timing become the focus, as well as alignment.
By moving the body in an increasingly integrated manner, the strength increases and the correct muscles are used for the production of power.
Lines of force are critical at this stage. In particular the maxim: square on the inside, round on the outside.

This builds up a lot of physical power and every movement feels to come from the muscles of the central torso, back and legs.

Eventually, the exercises are re-considered.
Now that the correct alignment exists and the muscles are working effectively, the focus shifts to rhythm and flow.
Instead of feeling muscular, the muscularity has been internalised and can no longer be felt.
The kinetic wave is the onus.

Reeling silk skills will not emerge in the beginners syllabus.
It is only later when reeling silk becomes a neigong that the full power is apparent.
The graded student must master the exercises introduced in the beginners syllabus, for these hold the seeds of what is to come later.

A skilled student demonstrates reeling silk in every single movement.

A master internalises reeling silk until only the most subtle kinetic wave is left.
Be advised that reeling silk can never be completely internalised.
If you can see no evidence of it in somebody's tai chi, then it most likely does not exist.


Circles and spirals

Tai chi gains its strength by way of the curved, and every movement involves spiralling.

The twisting and turning of the body in tai chi is usually quite subtle, with only the barest hint of spiralling evident to the observer.

It is important not to exaggerate the use of spiralling, otherwise the joints will close and freedom of movement is lost.
As with everything else in your practice, intent is essential.
Chen style uses reeling silk in a more explicit manner than the Yang system.

Inexperienced exponents simply twist their disconnected limbs instead of unifying the complete structure for every movement.

The use of reeling silk is essential during self defence, where the wave-like undulations are used to absorb and redirect incoming force.



Reeling silk is markedly different from mere connection.
Its unique quality is the use of circularity.
Spiralling and twisting provide the underlying physical framework for this type of movement.

'Winding' or 'drawing' refers to action of bringing force towards you and is reflected in the jing of rollback and pluck.
'Reeling' is the reverse of winding; in which force is projected (fa jing) from the body by the use of spiralling.

When you perform reeling silk, your body should move like a caterpillar; undulating, feeding an energy wave through the entire structure.


What is reeling silk?

In tai chi the body needs to sustain a consistent vector of force in a given direction.
This is achieved by aligning the body so that a path is provided for the force to travel along.

The path is called 'inherent peng'.
It cannot be broken when the body moves or turns, otherwise the ability to transmit power is lost.
Reeling silk is a means of utilising the connective tissues of the body, along with soft muscles, spine and waist - in order to provide this path.
The energy wave needs to use your body as a conduit.
If the channel is weak or tense in any way, the wave will be blocked within.

Your body must be internally strong and loose from the ground to fingertips.



The thread must be drawn from a silk cocoon in a very particular way in order to avoid damaging the silk.
If it is drawn too quickly, the thread will snap.
Too slowly and it will sag.
The action must be slow and smooth, without any gaps and deficiencies.

Tai chi takes its strength from this operation.


A living art

A living art must address the needs of times, the opponents of the age, the weapons of the era.
Right now that means: multiple opponents, knives, sticks, baseball bats, batons etc...
You (the defender) will be unarmed.

Most of your life will not involve physical combat.
You will be faced with psychological, emotional and physical challenges every day: stress, health, work, family, fear, driving.
A living art must address the nature of your interaction with life.
It must furnish you with the means to adjust to a wide variety of attacks; very few of which will involve physical combat.


It is what it is

If you reconsider the purpose of a martial art, then it is worth asking whether or not your own training reflects this.
A performer can learn to dance.
A sports person may play tennis.
A 'feel good' person may take a walk in the country.

Martial arts training is concerned with something else.
Many well-meaning instructors have twisted the nature of martial arts practice into something else.
They accommodate.
They compromise.
And somewhere along the way the true nature of the art is forgotten.

Why did martial artists learn to use a sword in 16th Century Japan?
Because it was the weapon of choice.
It was a necessary survival skill.

What weapons are you carrying today?
In the UK you are not allowed to carry any weapons.
Your arsenal of improvised weapons is also pretty limited.


'Feel good' groups

Feel good groups are harmless enough in themselves, but really should not pretend that what they practice is a martial art.
Most of the tai chi classes taught in the UK are not martial in nature.
They may be more accurately labelled 'tai chi-inspired exercise'.

It is possible to feel good in a martial arts class without losing the plot.