What is “Internal” Anyway?

What is “Internal” Anyway?

by Joey Nishad

For as long as I have been an enthusiast of the “internal arts,” a passionate debate has been raging on, as to what exactly qualifies as an “internal art.” With no consensus in sight! And often accompanied by bitter disagreements that tend to degrade into much worse.

Even after training in the “internal arts” for a couple of years, I must admit, I personally had no idea myself as to what might make something an “internal art.” And also, what would prevent something from being an “internal art.” Over the years, through experiencing and exploring many “internal arts,” the teachers, seasoned practitioners and the communities that galvanize around them, I’ve come to realize the following.

In my opinion, the one most important factor in this whole debate is that the answer to the question “what is an internal art” is rather subjective. The answer depends on who you ask. And what they train in. And how they train. So for myself, I have come to adopt the following variation of the question as a better candidate to explore the range of views. What is an “internal art” to you, in your (current) opinion?

Now let me answer that question. Many may argue that this is an overly simplistic view. But I prefer this simpler version of the answer, personally. It is based on what my friend Adam Mizner, a skilled Taichichuan teacher, pointed out one day, when we were musing over the disagreements people have over this issue.

By the way I’m not trying to answer the question “how does one become internal?” A traditional Chinese practitioner might say it is achieved by harmonizing Shen, Yi, Qi and Jing. That explanation requires one to understand what the said practitioner would mean by Shen, Yi, Qi and Jing precisely, not to mention the nature of harmonization they speak of. And there isn’t much consensus on these either, in my experience.

So what is an “internal art” to me, right now?

It is any movement modality where things “inside the body” moves much more, in order to create movement of the body in a way that is easily visible on the outside, in contrast to how humans typically move. This would mean that how we normally move, by mainly engaging the prime mover muscles (heavily when speed and power is required), would not be considered “internal.”

So to elaborate further, for a given displacement of the joints in space to occur (consider this the effect), how much (i.e. how many parts, how much volume of tissue, what quantity of it is deep tissue) moves inside the body (this would be the cause) would be the consideration. Both the “how much” and the cause/effect relationship here would be important to make the distinction.

And of course “internal” can be many physical (configurations, modalities and) methods of movement, but the aforementioned distinction, I find, they all have in common and in contrast with how we normally move. Happy exploring!