Internal Kung-Fu

Internal Kung-Fu styles are differentiated from their external counterparts, mainly by the emphasis they put on the cultivation of Chi power. Internal styles do not wait until a student is advanced physically, to start working with chi. Their primary focus is on cultivating Chi from the outset. Throughout daily training, every kick, punch and stance is performed slowly and in tandem with the correct breathing technique.

The overriding combat principle in internal styles is that force must not be met with force, as this results in injury for both parties. Instead it should be intercepted and diverted. An attacker’s force can be used against him to throw him to the ground or manipulate him into a disabling joint or pressure point lock. As his own force is being used against him, the stronger and more violent his attack, the greater pain he will feel as a result. This theory exists in stark contrast to external styles, such as Wing Chun, where the main principle is to directly block and simultaneously attack your opponent before he has time to react. Such concepts found their basis in the ancient Chinese belief system called Taoism, and Internal Styles were developed in famous Taoist monasteries such as that found high on Wudang Mountain.

It should not be imagined that Internal Styles of Kung-Fu neglect physical (external) preparation, however. It is a core concept that by training slowly, a practitioner increases the work load through any particular movement, resulting in improved strength, alignment and stability. In a combat situation these slow movements are done quickly with explosive power.

There are new age teachers of Internal Styles, such as Tai Chi Chuan, that mostly neglect external training but these individuals are generally discredited by the martial arts community or simply accepted to be training in a form of health-promoting exercise and not a martial art. Such practices enjoy worldwide popularity, especially among older generations and are sometimes differentiated by the shortened title, ‘Tai Chi’ without the word Chuan, as this is the word containing the martial concept. Chen style Tai Chi Chuan, accepted by many to be the original form, contains high and jumping kicks that require a lot of flexibility. Chen style also focuses on heavy weapons’ work, used to condition and test the physical body to its limits.

There are only a handful of Kung-Fu styles considered to be internal styles: three original styles identified as internal by Sun Lutang in the 1920s and two other which came under the classification later. In that order, they are:

  • Tai Chi Chuan
  • Ba Gua
  • Xing Yi
  • Liuhebafa
  • Yiquan