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Internal Arts

What is an internal art?

Civilian defence arts can be divided into two main catergories - external or hard systems, and internal or soft forms. This is largely a distinction of convenience as a number defensive systems, or arts, incorporate a combination of both. There isn't a strict rigid barrier between external and internal - but it does help to highlight the primary focus of the form you choose to learn.

External arts

External forms are primarily concerned with the physical skills used in fighting and self-defence. Examples of this include karate, kung fu and arnis de mano. A practitioner of an external art is trained to meet the force of an attacker with their own force. They also tend to attack in a striaght line (for speed) and use their body to lend more power to the technique.

Internal arts

Internal forms are more concerned with developing an understanding of self and others, developing more of a spiritual awareness and and look to avert or deflect conflict rather than meet it head on. Examples would include aikido, hsing-i and t'ai chi ch'uan. A practitioner of an internal art is trained not to oppose an attacking force, but to use the attackers force against them. They tend to use soft power and circlular motions.

Using chi

Both hard and soft styles aim to control the flow of chi. Almost all arts use the mind to control the breath and the flow of energy but the softer styles concentrate more on the cultivation and use of chi. It is a natural progression to for practitioners of hard styles to develop an interest in the softer styles because many of the advanced moves in hard styles include soft methods.

Soft does not mean ineffectual

Soft does equate to ineffectual. The movements might look soft and gentle, but they are highly effective when used correctly. The practitioners of soft styles are trained to be calm, centred and relaxed under pressure, which encourages faster reflexes and the ability to respond rather than react. Harder, external systems rely on physical strength - which means someone stronger than you is likely to have the advantage, while the soft sytems yield and use the body dynamics and strategies to gain the advantage, even if your attakcer is stronger than you.

Continuum of development

While the distinction between hard and soft styles is mainly one of convenience to illustrate the focus of training, it can be seen as a continuum of development. Generally speaking, the harder styles are suited to the energetic youth who have power and strentgh and thrive on using their strength and skills in combination. As they become older, and perhaps wiser, the emphasis of training ought to change - training in a more effective and efficient way, using one's intelligence and wisdom rather than relying on brute force - so they are effective against an energetic youngster. When seen in this light the move from external to internal can be seen as a natural continuum along the path of combative training, rather than the sperate camps they are made out to be. Wu-Shin todejutsu is one of few examples of a training system designed with this progression in mind.


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