Home > Concepts & Principles, Uncatagorized > What is the meaning of Internal Arts and External, is there a difference?

What is the meaning of Internal Arts and External, is there a difference?

There is a lot out there on the subject of internal and external martial arts. A lot of it is very good information, some is pitched as a marketing approach, other information could be attributed in either ignorance, or arrogance. There may be more then one truth here. I think that the meaning of internal and external martial arts has changed over many years.

The original distinction between external and internal martial arts comes from Huang Zongxi’s 1669 Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan. The identification of the internal martial arts with the Taoism indigenous to China, and its identification of the external martial arts with the foreign Buddhism of Shaolin, and the Manchu Qing Dynasty to which Huang Zongxi was opposed. This may have been an act of political defiance rather than one of technical classification.

What people speak of today as differences in internal and external, tend to refer to principles, and interpretation of such principles. I think this line of thinking may have started being promoted around the mid 1800’s with Yang Lu Chan, and became widely accepted in the 1920’s-1930’s.

I think the reason that the three sisters (Hsing-I, Bagua, and Tai Chi) are generally thought of as the only internal systems, is due to Sun Lu Tang who practiced and taught, these three systems. Sun Lu Tang lived from 1860 yo 1933, and taught until 1928. He was a very prominent practitioner of his day.

Regardless of the origin of this classification scheme, Chinese martial art styles have external and internal components. Classification is only where the initial emphasis of a particular style is, and should not be considered an absolute division.

While I practice one system commonly associated with Shaolin (Tzu Men Chuan), it is every bit as internal as Taijiquan, Bagua, and Hsing-I (I also practice these systems). I also practice Hsiao Chiu Tien Chuan, and Liu Ho Pa Fa which are also internal systems. All three of these are internal by either definition of what an internal art is. I’m sure there are still many others out there. However practitioners of these styles aren’t as opposed to external conditioning, as are some of the modern practitioners of some of the internal arts.

Another thing to keep in mind is that all external martial arts are not the same, in interpretation of principles or complexity, anymore then are the internal systems. While I focus on Chinese martial arts, I did spend many years training Japanese, Korean, and other external systems. The different systems of external alone are night and day apart. I would say that Karate would be more dissimilar to any Shaolin Kung Fu system, then any of the internal systems would be from a Shaolin system. Of course this is just my opinion based on my experience. Others may disagree.

Today there may be more of a difference in the internal systems and external, then there was 100 years ago, when people still fought for real, without today’s sport rules.

I believe most of the systems referred to as Shaolin today are really family systems. All through history many people have exaggerated the origins of their systems. It is as true today as it was hundreds of years ago. If someone could attribute their system to coming from Shaolin, it sounded better, then saying they created it themselves.

This has nothing to do with the validity of the systems as systems, but has always been a marketing ploy. You’d have to look at each system individually to really find it’s origin, if it is important to you. Then the question is are there any written records to provide proof? I mean something more then a creation myth.

So was there martial arts practiced widely in the Shaolin temples? If so who brought them there? Was there ever any martial arts taught at a temple on Mount Wudang at all? I’d suggest reading all the articles written by Stanley Henning who is an independent scholar, who has spent a great deal of time and effort to uncover the truth. http://seinenkai.com/articles/henning/ . There are many other sources out there, you should do your own research to discover truth.



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