What is the difference between internal and external martial arts?
There are two understandings of the distinctions between internal and
external martial arts. The first is quite simple. Any art developed and taught
within China’s borders was referenced as an internal
art. Any imported discipline was considered external.
The second understanding distinguishes between physical skills utilizing
basic body bio-mechanics and those manipulating the human Biofield or Subtle Energy
Body. Martial readers may be less familiar with these non-traditional labels,
but science is rapidly expanding knowledge about the human subtle energies. Although,
in reality there is no definitive line separating internal from external
martial arts, as both rely to some degree on the other, it is helpful to
intellectualize them to get a sense of how they function.
One can liken external and internal to our two hands. They are inseparable
from the body. They complement one another, yet they are two distinctly
The difficulty most students initially have with internal study is the
subtle nature of its principles and techniques. Internal training requires one
to develop a different way of looking at and thinking about one’s martial
Contrary to what some martial artists feel about this subject, internal
martial arts can be taught quite clearly with sequential, developmental steps.
The problem is that most Asian teachers believed that it was better to do rather than to talk about doing. This acceptable ‘silence’ created a culture of
practitioners who had to feel their Chi in order to understand it. However, at
early stages the feeling of chi can be so elusive as to create doubt that such
a phenomenon exists. This methodology left us with a scarcity of modern
teachers able to precisely articulate the methods and rationales for
cultivating internal skills. But this picture is rapidly changing as senior
American internal martial artists (still a minority) are rendering the subject
in far more understandable terms. If interested in this topic, see; Internal Karate: Mind Matters And The Seven
Gates of Power, Hayashi Tomio