During my What is… series, I have mentioned a few times the concept of an Internal Art verses an External Art. The distinction between the two, while seemingly polar opposites, is not simply two different forms. In fact, I often like to refer to them as the Yin and Yang.
For those unfamiliar with that symbol, the circle is formed by two swirls, one white and one black. What is curious is that within the middle of each swirl lies the opposite color. So within the heart of each side lies the other. If the two concepts of Martial Arts are viewed as the sides of the Yin Yang, then so too can it be said that within every Internal Art there is External and within External there is Internal.
But what does that mean?
Internal Arts, like Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and Ba Gua, focus on the mind and spirit. They work and train how you move the energy within your body, how to heal, and how to find your center.
External Arts, like Wing Chun, Karate, and Kung Fu, focus on the body, being able to execute techniques that serve for self-defense, combat and fighting.
There are many variations to both concepts that have spread throughout the world. The quality of that art can be judged in part on how well it embraces the Yin Yang concept. Within every internal movement, a student should be able to distinguish the application, or external components.
For instance, Tai Chi is known for its beautiful fluid movements. Those same movements are external techniques that can be used against another combatant. A student who understands this can better direct their energies to work for them.
Likewise, an external student should spend time applying their concentration on the internal aspects of their art. By learning how to focus and use all your senses, not just sight, a warrior can better equip and defend themselves.
As a teacher of the Internal Arts, I continually stress to those I teach the important of embracing both of these concepts. Those that have, I can visibly see the difference. I’m often amazed that external students that truly understand this importance can often pick up on my teachings with proper focus a lot faster than a student who has only emphasized one concept.
Learning both the Internal and External does not necessarily involve having to learn different Martial Arts forms. In fact, most Martial Arts forms have aspects of both incorporated into their system already. Some are more pronounced, calling out the divisions. Some are subtle, working the skills into various classes.
Systems that embrace the totality of both concepts, the Internal and External, will always prove to be more powerful than those that only focus on one other or the other.