Tai Chi Chuan's Internal Power

"Internal Power is a kind of vibrating energy inside the body. When it is carried out by Tai Chi Chuan's Fa Jing techniques, it has a very destructive potential."
This is the explanation my father (Gin Soon Chu Sifu, disciple of the famous Yang Sau Chung) gave me one day when I asked about internal power.

Generating internal power is guarded, secret information in the history of martial arts. It is the key training technique to determine the quality and survival of style and system. Every style has one or more techniques on how to generate internal power.

Because it is so classified, this technique is usually transmitted orally, without writing down, to prevent outside access. Therefore, the students selected to inherit this information are those considered the best and most trustworthy by their masters.

To understand how this internal power develops in Tai Chi Chuan, one must first understand human physiology. The body is a complex machine, it has many organs and systems. If one of these systems malfunctions, the body does not work or gets sick. The system involved with movement is the skeleton and muscles. When the body moves it involves many muscles by way of extension and contraction. When all the muscles in the arm act together, we call it decentralized movement, for it involves only the movement of the arm. However, when all the muscles of the body act together, we call this centralized movement, for it involves the whole body. The power generated from this unified movement is called internal power. It is invisible to the naked eye, for people pay attention only to the result and not to the mechanical procedure.

This internal power is so potent that people compare it to the power of ocean waves crashing to the shore, losing control of a car on ice, two trains colliding together, or flood water breaking from a reservoir.

There are many styles of Chinese martial art, each with its own method of generating power. A closer examination however, shows three common ways. The techniques vary according to the requirements of the style, but are similar in how the body is incorporated.

  1. Decentralized or localized generated power -- trains the arms, hands or feet to strengthen them individually. Involves external objects as a training tool. This method is common among hard style, such as kicking or punching sand bags to strengthen the hands and feet.
  2. Centralized or body generated power -- to train the coordination of body with hands and feet. The emphasis is on the Six Harmony principle or body mechanics. The power generated is the result of body coordination, not an external object. This method is common among internal or soft styles.
  3. Whole body or natural generated power -- a method involving the mental as well as the physical disciplines. This is available to a select number of internal stylists. Although Tai Chi Chuan is commonly practiced slowly and in a relaxed fashion, the members of the Yang Family were known for their skill and power. When they did Push Hands it could be soft as cotton or hard like steel. People who were thrown away often described it as like a bullet fired from the barrel of a gun.
    Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan has four steps involved in developing internal power. Each step builds on the previous, though they can be practiced separately. This information is known to very few people and often only one or two methods would be transmitted. The techniques are guided by Tai Chi philosophy. They involve motion and stillness, hard and soft, solo exercise and partner training, following the common concepts of yin and yang.
This step requires concentrating on both the physical and mental disciplines. It is said that small movement is better than large movement and no movement is better than small movement. This means that internal or mental movement which one cannot see is better than external or physical movement which one can see. This serves as the beginning of the practitioner's understanding of how physical and mental coordinate to create a new awareness growing from the person's inborn ability. This ability goes beyond muscles and tendons so that all responses are automatic.
It is said that the intent directs the chi flow and that physical movement is an expression of chi. This is why the Tai Chi Chuan Classics state that intent and chi are primary, flesh and bones secondary. Yang Cheng Fu also pointed out the importance of using intent and not physical power in his Ten Principles of Tai Chi Chuan.

Creativity of the Solo Form
Tai Chi Chuan's Solo Form
How to Remember the Solo Form's Movements

In this step the practitioner concentrates on the connection and relationship between mental creativity and physical movement. It is a common understanding among Chinese martial artists that posture is the shell and motion is the soul. External movement without intention is empty movement. Intention without external movement is a meaningless thought. A true movement is that which combines intention and external movement.

Lao Tzu pointed out that stiffness symbolizes death and flexibility life. This explains the value of routine, or form, training. This is why masters often said that the Tai Chi Chuan solo form contains everything. It is a question of how much information is transmitted.

Fa Jing
Also known as solo exercise. In this step concentration is on refining and maximizing the connection between the physical and mental disciplines. It is done by repeated exercise of isolated individual routine movements. In this step the practitioner absorbs the movement's application and practices the movement based on this application. The emphasis of this exercise is on practice as reality and reality as practice. Fa Jing techniques come from routine training with speed and mobility.

Push Hands
This step is the highest level of internal power development. Push Hands exercise acts as a bridge between form and free sparring. The emphasis is on how to generate power with coordination of physical and mental disciplines. It is not the double-joint hands exercise with stationary step we often see in Push Hands competitions today -- to distinguish this technique our school calls it the Dynamic Push. The method involves two people with their hands under pressure. From this physical and mental pressure one's inborn ability is developed. By nature things always prefer to exist in a balanced state. However if this balance is disrupted one will look for new balance by releasing or absorbing power. Dynamic Push Hands exercise is based on this concept and train the practitioner to master this mechanical procedure. It is said that if one works on the same steel for a hundred times, this steel will be so flexible it can be easily bent with the fingers. This is the reason why members of the Yang Family were so powerful. Everyone knows that under competitive pressure, the best of oneself comes out. There have been many examples when someone demonstrated enormous power in a life threatening situation. It is the most difficult step to master as it is a function of inborn ability, the combination of physical and mental. It is a unification of oneness.

Although Tai Chi Chuan is known as a health discipline, over the years it became famous as the martial system of the Yang Family. There were many stories of the power possessed by these people. Today many assume that these stories are fairy tales. However, if one goes through the training, one will understand and interpret them differently. After all, one cannot fully understand until one gets there. Our students often reply, when asked how they felt from Push Hands: "it is difficult to explain, you have to experience it to know it".

Article by Vincent Chu
Copyright © V. Chu. All rights reserved.