WORK IN PROGRESS Copyright © John Bracy 2008. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
An evolutionary jump?
Many senior practitioners of the so called "soft" or "internal" Chinese martial arts describe the operational force underlying their arts in terms of subtle "mind" and "internal energy." However, it is problematic that arriving at a clear definition of these terms is difficult and the meaning of "mind" and "internal energy" elusive. Thus, in our quest to unravel the meaning of internal energy in the martial arts, it is useful to consider how, where and under what conditions this unusual approach developed.
Special mind-body states that merged with certain physical skills An evolutionary jump? In considering the historicity of the so called internal martial arts, three factors coalesced to create what can be described as an evolutionary jump. Beginning with Tai Chi Chuan (hereafter referred to as Tai Chi), and from there spreading to at least two extant arts, three conditions merged with training that most likely resulted in an accidental discovery in the martial arts. It is probable that three conditions: proximity to the opponent, enjoyment of safe combat training and an inward shift in orientation by participants coalesced in just the right way to induce special mind body states that merged with certain physical skill sets and gave rise to an entirely new approach to combat training. To understand this accidental discovery and how it may represent an evolutionary jump in martial study, it is important to first review historical evidence that suggests if, and if so under what conditions influential practitioners systematically studied martial art linked to special mind-body states. Answers to these questions reside in the subset of traditional Chinese martial arts called nei chia chuan. Translated as "internal family boxing," the term first suggested by Sun Lu-Tang in 1920 has been used as an umbrella label for a subcategory of martial arts sharing common principles ever since. A brief discussion of shared principles within the nei chia chuan subset is extremely important to the present discussion since, according to the literature, these arts are said to operate not only with distinctive sets of physical skills, but mind and body "energetic" principles.
Traditionally, the internal boxing family is comprised of three arts, Tai Chi (also written Taijiquan) and lesser known styles Hsing I Chuan (also written Xingyiquan) and Ba Gua Zhang (also written Pa Kua Chang and Baguazhang). Of interest is whether or not these styles, at least as practiced by some subgroups in the late 1800s, represent a unique way of understanding internal energy in the martial arts and if so, what this tells us about the nature of internal energy.
Our first clue about the relationship between internal energy and martial study is in the name. What did Master Sun and others mean when they began to refer to these collective arts-those nei chia chuan subsets practiced on the north China plain in the late nineteenth century-as "internal?" Although two members of the subset, Tai Chi and Hsing I, predate the term "internal martial art," sudden use of the term suggests something extraordinary happened that required a new term to describe a radical approach to training. [Registered users read more]