If you were born in this millenium, you probably are familiar with MMA or Mixed Martial Arts. The world's biggest employer of MMA is the UFC. MMA is typically known as an external art due to its focus on muscular strength and cardio. But what about Internal Martial Arts?
Let's first look at what are Internal Martial Arts. Internal Martial Arts such as Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, and Primordial Kung Fu have been around for literally thousands of years. These arts focus less on external fighting nowadays and more on health and fighting your inner demons. They were called Internal simply because the focus of the art was more concerned with internal dynamics such as subtle tendino-musclo-skeletal alignment, intention, and the building and circulation of your Qi or Energy. External arts such as MMA tend to be more focused on fighting others, muscle strength, hardening / conditioning and speed training. A strong external martial artist can punch through a watermelon with his hand. A strong internal martial artist can palm strike a watermelon, unharm the surface of it but cause the inside of it to turn to mush. While there is nothing wrong with the external arts and I believe they are necessary to complete martial training, I do feel that something is missing nowadays from those arts.
The concept of war and self-defense was a way of life not too far in our distant past; and one could argue it is still a way of life today. Warriors needed to protect themselves from their enemies. While most of us are not engaging in active warfare, we are indeed at war everyday with ourselves. We are constantly battling our thoughts, opportunistic pathogens, and stress. By only focusing on what's outside of our senses, we tend to become less in touch with what really is important and that is who we are as a person.
Internal martial arts are a way of life. They force us to confront our inner demons by learning to circulate energy, still our minds, overcome fear, and harmonizing our body. How do they accomplish this? One unique aspect of internal training is learning to become still. Standing in postures cause our 'Outer body' to become still. Using Yin and Yang theory, the 'Inner Body' is then forced to wake up so to speak and become more active. Standing in postures, Zhang Zhuang in Chinese, we are forced to confront our mind. Nothing challenges your mind more than holding an uncomfortable position for 20 minutes and remaining completely still. Usually your thoughts race, the pain becomes more apparent, and we are forced to deal with all of the anxiety that we have held onto for years. By dealing with these issues we natural develop a lot of Qi and increase our blood and energy flow due to the freeing up of stagnant energy. This Internal, or Yin quality of Internal martial arts I feel gives Internal Martial Artists an edge into life. If we cannot deal with ourself internally, then how do we expect to be happy? How can we learn to be calm in a stressful situation if we don't pay attention to our thoughts and emotions. How can we learn to be calm in a fight? Most high level MMA practitioners who have mastered their physical art have learned that fighting is almost all mental after a certain point.
Another issue to contend with in Internal Martial Arts verse MMA is that of health. Most of us have seen the UFC and realize that these fighters take heavy abuse to their body. This abuse overtime causes major medical issues including fractures, brain damage, heavy arthritis due to injuries, and more. In Internal Martial Arts we tend to focus on the cultivation of energy and the circulation of it causing simply a healthier body when done properly. Many IMA (Internal Martial Artists) actually grow stronger as they age and can be seen practicing well into their 90's and 100's as many of my teacher's teachers have demonstrated. They are still mobile and strong. While MMA is still new, I don't expect to see these kinds of results from their practices.
Finally, IMA usually have a heightened sense of Spiritual awakening and the ability to heal others from their practices. Many IMA were healers as well as fighters. They would understand that with comes great destruction comes the opposite, great healing. This heightened sense of spiritual awareness was very important to many practitioners as it helped them find their life purpose and to bring compassion to the world rather than constantly worrying about sizing people up and who would win in a fight. In this age, I find that these spiritual qualities are most important for without them, we could find our society in great danger of becoming something we don't want to be.
As I've stated before, there is no right or wrong, good or bad in terms of what you train. But I wanted to shed a little light on the benefits of training IMA because these arts seem to becoming less and less popular. It is my goal to simply preserve some of these traditions before it is too late. I hope that you will seek out an IMA instructor who is focused on your well-being and simply not just fighting. Thanks for reading- Scott