View Full Version : Internal Vs. External

Please visit our sponsor:

AikiWeb Sponsored Links - Place your Aikido link here for only $10!

Alex Cox
06-18-2003, 02:42 PM
Hey all,

I was discussing internal versus external martial arts with a friend, when he asked me to explain what "internal" means. I tried to explain center, grounding and relaxation to him, but he still didn't get it.

How would you explain what an internal martial art is to a non-aikidoka?

Lyle Bogin
06-18-2003, 03:15 PM
The origins of the internal external debate are essentially political. There is an excellent article to this effect in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts (if I have time I will look up the issue # and post it).

The first reference to internal and external arts in in a eulogy written about a ming loyalist general. Internal referred to the Chinese (Ming), and external refered to the conquering Manchus (Qing). Much later, there is reference to a martial arts political organization of the "Internal Schools", form mostly of the "sister styles" (tai chi, hsing I, ba gua). And on and on. Again, "internal" means something more like "native" in this context.

It seems to me that any exclusionary philosophy (such as separating internal from external) would be in violation of the fundamental philosophical principals from which the arts were born. Yin (In) and Yang (Yo). Mu. Etc.

Therefore, after many years of fumbling around this subject, I don't think the differentiation has any real meaning, although it may be used to designate a style as this or that for promotional or political purposes. The idea that internal styles use a more powerful or elusive kind of strength is attractive, but it conflicts with the fact that many "externalists" make the very same discoveries in their training.

Larry Feldman
06-18-2003, 03:26 PM
I read this description somewhere....

You can watch an external style and (with time)understand what they are doing, and how to do it.

You can watch an internal style and never really understand what they are doing, or how to do it.

To me the difference is how you feel after training.

06-19-2003, 04:18 AM
internal and external cannot be separated, and sure, the external stylist will work on the same internal principles as will the internal stylist work on the external principles.

to me the difference lies in the method of training, one starts in one end, the other starts in the other. eventually they meet. for example, whereas the karateka will start off training full force punches, the tai chi student will start off training coordination between breath and movement.

still, imho the internal schools are better at teaching sensing and controlling.

06-19-2003, 04:29 AM
I never really think as aikido as an internal martial art - I always feel it lies somewhere between the two. I thought Larrys description was perfect though (and I think that no-one has fully received what Ueshiba was doing). I presume when he says how you feel after training; with internal you should feel energised, whereas with external you feel tired?

Although I believe it is mostly if not entirely mechanical, the unbendable arm demonstration may help to illustrate it (I think the mechanical and internal are linked - in my opinion the discussion of chi is a simple method for explaining a complicated and multifaceted thing more easily).


06-19-2003, 06:52 AM
I would say that an internal art is one where there is little or no conflict in the movement between tori and uke. In an external art, whilst the movement may essentially be the same as the internal, there is more conflict between tori and uke.

Or in another way:

External arts may use forceful blocks within their motion before redirecting/ countering an attack. Internal arts don't block, they try to absorb the attack keeping it in constant motion whilst redirecting it.

I appreciate that there is a lot more to this (strength vs power etc.), I'm not even sure that explains what I was trying to say, but that's as simple as I can put it.

Ultimately though, they both exist within each other, and can't exist without each other.

Just my quick thoughts over lunch


Carl Simard
06-19-2003, 09:37 AM
The way I've understand the internal/external thing is that, in an external style, your goal is to win a fight against an opponent (you work on something outside yourself), in an internal style, the goal is the win the fight against yourself (you work on something inside yourself).

This also explains why most external arts (like karate, kung-fu, TWD...) give a greater emphasis on competition than the so-called internal ones (like tai-chi, aikido, etc...).

That said, I don't think there's one martial art that's really 100% internal or external. A 100% external MA will put no emphasis on concentration, balance, etc... A 100% internal art will be like sitting and doing meditation the whole time...

So, every martial art is a blend of the two. It's just that the proportion of each element is different, and the art is put in the category of it's main element.

To make it short, external may be viewed as "Taking control of someone to learn how to control yourself" and internal may be viewed as "Control yourself before being able to take control of someone else". So, in the end, everybody is on top on the same hill. It's just the way to get on top that's different.

My 2 cents...

Larry Feldman
06-19-2003, 10:17 AM
Ian - The short answer to your energized/tired question is yes.

To expand, the physical exertion from an external style can give you a nice buzz after class. But the difference is that in the internal style my body didn't feel 'beat up' from the practice, just tired.

Lyle Bogin
06-19-2003, 10:21 AM
I feel that separating styles of martial arts in this way is detrimental to study of the subject. It has forced me to make judgements that are not necessarily correct or even useful. I just can't buy into it anymore because it has made me make so many false assumptions, many of them mentioned in this thread as people's definitions. It is a much bigger issue in Chinese Martial Arts, it seems. Well, at least everyone can cop-out at the end with the old top of the same mountain statement :).

06-19-2003, 11:34 AM
I feel that separating styles of martial arts in this way is detrimental to study of the subject.
Agreed. At last year's Aiki Expo, Ushiro sensei (7th dan, Shindo-ryu karate) talked a lot about the use of kokyu in his karate. I remember some fourth or fifth dan guy I was training with in my karate days trying to explain center to center connection in karate (which I didn't get back then)...

I think this sort of distinction is like the so-called distinction between "do" and "jutsu" arts. It's not much of a distinction, in the long run...

-- Jun