Very insightful Pete. Finally a clear answer to "what is serious work"
This is great info!
Perhaps the relative emphases on bodily conditioning is the difference between the "hard" internal cultivation style and the "soft" internal cultivation style that Mike Sigman was talking about.
Is it something like:
Hard internal cultivation (bigger emphasis on body conditioning, internal muscles/fascia in spine, etc): Xingyi, Bagua, Aunkai
Soft internal cultivation (bigger emphasis on coordination, sensitivity, mental intent): Taiji, Ki-soc
I'm totally talking out of my ass here so apologies in advance and please tell us more!
I can't speak for Mike, but I think there are a number of approaches to this. I don't know if "hard" vs "soft" is sufficiently granular to describe it. Akuzawa's approach seems to involve some conscious tension, but not what I would call "hard", whereas Chen style taiji doesn't, but that wasn't entirely where I was going. Xingyi, Bagua, etc people are going to have different approaches. I don't know if it was a Chen family member who had his sons practice their forms underneath a table, but that doesn't sound "soft" or "relaxed" to me.
No matter how you slice it it's conditioning and it's hard work, and I don't see how you can be any sort of martial athlete and somehow have power without appropriate conditioning. Doing ikkyo and nikkyo endlessly won't do it. It's not fast-twitch muscle conditioning like with weightlifting, it's stuff like being able to move around in a low stance for an hour. You need endurance like that to be able to "relax" and work the skills. The word "relax" is in quotes for a reason. That's a mental visualization, but obviously the body is working. If you think the Chen work is any less strenuous than Akuzawa's stuff, take a look at some of the positions they hold and move around in. Standing practice or similar is invariably part of the foundation, and like everything else the details of what's being done during standing is a big deal, and skill, intention, and conditioning are being worked together. If you just copy a guy doing a standing pose you have no idea what it's for or what good it is. Ueshiba had his exercises, and how they are really worked may be very different than how it looks on the outside. Copying "external" movement is easy (and then you wonder what the heck it's supposed to be good for), what's really being done on the inside has to be explained.
In a way it's analogous to doing forms without knowing anything of the intended application. It's pointless. But in a well-preserved system the form contains the deep knowledge of the system. I recall my early Okinawan karate days, we were told to guess what the point of any particular form movement was, nobody explained it, least of all the depth of something like Sanchin. The instructors had no clue. They were Americans who learned from another American who learned it on Okinawa but probably wasn't shown the real stuff and real intention. On the other hand, when I learned silat from Pendekar Paul DeThouars, the meaning of every tiny movement of a juru was explained. The knowledge of the system is contained in those things, and unless it's explained to you it's mostly empty. In internal systems the bodywork is at least as important if not more so than the application, and there is even less hope of figuring it out from the outer movement. Actually no hope. I can visually copy the shiko exercise from Akuzawa, but without knowledge of the internal contradictory tensions and what I'm trying to achieve, I'm just getting some exercise. Etc. You have to feel the results, then work to understand how the exercises are done correctly, and how and why they produce the results.