What is Internal? Who Knows???
I’ll put in my two cents on the question “What is internal” mileage may vary of course….
Internal and External is a debate that seems honestly kind of nonsensical to me as it just separates things that are in my mind simply different stages or states of training. Like ice becoming water becoming steam it is all the same substance in different states of being (Jing-Qi-Shen).
External then would be the copying of another person’s movements, trying to mimic them in the same way we mimicked our parents to learn to walk when we were young. As one advances externally the details become smaller and smaller through good teaching and corrections. A person can defend themselves, perform well, and stay healthy through the exercise it gives. Nothing wrong with this and it is where beginners in any style begin, Taiji people, Bagua people and so on all begin copying what they think they see when their teacher moves.
Internal as it is referred to, I feel, is more of a mechanical internal as understanding of the transitions between those external movements and shapes become more and more understood. Movements originating deeper in the physiology and rippled outwards to the extremities to create cascades of muscular contraction and engagement. This leads to much more power and ability combatively relying less on one’s strength in the limbs and more on the power created by the combined whole. This understanding of the deeper mechanics of movement gets very detailed and begins to include posture, alignment, structure, tensegrity structural understanding, pivot points and fulcrums and leads to affecting the body using the mind. The mental imagery in training like for example “the spine is a bow” changes the potential of a movement or posture drastically and recruits more of the body than before. Many of these added up make people appear to have borderline supernatural abilities and power. This of course generally gets lumped all together by the word “Qi”. Which I stand by the translation of which should be “relationship” not “energy” as energy is too narrow to describe every relationship and its function. It also tends to lead people astray into magical thinking that harms them in the long run. The body is no longer ‘ice level’ and is instead ‘water’ – same substance, different state – mechanical internal.
Internal in my opinion deals with that which cannot be more personal, the self. The mind that oversees the whole training process, the person behind all the practice and work. Working directly on the self to me is internal work ‘neigong’ more so than the changing of movement from limbs to torso or Dantian. Innervation of movement by activating the nervous system prior to the physical action for example is ‘yi ling qi’ (mind leads the qi). Fa Jin is like this having the mind ahead of the body and then releasing the potential that has been created into movement.
But more importantly internal work is working directly with one’s character. Therefore meditation, various movement practices, and qigong methods, tend to appear to be one thing and yet are another. Most often it seems martial artists tend to overlook the character-building opportunities and activities in training and so I think most only make ‘mechanical internal’ in their training careers. It is not enough to be skilled at violence, a person also must be skilled at understanding fear. What they fear, what others fear, how it affects the body and mind. When and where it is appropriate to use one’s abilities in everyday life. Not necessarily combatively but how one conducts themselves matters! Wu De (martial Virtue) is often given lip service by martial artists and yet is always left in the dust as merely writing on the walls of their training hall. Internal Alchemy practices deal directly with understanding the body first and changing one’s perspective to eventually study oneself. “I think, therefore I am.” Who is the “I” in the first place? If you ask me that is internal training.
A well-rounded martial artist will have all three stages being worked on, the body (Jing – Ice), the relationships within the body and between the body and mind (Qi – Water) and the various parts of the mind, the self (Shen- Steam: Yi-intellect, Xin-emotions, Zhi-willpower, Shen- Acquired Self, Hun- True self (observing the rest)). Same substance, different states and different perspectives of observation.
Opinions and all that, of course.