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Although many styles of Neijia exist around the world, three "internal" martial arts are most widely known... Taijiquan (T'ai Chi Ch'uan), Baguazhang (Pa Kua Ch'ang), and Xingyiquan (Hsing-I Ch'uan). Several other martial arts such as YiQuan (I-Ch'uan) must also be recognized because of its close adherance to the basic principles of Neijia as well as Aikido, a Japanese martial art.
Neijia differs from other "external" martial arts in that all movement begins deeply within the body, then moves outwards towards the skin. It is theorized that this "internal" work (Nei Gung) was discovered and developed by esoteric Daoists (Taoists) to increase their health and spirituality, many thousands of years prior to making its way to martial arts. The Shaolin and other martial arts systems adopted many of these techniques, developing them further into what we know today as the Neijia, or "internal" martial arts.
"Internal" or "soft" styles, although quite different from one another, share the basic principles that define all internal martial art styles.
Some of the basic principles of Neijia are: Heightened awareness of one's internal body posture and structure; Release of tension, both externally and internally; Release or letting go of physical, muscular strength to perform techniques and postures; Sinking of the "qi" (chi) or energy and the development of "root", where the center of gravity and origin of movement is lowered within the body; linking of internal organs to assist the flow and movement of "qi" or energy; and the development of an internal peace or calm emotional state.
Most of these basic principles take years of dedicated practice and study to develop, and few persons throughout history have truly mastered any of these Neijia styles.
With the possibility of mastering one of the internal styles so remote, why would anybody want to even try? It is obvious that for self-defense or physical fitness, it would be much easier to study a "Weijia" (external style) martial art, or to just go to a local gym for physical conditioning.
One positive aspect of beginning the study of a Neijia style is that while a student may not be able to use it as a self-defense art until quite experienced, the health benefits (physical, mental, and emotional) can be realized quickly. A posture as simple as standing still (zanzhuang) for extended periods of time each day can have dramatic effects on the practitioner.
Cultural Problems for Western Students
One of the problems that many Westerners have when first beginning the study of an "internal" style or a "qigong" routine, is the very simplicity of the movements. Western students expect a complicated system of choreographed movements, along with a systematic, structured teaching routine from their instructor, complete with "grades" or "levels" of completion. It is often difficult for the Western student to "let go" and allow the "qi" to develop naturally. Many times, hard work does not necessarily speed the process, yet it takes consistent and dedicated practice to make even the slightest progress.
While it is true that many of the styles contain forms that are so complex that it takes a lifetime to master one, the true "internal" power of these forms are not in the complex postures, but in the understanding of the basic principles of Neijia.
Another concept that is difficult for Westerners is the realization that they must study forever, perhaps never quite reaching their goals. It is said that when a Neijia master thinks that they have mastered their art, their knowledge is already in decline.
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