Definition of Internal Practice

Chinese Martial Arts are sometimes divided into two adversarial camps: Internal vs External, NeiJia vs WaiJia. It is usually in some kind of advert where I see these terms. Over the years as I have kept abreast of anatomy, neuroscience and related disciplines, I have always looked to resolve what I perceive a false distinction. In 2010, I published a draft definition of internal practice in my FAQ. Since then I have been fortunate to receive peer feedback and continue to refine the definition. The audience for this post is assumed to have a basic vocabulary of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts and related esoteric practice.

Also, we often see words like ''neijia', qi (chi)', 'neigong', 'shape', 'energy', 'internal feel', 'internal power', and 'jin'. These are obviously words of art specific to our discipline, but, aside from neijia and neigong, everybody defines terms differently as each training system has different approaches that result in different sensations. The question remains, "Where can we find common language?" I look to neuroanatomy.

 A simple and succinct definition of internal practice might be:

Internal practice is characterized by the use of interoception, the internal visceral feel, as the primary reference to generate power to respond to force, rather than proprioception or strategic concerns of martial application or technique. Additionally, internal reference in movement is explored exclusively by investigating the cycle of action informed by yi->qi->li. " - Kelley Graham 2010

Cycle of Action = Process of Change Coordinating 6 Internal and External Harmonies

3 Internal Harmonies

  • Yi is Heart-Mind Intent (心與意合 xin yu yi he)
  • Yi -> Qi (意與氣合 yi yu qi he)
  • Qi -> Li  (氣與力合 qi yu li he)

3 External Harmonies

  • Ankle - Wrist
  • Elbow - Knee
  • Shoulder - Hip

Yi - Intention What is expected to happen during training? What does the moment before the moment feel like? What is the weight of a genuine thought? Should Yi be heavy or light or something else?

Qi - Stretch Conditioning the body and mind to feel the Qi is not like conditioning the muscle. What stretches? How does deep internal awareness reasult in specific Qi sensations and application? Which sensations are useful and which are distractions?

Li - Manifest If the Yi is correct, the Qi can be felt. If the Qi can be felt the power will flow with internal change. If the power flows with the Qi, action in time and space will be wondrous. At least in my experience.

From source 'Interoception... 2003 Craig'

Converging evidence indicates that primates have a distinct cortical image of homeostatic afferent activity that reflects all aspects of the physiological condition of all tissues of the body. This interoceptive system, associated with autonomic motor control, is distinct from the exteroceptive system (cutaneous mechanoreception and proprioception) that guides somatic motor activity. The primary interoceptive representation in the dorsal posterior insula engenders distinct highly resolved feelings from the body that include pain, temperature, itch, sensual touch, muscular and visceral sensations, vasomotor activity, hunger, thirst, and ‘air hunger’. In humans, a meta- representation of the primary interoceptive activity is engendered in the right anterior insula, which seems to provide the basis for the subjective image of the material self as a feeling (sentient) entity, that is, emotional awareness. " - Craig 2003

Do I enjoy neuroanatomy? Yes. Am I a fanboy? No! Please read this excellent article on neuroethics.

A plea for “slow science” and philosophical patience in neuroethics. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on February 23, 2016, from

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