External is Internal

Oh geeze, more “External” crap. ‘Dude! Didn’t you just post an article saying Internal is External?’ Bear with me…

Once again, the problem is the label, “External”. What is that supposed to mean? You cannot make any action externally. You can affect the external world around you – push on it or walk through it, but you cannot make an external action. The exterior surface of your skin is not an actuator. It is a container. All of what makes up you is within that. If you want to walk, you activate internal structures that carry the external surface of your skin from point A to B. The internal mechanisms carry you, and are you.

Once we label some art or style as “External”, we force the discussion of “Internal”. If it is recognized that all actions are executed by internal body structures, we then have to provide a special definition to “Internal” – which often becomes some mental, magical, or spiritual concept. Likewise, we have to specify that “External” mean muscle, conditioning, and so forth. Of course, muscle is entirely internal, and to condition it or your joints or your core requires that you make internal adjustments. As such, we cannot say “External” or “Internal” without providing some qualifying and quantifying additional definition information, often subject to the tenants of this or that specific art or practice. The words, the labels, lose their meaning.

Those who train “Internal” do so through the repeated and studied practice of body positions – the assumption of a position, the study of the limbs and joints, the critical analysis of the center of gravity and momentum. “External” practitioners do the same.

Trying to refine these definitions, which become extremely tailored, we might resort to terms like “Soft” and “Hard”. However, do not dare tell a Tai Chi practitioner they cannot hit – which would be “hard”. They’ll get all up in your grill pretty quick. Even these terms then require caveats and refinements. Perhaps we can use terms like “Coarse” and “Refined”.

“Coarse” would be the practice of anything on a base, surface level, like learning the basic rules of baseball, learning the overall concepts and actions of hitting, pitching, catching, throwing, and running. “Refined” would be learning to do those things well, like learning when and how to breathe when you prepare to swing, and when you hit. Learning a good pitching stance, how to actuate your shoulder, elbow, right down to your fingertips in order to throw with accuracy – and trickery. The question is, do you want to be the best, or do you just want to play ball?

Internal is External and External is Internal. They are an entire unit – you. You have to do the physical to improve. You also have to improve your understanding of the goal. You have to work the small factors to improve, no matter what the art or craft. If you focus only on “Internal”, you may allow some aspect of the “External” – the coarse movements – to suffer. If you want to improve the coarse movements, you have to refine how you handle seemingly unrelated internal factors. The labels cause us to separate ourselves and narrow our focus, when the goal should be an expanded one, the “open awareness”, third eye kind of thing I mentioned in my previous article.

Internal cannot be approached in a Pythagorean sort of way, making it solely mental and magical – simply sitting and thinking about it. Both Internal and External absolutely require the body as a whole, including mental focus on the goal – not the task. It is not enough to just pick up the weight. It is how you breathe when you do it, where your breath comes from, what is the shape the skeleton is taking, and being able to relax, or get as relaxed as possible as the task is accomplished.

In my previous post, I asked about pro tennis players, golfers, and baseball players, and whether they considered Internal versus External. Some Internal practitioners will argue it is not about athleticism. Internal practices are meant to be methods for providing longevity of the activity. Well then, let us consider the trumpet player. They have to learn how to articulate their fingers and arms in precise manners. They have to articulate their lips and cheeks. They have to learn various forms of breathing. If they want to play for a long time, they have to maintain their health. They have to learn various stances – how to play seated, standing, walking, marching, which means they have to study their center of gravity and momentum, even the CG and momentum of the air they intend to send through that twelve feet of twisted pipe. The good ones will do this right up unto their passing, no different from an Internal Kung Fu practitioner. Do you suppose the trumpet player spends any time debating their External practices against their Internal ones, or do they just practice and play, day after day, over and again – the external (coarse) movements and techniques becoming increasingly more refined (internal)?

It is all Yin and Yang, whole body and mind, open awareness.

It’s Wing Chun – Relax.


About Sifu

I teach Wing Chun, both traditional and practical, at KDA Karate Academy. I have a Bachelor of Media Arts degree from USC. I have been an Audio Producer / Engineer, a Law Office Manager. In addition to being a Martial Arts Instructor, I am an author. My new book, "Astro Boy, Sensei, and Me" is available now, as is my Sci-Fi joy ride, "On a Sphere's Edge".

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