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Internal and External Power.

It is generally considered that the so-called internal martial arts are by far superior to the external martial arts. Is this a myth or is there some substance to this supposition? Certainly internal martial arts are much more difficult to quantify, much less tangible and much more aloof, in a sense this is one way in their unique status has arisen. External martial arts, on the other hand, are clearly identified in terms of physical technique and prowess, they are difficult to perfect but the results of external martial art training are easy to see. There is less mystique, these martial arts are more attainable, hence less magic. 

The distinction between internal and external styles is most clear in the Chinese martial arts, with the Shaolin and gar (family) styles being on the external side and Hsing_I, Ba Gua and Tai Chi as the three most common (the only perhaps?) internal arts. In Japanese arts the distinction is much less clear, but the general opinion is that most (if not all) are external in nature. Jiu Jutsu is certainly overtly physical, and in many cases is taught entirely as such. However I would argue that the particular flavour of Jiu Jutsu that is practised in Kiai Yamabushi Ryu is a mixture of both internal and external and it is only a matter of emphasis and training as to which becomes fore grounded in your own practice. 

The characteristics of internal and external martial arts

External martial arts focus on power, strength ,speed , flexibility, endurance and reflexes. They are known as external because of two phenomena. First the results of years of training can be clearly seen , callused knuckles, big muscles etc. And secondly because the manifestation of power is entirely through physical means. To punch harder, to kick faster, to throw more effectively are the general aims of training. Damage is done by either brute force, or by technical manipulations of the opponents' body, again using strength, usually generated by a combination of muscle power and correct body positioning and alignment. 

Internal martial arts focus much more on the mind and will. In general power is generated through manipulation of internal forces, such as chi or ki, which can be cultivated through long periods of practising specific exercises (such as chi gung or nei gung) and breathing. In general the characteristics internal martial arts are relaxation, precision in alignment, open hand techniques, and a degree of introspective meditation or self hypnosis that focuses on control of both the external and internal parts the body with the mind. In internal martial arts the aim is total integration of body and mind. Usually such martial arts are connected with a philosophical school that concentrates on this integration, such as Taoism or Zen. 

In general, developing internal power takes far more practice, and takes far longer to achieve than external power. But then again, it seems to last. As old Karate men loose flexibility and develop arthritis, old Tai Chi masters seem to become stronger. It is no accident that internal martial arts are generally connected with health. 

There is a continuum from external to internal martial arts, with Karate (and other variations of northern Shaolin) at one end, and essence of being at the other. In between, towards the external end one may find Jiu Jutsu and Aikido, and towards the internal end Tai chi and Ba Gua. All martial arts fuse both of these elements and emphasise them to different of degrees. We are very lucky in Jiu Jutsu in that we have a choice of where we place our emphasis. 

Where does Jiu Jutsu fit into the scheme of things?

Jiu Jitsu is clearly external in intention yet it has a spiritual and technical dimension that centers around the use of Ki, alignment and the notion of Ju (Gentleness). In its purest aiki form, jiu jutsu is about harmonising with your opponent in such a way that you begin to know what her movements are before she does them, and can redirect her force away from yourself and away from her in order to defeat her without fighting. Good jiu jutsu is done when you are relaxed, when you are unhindered by the tensions in you r muscles and the awkward movements of your clumsy limbs. If you can move beyond the physical aspects of your technique and use your will and your mind to direct your body in a relaxed and harmonising way then you are beginning to do Jiu Jutsu as an internal martial art. 

Each technique has three aspects. The first is the physical, the external. In this aspect you learn to move your body and limbs in order to execute the technique. The second is the natural. In this aspect the physical is so well known that it happens almost on autopilot. The third is the internal, in which the technique starts first from deep inside and is manifested externally. There is actually a fourth aspect, which is rarely achieved and hence is much harder to define, this is the spiritual aspect. In the spiritual, one goes beyond the external and internal aspects of the technique, indeed of the whole art, to a conjoining of the two in a coherent whole. In this aspect you go beyond the self to a greater awareness of the universal consciousness, to become a bridge between this spiritual universe and the world in which we live. To achieve this level, both mental and energy blockages must be cleared, this is done through spiritual introspection. 

Within KYR there are numerous opportunities to develop the power of your mind over your body, to begin to fuse the two into a single whole. Take them, internalise, know yourself and know that you can be more relaxed and that you can allow your mind to direct your body. Stop concentrating on movement or technique, and just do. Then you will really feel the benefit. If you wish, you can begin meditation as a way of starting to gain control of your body with your mind, and there are other possibilities such as self-hypnosis, chi gung or tai chi. The first step is to step outside of yourself and let your limbs be directed by your mind, the second is to work on your breathing and the third is to relax, totally. Then you need only have confidence in your ability to function in this way. 

Jiu Jutsu can be both an internal and an external martial art, separately or together. You are in a unique position to make a choice as to which way you want to take it. . The path towards external power brings quick results and short term gains. The path towards internal power is far longer yet I believe of greater value, in terms of health, martial effectiveness and self. The choice is yours. 


Shidoshi Adam Vile

Further reading 

Frantzis, B. K., (1998). The Power Of Internal Martial Arts. Clarity press.



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