Why I practice Internal Martial Arts

So I have been investing quite a lot of years into my Yi Quan practice. From a self-reflective perspective regarding my character I do not consider myself the same “person” as I was when I started this practice. Back then I wanted a martial art that seemed similar to Bruce Lee´s Jeet Kune Do and yes, Yi Quan seemed similar at that time…at least in regard to principles. I was a frustrated Karate practitioner and looked for something deeper and something which offered more freedom. The first two-day seminar I visited blew me away, the teacher talked about many health principles that reasoned with me and seemed to possess usual skill in an exercise called Pushing Hands. I was not able to move him but he was able to move me without much effort. I was so impressed that I decided to move to the city where he lived, enrolled at university and started to learn from him privately. After a few years I realized that my perspective and experiences did not match those of the group, so I strayed away from them. I had my ups and downs, but the art of Yi Quan had become a part of me and, to this day, I still practice it privately. Like I said, what impressed me most was the unique health perspective and the unusual power. I truly believed that the practice of Internal Martial Arts was superior to anything else regarding health practices and once I would have acquired this unusual power, I could also prove how good this art would fare in fighting.

Well, nowadays I do not believe that the Internal Martial Arts are necessarily the best option for fighting. They are too stylized and the skill set is often too limited. This unusual power is simply a coordination skill. It is based on postural stability. You learn how to effectively use your own mass without sacrificing your stability to affect and disturb your opponent’s stability. If one comes across someone who has developed this skill sophistically, it will feel as if you simply cannot keep your balance. The problem is that this skill is very difficult to apply in more alive situations. The number of people who are really able to apply that skill in fighting – or even in just sparring sessions – is very limited, even among the so called high-level teachers. Unfortunately I have not met one (yet). So if you are not truly interested in developing this particular skill, it may not be worth the time.

As the Internal Arts are based (or at least linked) to Daoist principles, they are low impact and therefore offer an exercise approach that is beneficial for health with little risk for injuries – even for people who may not be able to practice more strenuous exercises. But when thinking about what constitutes good health, it becomes more complex. To me ´health` includes aspects as body composition (muscle to fat ratio), bone status, flexibility and mobility, and the status of the cardiovascular system. Internal Arts have little to no value for improving body composition if you already have a moderate BMI and have not been completely inactive for a while. Body composition is improved by increasing your fat free mass; this can only be achieved by any form of resistance training where your muscles are stimulated enough to grow (i.e. super compensation and hypertrophy). Resistance training also improves bone health. Purely Internal Martial Arts training does not offer this. As flexibility and mobility is a necessity for any martial arts practice there is no problem here. There is some form of light training for the cardiovascular system, but it may offer less improvement than other endurance activities. While some aspects of health can be trained with Internal Martial Arts, I think it will always be behind regular separated health practices (in terms of effects), e.g. running or biking for cardiovascular health, tension exercises or weight lifting for strength.

Thus my own Yi Quan practice is only focused on the ability to affect and disturb my opponent’s structure with my own mass. This includes solo as well as partner exercises, in which I can test how good my ability to control my own mass and stability is, and how much effect it has on the opponent’s centre of gravity. While this skill is somewhat important to me, I believe it is much more important as a feedback for my solo practice. Any mistake I will find in the partner practice gives me food for thought. It is a pointer to go back to the drawing board. Any Yi Quan solo practice is the attempt to focus my attention on my body and my mind, trying to harmonize my mind´s intention with my body´s movement; a break from the usual modus of being, where I am either busy with things or simply chilling mindlessly. To me it is a meditative form of body work, which gives me the possibility to explore and develop my state of mind and body simultaneously. I believe Martial Arts and Internal Martial Arts especially, instead of combats sports, offer us a way of coping with our human existence. It is more than simply learning to fight.

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