The Nei Kung
An overview and explanation for the Internal stylist.
There are many rivers that flow to the sea and each one follows its own course yet still in keeping with the principals of how water flows within nature. The Nei Kung is no different; it to has many levels and paths to its 'ocean of energy' also working within the framework nature has set out. The purpose of this article is to try to demystify the Nei Kung, a.k.a Chi Kung or Qi Gong. It is not my intention to reveal secrets of this art but to point out its direction regardless of which method one uses.
In recent years the more common term Chi Kung (meaning; air/energy work) has been replaced with the more correct term Nei Kung (meaning; internal work). Although it is true to say that this is more correct, it is not the words that make the art but the actions, it becomes a question of semantics if we concern ourselves with this rather than what pertains to the exercises in question.
The Nei Kung is a technology for the development of internal energy for both health and martial application. Using standing postures and moving sequences of postures, this esoteric art (specialist knowledge) is of great importance, often hidden within the Internal arts. It is due to the secretive nature of the martial arts in general that this, among other things, has been kept for a select few or taught partially, and sometimes incorrectly, for a long time. (e.g. like teaching someone to drive in a car that has no engine.) Often there is little help for the beginner in discovering what is and is not real. We are left to the mercies of the martial arts press and the integrity of our teachers. However because so little information is available in order that we can verify what we are taught, read or hear, it is hard to condemn those that may not have received a full transmission of the Internal teachings through no fault of their own.
The Nei Kung is self-secret by its own nature, as are so much of the Internal arts, self-secret because by verbal explanation alone the art remains unobtainable. It would serve no purpose to discuss the experiences on the pathway of the Nei Kung, as it would merely inhibit anyone wishing to walk that path. This is because it is so easy for the student, trying to proceed along the path of Nei Kung, to have imaginary breakthroughs and experiences. Internal work is like trying to navigate through a country which one has never visited before and for which there is no map available. It is natural for people to imagine experiences they have been told about and it is important that the teacher leads from behind in the sense that they only give advice based on the reported experiences of their students. In this way the teacher can be sure that what the student reports is based on genuine experience and not imagination.
This is also true with the plethora of Tai Chi and Qi Kung books available in the shops. Those that are really good have to be written in such a way as to not divulge important information (a good example of this would be "The way of energy" by Master Lam Kam Chuen). Those that do give such information away do so at the risk of spoiling a students progression by informing them of training aspects they are not yet ready to do.
Nei Kung training fundamentally focuses on three areas; acquiring or building energy, largely static breathing exercises; circulating energy or clearing the circulation paths, largely moving breathing exercises; and techniques designed to increase the practitioner's perception of their own energy and circulation, largely awareness training and mental exercises. All three areas work together and the benefits of each are integrated to accomplish the desired result.
The Pa Tuan Chin/ Ba Duan Jin, also known as "the Eight pieces of Brocade" or "the Eight Silk Force" is primarily an exercise for clearing the channels and circulating energy within the body. The Pa Tuan Chin could quite reasonably be described as Chi Kung as it is both air and energy work. The Pa Tuan Chin increases ones health by clearing meridians and balancing organs, it is a very useful and effective group of exercises which can be employed within the Nei Kung in order that progression is maintained without any detrimental effects on the student. There are of course many other exercises designed to take care of this side of Nei Kung practice.
The development of Internal energy is beneficial for health as well as for the martial aspects of Tai Chi. However Internal energy is not essential to make the internal arts effective, certainly anyone having attained the level of Sung Chin (relaxed force) will be adequately effective. The Nei Kung is a system of knowledge that was discovered many years ago and it has been developing ever since, probably the last great discovery with the Nei Kung was the development of Zhan Zhuang (a.k.a. Dachengchuan) by Wang Xiang Zhai in the mid 20th century. (Unless, of course, there have been other developments made which have been kept a secret by the person/s who have discovered them, something that is entirely possible).
Still there are many kinds of Nei Kung and it would be misleading to imply that there is only one method or path to internal energy. Just as many schools of martial arts have their own recipe for Dit Da Jow (Iron Palm Medicine), the internal schools tend to have varying forms of Nei Kung, similar yet different. All these variations must still follow the principals of internal work for them to be truly Nei Kung/Chi kung. Despite this "not all roads lead to Rome" and not all breathing exercises described as Nei Kung or Chi Kung are suitable for martial arts usage (some have dubious health benefits as well). Likewise it is inadvisable to try to develop your own techniques in the Nei Kung without reaching a level that no longer requires a teacher, as problems may result.
Even the Chinese government recognised the many differing kinds of Nei Kung and the importance of retaining such knowledge, whether it was a martial or health related exercise, and collected all the available information on Wu shu and Qi Gong lore:
Madam Wang Yan, now living in the Netherlands, was "chosen to compile and edit all the Wu Shu and Qi Gong lore collected in Jiang Su Province". ref "Wang Yan, a biographical sketch". In order not to lose this esoteric knowledge. As it was traditional to teach the male children but with the one child policy without a male heir the knowledge could be lost. [It is unknown to the author at this time whether or not the Chi Kung collected was of a health or martial nature, although it was probably both.] Madam Wang Yan is a well-known Tai Chi and Qi Gong instructor and therapist, having studied under many well-known and respected Masters.
You begin with basic postures or movements and follow the direction of your Sifu. From there the training becomes much more personal and is on a one to one basis between yourself and your Sifu. Your progression is down to you, a teacher merely shows you what to do and how to do it, then points you in the right direction and keeps you on the right road, preventing you from wandering off and becoming distracted. Through the many different levels you becomes more acquainted with the understanding of what is Internal energy and of what can be achieved with it.
As you build Internal energy landmark achievements occur which enable the student to accomplish certain things. At first things are simple and require little understanding or effort by the student, merely allowing the energy to do its thing and trusting it to do so.
Eventually the student learns to recognise the feeling of Internal energy and trust it. In time other demonstrative attainments are realised and with this progression, providing that the student is being taught the martial aspects of the art, the student begins to attain martial ability. The use of Internal energy to protect ones-self is called "Iron Shirt Nei Kung" and a typical demonstration of this ability is to have a person around ten or twelve stone jump onto ones abdomen from approximately five feet. This level of development is useful in protecting the body whilst in combat.
Further on from this a student can learn to use their energy to far greater levels within the extremities of the body. The use of Internal energy for striking in combat is contested by some, nonetheless, the development of the Chan Ssu Chin (silk reeling force) and the development of Iron Palm demonstrably offers the practitioner this ability, though it takes many years of training and lots of hard work. Sifu Peter Young (Yeung LoonFong) displays the attainment of Chan Ssu Chin very well and has done so in many of his demonstrations at the Chinese Internal Arts Festivals that he has hosted in Newcastle. My own teacher, Sifu Rand, demonstrated the use of Iron Palm at one of Sifu Young's festivals by slicing a granite pebble, approximately 6 inches long by 2 inches wide by an inch and a half thick, in two with his palm, I still keep the two halves as a souvenir.
For anyone observing an Internal strike on an opponent there is little to see. In fact it could look as though the one being struck is faking a painful blow, as the attacker appears to have put little effort into their strike and the result often looks out of proportion with the perceived effort. But believe me, that is not how it feels to be on the receiving end! It would appear that with Internal energy extraordinary feats are possible yet some of these feats can be mimicked by external stylists, e.g. using Internal power it is possible to break a brick but how often have we seen Kung fu or Karate exponents break bricks? It is not what is done, for the most part, but how it is done that is important. When an external stylist breaks a brick, there is an obvious use of force. When an internal stylist breaks a brick there is a use of force but it appears so much easier, as though it broke without real effort.
And this is true for all the techniques and displays of internal energy. In demonstrations the Tai Chi techniques of "Chi"(press) and "An" (push) are often displayed with one or a number of people standing in a line being pushed or propelled some distance across a room. This is only used as a demonstration because it is considered impolite to injure people or students who have kindly stepped up to aid your display. In combat you would not send anyone to far away from you because then you lose control of the situation, far better to drop him or her on the spot. [It must be remembered too that demonstrations are displays of skill outside of normal use to exemplify and inspire, just as in films flamboyant technique is used instead of less showy but more effective technique].
To end with, and despite the controversy and various claims within the Internal arts world in general, the Nei Kung is a very real and useful manifestation of what can be done by developing the body's internal power. Though it is not essential for the effectiveness of Tai Chi Chuan technique it does complete the art. If you are learning the Nei Kung then perhaps you should consider the words of Lao Tzu,
alone and unchanging, One can observe every mystery, Present at
every moment and ceaselessly continuing - This is the gateway
to indescribable marvels."
Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching.
Sifu Donald Kerr L.S.O.M