On Internal Strength
And Internal/External Martial Arts

By Peter Lim Tian Tek

In Chinese martial arts strength and power is divided into two distinct groups: External and Internal. This should be distinguished from the other division in martial arts which divides them into Internal and External martial arts. This second definition divides the martial arts according to their approach to combat whilst the first distinguishes the method by which strength and power is utilised and generated. The two definitions are related but one does not determine the other.

The common Chinese term to refer to strength is Jing or Li, in common usage both terms are interchangeable. It was only more recently that the word Jing was used to distinguish a refined focused, efficient strength as opposed to Li which is used to denote brute strength. This understanding of the terms is only in the context of martial arts, the common usage of these two terms remains interchangeable.


Jing, as referred to in Chinese martial arts, is a coordinated, rooted, efficiently focused strength. A clear definition of this kind of strength is found in Li I Yu's Five Word Formula. At this point, Jing still has not been defined into Internal or External types. This definition of Jing applies both to Internal and External types of martial arts.

There are several pre-requisites for the proper generation of Jing. They are:


For strength to be properly generated, it needs to have a base to provide the resistance to form a base for it to push against. The emphasis on pile standing in many martial arts is to build up this base by lowering the centre of gravity of the body to enhance stability and the efficient transfer of force from the centre of gravity to the ground. This means that the centre of gravity should first be identified by the practitioner and isolated so that it can be distinguished clearly. The stress is on strong support with the minimum of effort utilising the efficient structure. Lowering the qi to the Dan Tien which roughly corresponds to the body's centre of mass helps achieve this.


The different joints and muscles in the body must be coordinated to work together to produced a strength born of the whole body working efficiently together. When antagonistic groups of muscles do not work in a coordinated fashion, tension is created which lessens the resultant force. The coordination is also with breathing which affects the state of the body. Coordination using the centre of mass as a base which is supported by efficient structure allows an efficient path for strength to flow. Hence the importance of the Dan Tien not only as a origin point of the root and the exertion of strength but also as a region where qi is stored and emitted from.


The proper alignment of the bones in the body provides the structure by which the force is transmitted and provides a clear path for strength to flow from the point of focus to the ground. With the bones efficiently bearing the stress of the reaction force, the musculature can work efficiently without unnecessary exertion.


The above three characteristics are dependent on the focus of the strength which determines its efficiency. Focus denotes a point where all the body's potential is directed at and also to the task to be accomplished by the resultant force.

With the above four factors in place, one is capable of generating Jing which means that one can properly Fa-Jing or emit Jing. Fa-Jing is present in both internal and external martial arts and simply denotes an emission of strength. It should be noted that in Taiiquan, the aim is not great strength but beating a great force with a smaller one. The ability to Fa-Jing does not denote ability in Taijiquan or other martial arts since no art is based on Fa-Jing alone. Knowing when and where to appropriately Fa-Jing is far more important. Fa-Jing inappropriately can be disastrous.

External Jing

External Jing is where the Jing is derived from the three external elements of musculature (jin), bones (gu) and skin (pi). This kind of jing is delivered through the exertion of the muscles, hardness of the bones and the toughness of the skin. It relies on hard physical impact and physical exertion to bring its effects to bear.

Internal Jing

Internal Jing is where Jing is derived from the three internal elements of essence (jing), vital energy (qi), and spirit (shen). This kind of jing is effected through the strengthening of the essence to provide the generation of qi which nourishes both the musculature, bones, organs and the mind which is the seat of the spirit.

The body's essence (jing) is built up to ensure a plenteous supply, this is transformed into qi which nourishes and provides the vitality to the musculature, bones, organs and also the mind. Qi in traditional Chinese medicinal theory is the basis of life in the body and its presence and relative volume determines the health and vitality of the body. Qi itself is directed by the Mind/Spirit which is itself dependent on qi for its mental capability.

The Spirit is an expression of the thought, knowledge, feelings and intent (mental focus) of the mind. A strong spirit makes for clear thought, enhanced perception, better intent (Yi) which are assets to all situations, including martial ones. Intent brings about the physiological changes which opens the blood and qi flow along the path and at the point of focus. Hence the theory the mind leads and the blood and qi follows.

With increase circulation and qi flow, the musculature attains better tonus which results in the 'filled' feeling that is experienced by those who do some form of internal work (nei gong). It is this increased tonus and tenacity that serves as the origin of Internal Jing. It gives Internal Jing its 'propelled' and 'hydraulic' characteristics. This increase qi flow is directed by the mind which results in the creation of Internal Jing. The musculature remains relaxed with no undue tension.

Internal Jing transfers the strength smoothly into the opponent, not relying on hard impact to damage. This transfer of energy/force into the opponent's body and structure can cause injuries that are not obvious externally.

Visible Jing

Visible Jing is also called Ming Jing. It denotes Jing (internal or external) that is obviously visible when it is utilised. The motion of the limbs and the point of focus is exhibited physically. One can also discern if the jing is hard (ying jing or gang jing) or soft (rou jing).

Hidden Jing

The opposite of Visible Jing is Hidden Jing which is also called An Jing. Whereas Visible Jing is easily observed, Hidden Jing is hard to discern. It is based on the internal flow of strength within the body rather than the external manifestation. Like the flow of air inside a beach ball, it is certainly present but it is not obvious when observing it externally yet it provides a reaction upon contact. Contact with someone using Hidden Jing often shows that his external movements may not correspond to his internal flow of strength and its focus.

Hard Jing

This is jing manifested rigidly to the point of focus. Its path is fixed and exhibits hardness and stiff resistance.

Soft Jing

This is jing which has a pliable path which shifts to to accommodate changes in the structure which is in contact without losing the point of focus.

External Martial Arts And Internal Martial Arts

Does it mean that a martial art that uses Internal Jing is automatically classified as an internal martial art? Or that a martial art that uses External Jing is automatically an External martial art? It does not. The distinction between the two classes of martial arts has historically always been rather arbitrary but in general its classification is based on the art's approaches to combat.

The earliest distinction between the two is recorded in the 'Inscription For Wang Zhen Nan" (written in the early Qing Dynasty <1644-1911>) where the Shaolin school of martial arts was called the External system because of its techniques focus on attacking the opponent. The Wudang school of martial arts founded by Chang San Feng is called the Internal school because it overcomes its opponents by neutralising his force instantaneously in a tranquil manner.

Later, schools which attribute their origin to the Shaolin school were generally classified as External martial arts and those who are said to have their origins in the Wudang school were generally classified as Internal martial arts. Also, those whose characteristics matched the above description for the External system and emphasized physical exertion were also classified under the External system and those whose characteristics corresponded with the above description of the Internal system and stressed relaxed tranquillity were classified under the Internal system. These are broad classifications, it does not mean that within schools considered in general as external there are no internal elements or vice versa.

Martial arts classified under the external system sometimes also have Internal Jing training and vice versa so classifying them by their Jing usage is inappropriate.

Jing Nomenclature

Now that we have defined what is Jing and its basic types. It can be noted that the characteristics of the Jing and its usage determine its name. This has resulted in myriad different definitions of an arbitrary nature. There is no standard system that is used across the board to all martial arts.

For example, Lu Jing (Rollback Jing) is so named because it is the primary type of Jing used in the technique of Rollback. It is considered a Internal Jing because of its mode of generation and also a Hidden Jing at higher levels of accomplishment where its application is not physically obvious.

In the above example it can also be seen that the term Lu can refer to both the technique and the Jing usage in the technique so one must be careful when using such terms and distinguish between the technique and the Jing.

The Importance Of Breathing

In all internal practices, correct breathing is of paramount importance. It ensures that the body receives an adequate supply of oxygen and sufficient ventilation of carbon dioxide created during respiration. This creates an internal body environment that is suitable for training the mind which takes up much of the oxygen in the body. Deep breathing also massages the internal organs, ensuring that there is smooth flow of blood and lymph through them, this aids in the creation of essence (Jing).

Breath itself is intricately tied to the exertion of strength. The body exhales when exerting strength, bringing into play the musculature in the torso in its exertion, allowing the full body to be used.

Some Practices Used To Train Internal Strength

Standing (Zhan Zhuang)

Standing is a fundamental practice in both internal and external martial arts and is an excellent way to build up the pre-requisites of Jing generation. Still standing allows the practitioner to adjust his body so that the centre of mass and hence the weight of the body is efficiently transferred to the ground. This forms the root and so the base for techniques to act from. It allows the body to relax and find its most efficient structure. This adjustments occur within the body and are not always visible externally.

Stillness is condusive to relaxation and the removal of tension to allow musculature to work in a coordinated fashion. It also allows the mind to be still and to train a relaxed focus without mental distractions, the relaxed body with efficient structure also frees the mind from bodily discomfort which can interfere with its efficient function. Breathing is trained to be smooth, efficient and with increased capacity through a relaxed body rather than one in physical tension which can constrict the torso, decreasing capacity and costing more in terms of energy consumption and increase muscular fatigue. This relaxed breathing is carried on into the moving postures of Taijiquan. A relaxed body without tension is also condusive to good circulation as there is no tension to restrict blood flow.

Some standing practices also focus the mind on the flow of qi in the meridians, leading first along the main loop in the body formed by the Ren and Du meridians. This is called the small microcosmic orbit (xiao zhou tian). Later it is extended to the limbs forming what is called the large microcosmic orbit (da zhou tian). There are many types of postures which can be assumed during standing practice, each school usually has its own preferred practice. These postures allow the focus of the mind to bring about the proper jing flow and path in them.

Still sitting (Jing Zuo) is akin to this and shares the same principles except that one is not standing. Still lying is similar except that a horizontal posture is taken.

Moving Exercises (Dong Gong/Xing Gong)

These have the same principles as standing except that instead of still standing, the body is in motion but without losing any of the requirements of the standing. Taijiquan's boxing set is an example of such moving internal strength exercises. These can be trained on their own but full benefit is derived from first attaining the necessary attributes from still standing and then transferring them into moving exercises as it is much easier to cultivate them in standing.

The physical movements themselves can help increase the flow of qi in the body by the points of focus in the movement. Stretching the musculature also brings about increase qi and blood flow. It can also help in training efficient focus which aids in the proper generation of Jing within a moving posture.

A Proper Understanding Of The Term Peng And Its Relation To Tajiquan And Martial Arts

There is a current movement that uses the term Peng to denote Jing and who regard Peng Jing as the core Jing in internal martial arts. This emphasis on Peng Jing did not come into being until the 1963 work by Gu Liu Xin and Shen Jia Ren on Chen style Taijiquan. This emphasis is absent from all works on Taijiquan and internal martial arts prior to that and so it is a new innovation and not a traditional one.

Traditionally, in Chen Taijiquan, Chan Si Jing (silk coiling jing) was considered the Internal Jing in Chen style Taijiquan. The Yang related lineages placed emphasis on correct Jing generation and the usage of the 8 Jings which were in the basic 8 postures of Peng (ward off), Lu (rollback), Ji (press), An (push), Cai (pluck), Lieh (split), Chou (elbow), Kao (shoulder).

Peng Jing in the Yang related lineages refers to a expansive, blending, upward and outward moving type of Jing. The Peng that this movement refers to is actually just simple Jing which has the four pre-requisites. This wrong usage of the term leads to wrong interpretation of the classic writings and the words of the masters. This changes the art and should be curbed.

The Peng Jing used by this movement uses the resistance of a incoming force by alignment to the floor which is at variance with what Master Mah Yueh Liang says should be the correct application of Peng in which one should never hold up against a person's force. This is in line with the Taijiquan Classics which says one should not resist nor should one let go. Their test does show proper body alignment in which the path of the strength goes from the floor to the point of focus but it is certainly not the classical definition or understanding of Peng. It is also present in other martial arts but is certainly not called by that name. The misconception stems from the use of the Peng posture to show rooting by resisting the push of several men. This is not the correct way to use the posture though it does show good rooting.

It should be noted that the understanding of Peng by the Chinese differs from that which is currently expounded by some in the West as can be seen in the above example. So in interpreting the words of masters from China and the East, it is important to take that into account.

Peng Jing is distinctively Taijiquan and it is not a term present or can be correctly applied to other forms of internal martial arts. Though the term Jing applies across the board since it does not denote technique but simply the efficient application of strength. Each of these internal martial arts has its own characteristics and theories which make it distinct from each other. The insertion of Taijiquan theories and terms into their terminology assumes that these internal arts are all the same which is not the case. Whilst they may share some common characteristics, their expression of the is distinctly unique. That is why they are separate arts and not one and the same one.

All comments are most welcome.

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