What is Neijia Quan?

Neijia Quan – Chinese Internal Arts

Although Neijia Quan (Internal Fist) was developed as a discrete martial art (as described by Haung Baijia in “Neijia Quan” c. 1676), the name Neijia is now usually used as a generic description for such arts as Taiji Quan (Tai Chi Ch’uan), Bagua Quan (Pakua Ch’uan) and Xingyi Quan (Hsing I Ch’uan). This “modern” identification can be traced back to 1892 when some of the, then, masters of these Internal styles met in Peking and decided to bring them together as one family, using Neijia Quan to describe the three arts. This distinction was strengthened in the 1920’s when Sun Lutang differentiated between Neijia and Waijia (lit, internal sect and external sect). However, there are other Chinese martial arts that lay claim to being neijia either totally, or in part (using a blend of internal and external application and training).

Neijia Quan - bagua

China has produced a myriad of martial arts and styles (some of these are “family” styles that are hidden treasures, still to be discovered by the West). The commonly used generalisation states that the Internal arts originated on Wudang mountain and are linked to Taoism and the Taoist sages/monks, and that the External arts originated at the Shaolin Monastery, being linked to Buddhism. However, where the External styles can be traced back to Shaolin, there is only myth with very sparse evidence that the Internal arts came solely from Wudang. It is more likely that, just as in the case of the External arts, development of styles came as teachers integrated their own ideas and methods with each generation.




External and Internal sects

Two “sects”, External/Internal, each with similar movements……….so how do you identify neijia? Thankfully, Sun Lutang has made this task relatively easy:

  • Neijia Quan stresses the use the of the Yi (mind) to coordinate movement, leverage and structure while keeping the muscles relaxed rather than using Li (strength) alone. It is said that the Yi guides the Qi and that a state of Sung should be maintained.
  • Neijia Quan utilises the internal development, circulation, and expression of Qi.
  • In Neijia Quan, the practice and application of Dao Yin, Qigong, and Neigong is used to enhance the practitioner’s Qi and their ability to “listen” to the Qi.

neijia quan - taijiWithin Neijia Quan, rather than using strength (Li), the emphasis is on lifting the spirit (Shen) and using the Yi (cognitive, reasoning mind) to guide the Qi, producing Jing. The training method of push-hands that is used within Neijia is often underestimated, or completely misunderstood, by outside observers (including martial artists who practice the external arts). These exercises teach the practitioner, through experience of contact with an opponent, how to remain relaxed, sensitive, and alert (sung) while having the ability to generate Jing.

Another misconception is that, as Neijia promotes the use of Yi & Qi rather than strength, the “softness” of the art produces physical weakness in the artist. In Neijia schools, in general, you will not see press-ups, squats, etc. being used as part of the training regime. What you will see is the use of Qigong, both passive and active) and push-hands exercises that not only strengthen and promote the flow of Qi, but also strengthen the body while maintaining flexibility.

Slowness is also another aspect of some Neijia training. For example, the Taiji forms are practiced slowly (with the exception of the explosive movements when Fa Jing is being used) with intense precision. External arts also have “forms” within their training regimes but they are usually practiced at a much faster pace………. it is much harder to hide/miss errors when the movements are slow. From the slow comes the fast. The body learns it’s root, it’s limitations, the exactness of each movement and when the movement is accelerated the precision remains.

Neijia/Waijia, Internal/External……………..sometimes described as Soft/hard. This Soft/Hard description is very misleading as within both Neijia and Waijia there are soft and hard aspects. It is possible that Neijia was given the “Soft” tag because the applications are done without undue strength and appear effortless. Taiji Quan is often described as steel wrapped in cotton…………looks soft enough on the outside but beware of the sharp steel within. Clouds are soft………….clouds produce lightening! Xingyi Quan is observed as being hard on the outside but the power is generated from “softness” on the inside.

The combat methodology used within Neijia is that you should be in a state of Sung, being relaxed, alert, centred and rooted. In this state you can afford to be patient and await your opponent’s move. As they attack, you adapt to their move with spontaneity (never attempting to anticipate or analyse) leading them to a vulnerable position and counter-attacking. Evading, controlling, and defeating. As they change, you change spontaneously. In training with a partner it is often observed that the same attack can be met with the same initial defence, over and over, but the outcome varies with each merging. This is because no two attacks are actually identical (with slight differences in speed, angle of attack, balance, etc.) and even if the same defence is used the outcome will be changed.

As stated, Neijia Quan was a discrete art. It was taught during the Ming to the Qi dynasties but as an art it appears to have died out (possibly due to the fact that the waijia arts were more popular and quicker to achieve martial prowess – in an age of warring, speed of training was essential). There are still some teachers who claim to be teaching the original skills of Neijia Quan, even though lineage is impossible to prove. However, the methodology does live on through the arts of Taiji Quan, Bagua Quan and Xingyi Quan.