Learning Internals

We start from the outside and move within when we begin practicing any of the internal martial arts.  We learn angles, stepping, and weight shifting.  After we have these basics, we learn what tiger’s mouth is in our hand and arm structure as well as the bubbling spring and alignment of our weight.  Over time these things become more natural leaving us to experience what’s happening when we have proper alignment and skeletal structure.  These externals allow us how the movement feels inside.  With guidance the internal feelings are expanded and verified via feedback from the groups we practice with or an instructor.  This tuning into the internals is where the internal martial art begins.

With this said, I must share a cautionary note.  There are many people who have an innate ability to feel things more than others.  Often these are the folks drawn to the internal martial arts in the first place.  Within the beginning class, they share how they can feel the movement inside.  The caution is this, that feeling is ephemeral and changes as the fundamentals of the form have not taken root.  It is extremely important to ground ourselves in the fundamentals of our arts before we start exploring the internal “feels.”

The angles, stepping and weight shifting come first.  The mechanics of the form is critical.  With the foundation in place, we can then place the girders of bubbling springs and tiger’s mouth.  we can then start erecting the walls and ceilings of turning, extension, contraction and lateral movement of the spine after we have the skeletal structure in place on top of our foundation. This external home is where we can then start exploring the internal nature of our forms.  This process can take anywhere between 7 and 20 years depending on the individual and some don’t ever get there.  Being in a class for a couple of months and feeling internals is like walking through a model home.  It’s not until you put forth the resources including time and energy in building the home can one start to live there.

It’s of utmost importance to revisit the foundations If we lessen our practice for whatever reason life brings us.  When new instruction comes our way it is up to us to understand how it fits into our home and if it’s appropriate to integrate where ever we may be in our development.  Hopefully our guidance and new instructions come from individuals who have a deep understanding of our form and its many different applications.

I once had the chance to work with Master Moy and Dr. Elliot Kravitz who watched an individual perform some Dan-yus for roughly ten minutes in front of a group of instructors.  Elliot asked the group what instructions we would give.  There were various answers.  After feedback was collected, Elliot said, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”  He went on to say the person was moving appropriately and not damaging anything.  Sometimes we simply need to practice a while before we move on to other levels in our forms.

Beginning the Journey of Mastery

Borrowing a thought from Bruce Lee in his book, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, relaxing is the first step towards acquiring a skill involving movement.  This relaxation is something to find in the movements of the martial arts we practice.  Depending on your connection with your body, this sense of relaxing with the movements and forms may take seconds or years.  Sometimes we can find our connections rapidly or it may simply take years of practice to elicit the sensation of relaxation for a particular movement or movement within the form.

The second step is to practice the feeling until it can be reproduced at will.  Master Moy often said we have to practice a correction 100 times before we can understand it or show it to others.  I don’t think the number of times matters so much as the repetition until we can readily produce the movement.

Over time our practice leads to the third step of producing the feeling voluntarily in potentially tension-creating situations.  We gain neuromuscular skill when we have acquired relaxation, reproduced the feeling and then use that feeling outside of the practice or form.  This is where we begin taking martial arts to heart and is true of neuromuscular conditioning or connecting to the internals.  When we use our skills in everyday situation, we begin the journey of mastering of ourselves.

A master is nothing more than someone who has acquired, practiced and applied the forms both internally or externally in their lives.  When a master is gracious enough to share some of the wisdom, we all benefit.