Internal martial arts -External martial arts – What’s the difference ?

What are the traditional differences between internal martial arts and external martial arts ?

Soft verses hard Yin verses yang

tai chi yymbol

Tai Chi symbol

There are many internal martial arts but there are three that are most commom, they are Tai Chi, Bagua, and Hising i. So what makes these arts internal and not external and who decided that these arts were internal and not external.

When tracing tai chi chuan’s formative influences to Taoist and Buddhist monasteries, there seems little more to go on than legendary tales from a modern historical perspective, but tai chi chuan’s practical connection to and dependence upon the theories of Sung Dynasty Neo Confucianism (a conscious synthesis of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian traditions, especially the teachings of Mencius) is claimed by some traditional schools. T’ai chi chuan’s theories and practice are believed by these schools to have been formulated by the Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng in the 12th century, at about the same time that the principles of the Neo-Confucian school were making themselves felt in Chinese intellectual life. However, modern research casts serious doubts on the validity of those claims, pointing out that a 17th-century piece called “Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan” (1669), composed by Huang Zongxi (1610–1695 A.D.), is the earliest reference indicating any connection between Zhang Sanfeng and martial arts whatsoever, and must not be taken literally but must be understood as a political metaphor instead. Claims of connections between tai chi chuan and Zhang Sanfeng appeared no earlier than the 19th century.

History records that Yang Luchan trained with the Chen family for 18 years before he started to teach the art in Beijing, which strongly suggests that his art was based on, or heavily influenced by, the Chen family art. The Chen family are able to trace the development of their art back to Chen Wanting in the 17th century.


Here is an example of a Chen Tai Chi form performed by the current Gatekeeper of Chen Tai Chi Chen Xiawang who is a direct descendent of the founder of Chen Tai Chi

Chen Wan ting


 Bagua is classed as a soft or internal art because it shares the same principals as tai chi and hsing yi but what are these principals ?

Here is a definition of bagua

The creation of Baguazhang, as a formalised martial art, is attributed to Dong Haichuan who is said to have learned from Taoist and Buddhist masters in the mountains of rural CHina during the early 19th century. It must be noted that many Chinese authorities do not accept the Buddhist origin, instead maintaining that those teachers were purely Taoist in origin, in fact they were Taoist priests, the evidence lying in Baguazhang’s frequent reference to core concepts central to Taoism, such as Yin and Yang theory, I Ching and Taoism’s most unique paradigm, the Bagua diagram. The attribution to Buddhist teachers came from the 2nd generation teachers i.e. Dong Haichuan’s students, some of whom were Buddhist. There is evidence to suggest a synthesis of several pre-existing martial arts taught and practised in the region in which Dong Haichuan lived, combined with Taoist circle walking. Because of his work as a servant in the Imperial Palace he impressed the emperor with his graceful movements and fighting skill, and became an instructor and a bodyguard to the court. Dong Haichuan taught for many years in Beijing, eventually earning patronage by the Imperial court.

Don haichuan

Dong Haichuan  Founder of Bagua

Some old footage of Bagua practitioners

Hsing yi is another internal art of China

Xing Yi is characterized by aggressive, seemingly linear movements and explosive power that’s most often applied from a short range. A practitioner of Xing Yi uses coordinated movements to generate bursts of power intended to overwhelm the opponent, simultaneously attacking and defending. Methods vary from school to school, but always include bare-handed fighting training (mostly in single movements/combinations and sometimes in forms) and the training of weapons usage with similar or identical body mechanics to that used for bare-handed fighting. The most basic notions of movement and body mechanics in the art were heavily influenced by the practice of staffs and spears. Historically and technically related martial arts include He Quan, Liu He Xin Yi Quan or Yi Quan.


Yue fei is said to be the founder of Hsing Yi

Here is a example of Hsing Yi




Karate is classed as an external art which is practiced all over the world

There are many styles of karate.


In 1750, Sakukawa (or Sakugawa) began his training as a student of a Ryūkyūan monk, Piechin Takahara. After six years of training, Takahara suggested that Sakugawa train under Kusanku, a Chinese master in Chuan fa Sakukawa spent six years training with Kusanku, and began to spread what he learned to Ryūkyū in 1762. He became a such expert that people gave him, as a nickname: “Tōde” Sakugawa (Sakugawa “Chinese Hand”). His most famous student, Matsumura Sokon went on to develop the Shuri-te which later develop into Shorin Ryu style of karate.



The martial arts have been divided into two groups hard and soft but what does it mean ?

Hard martial arts tend to use brute force to beat an opponent whilst soft martial artists tend to use evasion and yielding. Can this work in practice ?

It would appear that these suggestions are theories rather than something that is set in stone. When the martial arts began there was no such thing as soft or hard martial arts. So where did this idea me from and why is it that there are so many variations of all these arts ? I mentioned before on this page.

this  is why there are so many different STYLES. So in conclusion I believe that a master should teach you how to concentrate the mind and then let YOU the student find the path the more I studied and the more I think about what Bruce Lee and other notable masters such as Wang XiangZhai  have to say say about the loss of form the more I realise that Tai Chi along with other arts that we have two arms two legs a torso and a head. Tai Chi Bagu, and Hsing yi are all based on the same thing internal so why do they look different in action ?

I believe that the word internal is a massive clue and also the word mind. Why would all the masters change what they were taught and come up with their own STYLE ? The more I have looked into this and the more that I have practiced the more I believe these arts were created in a dream makes me finally after almost 36 years of study practice and research believe that all martial arts whether INTERNAL or EXTERNAL all come from the mind and then practice.


The mind creates the ideas then the movements should be formed around the mind that in my opinion, express the moves and then just see what happens, this would make the martial arts advance at a faster pace because then what you do would be for you and would not just be done to please your instructor.

Old footage of Bruce Lee

Wang XiangZhai realized that we must be free to express ourselves that is why he doesn’t show fighting techniques but instead he teaches you how to train your mind to act and react with intent.


A tool that you can use to physically express your mind is a free standing punch bag see my review click here