There is an everlasting battle between so called “internal” and “external” fighting styles. On one side we have styles defined as “internal” which put their emphasis on neigong training , spending much if not all of their training developing a kind of internal energy which gives a practitioner superior fighting abilities . On the other side ,”external” style spend much of their training in developing physical attributes for fighting like strength ,speed , reflexes, ability to take a punch … Both groups consider them self as superior and both have their reasons for that , whether they are true or not .
Internal styles consider them self as more sophisticated, more advanced, more developed, sometimes even more intellectual. Often they back up their claims with history records where some famous ancestor had tremendous fighting abilities ( although this is true for all Chinese martial styles) . As a rule, these styles have very detailed and precise theoretical basis (sometimes maybe overdeveloped and too complicated) on which they build their techniques, training, and fighting approach.
Again, as a rule internal styles as a major part of their practice have cultivation of internal energy for health reasons and prolonging life. Sometimes complete practice is dedicated to this goal without martial elements.
External styles consider them self as a superior fighting systems and they base their claims in fact that only external styles participate in full contact competitions and only external styles are proved as combat efficient in real , full contact conditions. And, in most cases, they are right about that .
The question is , what group of martial arts is better, internal or external? Or , is there really an internal\external dichotomy and where is its root?
I wrote before about historical root of internal vs external divide. “Internal”, “soft”,” Taoist” ,Wudang and “external”, ”hard”, “Buddhist” Shaolin systems. This classification first time was used (and invented) at Gou Shu academy by Sun Lu Tang , Li Cun Yi and their close friends in the early 1920’s. Being practitioners of Ba Gua, Tai Chi and Xing I (main representatives of “internal” styles) leading people of the Gou Shu academy including Sun Lu Tang and Lu Cu Yi , for purely marketing purposes separated their arts from all others by declaring them “wudang internal stylys” while all the rest fell into category of external or Saholin styles . This classification took deep roots and very soon led to a constant duels between shaolin and wudang styles which became very serious in the beginning of 1930”s.
Today , the real problem , more on the West than it is the case on the East ,comes from misunderstanding of weigong and neigong training. There is actually no external\internal dichotomy . Yes , external training is what most people think it is , developing physical attributes for fighting . On the other hand , internal training is largely misunderstood ,sometimes to the point that people think this kind of practice will give them some superhuman abilities. Simply, purpose of internal training is to increase body efficiency, efficiency of movement , speed, power …but , if there is nothing to increase , internal training without external is for the most part useless. Internal training, and if you want ’internal” skills are natural evolutionary step of external practice , without external , internal has no sense , like having a sniper rifle and bullet but without gun powder , and practicing shooting with that weapon.
In every martial style , after a significant time of training, practice will be slowly transformed and moved to the area of internal .Of course this is the case if we understand internal as a biomechanical efficiency and not some mystical , unexplainable force which creates superhumans .
The truth is , and I have to be blunt here , some people hate physical engagement of any kind . They don’t like to work hard , they are afraid of pain but they want to practice martial arts ad to feel some achievement ,therefore they will believe in ”internal” energies which will some day transform them in tremendous fighters ,or even warriors( seems this term is very popular among martial artists , especially among ones who never experienced war).
On the other hand, there are people who only believe in external training methods and they do not want and often cannot understand internal training.As we can see , external and internal not only that can coexist but actually naturally follow one another and together push martial skills on the highest level. Separated , they can be limiting factor in training and mislead a practitioner to a completely wrong practice path