GOOD INTERNALS SKILLS ENABLE A WING CHUN PRACTITIONER TO USE THE SYSTEM IN AN EFFICIENT WAY, WITH MINIMUM EFFORT, WELL INTO OLD AGE—IN CONTRAST TO THE EXTERNAL APPROACH.
Nowadays, Internal Wing Chun is getting more popular, so much so that many are jumping on the bandwagon. However, for many, the term “Internal” seems to entail something different.
So, what are some of the signatures that classify the Wing Chun system as being Internal?
First, the body should be able to accommodate the Internal engine, which, at the basic and intermediate level, is based on force flowing from the floor into the opponent and from the opponent into the floor as action or reaction force. For this to happen smoothly, the body must be in the state of Sung and Cai, which means a state of having rid the body of all unnecessary tension and ready for action, with the joints opened, working together to attack and yield using good momentum handling skills.
I specifically write basic and intermediate, as at the most advanced level of internals, the force comes mainly from the lower Dan Tien (the biggest energy centre in the body situated 2-3 inches under the belly button and about 2-3 inches inwards) and is an integrated force that can go out in six directions simultaneously in the form of Ging force, called Wan Yuen Lik (“The Universal Force”), which can issue energy from any contact point on the body.
This level, however, is rare nowadays, as it requires a specific training method and lots of perseverance. The External Way is easier and brings faster results, but for those with the luck to receive the training and can endure, the rewards are well worth it and go beyond the External approach, in my humble opinion, and will last well into old age.
Second, the body must have what the Chinese call “a good frame”; some call it “structure”, but a structure would describe something more rigid, so this term, although very popular, might not be the best term for it, but that’s up to you to decide. Without the frame, there is no way the body can handle sufficient force or work with it. A good frame must adhere to the concepts of Ham Hung (“Empty Chest”), Lok Bok (“Dropping Shoulders”), Pat Pui (Raising Back”) and Cham Jarn (“Sinking Elbows”), while maintaining the most crucial part of force handling your own centre of equilibrium. In Chi Sau, it’s often very clear how far these qualities have developed and can be roughly seen in four stages:
• The leaning stage, where people compensate their lack of ability with leaning into the other person and bracing, which can be easily made use of by an average practitioner.
• The stage of using partial strength, where the arms are used, more or less, separated from the body and pushed forward with muscular partial strength, resulting in burning arms, etc. during the Chi Sau workout. It’s better than the first stage and is what most are doing, but it is not high-level Internal Chinese martial arts.
• The stage where good force handling is used with force flowing from the ground up and down into the opponent using all the joints and enabling the practitioner to use good yielding skills if necessary while keeping his or her centre of equilibrium, and having the ability to disrupt the one from the opponent.
• Wan Yuen Lik, so-called universal integrated force, which is impossible to attain without first developing the frame and ability to sink the Qi (“Energy”), is the stage where real Ging (Jin) can be used and discharged from every part of the body. This level is rare, and only a few practitioners have developed this level of energy, nowadays, in their Chi Sau game.
Third, every Internal Wing Chun lineage must move with awareness. The Yi (“Intention”) we power our forms and training with is very important; rushing through a form without the right intention behind it will build and lead to nothing and is only empty choreography. In my own IWKA Wing Tjun system, the “Mind Work” is imperative, but also the late Grandmaster Chu Shong Tin, one of the most outstanding students of the late Grandmaster Ip Man, developed this aspect to a high level and coined his own term for this training: Nim Lik (“Mind Force”).
Good breathing control is needed too, and at a higher level, the highly controversial Qi will be added—on the subject of breathing I could write an entire article, but important for Wing Chun is that we should strive for lower, abdominal breathing and avoid upper-chest breathing.
Qi has gotten a bad name because of all the fraudsters out there using the term in relation to mystical powers. Qi is nothing mystical and should be seen as a form of energy, and it’s important to remember the fact there are different types of Qi. The air we breathe is, for a traditional Chinese individual, a type of Qi, and the energy flowing through the meridians and restored in Traditional Chinese Medicine by acupuncture, for example, is another type of Qi. The energy used in martial arts is sunken to the Dan Tien by the use of intention and, from there, transformed in Wan Yuen Lik and brought out in the form of Ging (Jin). This is yet another type of Qi. So, nothing too mystical about it at all—Qi is just the Chinese way of describing a certain type of energy.
Good Internals skills enable a Wing Chun practitioner to use the system in an efficient way with minimum effort well into old age—in contrast to the External approach. Looking at Chi Sau, you might ask what the Internal qualities are in terms of Lat Sau (“Free Fighting”) or Da Sau (“Hitting Hands”) practice.
The Internal approach of sparring in Wing Chun would be to use the classical concepts of “stay with what comes, follow through as it retreats, and trust forwards if the hand is freed”, build upon solid striking, yielding, and sticking skills. Actually, in many Internal arts, they talk about sticking, following, and joining of the opponent, which is what sets the Internal arts apart from the Western Boxing type of method. On a side note, it’s interesting that Tang Yick’s Weng Chun was called Tai Chi of the South.
Next, to the before mentioned skills, the Wing Chun practitioner must avoid crashing in, collapsing (which differs greatly from using yielding skills), and breaking away (losing contact). Doing so makes it more like Western Boxing, instead of Wing Chun, and we should avoid resistance and bracing.
For those that have read my book, The 6 Core Elements: The SLT and History of Wing Chun, you probably know the results of my extensive research in the art’s history and the possible reasons this once pure Internal art was changed into the easier and faster to learn External approach. One possible reason was the need to prepare soldiers in time to help overthrow the Ching and restore the Ming—several other reasons are listed in my book.
Let me conclude by stating that, nowadays, several great practitioners use the External, and great ones use the Internal approach, and even some lineages teach something in-between. I would say it’s up to the individuals to find out for themselves whatever suits them best.