Left: The "Dragon Rises and Drops" from Xingyi's 12 Animals
Right: The "Golden Pheasant Spreads Wings" from Bagua's Old Eight Palms
These two applications capture a certain flavor of the approach of the styles. Xingyiquan is linear, more direct and uses a smaller angle moving in on the opponent, while Baguazhang is more circular, more evasive, and, in this case, uses a larger angle to capture the opponent's center. Both styles engage the opponent's aggression with lightness and sensitivity, maintain contact, and exploit weaknesses in the opponent's situation.
A number of examples of martial applications of Nei Jia Kung Fu appear as links below. While we offer a variety of applications in Bagua, Xingyi, and different styles of Taiji, there is an emphasis on Jiang Rong Qiao's Xingyiquan and Baguazhang as well as Wu Chian Chuan's Taijiquan. However, authentic applications for Chen and Yang style T'ai Chi are also presented.
The Jiang Rong Qiao Nei Jia Kung Fu system includes Pa Kua Chang (Bagua Zhang), Hsing I Chuan (Xing Yi Quan) and a version of Tai Chi Chuan (Taiji Quan). The Jiang Rong Qiao style of Ba Gua Zhang comes down from Dong Hai Quan (Tung Hai Ch'uan) through his student Zhang Zhao Dong (Chang Chao-Tung). The Wu style T'ai Chi Ch'uan comes down through Wu Chian Chuan's son-in-law Ma Yueh Liang and daughter Wu Ying Hua.
Nei Jia (Internal Shape) Kung Fu is a term that has become associated with the grouping of Internal Chinese Martial Arts known more generally as: Baguazhang ("Pa Kua Chang" or Eight Diagrams Palm), Xingyiquan ("Hsing I Ch'uan" or Form and Will Boxing), and Taijiquan ("Tai Chi Ch'uan" or Supreme Ultimate Fist).All three of these arts are known for their health maintenance properties and their sophisticated approach to self-defense that is generally characterized by utilizing softness, patience, and flexibility over hardness, speed and brute force. This approach is different from Wai (External) Jia Martial Arts, which are often characterized by maximizing technique, speed, and force. A well-known example of Wai Jia Kung Fu is Shaolin (and the multitude of styles and variations that it includes). However, very little fits into a perfect box for instant labeling. There are various degrees of Shaolin expertise, and it is possible for a Shaolin practitioner to have achieved softness and sophistication in their practice, so much so, that they may be more "internal" than a Taijiquan practitioner who has yet to discover the "internal." In this context, it is possible for a supposed Taijiquan practitioner to be more external than a Wai Jia Kung Fu practitioner.
Some people in the West are more familiar with the "striking art" applications of Chinese Kung Fu that mostly resemble Karate or even Western Boxing. These sorts of applications also exist for Nei Jia Kung Fu. However, the Chinese Internal or Nei Jia Kung Fu styles generally have a different set of applications that resemble traditional Chinese Suai Jiao (a grappling martial art similar to Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, or Wrestling). A much closer analogy is the Japanese style of Aikido, which may have developed from Baguazhang. Like the gentle approach of Aikido, advanced practice of the Chinese internal martial arts emphasizes flow with structure. The high level applications may look like nothing at all. Those who do not know the power of emptiness or softness, or know the transformational approach to application may make the assumption that this idea is more inline with advanced Taijiquan. However, many advanced practitioners reach a level that either attains the sophisticated, soft approach, or at the very least develop an appreciation for it. Additionally, there is enough widespread misuse of the concept of "empty force" that contact may be needed to determine if the practice is real. The following applications presented here are meant to give a taste of Nei Jia Kung Fu and perhaps remove some misconceptions about the Chinese Internal Martial Arts by those who seek more information about application or for those who have observed applications by teachers who may have cooperative students.
Single Whip (version often associated with Chen style, but common to many styles)
Moving Beyond Techniques
The above set of example applications is but a sampling of Nei Jia Kung Fu applications. Because an emphasis on "listening" and "following" an opponent is emphasized early on in the training, the idea of set applications or techniques is not the complete picture. Instead, the principles of the internal arts become the emphasis, and the work on sensitivity and meditation is paramount, in order to focus on exposing weaknesses in the opponent's situation. As opposed to a certain technique that will supposedly "do the job." For any one who's had to face spontaneous situations before, what the opponent does determines the course of action, for any attempts to control the opponent will likely meet with resistance. Each scenario and situation is different, and no two are alike. However, softness and flexibility can be trained to become a constant factor that can be relied upon.
The above group includes the Baguazhang and Xingyiquan of Jiang Rong Qiao's system (as taught by his adopted daughter Zou Shuxian and Cheng Jie Feng) and Wu style Taijiquan (as taught by Ma Yueh Liang). Ma Yueh Liang was the son-in-law of Wu style founder Wu Chian Chuan and regarded as one of the very top martial artists in China. Jiang Rong Qiao was a proponent, author, and teacher whose style of Baguazhang and Xingyiquan is probably the most widely practiced in both China and the world. A common thread has emerged in the teachings of Zou Shuxian and Cheng Jie Feng with the Wu style teachings of Ma Yueh Liang. This thread is characterized by the level of sensitivity needed to effectively apply the art, whether one is using a more gross application or what may appear as nothing at all.
Image on Right: A Martial Application of Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan "Flying Obliquely"
Even though they are intended to be internal styles, the nature of Pa Kua and Hsing I are such that it is possible to perform them as external martial arts. That is, it is possible to place less of an emphasis on the characteristics of internal martial arts and still be at least somewhat effective with Pa Kua and Hsing I. This approach simply will not be effective with T'ai Chi Ch'uan, which almost exclusively focuses on absorbing and neutralizing force rather than intercepting or transforming the opponent's aggression.
The Jiang Rong Qiao system provides a path to develop the internal martial arts of Hsing I and Pa Kua without violating the same internal principles that are central to T'ai Chi. It is possible to adhere to teacher Ma Yueh Liang's principles and characteristics of Taijiquan in the practice of Jiang Rong Qiao's Nei Jia Kung Fu system. That said, one cannot ignore the differences in the shapes and movements, and the principles which specifically identify each art. So while there are similarities, the differences create a rich diversity which allow one to feed another. Examples include, but are not limited to: Xingyi is linear, Bagua is circular, T'ai Chi is lateral (or a combination of both). Xingyi is driving, Bagua is intercepting, and T'ai Chi is absorbing.
Nei Jia Kung Fu Martial Arts are different than other martial arts in that they train the body to react with lightness and precision. The lightness is often the outer shell of a steel like hardness within.
All the Internal styles of Chinese Kung Fu employ some variation of joint hands or two person forms training. The main internal styles of Bagua, Xingyi, and Taiji employ some semblance of Push Hands in the foundational training. Bagua has at least 8 Push Hands methods and 8 Striking Hands methods, which lay a foundation for their two person practice sets known as Rou Shou (or, Soft Hands). Some styles practice a couple of primary sets known as the First and Second 64, while others practice longer forms in 8 sets that emphasize grabbing, set ups, striking, sweeping, and stand up grappling. Some Xingyiquan styles also employ push hands as a foundation for their two person sets, which build on the residency of push hands as segues to striking and grappling methods based on the Five Fists of Splitting, Drilling, Bursting, Pounding, and Crossing. Taijiquan, of course, is known for Push Hands, and like Bagua and Xingyi encourages softness and sensitivity. However, in Taijiquan the emphasis on softness is central to the dynamics of the art, and therefore, it is rare to see striking or grabbing ever highlighted in the advanced levels of training. Instead, flexibility and sensitivity are so accentuated, that some Taijiquan practitioners fancy Taiji to be the most internal of the three; even referring to Bagua and Xingyi as Waijia, or external arts.
Despite any differences between the three arts, the two person practice methods are carried forth with similar attention paid to smoothness and sensitivity regardless of discipline or style. While powerful punches and overt grabs may be laced throughout some two-person sets in various styles of Bagua and Xingyi, in both Jiang Rong Qiao's Bagua and Xingyi two person sets, and Wu Style T'ai Chi's Push Hands practice methods, the emphasis is foremost on sensitivity and flexibility. Therefore, this elevates the importance of Push Hands practice, and underlines it as a key to the inner workings of all three arts. This would also hold true for any two person weapons forms, which usually teach students not to swing the sword, use enormous, over strikes, or stab or slice in obvious areas such as the mid-torso. Instead, examining ways to slide or maneuver a weapon during engagement (developing a "slippery" quality), as well as neutralize an opponent despite any and all limitations due to the size, shape, or weight of a particular weapon. When approached in this way, ancient weapons training has modern day applications, and, therefore, could be aptly carried over into two person sets or any sparring practice.
The practice of standing meditation also offers significant benefits in understanding how to relax and develop sensitivity with the finer working parts of the body, and achieve balance (staying on track) without forcing it, harnessing jin (internal strength), and assimilating chi (life energy) beyond a mere feeling or notion, and experience meditation (and martial application for that matter) from a more practical, functional standpoint. (i.e. actually sensing the organs and their workings, utilization of the joints to maintain natural shapes and posture, and enjoying freedom from distractions and being sidetracked, even when surrounded by noise and any interference of the senses, etc.). Therefore, two person practice, whether it be in the form of push hands, two person fighting sets, or both, is necessary in moving the practitioner beyond the fantasy level of meditation to a more authentic meditative experience that encompasses the self in harmony with the actual world around them.