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Internal Force in the Shaolin Arts

Rooted stances and solid limbs are hallmarks of internal force. In this old photo, Sifu Andrew Barnett of Shaolin Wahnam Switzerland demonstrates the 'unbendable arm'.

A special thanks goes out to the student who requested that I write this blog post. It allowed me to delve deeper into this special skill that makes our training as powerful and beneficial as it is while digging through some of Grandmaster Wong’s finest writings and loads of fun videos.

The concept of internal force is a bit of a mystery to someone who has never experienced it or has no background in kungfu, qigong, or internal arts. Much like knowing that you’re in love when you are, you know you have internal force when you manifest it. Actually, everybody has some degree of internal force, even if it is small, as it propels our limbs forward, keeps our hearts pumping, our neurons firing, and the like.

Internal force within the Shaolin Arts refers to cultivating the Three Treasures of Man, notably Jing (which I’ll poorly liken to power or strength though that’s not wholly accurate), Qi (energy), and Shen (mind/spirit). Perhaps internal force is most readily understood within the context of kungfu or Taijiquan, as its cultivation allows the practitioner to be able to spar against larger opponents with ease and for long periods of time without getting tired. Someone with internal force can break bricks or deliver powerful blows despite not having large muscles. In this sense, we can distinguish internal force from external force as the latter requires a great deal of physical strength while the former does not.

But beyond cultivating internal force for martial power, it can also be cultivated with an emphasis on cultivating energy or the mind. None of these three elements are mutually exclusive in internal force training, but different exercises emphasize training different aspects of internal force, such as training Golden Bridge for rooted stances and powerful arms and strikes, abdominal breathing for building energy at the Dan Tian, or seated/standing meditation for developing a calm and quiet mind. These different aspects are all extremely useful in life, and which ones to train simply depend on the aims and objectives of the practitioner.

Which brings me to the meat of this post: why should one cultivate internal force if they are not interested in practicing martial arts? What if you’re just a doctor? A bricklayer? A bartender? How does it benefit you? If you’re just training qigong, you probably already know this answer as you’re building the energy aspect of internal force even with patterns from the 18 Lohan Hands, for example. It benefits you by helping to strengthen your immune system, by giving you abundant energy to enjoy the day, by keeping your qi flowing smoothly so as to eliminate blockages which cause chronic physical or emotional pain. And because there is also some degree of training the mind in even the simplest of qigong patterns, you become calm, centered, and joyful, no matter what is going on around you- that’s not small potatoes in 2020. Simply put, internal force gives us a foundation of physical and mental strength to get the most out of whatever we tackle, and that’s more precious than gold.

Are you ready to dive in and learn more about how qigong and internal force can enhance your body, mind, and spirit? Qigong for Health and Vitality is our signature 12-week course, open to all, and begins in February 2021. Join in and meet your life, elevated.

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