The development of technical systems in Chinese kung fu is a long history of continuous enrichment. There are hand forms created for performance and practice, combat forms that combine offence and defence, as well as external and internal meditative energy training that serves both of these forms. The practice of energy training through meditation is generally known as Qigong (Chi Kung) or Neigong (internal exercise).
Traditional kung fu emphasizes both internal and external training through nei qigong. Among martial arts practitioners there is an understanding that internal training benefits the flow of qi (or energy) and external training benefits the muscles, sinews and bones; external and internal training are mutually beneficial. The ideal goal is to achieve both internal and external vigour so as to attain good health and longevity.
A better known form of internal training is “hard qigong”. Hard qigong is not just a way of achieving good health; it is also useful as a way of defending oneself in combat situations.
Hard qigong training in martial arts emphasizes the unity of motion and stillness, of the internal and external forces. This kind of training exploits the body’s hidden potential so that when one is on the defensive, one is able to withstand their opponent’s forceful attack, but when one goes on the offensive, one is able to deliver close to superhuman force. Strong external force is produced when the practitioner combines the ability to direct his internal energy with external pounding techniques. This form of kung fu stresses “Directing the qi with the mind. Where the mind goes, the qi goes. Where the qi goes, the energy follows.” By elevating ones control of qi, the practitioner can direct all the energy in his body to collect in any part of the body he chooses, so that great impact can be delivered even within very short distances. There are many kinds of hard qigong. In general terms, these can be categorised as training to endure impact and training to deliver stronger impact.
In combat situations, one who exploits internal qi has the potential to inflict serious injuries. However, internal qi is also a life-preserver. This is in line with the principles of yin, yang, attack and defence. This form of internal training focuses on strengthening the muscles and tendons to resist external impact. It is possible for practitioners who devote themselves to this form of training to have a body so highly tempered that every part can withstand any attack and yet deliver strong force at the same time.
In kung fu, there are three kinds of internal energy representing three stages of training – tangible, intangible and transferred energy. The transference of energy is a profound skill. A truly accomplished practitioner, by directing his qi with precision, can transfer the internal force through an object, and, in doing so, bring together internal energy and external power.
In summary, moves in traditional martial arts are rooted in the techniques of attack and defence in combat, as well as in internal and external training. Even in classical hand forms, every move must reflect the underlying technical intent and the training process. Any traditional practitioner who has conditioned themselves through martial arts nei qigong is able to perform feats that may seem incredible to the lay person. This is what distinguishes traditional martial arts from performance-oriented competitive forms (such as modern wushu), dance and gymnastics.