Thursday, December 11, 2008

Newsflash: aikido is not an internal martial art...

...or at least it's not very internal. But then again, I guess that depends on how you define internal. According to Wikipedia...
The term "nèijiā" usually refers to Wudangquan or the internal styles of Chinese martial arts, which Sun Lutang identified in the 1920s as T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Xíngyìquán and Bāguàzhǎng. This classifies most other martial arts as "wàijiā" (lit. "external/outside sect"). Some other Chinese arts, such as Liuhebafa, Bak Mei Pai, Bok Foo Pai and Yiquan are frequently classified (or classify themselves) as internal or having internal qualities...
Well, if the yiquan guys can declare themselves to be in the club even though their name wasn't on the list, then maybe we could say aikido has 'internal-like qualities' and that you might as well call it internal. More from Wikipeida:
Sun Lutang identified the following as the criteria that distinguish an internal martial art:
  • An emphasis on the use of the mind to coordinate the leverage of the relaxed body as opposed to the use of brute strength.
  • The internal development, circulation, and expression of qì.
  • The application of Taoist dǎoyǐn, qìgōng, and nèigōng (內功) principles of external movement.
The first of these sounds just exactly like us aikido guys. The second, if it is actually referring to something different than the first (I can't tell) then it sounds like some of the nuttier segments of aikidoland, and as for the third, I wouldn't know a Taoist principle of external movement if one fell on me. So, I guess the best we can say is aikido might be about 1/3 internal.
Chris at Martial Development gives us three more criteria for neijia
  • Hard or fast movements are external; soft and slower movements are internal.
  • Overpowering and destroying the enemy in application is external; neutralizing and using the opponent’s energy against him is internal.
  • Kung-fu with lots of movements is external; simpler, more comfortable movements are internal.
Well, aikido guys (when they are doing good aikido) are not moving fast or slow, hard or soft. Aiki motion, by definition is just right. Most good aikido neutralizes and uses uke's energy against him, but occasionally when it is appropriate, they might overpower and destroy. And as for number and complexity of moves in aikido - it depends on who you ask. Some of the aikikai guys say that there are thousands of aikido techniques - Tomiki sensei said there were only about 17 or so.
I bet it wouldn't take too much effort for Colin Wee or Dan Paden to justify TKD or old Okinawan karatedo as internal per most of those criteria.
But then, Chris gives away the secret - neijia is so vague a concept as to be unusable and un-useful except maybe as a marketing tool.
So I guess the bottom line is, aikido is not really an internal martial art (unless you really want it to be).


  1. I find Tim Cartmell's article particularly helpful.

    I think his definition is liberal enough to include jujutsu-derived arts in theory. In practice, I think in CIMA, students on average attempt this idea more often. In my judo club, some students just attempt "muscling" for a long time til they inductively get more "whole body". Of course that may be a better way to round the corners off.

  2. My definition would be based on my experience. in other words, an internal art for me at my stage is one that is based heavily on sensitivity. The way I learned it, that sensitivity is heavily reliant on "qi work."

    I've realized that my definition won't work for a lot of people but I've let that go now. No need to try to convince others.

    However, there are deeper questions, even within one paradigm assuming definitions are agreed upon (and they nearly never are) such as what are the limitations of sensitivity? When and how does power come into play?

  3. Good questions Dave - much better questions than whether to call aikido an internal or external art.

    The role of sensitivity is complex. I think (right now) that I try to be more of an automatic system than a sensitive system. I'm always talking about putting 'feelers' on uke, but the feelers are (i think) supposed to be unbendable arms, so if they put more on you than you can handle (overwhenming sensitivity) then that force just moves you out of the way.

    How does power come into play? Right now in my practice I'm trying to make power transfers as near instantaneous as I can. Other than that, I'm not sure I'm ready to talk about that subject. I'll have to think on it some more.

    What are the limits and the role of sensitivity in what you do? How about your idea of power use?

  4. Pat,
    Sounds like a blog post. See if I can get it written today.

  5. I don't know if you're familiar with post standing (zhan zhuang) and mocabu walking. Since I started doing that, I have the feeling that I found what practicing internal martial arts means. In a very distant past I did some judo and a little jujutsu and thaiboxing. But when I started taikiken (Japanese version of Yiquan)for me this was something completely different.

    Just my two cents...

    I love your blog by the way. And Dave's as well.



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