Internal Power and Physical Power

Tai Chi Chuan practitioners as like other Chinese martial art practitioners, they are in favor of internal power over physical power. What is the internal power? What is the physical power? How does one differentiate the two?

Internal power is a type of power that is sharp, has the ability to penetrate and has the elasticity characteristics. The result is that an experienced Tai Chi Chuan practitioner made a small body movement can force the opponent to fly backward far away. This is the indication that the practitioner has achieved one inch power. One inch power means that the practitioner has the ability to discharge power in a very close distance.

We observed in some of the Push Hand competition where two competitors struggle a long time to determine the outcome. They are using the physical power as power source to push the opponent. Since the physical power is blunt and does not have the penetration ability, the result is often confrontational. In the same push hand competition, one party can push the opponent away to win after a long struggle. However, many times the second party step forward as well. This type of power struggle is not recommended in Tai Chi Chuan.

The Tai Chi Chuan's internal power is referring to the power result from body integration. It is the product from body stretched or the joints are loosely open to stretch the ligaments and tendons involve each joint.

Physical power is referring to the power we used daily. It is the product from the muscles contraction and extension. Obviously, one can see that internal power and physical power are contradictory. In order to let the joint loosely open to stretch the ligaments and tendons, the muscles involve each joint have to relax. If the muscles are exciting, it is difficult to have each joint loosely open to stretch the ligaments and tendons. Therefore, if one uses internal power, one cannot use physical power. If one uses physical power, one cannot develop internal power.

In Tai Chi Chuan training, it is important to keep the muscle relaxed so the body can stretch. Therefore, at the end of each movement, the head is suspending from above, sink the shoulder, point the elbow, bend the wrist, sink the chest, pluck the back and keep the back straight. All these requirements are necessary to have the joint loosely open to stretch the ligaments and tendons to generate power. The same is true in discharge power so the power can travel from the bottom of the feet up to manifested on the hands.

Of course, we knew that it is impossible to have the body completely relax. We can see that in some of the Tai Chi Chuan movements such as in the kicking techniques. The muscles on the supporting leg are exciting and have tension so that it is able to maintain body balance. In discharge power, the abdomen is stiff so the power travel to the hands.

Today, there are people said that using the physical power is necessary in push hand exercise. They believed that lifting weight and other types of physical power trainings are helpful and included as part of their Tai Chi Chuan training. These people do not fully understand the art of Tai Chi Chuan. Power developed from lifting weight is coming from the muscle contraction and extension. This is the method of generate physical power. It is not the same method as in Solo Staff Exercise for internal power. During this exercise, the muscles from the shoulders, arms and elbows are relaxed so the joints are loosely open to stretch the ligaments, tendons and connecting the power which is coming from the bottom of the feet go directly to the end of the staff. This is the same principle as in Tai Chi Chuan's Fa Jing. Therefore, Solo Staff Exercise is a good method to develop internal power. It has been part of the Tai Chi Chuan training for century.

Understanding the meaning of internal power and how it is different from physical power are necessary to develop a correct training method.

Article By Vincent Chu
Copyright V. Chu. All rights reserved.