The neijia Energy Arts

In Blue Eye, Scott Carty is taught Baguazhang and Zhan Zhuang by Boris as he hides in the Siberian forest, anticipating his would be killers. Baguazhang, one of the three Taoist ‘internal’ martial arts with its cousins Xingyiquan and the more popular ‘soft’ art, Taijiquan, is part of a much wider body of neijia () or ‘internal’ or yogic martial arts, focusing on breath/qi circulation with moving or stationary exercises. They are not solely exclusive to China but can be found in varying degrees as either auxiliary or advanced aspects of a number of Asian martial arts and also in the pranayama / asanas of Indian yoga.

There is also a common misconception that the Chinese neijia originated only from the Taoist Wudang mountain schools (situated in what is now Hubei province) and are distinct from the physical/physiological strength techniques/practises of the external or weijia, typically found in Shaolin kung fu. In fact, these two concepts of internal and external appear to have been wrongly categorised when in fact, their histories, techniques and practices (Taoist or Buddhist) are intertwined. This incorrect distinction appears to have been politically motivated in the 17th century to distinguish between indigenous (internal) Taoist arts and foreign (external) Buddhist arts. It was further entrenched in the early 20th century when China was in social turmoil and the literate class, fearful of degenerating national pride and eager for a philosophical banner (and to promote health), looked to arts that were allegedly rooted in Taoism, which until that time had remained either in the domain of obscure monasteries or passed down in the family lineages system of peasants.

Ironically, it was an Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma (or Da Mo) who in the 5th century AD, spent nine years in meditation in a cave at the Shaolin monastery, in Henan province, China, before teaching the monks the Tendon Changing and Bone Marrow-washing Classics – yogic exercises for health which were later developed within Shaolin boxing (Kung Fu). Furthermore Bodhiddharma’s meditative practices, influenced by Taoism, became Chan (Zen) Buddhism.

Taijiquan (or Tai Chi as it’s more commonly known), is the world’s most widely practised exercise. Taijiquan’s theories and practice are believed to have been formulated by the Taoist ‘Merlin’ Zhang Sanfeng in the 12th century, at the Wudang monastery– at about the same time that the Neo-Confucian school was emerging in Chinese intellectual life. Whilst Taijiquan emerged much later than the Shaolin kung fu and was certainly influenced, in part, by it, there is documented evidence for Taoism having a body of well-developed meditative and health yogic neigong exercises and techniques, existing a thousand years before Bodhiddharma’s time at the Shaolin monastery. What is not known, though, and remains a fascinating area of conjecture is; the possibility of either being influenced by an earlier common ancestor, originating in China, India or Tibet.

Both systems of internal and external (Wudang and Shaolin) have aspects of hard and soft within, them utilising breath, qi control, standing, stretching and energetic movement and neither is completely exclusive of the other. Most practitioners of Taijiquan use it for its superlative relaxation benefits, and only a small percentage have an understanding or knowledge about the neigong ( ) – the method of training the internal, i.e. breathe, qi circulation health rebuilding postural exercises and the ability to discharge energy in a martial manner.

It is clear that over the centuries the external schools of martial arts came to emphasise more the use of muscle-tension, brute strength and vigorous athletic training techniques which were and still are, frowned upon by the internal neijia schools which predicate the calm training of mind/body and minimum force to overcome an opponent. However, it should be noted that in advanced Shaolin training, the movements are performed with an elastic force, in a similar manner to that of Chen Style Taijiquan. Equally, many practitioners of the neijia (the author included) first learnt co-ordination, strength and flexibility training in their youth through the practice of Shaolin or other external schools of martial arts.

Nowadays, it usually well accepted that as the practitioner ages he/she should switch from the less intense (more athletically demanding) external arts to the more elastic/soft arts of Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, Luheibafa, Yiquan and others which, through a general daily exercise regime, can have far-reaching health benefits.

In Blue Eye, Boris demonstrates his ability to control his body’s internal energy at will through neigong practise and is able to perform many seemingly miraculous feats. Having myself, experienced the expression of qi from a number of masters and having also in my own small way, developed a similar ability, I am always fascinated by what can really be achieved and suggest the reader watch Dynamo’s Jack’s barehanded paper-lighting (the inspiration for Boris’s same stunt in Blue Eye).

A conjuring trick some may say. Well, having been a conjurer for many years I would question that statement as one of the producers of this clip is a family friend and gave me a much greater insight into Dynamo Jack’s healing abilities, including how he treated serious ailments. Perhaps it is because of our modern age and need to rationally deny certain phenomena, that many find such feats inexplicable. Perhaps we have squeezed from the psyche the space, state of mind and dedicated practice needed to garner these skills.  What I would also say is that, in nature, there are creatures that have the ability to give electric shocks – the electric eel for instance – so it’s not within the realms of impossibility that a human being could perhaps develop and demonstrate this ability. Science and time will tell.

Graham Horwood, my first neijia teacher commented that, in the video clip, Dynamo Jack (‘DJ’) causes physical harm (an apparent accident) to one of the observers and to himself. The next day DJ deeply regrets his showing-off, mentioning that he had been awake all night, visited by a vision of his master chastising him for his actions. Graham felt that, in Jungian terms, DJ had had an experience of the Self (as does Carty, in Blue Eye) but lacked the sufficient psychological skills to handle it, despite his seemingly supernatural abilities.

Graham would often warn that the deeper techniques of neigong should be treated with great care echoing Jung’s valid concern about extreme practice of eastern esoteric techniques, and for good reason. Aspects of a westerner’s personal unconscious cannot be fully understood through the optic of eastern mysticism (and vice versa) and require assistance from a skilled therapist or analyst with sound understanding of the western psyche. Despite the rapid rise of the internet and globalisation of many cultures, Rudyard Kipling’s quote, Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, in my opinion, still holds true and therefore neijia practitioners are advised against utilising these methods in a semi-religious manner or to seek relief from mental or stimulant-induced states.

In general and for the avoidance of doubt, neijia practice should only be used as a complementary health practice for young and old alike, to encourage relaxation, health and relief from modern day ailments such as stress and, if required, with the recommendation of a doctor or health professional who understands their efficacies.