Internal – External Training

In our training in martial arts we usually select one or maybe two or three disciplines that we wish to train in.

Depending on one’s perspective and needs at the outset of our training these arts will generally fit into either the external or the internal systems.

Broadly speaking the internal systems are considered softer and slower than their external counterparts. The internal arts are also seen by some to have less combat efficiency and fighting development than the harder systems. The external systems on the other hand are seen to be more combat effective and more physically demanding than the internal arts. For years I have heard both external and internal practitioners put forth their arguments about the merits and attributes of their chosen disciplines. In recent years the external systems, at least on the surface, seem to have overtaken the so called softer arts due to the interest generated by the Ultimate Fighting

Championships and No Holds Barred competitions that are now regularly held all over the world. I haven’t heard of a Tai Chi, Hsing-I, or Aikido exponent winning any major tournaments like Pride or the UFC recently, but does this mean that we should discount the ‘softer’ arts because, on the surface at least, they don’t seem to be as immediately effective as the harder systems?

Personally I believe that anyone who is interested in Jeet Kune Do or cross training should not only be balanced in the way they operate in different ranges but also in the intensity and manner in which they train. Anyone who wishes to make serious inroads in their development has to accept that training hard is part and parcel of the road they have taken. This does not mean, however, that everything they do has to be hard and all out. I have seen so many practitioners bum out both mentally and physically by stressing the self-defense or fighting aspects of the art at the expense of balancing this view with a softer and more rounded approach.

I hope to be training in the arts for as long as I live, but as I grow older though I realise that I will have to temper my training to suit the way my body evolves and absorbs the aging process. I have found that I can do all the things I could do before but when training at high intensity the risk of injury is much higher now than it was previously. When I was twenty my recovery after training was much shorter and my recuperation time between workouts was a lot less than it is now. I basically trained everything one hundred per cent and as hard as I could.

Back then the thought of training in a softer way was out of the question as I saw it as an excuse not to train hard. I think now I was misguided and wrong. My training now consists of hard intense periods of work interspersed with slower lighter sessions which I enjoy as much as the harder more physical workouts. I found that to work hard all the time and not give my body changes of pace and a fluctuation in intensity levels was leading to injury and a lack of enjoyment in my training.

About ten years ago I was working full time as a postman and working on the door twice a week. I was teaching four times a week and giving seminars almost every weekend. I also had twelve to fourteen hard workouts ranging from Judo to Muay Thai and JKD as well as running and conditioning. It was killing me. One day I got on the bus to go to work and I couldn’t pull the ticket out of the machine because my forearms had seized up. It was then I knew I had to change my lifestyle and approach to training. I knew that I would totally burn out if I kept up the lifestyle I had been in for much longer.

I switched my training to include a lot more of the softer parts of the arts I had been training in. The Kali, for example, became more enjoyable because I switched from heavy hitting with the stick to light carenza (shadowboxing). I also spent more time on technical sessions in the Judo and Thai boxing instead of just fighting or hitting the pads all the time. In essence I tried to mix my sessions up so that I was not just working all out all the time. I also began to look at some of the internal arts and softer systems to see if I could benefit from them in technique, training method, or outlook. I honestly believe that these arts have an immense amount of information that can help us advance in ways that some of the harder arts can’t.

As we grow and evolve in martial arts sometimes we stick to things that seem to offer an instant solution to our problems and once we have found that solution we stay with it at the expense of trying anything else. In this day and age in particular, where a lot of emphasis is put on combat efficiency and throwing out anything that does not work, I feel we could be overlooking some fantastic and important knowledge that could help us develop in many different ways. On the other side of the fence I have heard or read about many internal stylists who make incredible claims about their disciplines and decry the harder arts for being too physical. To a certain extent they may have a point, but they also may have to analyse their own training and ask themselves if they too should balance their workouts with some of the harder arts’ training methods. This is not to say that training in an internal system is not physically demanding but that the change of pace and use of different body mechanics and training methods may help them understand and shed light on their own and other arts in a way that can only enhance their growth.

I have written before in this column about how everything we do as martial artists should have balance. I truly believe that if you are cross training not only should you understand each range and the arts that work within those ranges but you should also blend your training to include at least a little of either the external or internal systems to enhance your growth and further your education as martial artists. Now, in my own training, I try to keep in the best shape I can by training as hard as I can in the disciplines that help me reach this goal. A lot of the time too I go softer and focus on the more internal side of the arts and develop another facet of my skills and understanding. We may not have seen an internal stylist win Pride or UFC – yet – but let’s not underestimate the value and merit that these arts have both on their own and in conjunction with the other disciplines we practice.

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