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Internal power is a phrase you often see bandied around the martial arts world, but what does it mean? Some, of course, immediately shout “chi-power!” and point to the various questionable “no touch” demonstrations that circulate regularly on YouTube. Putting that aside for the moment, I want to look instead at something more tangible, based on long experience in both Chinese and Russian martial arts.
The Chinese view is quite clear. If we look at the Neijia arts, most agree (in a nutshell) that “internal “ includes powering the body from the dantien, the use of intention or yi, the development of chi, and the whole body being coordinated for each movement. However interpretation of those methods, or even the meanings of the terms themselves, is something endlessly argued over in CIMA circles.
Instead I want to look at IP from my understanding of Systema. As none of the above terms or methods are used in Systema, what do we mean by IP? First, let’s consider basic bio-mechanics. Any “internal” work has to have a good “external” base. By external I mean a good understanding of the body as a machine - how it functions at its most comfortable or natural level. This is not necessarily innate; after all we have to learn how to walk. But it is certainly clear that there are some movement patterns and use of posture and tension that are more natural or efficient than others. This is one reason Systema has no forms or kata, we feel these are something that have to be laid over our more natural patterns and so become a source of tension, not to mention the amount of repetition needed to make them effective.
Second, the body needs to be capable of meeting the demands placed on it for any type of movement. So it needs to be strong, flexible, free moving. There is a lot of work purely in these two things combined, this is what any decent martial art will cover in one form or other. For some, this is as far as they wish to go in their training. However, we can look beyond this to more “internal” factors.
On a physical level, we can start internal training by focusing on things like breathing, the heart rate, the nervous system, in short the internal/ unseen processes of the body. And what is it that regulates and oversees each of these processes? The brain, of course. So this brings us to the second level of internal study, our psyche.
Increasingly, modern science is “discovering” so many ways in which our psychological state has a profound impact on our physical processes and well being. This has been understood for a long time in many different practices. However, in a society that promotes short term attention span and tunnel vision, it is easy for us to lose sight of what is, after all, a natural part of our makeup. If you lived in the wilds and had to hunt for food, I guarantee your mind-body connection would be much more finely tuned than it is presently.
This then, for me, is the foundation of Systema internal training. To understand our psyche in order to most efficiently and effectively carry out external tasks – be that fighting, sports, work, or life in general. It’s not the sort of work that is entertaining to watch on YouTube, which seems to be a bench mark of effectiveness for some. But it is profound work that reveals deeper and deeper levels as you venture into it.
I will be covering some aspects of this work at our upcoming workshop on 10th June. We will start with an extended breathing session, in order to experience that mind-body connection, then work a number of drills and exercises I learnt from my recent trip to Toronto HQ. They include methods to achieve total internal relaxation while active, how to develop powerful “dense” strikes and how to convert the power of an attack into your own power. So if you want to begin exploring this aspect of training and are interested in seeing some of the work being done at Toronto HQ you are welcome to attend.
Full details are available here