||Chinese martial arts enjoy a great reputation, having been developed in a large country with a rich
traditional culture and a long recorded history. Consequently, many different styles were invented
and developed in great detail over several thousand years. Today although more than four
hundred styles handed down from older times are practiced in China, about one hundred forty
styles are popularly practiced with their own lineages, complete principles, and systematic
training methods. Some styles have spread far and wide even to the whole world.
||Chinese martial arts developed from simple to complex, from low level to high level, from just
fighting skill to combining all traditional cultural concepts. The goals of a traditional martial arts
training system are to increase one's physical abilities via a method of systematic training, to
master effective self-defense skills, to improve one's personality and morality, and to achieve
good health and body condition to promote a long life. No matter what style, these basic goals
should be followed. So from this point, many people say "All styles are in one family."
||Although from this perspective, many (if not all) styles want to reach similar goals, there are still
some differences especially in principles and training methods. About five hundred years ago,
when these differences became sufficiently significant, people started to separate Chinese
martial arts into two big groups: Neijia or Internal Kungfu and Waijia or External Kungfu. People
usually say that Neijia and Waijia are two big branches of the Chinese martial arts tree, coming
from the same source, but practiced, researched, and developed in different ways. Although
Neijia and Waijia may use different concepts, they have many similar skills and have influenced
each other over the years. Although sometimes it is too difficult to separate Neijia and Waijia
clearly, it is necessary and important for martial arts practitioners to attempt to understand the
differences between these two distinct approaches.
|1. Brief History of Neijia and Waijia
|Before considering personal interpretations, once should examine the traditional ideas of these
concepts. First, one should explore the earliest records differentiating between internal and
|The earliest written records differentiating the Neijia and Waijia distinction are believed to be
found in three articles written close in time and in nearby locations. These three articles are:
||(1) "The Tombstone Inscription of Mr. Wang Zhengnan " by Huang Lizhou (1669).
(2) "Neijia Quan" ("Internal Fist") by Huang Baijia (1676).
(3) "The Biography of Zhang Songxi" in "The Government Records and Annals of Ningbo City"
||The most important information which these articles brought to us are: (1) the time period when
Neijia was generated; (2) that Neijia was developed and separated from Waijia; (3) the
differences between Neijia and Waijia; and (4) description of some characteristics and features
First, one considers the time period of the birth of Neijia. The Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qi (1644 -
1911) Dynasties were the golden time of Chinese martial arts development. From the Song
Dynasty (960 - 1279), for more than four hundred years, the entire country was always at war and
in turmoil. Although the government did not encourage martial arts, martial arts still developed
quickly and widely. But at that time, the styles were not separated clearly. During the Ming
Dynasty, different styles were formed and systematized and special skills were developed in
great detail, as discussed in General Qi Jiguang's book "Ji Xiao Xin Shu." At that time Chinese
martial arts were developed to a high level and new skills, concepts, and ideas were developed
extensively. Presumably, Neijia is an example of just such a new and unique concept developed
at that time.
The three above-mentioned articles included similar information relating that during 1500 to 1700
there was a new martial arts style called Neijia Quan that was practiced in Ningbo and Wenzhou
areas of the southeast China. One popular account is that Wudang Mountain Taoist monk Zhang
Sanfeng invented this style. The next well-known figure in connection with Neijia Quan was Wang
Zong of Shanxi province. Reputedly, Chen Zhoutong learned this skill with Wang Zong and then
brought to his hometown Wenzhou of Zhejiang province. After Chen, there were other famous
Neijia Quan masters in several generations were famous. These articles delineate a relatively
clear lineage of Neijia Quan at that time. Because The government record is generally regarded
as credible Huang Lizhou was a very famous scholar and Huang Baijia was a directly student in
this group, these records are highly believable. Consequently, many people believe this is an
accurate historical account of the development of Neijia Quan, with the notable exception of the
doubt of the identity of its originator.
Second, most new ideas are not generated suddenly from one person's brain, but develop out of
some previous ideas. From the above articles, is likely that Neijia came from Waijia but
developed into its own variation. It is said that Shaolin was at the top level of Waijia. Zhang
Sanfeng (or some other early master) probably studied Shaolin and then made changes with new
concepts to invent Neijia. Maybe this popular view is not a true story, however, it is probable that
Neijia evolved and then separated from Waijia.
Third, Neijia specifically brought some new concepts in training and application principles. All
three articles described some principle and stories which describe the differences between
Waijia and Neijia. Actually, the term Waijia did not exist before this time. When the Neijia concept
arose, in order to separate it from traditional concepts and express its different concept, all other
styles were called Waijia in these three articles. In other words, when the difference between the
new Neijia concept and the old Waijia concept was big enough, two new names were used to
differentiate the two concepts.
From these three articles, it appears that there was a new martial arts style called Neijia Quan
which was taught from the Ming to Qi Dynasties with its own principles and clear lineage although
the original source was not clear. This style was taught in north, middle and southeast of China,
but it was not popular. About one hundred years later, it became lost (Although today some
masters suddenly claimed they still practice it, nobody can prove if their skills are the original
Neijia Quan.). But this Neijia principle were still developed in some different ways. Later, three
great styles, Xingyi Quan, Taiji Quan, and Bagua Quan, were developed which used different
ways to get the similar concept with Neijia Quan. Usually people think these three great styles
inherited and developed Neijia Quan concept. In 1892 in Beijing, under the initiative of Bagua
Master Cheng Tinghua, some great masters from these styles made a decision to unite these
three styles together in one family and call themselves Neijia or Neijia Quan. From that time,
gradually most people accepted this decision. Today it has already become a popular and
generally recognized designation. Because the original Neijia Quan art was already lost, from this
point this article will use the term Neijia to refer collectively to Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi.
||2. What are the main differences between Waijia and Neijia
Because Neijia developed from Waijia, there are many similarities. Some people even think it is
wrong to separate them. But if one looks deeply at the principles and skills of these two styles,
one can find real differences significant enough to separate them into two different styles.
Separating Neijia and Waijia is quite reasonable and will make many things much clearer in
practice and recognizes the process of Chinese martial arts development. Without understand
the difference, one cannot really understand Chinese martial arts deeply. The following analysis
highlights some major differences between Neijia and Waijia.
||(1) Philosophy: Buddhism or Taoism
In China traditional philosophy always gave deep influence in all aspects of Chinese activities.
Every high level thing must have its philosophy foundation. Martial arts is developed in same way.
When people want to push their skill to higher level, they start to use some philosophy ideas to
complete their principle and training.
Usually people called Waijia a Shaolin style, because most Waijia styles respect Shaolin style,
and they even think that the original source of their styles came from Shaolin Temple. So the
basic philosophy of Waijia arts tends to follow Buddhism.
Usually people called Neijia a Wudang style, because all Neijia styles tend to follow Taoism, and
Wudang Mountain is the most famous Taoist holy place. The other reason is because people
respect Taoist Master Zhang Sanfeng as a founder of original Neijia style. Master Zhang is
believed to have practiced his Taoism in Wudang Mountain for many years. Thus people respect
Wudang and think that the Neijia concept came from Wudang.
Although Waijia and Neijia follow different philosophies, there are many similarities between
them. In China, the most popular Buddhism style is Chan (Zen). Shaolin Temple is recognized as
the place of origin of Chan. The basic Chan idea is a mixture of the original Buddhism and
Taoism. This suggests that Chan includes some Taoism. On the other hand, one of the most
famous Taoism sects is Quan Zhan (Complete Truth). Zhang Sanfeng supposedly belonged to
this style. One of the main ideas of the Quan Zhan sect is that the three main philosophies,
Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, are based on the same principles, so therefore they
should be united together in practice. These factors may have produced the many philosophical
similarities between Waijia and Neijia.
In fact there are some styles between Waijia and Neijia having characteristics of both branches.
Such styles make the separation between Waijia and Neijia unclear. For example, Tongbei is
usually considered a Waijia style, but it follows Taoist philosophy and incorporates internal
principles. Another example is that some Xingyi masters from Shanxi refer to Xingyi as an
outside branch of Shaolin style because Ji Jike stayed and learnt in Shaolin Temple about ten
years when he was young.
To avoid a common misconception, it should be emphasized that in suggesting that Waijia and
Neijia follow Buddhism and Taoism respectively, refers to philosophy and not religion. In China
philosophy and religions are usually mixed together. For example, Taoist religion uses Taoist
philosophy as its basic principle. But when people use Taoist philosophy, it does not mean they
belong to the religion group.
||(2) Basic principle: Increase or change the human natural ability
The approach of Waijia practice is to increase human natural ability. The basic human abilities for
fighting are speed, force, and natural (normal) reaction. All skills follow these abilities. People
want to increase absolute speed and force. Waijia skill training is designed and developed
based on the body¡¦s natural reaction, what is often referred to as moving externally. From this
standpoint it is relatively direct and clear for people to understand this way of training.
The approach of Neijia practice is to change the human natural ability. Neijia practitioners
consider that changing the human natural ability is much more important than to increase it. Neijia
people want to be quick and powerful in relative ways. They also want to change their natural
reaction by training directed by the mind, what is often referred to as moving internally. Although
there are some practices in Neijia for increasing the human ability too, compared to changing,
increasing the natural ability is always secondary in importance and desirability. Thus there are
many things that are not direct and clear, and even too difficult for people to understand.
To understand this point is very important. Many skills and technical words are same in these two
styles but different in inside meaning. If one can not understand this point, he will always confuse
by these similar things.
High level Waijia training also tries to change the human natural ability. In Neijia practice, the
human natural ability also gets improved. So at the top level, Neijia and Waijia often have similar
results, it is called "practice internal and external together", but use different ways to reach this
level. Perhaps the Neijia idea generated from this point? However, Neijia does not wait until
reaching a high level to develop the changes but makes the changes from the beginning.
||(3) Training way: From outside to inside or from inside to outside
It is incorrect to assume that Waijia practitioners just practice external things and Neijia
practitioners just practice internal things. Waijia and Neijia practitioners must practice both. The
difference is that they use different ways of training. It is said that Waijia practices from outside
(Wai) to inside (Nei) and Neijia practices from inside to outside.
For Waijia practice, people first train their physical body like muscles, bones and skin and do not
emphasis inside training in the beginning. From this way, they can improve their physical ability
first. Then, generally, they will undergo inside training for internal components, like shen, yi, and qi.
For Neijia practice, people emphasis inside training from the very beginning. After some basic
training that is similar to Waijia, internal components practice is emphasized early in training,
along with work on the improvement of the physical body. Neijia practitioners tend to think that
without improving the inside, outside improvement cannot enable one to reach high level skill.
This difference in approaches causes a lot of training details to be very different in each style.
Understanding these differences will be helpful in understanding the two styles. A common
misunderstanding is to think that Neijia practices Qi but Waijia does not, possibly many Waijia
practitioners do a lot of physical practice and many Neijia practitioners do a lot of internal
practice. Consequently, many people misconceive that Neijia is necessarily a high level skill.
||(4) Basic skill: To use the External Jin or the Internal Jin
Jin (or jing) or trained force is the most important training component in Chinese martial arts. Jin
is force but not natural force. Jin is force developed by special training, or perhaps that one trains
natural force to become Jin (i.e., "trained force"). There are two basic kinds of Jin: Wai Jin -
External Jin and Nei Jin - Internal Jin, which are differently trained and used. For example,
External Jin is conspicuous when it is released. Internal Jin is inconspicuous when it is released.
In Waijia, people practice and use the External Jin a lot. It is the major thing, and the Internal Jin is
just the ancillary thing. In Neijia, the Internal Jin is preferred as the major thing and the External Jin
is the ancillary thing.
||(5) Fighting tactic: To use initiating attack or to use quiet to defend moving
In the Waijia fighting principle, one is the master of fighting and attempts to control everything
tactically from the beginning. Waijia designs everything in the training, such as practicing
attacking and defending skills based on what one thinks one's opponent will do. Then in fighting,
one attempts to have the engagement simply follow these designs so that one can get control. It is
called initiating attack fighting.
In the Neijia fighting principle, one should keep quiet and let one's opponent take control in the
beginning, waiting and leading the opponent to make a mistake. A Neijia practitioner learns how
to follow the opponent and wait for a chance. One should not necessarily design any particular
tactic, but should learn how to know the opponent. Neijia teaches how to keep changing in order
to follow the opponent according to what he does at any particular moment. It is called "to use
quiet to defend moving" and "'yield yourself to follow your opponent".
Waijia fighting principle is direct and clearcut. People think that if everything is in your hand you
can control it. Never give your opponent a chance to control anything. It is the best way to win in
fighting. Here the effect is the first thing. Neijia fighting principle is not direct and clearcut. People
think that it is not easy to take control all time in a fighting. So only if you can know your opponent
well, then you can really control him. Do not worry whether your opponent controls something. He
may get control but that also gives you a chance to know and control him. It is the safest and most
efficient way to win in fighting. Here the efficient is the first thing.
||(6) Others Issues
There are some other issues to be considered when discussing how to separate Waijia and
Neijia. For example, in China when a person become a Buddhist monk, people say he goes the
outside of his family. Because Shaolin martial arts came from Buddhist temple, follow Buddhist
philosophy, and Buddhist monks practice it, it is said that this style came from the outside (wai)
family (jia) people - Waijia. On the other hand, the Emperor's palace is usually called Da Nei (the
great inside); therefore, everything from the palace was called inside things. Taiji, Xingyi, and
Bagua were taught in the emperor's family in the early days in Beijing and then became famous
from that point. Thus people usually said that because these three styles came from the inside of
the palace or the inside of emperor's family they were called Neijia.
Of course each group has their own reasons to explain their ideas. Trying to understand different
views of different groups may help in better understanding the nature of Neijia. The foregoing
discussion merely highlighted some common views on the differences between Neijia and Waijia.
Although there are some differences between Neijia and Waijia, they were not developed in two
isolated places, but were bound together by countless ties and influenced each other.
Practitioners of both groups commonly exchanged their experience. Consequently, the separation
between Neijia and Waijia is not clear, or perhaps it should be stated that the separation is clear
from principle but is not clear from the practice of these respective styles. Some styles such as
Baji or Tongbei may be between Neijia and Waijia. Even in one style, many things may overlap.
So it is often said that Neijia and Waijia are not only different but also similar.
||3. How to understand Waijia and Neijia
Neijia and Waijia are two big branches of the Chinese martial arts tree which offer us different
ways to study martial arts. One cannot say one is better than the other, but one can say which one
is better for one's own study. There is no better style but there are better practitioners. The most
important thing is to find out which one is more suitable for you depend on your personal
characteristics and body condition.
Unfortunately, because the development level of skills and principles in each style is not balanced,
many styles (especially in the Waijia group) never progress beyond lower level skill. However, this
does not mean that Waijia is lower level skill than Neijia. But this confuses many people, so one
needs to be careful when deciding what style to practice.
||(1) Different training approaches
Because of the principles and practice follow the natural way of moving the body, for Waijia in the
beginning it is easy to study but difficult for people to achieve a high level. On the other hand,
Neijia is difficult to study in the beginning but easy to advance in study. For Waijia most people
can achieve middle level skill, but few people can advance to high level skill. For Neijia, most
people cannot even reach middle level skill, but many middle level people have a better chance to
reach higher level skill. Perhaps this is why famous Neijia masters are more numerous than
famous Waijia masters despite the greater number of Waijia practitioners over Neijia
practitioners in the past one hundred years of Chinese martial arts history.
If one practices Waijia, in the beginning one's good personal physical condition will bring more
obvious advantage than if from practicing Neijia. This is because Waijia follow natural ability or
the body's natural way of moving. But for Neijia practice, sometimes natural ability can just be a
disadvantage or hindrance to acquiring Neijia skill. This is why for beginners Waijia is much
easier than Neijia. When people attempt to advance from middle level to high level skill, even for
Waijia, the most important thing is internal training. For most people who have trained for a long
time in Waijia it will be difficult to catch up in the internal training. But for most middle level Neijia
people, it will be not too difficult. This is why many Waijia practitioners learn Neijia when they get
older. They know what they want but they feel their Waijia training is too difficult to achieve higher
level skill due to the decline in physical ability when one gets older. They want to use Neijia to help
themselves in this way. Also this is why many Neijia practitioner want to mix some Waijia skill in
the beginning of their training. They are worried that their beginning level Neijia skill is not good
enough for fighting.
The different training ways of Neijia and Waijia are just like two different roads going to the top of
a mountain. One road is easier in the beginning but more difficult later. The other is more difficult
in the beginning but easier later. If one reaches the top of the mountain the road used does not
matter. But before taking one road over another, choosing the road which is more suitable for
oneself is very important. Of course there are many things which will influence one's decision. No
matter whether one chooses to practice Neijia or Waijia, two things to remember are to work hard
and not get lost, else you never have a chance to reach the top of the mountain.
Today one thing is really make people worry. Because Neijia is not direct and clear like Waijia,
people are easy to follow Waijia idea naturally. Although the number of Neijia practitioners
increased quickly, the qualified teachers are not enough. So that you can find many people
misunderstand their practice. They think they learn Neijia skill but they really do it just like Waijia. It
will hinder their prograss, even worse, their activities really make more people misunderstand.
||(2) Can one mix practicing both together?
This is a common and interesting question. Generally because Waijia and Neijia are very different
in many aspects, it is too difficult to mix these practices together. But on the other hand, because
the final goals of both styles are same, it may be possible to mix these practices together. Most of
the time people suggest that one, especially if a beginner, focus on one of these styles first until
he can do it well and then to try the other. It is good to understand one style easily and quickly but
sometimes this make it more difficult to understand the other. The answer really depends on
one¡¦s personality and his study environment. If one can separate different practices clearly and
can understand what one is doing each time (usually he need to get help from his teacher), maybe
one can practice both at the same time and improve in both. But if one always mix up both styles'
concepts, it would be better to separate practice so as to focus on only one of these styles. In
history, there were many great masters who just studied one style in their whole life. There were
many masters who studied several different styles and were great in each one.
Neijia and Waijia are different in many aspects but have the same goal. When the Waijia principle
and practice were developed to a high level, the Neijia concept was generated from it. This
suggests that Neijia started from a higher level stage in the beginning. Neijia has been practiced,
researched, and developed much quicker than Waijia in these last three hundred years. Its charm
attracted many educated people to study it so that its principles became much more developed
than Waijia. Although from the standpoint of techniques Waijia is richer, Neijia has more high level
principles. One can say that each has its strong points to recommend it. Whatever one chooses
to study, it is important to remember the goal is always to practice both external and internal
aspects of the body, to improve both one's martial skill and morality, to promote good health and
long life, and to understand the philosophy of the life. Only in this way can one find enjoyment in