Benefits of Internal Martial Arts
Internal martial arts have a number benefits due to their emphasis on a few key principles: proper body alignment, coordination, and relaxation.
Internal martial arts pay strict attention to proper body alignment when standing still and while in motion. This is practiced though both standing exercises and moving exercises. Standing exercises reinforce and strengthen the body in the proper alignment which in turn makes it good for the joints, improves balance and overall posture. These exercises also develop martial qualities such as overall strength and steadiness making a person hard to unbalance.
Coordination and proper alignment throughout all movements is practiced through footwork, five elements (Xingyi), palm changes (Bagua) and silk reeling exercises (Taichi). All of these drills and exercises emphasize moving the body as a single unit. Through this practice whole body strength and elasticity are developed. Martially, this trains the ability to change directions rapidly and with power. By stretching and strengthening in all directions injury resistance is also developed.
Most people recognize internal martial arts (primarily Taichi) for its principle of relaxation.
Maintaining a relaxed mind and body is stressed throughout all movements and even fighting. For those just practicing for health, this helps to reduce daily stress and improve mental clarity. For martial artists, relaxation allows one to generate more power, react quickly and be sensitive to the opponent's movements. While all activities in internal martial arts emphasize relaxation, push hands is probably the best example of how it is trained directly. During push hands, each partner can feel the excess tension in the other. In a competitive setting, excess tension can be taken advantage of to off-balance the opponent. In a cooperative setting, it provides valuable feedback and helps cue both partners to relax.
Most people have an image of internal martial arts as being soft, slow and merely for health, however the benefits of internal martial arts goes beyond just general health maintenance. Through consistent practice of these key principles, one can develop powerful, free-flowing techniques that can be used effectively for fighting.