Tai Chi was made famous by Yang Lu Chan who was known as ‘Invincible Yang’ because of his formidable fighting prowess throughout ancient China.
He defeated the elite fighters and martial artists of his day and so became recruited to teach the Manchu Royal family as well as their palace bodyguards.
Most Tai Chi teachers nowadays in the East and the West are no longer interested or able to teach Tai Chi as the high level practical martial art it once was. Many of the critical training methods were kept secret and often taught only to family members as the art was passed onto successive generations.
Cheng Tin Hung, the fighting Tai Chi master called ‘Tai Chi Bodyguard’ in Hong Kong was one of those inside the door disciples lucky enough to learn not only the Sanshou self defence syllabus of fighting Tai Chi, but also Internal Strength training, called Tai Chi Neigong (internal work).
Cheng Tin Hung’s students were known as the leading Tai Chi fighters in Asia, achieving a record within Hong Kong’s full contact fighting scene of 31 wins out of 32 matches, losing only once. In international full contact championships his students were usually crowned champion. He himself had in his first championship defeated the legendary Taiwanese national champion and head martial arts tutor to the military, Yu Man Tong, despite being 20 pounds lighter.
Cheng Tin Hung always attributed much of their fighting abilities to the Internal Strength training practice. For those interested in Tai Chi as a fighting martial art for self defence he considered it essential training.
He himself had learned the internal strength (Neigong) from both Qi Min Xuan, who’s lineage came from Wu Quan Yu, as well as his uncle Cheng Wing Kwong, who was one of Wu Chien Chuan’s three formal disciples.
In his early years of training Qi Min Xuan required him to practice Internal Strength for 2-3 hours, a highly advanced level of practice.
Taoist origins and ideas within the practice
Internal strength (Neigong) was developed by the Taoist recluses who studied nature and the processes within it. Among their objectives was to enhance states of consciousness, and to make the body extremely healthy, full of energy and vitality.
The exercises they developed were based on their observations of different animals and their movements, taking each ones speciality and adapting it so that it became an effective training exercise for humans.
There are several general themes we can observe when studying the Neigong exercises and how they work.
- Breathing patterns are trained throughout all the exercises, so that our body becomes conditioned to breath deeply, so that the diaphragm expands downwards, making us calm and tranquil and so that more oxygen is taken into the body. The internal organs also receive a massaging effect, which increases their health and functioning. The Taoists liked to encourage the flow of activity though all the internal organs.
- Strengthening of bones, muscles and sinews (fascia, tendons and ligaments). Many of the exercises target specific parts of the body in a systematic way, building a very high level of highly coordinated strength. Many of the movements also strengthen fascial trains that are considered to align with the meridians used in acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.
- Stimulating the hormonal system via posture development and the stimulation of the various glands and organs that contribute to a healthy, balanced hormonal system. The nervous system is also highly stimulated via deep stance training.
- Achieving deep levels of awareness and tranquility via mindful attitude through the practice, and the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. At the end of every physical practice it is recommended to practice the 24th exercise, which includes deep breathing practice and well as seated meditation. This is said to ‘make the medicine’, which in Taoist terms means to go from sympathetic nervous system activity to deeply restful and blissful parasympathetic. There is probably also increased movement of cerebral spinal fluid, which transports beneficial compounds including serotonin up the spine and into the brain.
- Strengthening of the foundation forces of Tai Chi. The exercises develop expertise in the coordinated recruitment of the entire body’s strength to very precise points of focus, leveraging the huge elastic power of the sinews. This is done in a highly systematic way, leading to our ability to easily expressive potent focussed force in all directions.
The system contains 24 exercises, 12 of which are Yin and 12 of which are Yang. The Yin and Yang exercise are practiced on alternating days.
Serious students can train 7 days a week, whilst those with less time will get plenty of benefits from three or four 20 minute sessions. For advanced students a session can be extended so that repetitions are increased and the standing meditation postures are held for longer durations.
The highest level of practice is said to lead to a state of awareness and tranquility we can consider somewhat ‘enlightened’. Tranquility (extremely low stress state) was always the most highly prized attribute of the Taoists, which makes their training methods very useful for the stressed out and distracted people of the modern world.
The Internal Strength system is a wonderful stand alone, all in one exercise, health promotion and meditation system, which will benefit anyone who practices. As a tai chi martial artist the technical and power development aspects will transform your physical practice, making your attacking or defensive techniques far more effective and potent. There is also a mysterious increase in perception, sensitivity and awareness that comes from the training, which will also hugely positively impact your practice, regardless of ‘style’.
The course is a simple to follow presentation, using six highly detailed tutorials, with four exercises taught within each one. All details are made explicit and anyone who takes the course is invited to ask any practices related questions as they explore the material. The objective is that you reap all the benefits the Neigong training has to offer.
You also have ongoing access to Neil’s 30 years of experience in Neigong training via email and WhatsApp
One of the many benefits of Neigong is ‘iron shirt’ ability, which is to take powerful impacts to the body as demonstrated below…