In ancient times, Internal Strength was the first thing a Tai Chi Chuan master would teach his students. It provided them with a strong foundation on which to build the rest of the art. However, as society became more complex and teachers began to depend on Tai Chi Chuan for a living and thus taught more students, it came to be that Internal Strength was only taught to those students who had a sound character and would not abuse or misuse what they had learned. It took time to assess students in this way and so, nowadays, students will normally be taught the Hand Form and Pushing Hands first. Indeed, most self-styled ‘masters’ only know the Hand Form and one or two styles of the Pushing Hands.
Internal Strength is the most important part of the art of Tai Chi Chuan, as well as being the most mysterious and least understood. The creator of Tai Chi Chuan, Chang San Feng, found that skill alone was insufficient especially when facing more than one opponent. There is an old saying in the Chinese martial arts, ‘two hands cannot deal with four’. In other words, when faced with more than one opponent, even if our defence is good, we must expect to take some punishment. If our body is weak we may sustain severe injuries, while our own blows will lack power and will not hurt our opponent enough to stop him, even if they hit a vital point. This means that before we can be good fighters we need to develop a strong physique. Chang San Feng solved these problems by developing a special exercise called Internal Strength which faithfully follows the Yin Yang theory.
The Internal Strength regulates breathing and improves blood circulation. Practice loosens and relaxes the joints, making our movements more fluid, which in turn leads to quicker reactions and greater speed in attack and defence. Our sense of balance will also improve with practice.
As with the rest of Tai Chi Chuan we have Yin and Yang in the Internal Strength. There is a series of twelve Yin exercises and a complementary series of twelve Yang exercises. The Yin exercises are designed to develop our health and physique and are of especial value when the student has had a history of psychological problems, such as nervous breakdown, or where he suffers from a physical ailment such as stomach ulcers. It is for this reason that the Yin styles are taught first. The Yang styles are designed to increase our power and physical strength, though the Yin styles also do this, but to a lesser extent.
As well as physical and mental benefits, some of both the Yin and Yang styles have a practical combat application. Before being taught the Internal Strength it is necessary for the student to undergo a simple initiation ceremony in which respects are paid to a portrait of Chang San Feng, the founder, before which the student promises to be bound by the Twelve Commandments.