Internal Strength Training (Considered)

There is a common fear among internal martial artists that if they do strength training they will loose sensitivity and mobility. Also there is a general fear strength is simply incompatible with internal power generation.

I have been doing muscle training now for about two years. I started because I had some intermittent pain and I theorized that the pain came from excessive flexibility along with strength loss do to aging. I got my own home gym in the spring and upped the amount of daily strength training I was doing. Here is what I have found.

Strength training does two things that are useful to internal martial arts.

1) it improves tissue connectivity—recruitment.

2) the key gates connecting the torso to the limbs need muscle tone to stay open. 

Connectivity means how well your fingers and toes connect to your head. The concept of connectivity is inseparable from recruitment, which is a measure of how much tissue is involved with the connection between fingers/toes and head. The technical term is neural recruitment, basically how much and how easily muscles join-in with whatever task is being performed. The more connection-recruitment you have, the better. More neural recruitment is less energy efficient, but more power efficient--which is what we want.

If you want to know what open gates are, just play with a health active toddler. Toddlers have open gates. People lose the open gates two ways.

1) When they start walking for energy efficiency—their legs become like stilts or sticks. That closes the gates of the hip.

2) When they develop the ability to carry a full cup of tea without spilling it. Fine motor control restricts the range and power of the arm and disconnects the center of mass from the movement of the arm. It closes the gates of the shoulders. 


Weights, resistance-bands, and body-weight exercises are all good as long as they serve the two goals, connectivity and open gates. The general problem with weight-resistance training is that it has to be very close (nearly identical) to the type of movement you want to strengthen or it will add nothing. It becomes unnecessary bulk, and makes you hungry and tired. 

As an internal martial arts teacher, I want to be certain my students understand why connectivity-recruitment is important and what open and closed gates feel like before they jump into weight-resistance training. Because strength training could make those things harder to learn or comprehend.

In addition there are two types of conditioning, that all martial artist need to practice, which are often part of strength training.

1) Pre-activation shape resilience (PASR)

2) Ground reaction force (GRF). 

If getting body slammed makes you giggle, you have good pre-activation shape resilience (PASR). Likewise, if you can fall off a skateboard without getting hurt you got it. The drunken Waltz does the same thing. But stretchy bands, weights, and balance balls can get you there too. 

Jump-rope is a great way to develop ground reaction force (GRF). Hop-scotch. Jumping backwards. In gymnastics they call this a punch, a hit, or a pop.  Quick short punchy jumps. Popping off of a handstand. A standing back somersault uses a powerful jump, but a back somersault out of a round-off or a handspring uses a punch. Basically your feet punch the ground as you are landing so that you rebound up into the air for the trick. All martial arts can make use of that type of bouncy-ness. Internal martial arts like Tai Chi or Baguazhang want you to have ground reaction force on every inch of your body. It is a type of strength. 

Back to the original fears. Does strength training make you less sensitive? Yes, but so what, that is a good thing, Tai Chi people need to stop smoking pot. Sensitivity is overrated. Strength does not reduce mobility. That is a fact. If your muscles are too tense or painfully hard, just do more standing still practice. The problem is that intent is getting stuck in the muscles. Practice melting. But I would much rather have a tense muscle to melt than not enough muscle tone. 

Is strength training incompatible with internal martial arts? Yes, a lot of it is. Be smart. Don’t bulk up. Don’t over eat. Don’t get injured. You must keep your mind outside of your body, if your yi (intent) gets trained into your body, you cannot do internal martial arts. Your movement will be too easy to read. Cultivate emptiness.

The key is to practice maximum vanity. Be better looking today than you were yesterday. Remember, you were put on this planet to serve beauty.

Too many people claim to be doing internal martial arts but are not practicing or teaching the golden elixir (jindan). Before the twentieth century every man, woman and child in China knew that Internal Martial Arts meant martial skills combined with the golden elixir. If you want to know what it is all about, check out my book: Possible Origins.

Now, please help me re-name my blog because I'm not the same person I was when I started it. Thanks!