Being internal is about using the intention to drive the body’s movements.
What then exactly is intention?
All of us have intention in that when we do something we have the intent to do it. For example the fine line that separates murder from manslaughter is intent. If you kill someone but didn’t plan to do it on purpose that’s manslaughter. However, if you preplan the ways and means to kill a person by deliberation that’s murder.
So when you do a Tai Chi movement by just wanting to do it this is considered having intent in that you intended to do the movement. The big question is how exactly do you do the movement. And it is in this aspect of the doing that the majority of players miss out on.
Now we move on to another tricky part of defining internal. So let’s say you know how to bend your knees, turn your waist, relax your body, torque your waist, thrust your legs etc doesn’t this mean you are being internal?
Yes and no.
To be internal also involves biomechanics but in a subtle, non-obvious manner. The biomechanics at this level is shaped by your mind’s instructions in conformance with the principles of the Classics rather than gross motor movements.
We can characterize the use of intention as the mind delivering a series of defined instructions on how the body should move and your body in turn executes the instructions precisely. In this manner this is very similar to how the software, the OS, drives a PC hardware.
For example, many Tai Chi players will tell themselves to relax. Many will say this is intention but it’s not the use of intention in the Tai Chi Chuan sense. To be relaxed in the internal sense means we have to define what exactly is relax, the steps to achieve it and when we know we have fulfilled the relax criteria. Otherwise, you can say you are relaxed but what does it really mean? Thus, even with my students when I tell them to relax they will sometimes tell me that they are relaxed already when to my eye they aren’t. Fortunately, there are ways to test it otherwise it would be a very subjective argument.
So until you know what intention is about I very much doubt that you can understand the actual rationale behind the principle of “use intention, do not use strength“. Without knowing the rationale this will be just something you heard of but unable to really relate to much less actually be able to use it. Then over time it will be treated as a marketing gimmick and eventually the reason behind it will be lost.
Takuan Soho wrote a very good book on the nature of intention. When I first read it I can intellectually understand some of what he was saying but most of it makes no sense and sounded contradictory. More important, I cannot use anything of the stuff he wrote about. I didn’t have the keys to unlocking this puzzle. It was until I finally learned Tai Chi Chuan properly that what Takuan talked about makes real sense and can be translated into physical usage. In being able to do so I now know that he was not writing or speculating about airy fairy stuff to fool the common practitioners and have a leg over them.
To summarize, to be internal means you must know how to use intention to control your body. Its not just a general command but a specific series of inner instructions from your mind to your body. You know what you are doing exactly. It is like building a house. Everything has a place and a reason. Built wrongly, the roof may collapse, the pipes may leak, etc. The blueprint for the internal is the Classics. If you don’t know what it means don’t blame the Classics. They are a record of what the past masters know. That you can’t make sense of it means whatever excuses you want to give it to justify not being able to explain the Classics. Just don’t call the Classics a lie or some intellectual gibberish.