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Physical training in your internal martial arts

Physical training in your internal martial arts. (Erle Montaigue lifted weights)
By Eli Montaigue March 2017.

 

So many people have this idea that training in physical exercise goes against the Taiji way, that if you build up your physical physique you will lose internal power and that it is your ego wanting to be stronger.
The only thing dad thought was bad about weights etc was if you do it more than your Taiji.
Taiji is about balance, and there is no balance without the physical exercise, the only time that physical exercise will affect your Taiji in a negative way is when it takes over.
For example, if you practice weight lifting 3 hours per day and Taiji 1 hour per day, this will create an imbalance, but if you balance it all out, then the physical exercise will only enhance your internal.

Why? Because Taiji is about balance, and this is probably the absolute most important principal of them all. Now most people think of this balance as being purely on an internal level, to balance the yin and yang energy of your system.
The balance must be in everything, left and right, up and down, inside and outside.

The masters of old did not have to focus so much on physical exercise, because they got it naturally, they didn’t have cars to take them places, so they had to use their legs, they did physical work such as farming, have you ever met a farmer? They are some of the strongest people around, so no they do not need to do physical exercise.

But for most of us, our daily jobs to not build us up to have strong bodies, so we have to do it elsewhere in our training.
Training in physical exercise will only enhance your Taiji practice, because it will bring about a greater balance, and a greater balance is better Taiji.
An internal martial art doesn’t mean you focus only on the internal, it means you “also” focus on the internal, to negate the physical and focus only on internal is just as unbalanced as focusing solely on the physical.

Look at the animal kingdom, all animals are so strong and muscular, they get this from having to live naturally without the aid of human inventions, have you ever seen a chimpanzee without it’s hair? Wow you should see all that muscle! Yet they are still totally loose and relaxed.
Human inventions are great, but they make us weak for example cars, chairs, comfy soft beds, shoes, toilet seats, and the list goes on.

Currently in my own training I am doing a little more physical than internal, this is still fine, because I have done 16 years of doing way more internal than physical, so even if I kept up this current training regime it would take me years to get to a point where the physical might outweigh the internal.
When ever I talk about building stronger arms, doing chin ups, or working on my abs, some people get this idea that I’m going to lose my Taiji ability by doing this, but It’s all about what your body needs, and right now my body needs physical, and by doing this it creates a greater balance in my body, therefore actually making the internal better. 
I have been doing Taiji for 16 years now, and that’s 16 years at career level of long training hours every day, with my teacher there the whole time for the first 10 years, that’s a lot different to someone practicing 16 years when they might go to a once a week class, and do their form once a day.
So I know what makes my Taiji better, what makes it feel more connected and more fluent.

I have some very muscular students who find that when they do a week of working out at the gym their Taiji feels weaker, this is because their body is still very much out of balance to the physical side, because they have maybe done 10 years of weight lifting before starting their Taiji training, so to create balance they need to focus a lot more on the internal.
So because for them they feel a weakness in their Taiji after working out, they think this applies to everyone, this is not the case.

I hear so many people talk about ego when it comes to building muscle, that if you focus on the internal you are humble but if you focus on the external you are egotistical.
This can be the case in some situations, but you could also say the same the other way round, anything can be done with ego and anything can be done without it.
If someone does physical exercise to enhance their body, to make it the best it can be, by bringing greater balance to their internal training, I don’t see how this is ego, and if it is then ego is a good thing, after all ego simply means self, and there’s nothing wrong with putting time into yourself, especially if that time you put into yourself is to then be an inspiration and teach to others.

Natural work or set exercises.

Well personally I think that for example going for a long hike up a mountain with a heavy pack on your back is better than doing squats in a gym, but what if you live in London, there’s no mountains, and maybe you don’t have time for a 4 hour walk each day, so we make do with what we have, and doing a leg work out of any kind is better than sitting at your desk waiting till you have time to go to the mountain 3 hours drive from where you live.
There is an optimal way of doing everything, but most of the time we are not able to fit this into our lives, so don’t sit around waiting for the one day a week you have time to do this optimal training, do this next best thing when every you can.

What did Erle think about all this?
Same as me, he was all about balance, he often said things against lifting weights, and that it’s much better to get your physical training through partner work or working on a farm etc, but again this is the ideal, we don’t always have someone to train with, the only thing Dad had against using weights was to do it excessively.

Dad had 18 inch arms at his peak and 15 inches before he died, you don’t get that from only doing push hands.
Dad worked physically on our farm in Australia, he was out digging holes and building fences, but when there was no work to be done, do you know what he did?
Push ups, and lots of them, sprints up and down our long driveway, and to top it off, he had his own set of weights, a 40kg dumbbell set, he would do all sorts of exercises with those weights, even the standard bicep curl.
I never saw what his max curl was, but one time we were at a sports shop when I was about 14, and I saw a 25kg dumbbell, I picked it up and curled it using both hands, I said to dad hey try this! HAHA! Thinking he’d be shocked with the weight, he took it in one hand and curled it 3 times then put it down and said “yeah that’s a nice weight”, now you can’t curl 25kg with ease from doing only Taiji.
So did Erle Montaigue have a problem with flow?

He actually taught Ben and I how to do correct push ups and other exercises, when I was 13 I could only do a few push ups, about one year later I was doing 60 full push ups in a row.

Weights or body weight.
Often people think that body weight exercises are better and more natural than using weights, I say yes and no to this. I think that doing push ups is more natural than using a bench press, but I think that lifting something up over your head is more natural than doing handstand push ups.
I like exercises that teach me to use my body as a whole, but I don’t see any problem with doing a bit of isolated movement such as a bicep curl, as long as you do something else to reconnect everything, again it’s all about balance.

The two best Taiji practitioners I have ever met are Erle Montaigue and Leigh Evans;
both these men did and do a good balance of internal and external training.

So physical training is an integral part of your internal path.
You have to find your own balance, it is different for everyone, so I can’t tell you what you should practice more or less of, unless I train with you and feel what you’re made up of, then I or any other teacher can offer advice to you.

Most people in the Taiji world are too soft, so if you’re one of them, get up and use your muscles, see what difference you feel.