Internal and External Arts Differences:
Internal (often referred to as “soft”) arts emphasize the more non-tangible elements of the arts. They utilize chi flow, rooting, and those elements which some people may consider “mystical”. They emphasize meditation, body control, perception, mind control/focus, and pressure points. These systems tend to redirect energy, channeling and diverting momentum to unbalance an opponent, or to move them into striking range. The absence of physical strength tends to require a lower commitment to the use of force in their movements. Thus, they are less likely to be unbalanced and can easily recover from redirection.
External (often referred to as “hard”) arts tend to emphasize body mechanics, leverage, and applied force. They use weight, strength, positioning, and anatomy to optimal advantage. These systems direct energy outward and meet energy with energy. They tend to use more strikes and deliver more physical strength force with each strike. The practitioners will cause damage with their blocks, turning them into attacks. The delivery of more physical strength power makes them harder to turn aside, but they also require a higher commitment to the force of the movements and thus don’t recover as well from mistakes.
Tai Chi and Chi Gong are Different
Chi Gong is a practice that focuses on cultivating, circulating and harmonizing “CHI”. The intent is to first balance the body itself as a whole and then balance the body within the backdrop of one’s environment. The health benefits become obvious as you practice as well as mind-blowing.
Tai Chi, although related, is fundamentally a martial art. Some forms of Chi Gong do promote physical characteristics useful for martial arts, but in comparison, Chi Gong lacks the attack and defense principles contained in the Tai Chi postures. The concept of Tai Chi boxing, (its origin), was and still is a martial art.
Tai Chi Compared To Yoga
Health and longevity are primary goals of both Tai Chi and Hatha Yoga, and many people cross-train in both disciplines. Both emphasize stretching, breath work and chi, called prana in yoga. Both seek to integrate the body, subtle energy, and mind. Their approaches to physicality are significantly more subtle than ordinary Western exercise methods and sports. Both help calm your mind and deal with stress.
The best way to explain the difference:
In Tai Chi, you relax to stretch;
In Yoga, you stretch to relax.
Tai Chi emphasizes stretching through sophisticated dynamic fluid motions rather than by holding static postures. Yoga tends to use more extreme stretches than Tai Chi and some postures lock the joints and arch the back, which never happens in Tai Chi. These poses can be difficult for those with back or joint problems.
How To Learn These Systems
All systems require practice. These arts have well-defined techniques and sequence of movements that flow from one posture to the next according to underlying principles. The techniques and movements are learned by practicing in class weekly and at home every day. In class, teachers demonstrate the movements, and students practice them together as a group. The teachers provide hands-on adjustments to help you feel the best alignment for the movements and postures, while also taking into consideration any physical limitations. No special equipment or uniform is required, though flat-soled shoes are highly recommended.
Learning from videos or books
Nothing replaces learning these arts in person, with personal direction from a teacher. Proper movements, postures, and acknowledgment of physical limitations are essential. Videos or books can serve as reminders of what you are working on in class and can also provide fascinating and inspiring additional background to the history, philosophy, and principles.