Internal Versus External Motion

Once a famous musician was invited to a concert performed by top rated music students. Afterward he was asked his opinion of the performance. His reply basically congratulated them on a technically proficient performance but added that there was one thing the students were missing. They needed to learn how to enhance their performance by connecting emotion and feeling to their skills.

In a similar way, when learning Tai Chi, we often do not appreciate the difference between what can be categorized as external versus internal motion. This is an important element when learning Tai Chi. When a student begins, it is a process of imitation, learning the movements externally. As they progress and become more proficient in the movements, they gradually develop an awareness of energy flow and how it affects motion. As time goes by, with the help of an instructor, the student begins to understand that what they learned initially was only the beginning and that the real benefit of Tai Chi practice evolves from outside to inside, from just learning the skills of a movement into understanding how a motion begins with the flow of qi.

This is one of the benefits of Tai Chi study. I have been practicing Tai Chi for over forty years and still enjoy my journey. Whenever I practice, I look forward to learning something new. Some days I will just review one movement over and over. Other days I might try a sequence of movements or perhaps a complete form. The enjoyment to me is the process of learning, which never ends. So, why am I reporting this? The reason is to get students of any level to understand that the goal of learning Tai Chi is not to get to the end of a lesson, it is to live in the moment of the practice, of learning a skill, a movement or a form. The goal is to appreciate the journey, not complete it, but to live it, to incorporate the concept of energy flow, balance, peace of mind into their lives; to experience the benefits, to live the benefits.

So bottom line, to really benefit from the process of learning Tai Chi, create a habit of practice. Don’t rush through it as if you were at a gym, learn to experience it as a method of generating your own internal life force.


About the Author: Alan Bandes has been teaching Chen Style Tai Chi for over 2 decades while studying under Master Ren Guangyi. He teaches in-person, and as an instructor for Chi Force Community where he offers live-streamed classes.

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