Excerpts addressing "Softness" in the I.M.A. from the New Book

(From the Into to Sections VI and VII)

For a serious adult practitioner investigating the step-by-step evolution of the “soft” and “energetic” martial arts, larger-than-life stories of those artsborn in a mountain-top monastery a thousand or more years ago are not helpful. Instead, for the mature seeker, it is more useful to ask questions about the evolutionary conditions that might have contributed to the art’sinitial development. For example, the term neijiaquan appears as early as Huang Pai-chia’s (Huang Baijia) seventeenth-century Neijia Quanfa  (“Boxing methods of the Internal School”). However, it did not become a common classifier of martial arts styles until the nineteenth century, 6  and for practical purposes, not until Sun Lu-tang’s use of the term to characterize a category of martial arts based on “soft” power, in books published in the 1920s.

(From Section VII)

….The fourth and final part of the answer speaks to the t’ai-chi ideal of minimal contact-minimal force. T’ai-chi involves a particularly interesting way to engage an opponent. As martial art researcher and historian Douglas Wile suggests, this kind of engagement is sometimes referred to as the “softening of t’ai-chi.”


Taken together, these four points seek to elucidate t’ai-chi as a close combat art. It is a practice that includes the induction of a specific mind-body state, biofeedback training, learning to access creative brain structures under stress, and the skill of “light touch,” or “soft” problem solving. All of these contribute to the discussion of subtle energy and the possibility of something that might be called “internal energy in the martial arts.”


The discussion that follows has implications for other styles of martial arts, as well as contact sports in general. The genesis of what we today know as t’ai-chi is based on the notion that a master practitioner can influence and defeat an opponent through the aforementioned minimal contact and physical effort. This goal, first systematized in the art of t’ai-chi, has broad implications for the way martial arts have been thought about and taught ever since.



Yang Chen-fu in a t'ai-chi posture


Furthermore, if Li’s description of minimal effort control over an opponent were true, it would be evidence that a “soft power” art — described by seventeenth-century Huang Pai-chia and his father, Huang Tsung-hsi — that could counter the “hard Shaolin” had been realized. 12 The sudden appearance of a new kind of ability in close combat would also validate descriptions of the abilities attributed to the person who would become its primary advocate in the early 1900s, Yang Cheng-fu (Photo)

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