This is a question which will always divide many in both Internal and External martial arts styles.
The thought among some internal practitioners is that, if one is practising an internal art, then to simultaneously take on an external style would undoubtedly be detrimental to the development of their internal practice.
The same notion is shared by some practitioners of the external system.
I am a tai chi chuan practitioner from the Wudang Practical Tai Chi Chuan system as taught by the late tai chi chuan master Dan Docherty. There are many, even in my own style, who believe absolutely that the practice of tai chi must at all times be performed in a very yin manner, devoid of any outward appearance of the yang aspect. It is patently obvious that this mind set is wrong.
The art of tai chi chuan is based on the theory of yin and yang; hard and soft; inner and outer; full and empty; heavy and light; complimentary opposites. To favour one aspect over the other in practice will only serve to create an imbalance in our performance and comprehension of the art of tai chi chuan. The sun does not exist without the moon, nor does day exist without night, so consequently, yin cannot exist without yang. If the aforementioned were to be the case, life in general would be totally different from what we have become accustomed to. Chaos would ensue.
Many in tai chi still believe, wrongly I hasten to add, that in a combat situation against someone who is determined to rearrange their facial features in an unflattering manner that the aggressor would be bested if they, the tai chi practitioner responded to the assailant's physical aggression in a totally yin and passive manner. I am convinced that in such a scenario, the outcome would not be as they would have expected. Adopting such a notion I believe serves to expose some people's lack of any real martial understanding.
Equally, there are also those in the external styles who believe that to embrace the yin element into their training regime would weaken their martial skill. To those who practise the internal arts and have never had experience of the external arts, they are not at all in a position to school anyone on the practical interaction of the two opposing but complimentary forces of yin and yang. It is only as a result of having had some experience in an external system can one truly claim to understand force, (Li). As a result, their understanding will be merely theoretical, lacking any practical fibre.
In any situation, one needs always to be mindful of using force at the appropriate time and softness also at the appropriate time. There are many still who prattle on about not using any muscular force when practising tai chi. I say this to them, muscles, tendons and ligaments all play a role in our ability to exist as without them we would be just a pile of skin and bones on the ground.
For the external practitioners, I urge you to embrace softness (yin) into your training regime as it would enhance your ability to deliver force much more effectively and effortlessly as the entire body would be more relaxed and free from unnecessary muscular tension.
From a personal perspective, I practised karate for nine years before I began training in tai chi chuan. The transition from being overly reliant on muscular power to trusting my mind and body to be relaxed and softer, not soft, was not at all an easy one as I had ingrained habits acquired from my many years of karate practice. Perseverance, resolve and a determination not to be overly reliant on physical force at all times was a guiding factor in my getting to understand the interchanging aspect of yin and yang.
In conclusion, there should be absolutely no obstacle preventing internal and external practitioners practising both systems simultaneously apart from the ones put there by themselves.
Godfrey Dornelly. 27.03.2022