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Overview: Symbolism is an important and often misunderstood aspect of the Chinese internal martial arts. This, the first installment of a three-part article, discusses the importance and relevance of the symbols of heaven and earth, yin and yang, the five elements, and the dragon and the tiger.
Symbolism in the Chinese Internal Martial Arts
Symbolism is an important and often misunderstood aspect of the Chinese internal martial arts. The symbols connected with the internal martial arts are often dismissed in the West as superstitious cultural baggage that has little value in the practical apprehension and application of these arts. This attitude has increasingly been directed at the Chinese internal arts (nei jia), largely because the confusing nature of the culturally specific images used by Chinese martial arts practitioners makes it difficult for students in the West to engage with this aspect of Chinese internal arts.
As a result, many Western teachers and students attempt to update and transform traditional imagery, recasting the symbols to form scientific, bio-mechanical explanations with regard to training and application. Similarly, there is a tendency in the West to re-work the circular, more organic learning process and curriculum of Chinese internal martial arts into a logical, step-by-step process that smoothly carries one through a series of levels, from beginner to expert practitioner. This approach is characterized by attempting to parse out the movements, training methods and principles so they can be broken into their component parts.