Last updated
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 內功
Literal meaning"internal skill"
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese nội công
Hán-Nôm 內功
Korean name
Hangul 내공
Hanja 內功
Japanese name
Kanji 内功
Hiragana ないこう

Neigong, also spelled nei kung, neigung, or nae gong, refers to any of a set of Chinese breathing, meditation and spiritual practice disciplines associated with Daoism and especially the Chinese martial arts. Neigong practice is normally associated with the so-called "soft style", "internal" or neijia 內家 Chinese martial arts, as opposed to the category known as waigong 外功 or "external skill" which is historically associated with shaolinquan or the so-called "hard style", "external" or wàijiā 外家 Chinese martial arts. Both have many different schools, disciplines and practices and historically there has been mutual influence between the two and distinguishing precisely between them differs from school to school.


There is both martial and non-martial neigong. Well known examples of martial neigong are the various breathing and focus trainings taught in some traditional Taijiquan, Baguazhang Xingyiquan and Liuhebafa schools. An example of non-martial neigong is the discipline known as Daoyin.

Neigong and the internal martial arts

The Neijing Tu (simplified Chinese:
Nei Jing Tu ; traditional Chinese:
Nei Jing Tu ; pinyin: Neijing tu) is a Daoist "inner landscape" diagram of the human body illustrating Neidan "Internal alchemy", Wu Xing, Yin and Yang, and Chinese mythology. Nei Jing Tu Diagram of the Internal Texture of Man Diagramma iz "Traktata Zheltogo Imperatora o vnutrennem" (9441066681).jpg
The Neijing Tu (simplified Chinese :內经图; traditional Chinese :內經圖; pinyin :Nèijīng tú) is a Daoist "inner landscape" diagram of the human body illustrating Neidan "Internal alchemy", Wu Xing, Yin and Yang, and Chinese mythology.

The martial art school of neigong emphasises training the coordination of the individual's body with the breath, known as the harmonisation of the inner and outer energy (內外合一), creating a basis for a particular school's method of utilising power and technique.

Neigong exercises that are part of the neijia tradition involve cultivating physical stillness and or conscious (deliberate) movement, designed to produce relaxation or releasing of muscular tension combined with special breathing techniques such as the "tortoise" or "reverse" methods. The fundamental purpose of this process is to develop a high level of coordination, concentration and technical skill that is known in the martial arts world as neijin (內勁). The ultimate purpose of this practice is for the individual to become at one with heaven or the Dao (天人合一). As Zhuangzi stated, "Heaven, earth and I are born of one, and I am at one with all that exists (天地與我並生, 萬物與我唯一)".

Martial Nei Gung is about developing internal power. One way to possibly achieve this is to train particular exercises regularly where the breath is matched with movements of blood or to effect the movement of blood throughout the body. Through these exercises it can be possible to move the blood to a particular area during a particular movement to have a particular result. One of the benefits of martial nei gung exercises is the relaxation of blood vessels, nerves, muscles and sinews to help the body move more freely. With the body moving freely and an excess of blood moving to a particular area with little or no effort, the practitioner can possibly develop many benefits. These benefits may include:

It is important to understand that anyone looking to learn Nei Gung sincerely, is more likely to learn it from a good teacher of internal martial arts like Hsing-Yi (one of the easiest and most powerful forms of martial cultivation). It is rare to learn authentic Daoist practices from a true master of the subject as quite a lot of the Nei Gung skills are an essential part of a complete system of martial arts. Nei Gung is not a philosophy, but a technique and an art of inner cultivation. There are intellectual guidelines to the practice of Nei Gung, but it is 'Inner Work' which means effort has to be put in to develop real, substantial and testable skills. This is not something that can be imagined or talked about, only from direct experience and hard effort can an understanding of Nei Gung develop. A true practitioner and teacher will take you on a journey growing your inner-world and showing you how to demonstrate the skills you are developing.

Neigong and meditation

This type of practice is said to require concentration and internal reflection which results in a heightened self-awareness that increases over time with continued practice. Neigong practitioners report awareness of the mechanics of their blood circulation, peristalsis, muscular movement, skeletal alignment, balance, etc.

What is said to be occurring as the result of continual practice is a type of internal alchemy, that is a refinement and transmutation of the "Three Treasures" or San Bao (三寳), in Chinese. The Three Treasures are known as Jing (), Qi () and Shen () and can be loosely translated as Essence, Vitality and Spirit.

According to Daoist doctrine the Three Treasures can be described as three types of energy available to humans. The Dao De Jing purported to be written by Lao zi states in chapter 42 that "The Dao () gives birth to the One, the One gives birth to the Two (Taiji (太極) or Yin and Yang (陰陽)) and the Two gives birth to the Three (which some interpret to mean Jing , Qi and Shen , or sometimes Heaven Tian , Earth Di and Man Ren ) and Three gives birth to the Four direction's, North, South, East, and West and so on to the 10,000 Things (Wanwu 萬物); which is all that exists between heaven and earth.

Dao De Jing 道德經, chapter 42, 道生一,一生二,二生三, 三生萬物. Dao produces one, one produces two, two produces three, three produces 10 Thousand Things (which represents, everything). 萬物負陰而抱陽,沖氣以為和。All things carry the dark (yin) and embrace the light (yang), and make them harmonize with empty energy.(老子道德經, 吳怡著)The Book of Lao Tzu [The Tao Te Ching]by Yi Wu, 1989, Great Learning Publishing Company.

Laozi (老子) did not say what one, two, or three are. Take a look at chapter two of the Dao De Jing. This gives a hint at what one and two might be. "When all in the world know beauty as beauty, then ugliness has already arisen."

Commentary: Dao 道, is unmanifested, therefore unknowable. But once a thing (one) comes into existence, then its opposite (two) automatically comes into existence. Three is the dynamic exchange between the two. To begin to understand the dynamic between two things, read the YiJing 易經. The book of changes also known as the I Ching deals with the dynamic exchange between any two things.

Neigong training follows therefore the classical Daoist developmental stages and regards the first two stages as a preparation for the last and final stage: [1]
Physical body (Jing) -> Energy body (Qi) -> Divine Consciousness (Shen)

Wuxia and xianxia fiction often portray the training of neijin through neigong as giving practitioners superhuman powers. For example, one may use qi to attack opponents without physical contact, fly with qinggong, or harden the body to resist weapon attack. These can be seen in novels by Jin Yong and Gu Long, films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, as well as video games such as The Legend of Sword and Fairy and Xuan-Yuan Sword.

See also

Related Research Articles

Neijia Internal martial arts

Neijia (內家) is a term in Chinese martial arts, grouping those styles that practice neijing, usually translated as internal martial arts, occupied with spiritual, mental or qi-related aspects, as opposed to an "external" approach focused on physiological aspects. The distinction dates to the 17th century, but its modern application is due to publications by Sun Lutang, dating to the period of 1915 to 1928. Neijing is developed by using neigong, or "internal exercises," as opposed to "external exercises",

<i>Qi</i> Vital force forming part of any living entity in traditional Chinese philosophy

In traditional Chinese culture, qi or ch'i or ki is believed to be a vital force forming part of any living entity. Qi translates literally as "air" and figuratively as "material energy", "life force", or "energy flow". Qi is the central underlying principle in Chinese traditional medicine and in Chinese martial arts. The practice of cultivating and balancing qi is called qigong.

Daoyin Series of health-promoting exercises practiced by Daoists

Daoyin is a series of body and mind unity exercises practiced as a form of Daoist neigong to cultivate jing (essence) and direct and refine qi, the internal energy of the body according to Traditional Chinese medicine. These exercises are often divided into yin positions, lying and sitting, and yang positions, standing and moving. The practice of daoyin was a precursor of qigong, and was practised in Chinese Taoist monasteries for health and spiritual cultivation. Daoyin is also said to be a primary formative ingredient in the well-known "soft styles" of the Chinese martial arts, of Taiji quan. and middle road styles like Wuxingheqidao.


Liuhebafaquan is an internal Chinese martial art. It has been called "Xinyi Liuhebafa" 心意六合八法拳 and is also referred to as "water boxing" due to its principles.

Dantian, dan t'ian, dan tien or tan t'ien is loosely translated as "elixir field", "sea of qi", or simply "energy center". Dantian are the "qi focus flow centers", important focal points for meditative and exercise techniques such as qigong, martial arts such as t'ai chi ch'uan, and in traditional Chinese medicine.

Iron shirt

Iron Shirt is a form of hard style martial art exercise believed to help protect the human body from impacts in a fight. This is one of the 72 arts of the Shaolin Temple. Some martial arts are based on the belief that a correctly trained body can withstand more damage than one that is untrained. Iron Shirt is said to be a series of exercises using many post stances, herbs, qigong and body movements to cause the body's natural energy (qi) to reinforce its structural strength. Practitioners believe that directing energy to parts of the body can reinforce these parts of the body to take blows against them. In the Shaolin version of Iron Shirt, the practitioner would do things such as lying on a stump or supporting tablets of granite on the chest with the goal of toughening the body.

The Three Treasures or Three Jewels are theoretical cornerstones in traditional Chinese medicine and practices such as Neidan, Qigong, and T'ai chi. They are also known as Jing Qi Shen.

Chinese alchemy

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Zhan zhuang Training method often practiced by students of neijia

Zhàn zhuāng is a training method often practiced by students of neijia, such as, Xing Yi Quan, Bagua Zhang and Taiji Quan. Zhan Zhuang is sometimes translated Standing-on-stake, Standing Qigong, Standing Like a Tree, Post-standing, Pile-standing, or Pylon Standing. It is commonly called a form of Qigong, despite the differences from other Qigong methods in Zhan zhuang's orientation.


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Baduanjin qigong

The Baduanjin qigong(八段錦) is one of the most common forms of Chinese qigong used as exercise. Variously translated as Eight Pieces of Brocade, Eight-Section Brocade, Eight Silken Movements or Eight Silk Weaving, the name of the form generally refers to how the eight individual movements of the form characterize and impart a silken quality to the body and its energy. The Baduanjin is primarily designated as a form of medical qigong, meant to improve health. This is in contrast to religious or martial forms of qigong. However, this categorization does not preclude the form's use by martial artists as a supplementary exercise, and this practice is frequent.

The Six Healing Sounds or Liu Zi Jue (六字訣) is one of the common forms of Chinese qigong, and involves the coordination of movement and breathing patterns with specific sounds.

In advanced traditional Chinese kung fu, Neijing refers to the conscious control of the practitioner's qi, or "life energy", to gain advantages in combat. Nèijìng is developed by using "Neigong" (內功), or "internal exercises," as opposed to "wàigōng" (外功), "external exercises."

<i>Qigong</i> Chinese system of coordinated posture and movement, breathing, and meditation

Qigong, qi gong, chi kung, chi 'ung, or chi gung is a system of coordinated body-posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used for the purposes of health, spirituality, and martial-arts training. With roots in Chinese medicine, philosophy, and martial arts, qigong is traditionally viewed by the Chinese and throughout Asia as a practice to cultivate and balance qi, translated as "life energy".

Wudang quan Group of Chinese martial arts

Wudang quan is a class of Chinese martial arts. The name translates as "Wudang fist." In contemporary China, Chinese martial arts styles are generally classified into two major groups: Wudang (Wutang), named after the Wudang Mountains; and Shaolin, named after the Shaolin Monastery. Whereas Shaolin includes many martial art styles, Wudangquan includes only a few arts that use the focused mind to control the waist, and therefore the body. This typically encompasses Tai ji quan, Xing-Yi chuan and Bagua zhang, but must also include Baji chuan and Wudang Sword. Although the name Wudang simply distinguishes the skills, theories and applications of the internal arts from those of the Shaolin styles, it falsely suggests these arts originated at the Wudang Mountains. The name Wudang comes from a popular Chinese legend that incorrectly purports the genesis of Tai chi chuan and Wudang Sword by an immortal, Taoist hermit named Zhang Sanfeng who lived in the monasteries of Wudang Mountain.

The history of qigong, the Chinese practice of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for exercise, healing, and martial arts training, extends back more than 4,000 years. Contemporary qigong is a complex accretion of the ancient Chinese meditative practice xing qi (行氣) or "circulating qi" and the gymnastic breathing exercise tao yin (導引) or "guiding and pulling", with roots in the I Ching and occult arts; philosophical traditions of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts; along with influences of contemporary concepts of health, science, meditation, and exercise.

Zuowang is a classic Daoist meditation technique, described as "a state of deep trance or intense absorption, during which no trace of ego-identity is felt and only the underlying cosmic current of the Dao is perceived as real." According to Louis Komjathy, this is one term for Daoist apophatic meditation, which also goes by various other names in Daoist literature, such as "quiet sitting", "guarding the one", "fasting the heartmind", and "embracing simplicity".

Taoist meditation Meditative practice

Taoist meditation, also spelled "Daoist", refers to the traditional meditative practices associated with the Chinese philosophy and religion of Taoism, including concentration, mindfulness, contemplation, and visualization. The earliest Chinese references to meditation date from the Warring States period. Hundreds of years later these techniques and philosophies were taken to India through the Silk Road and gave origin to Buddhism.

<i>Neiye</i> Oldest Chinese received text

The c. 350 BCE Neiye 內業 or Inward Training is the oldest Chinese received text describing Daoist breath meditation techniques and qi circulation. After the Guanzi, a political and philosophical compendium, included the Neiye around the 2nd century BCE, it was seldom mentioned by Chinese scholars until the 20th century, when it was reevaluated as a "proto-Daoist" text that clearly influenced the Daode jing, Zhuangzi, and other classics. Neiye traditions also influenced Chinese thought and culture. For instance, it had the first references to cultivating the life forces jing "essence", qi "vital energy", and shen "spirit", which later became a fundamental concept in Daoist Neidan "internal alchemy", as well as the Three Treasures in traditional Chinese medicine.

Serge Augier is heir to the Taoist Tradition "Ba Men Da Xuan", author of books and articles on Taoism in French and English, and the primary subject of the book "Warrior Guards the Mountain: The Internal Martial Traditions of China, Japan and South East Asia". He is known for his teaching of Traditional Chinese Medicine and martial arts, particularly the Chinese Internal styles (Neijia), including Zi Ran Men, T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Hsing I Ch'uan, Bagua and Taoist Qigong. He has been an invited speaker at InreesTv where he was interviewed by the famous french writer and former war-correspondent Stéphane Allix on the origin and practice of Taoism.


  1. Damo Mitchell: Daoist Nei Gong - The Philosophical Art of Change, Singing Dragon, 2011, ISBN   9780857010339, page 19

Further reading

(Wayback Machine copy)