Is your Tai Chi internal?
I doubt you would find anyone who would say their Tai Chi is not internal unless they know they are just doing the exercise version.
However, what does being internal mean? This is not an easy topic to tackle.
Let’s look at it another way, something that all of us can understand. If you don’t you can always find out easily.
Take the Ghost chilli pepper. Is it spicy? Definitely.
How about Carolina Reaper chilli pepper? It is spicy too.
What about a more normal chilli? For example, the Shishito pepper from Japan. It is spicy too to those that can’t take heat.
All the above peppers are spicy but that doesn’t tell us much until you put one in your mouth.
If you take a bite from a Shishito pepper you would go ah, not too bad. Then you bite into a Carolina Reaper, and find yourself practically jumping out of your seat and reach for water (actually you should reach for milk).
Then after this when you put a Ghost pepper in your mouth it would also feel spicy but not as bad as when you bit into the Carolina Reaper.
Taste is subjective. So is the ability to take heat. So what is spicy to one person may not be to another person.
As such, we can end up with arguments of this pepper is spicy and this is not. Its just like the way we argue about this Tai Chi being internal and another Tai Chi is not.
Except in the case of pepper we have an objective way to define the heat level. This is where the Scoville scale comes in to measure the concentration of capsaicin and record it in SHU units (Scoville Heat Units).
By using the Scoville scale it would be difficult for someone to argue that the Ghost Pepper (1,041,427 SHU) is more spicy than the Carolina Reaper Pepper (1,569,300 SHU).
We would also know where the Shishito Pepper (50-200 SHU) stands in terms of heat in relation to the other two peppers.
Now wouldn’t it be nice if we can develop something like the Scoville scale to define where a particular Tai Chi system lies on a scale from most external to most internal.
The problem with this scale is that everyone wants to argue that their approach is internal without being able to assign a specific and clear definition to what this means. It would be even better if there is a scientific approach to it.
Again, when we look at how science defines the Scoville scale they didn’t just leave it up to a board of tasters to define what is spicy and how spicy is each type of pepper.
Instead, they used a scientific approach to answering this question. This resuled in the Scoville Organoleptic Test in which a tester would extract the capsaicin oil from a dried pepper.
This extract is diluted with sugar water to the point where the heat can no longer be tasted by a panel of professional taste testers. How much dilution is required to get here would determine how many Scoville units is assigned to the tested pepper.
We can borrow an idea from this test by checking a number of factors. One of them would be how much movement is visible or better still, can be measured (whether by sensors or by a high speed camera) of a power generation process that is impacting a shock force on a consistent object (or person) that is giving a constant amount of resistance (or an amount of resistance that is proportional to the weight, height and muscle strength) of the person being tested.
That there are a lot of politics within Tai Chi not to mention the size of egos and money involved means that an independent means of determining what internal means will never be developed.