What is the difference between internal martial art, chi kung and meditation? This is the question that I am going to tackle in this post.
What is the one thing that ties all three practices together? It is the activation of chi. And from there each goes a different route. Their routes though differ, each can learn from one another.
Chi kung covers all sorts of practices. All aims at generating chi as their primarily objectives. Most consider themselves a healing practice. Some are more specific in their healing objectives. Many do not (and cannot) offer a reasonable explanation as to why their practice can heal. Some scientific, some mythical, a few superstitious. Some better some worse, some safer some more dangerous (the condition called chi kung syndromes or deviation). Let the buyer beware.
Not all internal martial artists consider their practice chi kung. One reason is that they do not want people or students to associate their practice with the possibility of chi kung syndromes. Such avoidance is not necessary, without chi, there will be no internal martial arts. Because of a strong focus on body building, chi kung system developed from internal martial arts do offer a safer option for chi generation. Those chi kung systems that lack specific focus are most prompt to chi kung deviations.
Many meditation practitioners of religious orientation do not like to associate their practice with chi kung. Chi kung is physical whereas religious meditation is spiritual or metaphysical. Yet, these meditators are usually the most knowledgeable on the subject of chi kung. They can differentiate the difference between spiritual meditation and chi kung. Why? Because during their spiritual practice, they unavoidably gain experience in getting physical benefits. Often times meditators have flexible joints but lack muscular power - indulgence into which seems to be against their spiritual practice. Is religious meditation safe? Yes and no, it depends of whether or not you have a spiritual or religious objective to focus your mind and channel your chi. Without focus, religious meditation can be highly dangerous.
In some cases some internal martial artists cross the threshold into meditation. It is more likely for practitioners under systems that put emphasis on standing meditation or zhan zhuang. Master Wang Xiangzai was an example. He became more into meditation in his later life, so much so he once said "Internal martial art and Zen are one". Some of his students moved towards the combat side his practice (there is at least one lineage opens a school in Beijing training would be security guards or bouncers). Another stream moved towards healing or meditation. A few became devoted Zen practitioners.
They are all in one big family.