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Sung -or- How Relaxed is Relaxed?

May 6, 2009

So, the last post suggested that you should relax. How much? Obviously, if you relax too much, you’re going to be a puddle of jelly, and not much use in a fight. Conversely, as we’ve established, if you’re too tense, you can’t move, because your muscles are all tied up being tense and not available to actually move you around.

The Chinese have a concept called “sung” (pronounced “soong”) that doesn’t translate very well, but it’s something like “dynamic tension”. They say you should be “not relaxed but not tense”. Oddly enough, saying that to my students doesn’t seem to help them very much. So, how to communicate the concept? My sensei did a wonderful graphic demonstration of this concept at one point. He took a staff and had a student hold one end while he shook the other end violently. Not much happened. He then repeated the process with a piece of string, and again, the student just looked at him. Finally, he did it one more time with a steel cable, and almost took the student’s hand off. Get the idea now?

Proper tension is elastic. If you just hold out your arm and someone pushes on it, it should move slightly, and it should move the rest of your body slightly. When they let go, it should go back to its original position, all without you ever having to change your tension. If you’re too tense or too loose, the push will move your body and not your arm or vice versa, and either way, you won’t return to your original position without a conscious effort.

So, what’s the point? Generating power is fundamentally easy – just step forward, and your whole body weight moves. The problem is getting it where you want it, without killing it along the way. Remember the cable? Sensei was generating the same amount of power all three times, but only the cable could transmit it effectively; the staff and the string both killed it before it could reach the target. With proper tension, you can deliver that power into a strike, with very little effort expended.

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