This entry is a first draft excerpt from the Tai Chi Principles Manual I am currently working on all feedback questions or comments are appreciated Please contact me through my website or by email at

The Principle of Sung

One of the most important principles to the Internal Martial Arts is Sung (pronounced Soong). While no directly corresponding concept exist in the English speaking culture, a working translation would be using “least possible effort” in both the physical and mental efforts. Since Sung is foreign to western culture, and individual schools have different ways of applying this principle, what I will present here is a mixture of this several of these philosophies.
Physical applications of Sung

When we apply Sung to the physical body, we can separate the development into stages the first is the static or still cultivation stage of this principle. Static Sung begins with a simple premise that the body will require no more force than that provided by the natural tension of the soft tissues to hold a static position distributes the weight within the base of support.

To experience this principle, relax you arm entirely and allow a partner to raise it until the hand rest in the plane of the shoulder in front of you without helping them. Once they have positioned your arm, slowly take back control of the weight of the arm until you reach the threshold that the arm will remain raised. Your partner can help you by testing and lowering their hands. The feeling localized in your arm is a beginning body concept of Sung in its static form.

Primarily development of static Sung comes from practicing standing meditation. While Standing Meditation, also known as Post Standing in some styles, has many uses, we will only be looking at how it relates to the Sung principle. When Sung is applied to Standing Meditation, the first step is to align the body. For our example, we will use the Wu Wei position, an anatomically correct weight bearing position.

This position also known as the Natural Stance begins by aligning the feet forward at a natural distance apart. Having the feet a natural distance apart is aligning the outside of the feet to the widest point of the body. Males will usually find their shoulders to be wider than their hips while women normally will want to align their feet to their hips.

Moving up the knees should be slightly bent and rest above and in line with the feet, hips relaxed so that the pelvic rolls under and the lower back may flatten out slightly. The shoulder blades are relaxed so that they fall into a neutral position so that the back and chest can both expand when breathing and the palms resting on the thighs. Finally, the head and neck should extend up with the crown of the head, the point at the back of the skull where the hair meets, raised and the chin tucked slightly so that the eyes are focused on a point directly ahead.

Search for points of tension and attempt to release them. Ideally, the body should reach a state of muscle tension similar to what was present after the earlier arm exercise. Other post standing positions and stances can be used including endpoints from the forms. Once a static concept of Sung is achieved, it is much easier to move into an active version of this principle.

The Active Principle of Sung
When Applying the Principle of “Sung” in movement it is necessary not to confuse the principle with being yin or relaxed. When beginning Tai Chi most people hold on to too much tension so most instructors need to focus on releasing this muscular contraction, unfortunately many students practice “soft and floppy” Tai Chi from then on.

Balanced training requires understanding of how to effectively move and apply biomechanically and martially effective techniques without becoming tense at the same time. Most Tai Chi players who do push hands or sensing hands with someone new of having their partner rather than providing too much resistance completely collapse, and, for both the teacher and student, this is one of the more difficult stages to work through.

Effectively four ounces of pressure, the weight of a good china coffee cup, is what should be applied in cooperative sensing hands exercise. Sung in this case means providing enough “presence” within the arm and body so that the joints do not collapse while moving to a point where your partner’s energy is effectively neutralized.

Sung in Yielding
My favorite game for teaching “Sung” as an active presence is a simple sensing hands game, while it also teaches leading and following a partner, it also teaches maintaining a relaxed but vibrant arm and body. Facing your partner place your palms against your partners, decide who will lead first the leader simple walks forward while the follower tries to maintain the same level of pressure on the palms and proper body alignment and position.

It is a simple game of neither increasing nor decreasing the relative strength of force, which leads to using this “Sung” principle in dealing with “live” weight. “Live” weight comes from a living person and or a tool or weapon that they are wielding. “Live” weight changes directions and shifts and alters with the changes of the other person’s body and center. “Dead” force, in contrast, is what we experience when a runaway car strikes you or when we attempt to lift a chair.

“Live” weight is what we experience in push hands and combat. It is the adjustments to body posture creating “Sung” in this context. The structure of the body should be, as inflatable ball with weighted ball inside, with the central weight remaining the same distance from the force unless acted on by another force.

In this example, we are playing in yielding mode, so when the force stops or no longer connect to the weight (gravitational center) the movement of the ball stops but the ball does not collapse in on itself. If we return to our game if the leader is not pushing the follower does not move.

Indirect pressure effects on Sung Yielding Movement
Up to now we have been talking about a straight-line force, in practice it is almost impossible to produce this kind of force. With off-center force we find another event happening. Pressure towards the body center produces movement directly away from the source of the push plus a movement to the side.

This result is in the central core moving out of the line of force and the force neutralizing. While there may still be contact with the shell of the body (our inflatable ball from earlier) as long as it does not exceed the force needed to maintain proper body alignment, and the inertia of the body.

Dead force will obviously continue in the same direction and end up somewhere behind our ball and the game is over. Live weight, on the other hand, can be redirected so our ball would again need to roll or move from the force being exerted on it. For those who already do push hands this is the redirect. Since the force is once again connected to the body’s center, our ball needs to roll again in another direction.

Author's Bio: 

Bruce Hutchinson has been a Tai Chi Player for nearly two decades. He has created programs and lectures for hospitals, community health programs, and insurance agencies throughout the Central PA area.

Currently he instructs the Tai Chi for Health/Fitness of Penn State Strength and fitness and heads the Chinese Martial Arts Group of Young's Tae Kwon Do in Bellefonte Pa and is available for private training and seminars.