Sanda, the Quintessence of Wushu

Sanda, or Sanshou, is one of the real combat disciplines of Wushu. It encompasses a collection of effective hand to hand combat skills developed in a similar way as the modern Wushu Competition Routines, studying, analizing and refining all the best techniques from many different styles in order to preserve its martial values and cultural heritage.

In 1924, the Huangpu Military Academy was created in Guangdong in order to provide soldiers with military training. The academy witnessed the creation of a hand-to-hand combat method developed by various Wushu experts and Soviet advisors that could perfectly be a predecessor of the military Sanda devised by the People's Liberation Army in the 1960s.

In 1978, a research group was engaged to develop the competition methods and rules for a sport version of Sanda, named Sanshou, grouping masters from all the country and defining a standard fighting style. In 1988, Sanshou was officially added to the national Wushu competition format of China. That same year, there was an International Wushu Invitational Tournament held which included Sanshou with the participation of 60 athletes from 15 countries. And in 1989, Sanshou made its debut as an official event of the China National Wushu Championships.

In 1991, Sanshou was one of the events at the 1st World Wushu Championships held in Beijing, China. In 2000, the Chinese Wushu Association agreed upon the use of the term Sanda (Free Fight) to refer to Sanshou in China, considering it a more adequate name. However, the name Sanshou (Free Hand) continues to be used internationally.

Sanda World Competition


Sanda National Champion Zhou Lizhong

The Sanda competition consists of a full contact free sparring fight that takes place on top of an 8m x 8m raised platform. It allows all forms of punches, kicks, grabs and throws from any school of Wushu. The legal areas for attack are the head, body and legs; having only three restricted areas, the back of the head, the throat and groin. Attacking a fallen opponent, except when he falls deliberately due to the execution of an offensive technique, remains forbidden as well. The equipment used consists of unified boxing gloves, mouthpiece, groin cup, helmet, chest protector, shin guards, instep guards, trunks and an optional t-shirt. The platform is 60 cm high and surrounded by protective mats 2m wide.

Most Sanda techniques can be found within the vast "Wulin" (Martial Forest). As an example, I have picked three movements from the Elementary Wushu Teaching Material of Modern Changquan:

Commonly, Changquan is wrongly considered by many observers a soft and non-applicable system. However, as you can see, a simple push palm in bow stance, a forward balance or a flash palm and hook kick are actual attacking techniques that are present in Sanda's arsenal.

Sanda stresses the combined use of punches, kicks, sweeps, grabs and throws in a very unique way. Furthermore, the possibility of pushing an opponent off the platform adds an element that is not found in other combat sports. And the scoring system is rather simple, two points are obtained by pushing the opponent off the platform, by throwing the opponent down and remaining standing, by kicking the opponent's head or body and by sweeping the opponent down from the floor and standing up. Then, one point is obtained by punching the opponent's head or body, by kicking the opponent's legs, by throwing an opponent and falling after him and by sweeping an opponent from the floor and not standing up.

In 2000, a new professional Sanda tournament circuit called "Sandawang" (King of Free Fighting) was launched by the Chinese Wushu Association after spending several months surveying the combat sports market and watching similar events in the US, Italy, Japan, and Thailand. An expert from Japan's K-1 organization was hire to participate in the design and promotion of Sandawang, including a different set of rules, higher production values and weekly nation-wide TV broadcasts with a final match that combines all weight classes.

Sandawang is fought in a 7m x 7m boxing ring, therefore the opponents cannot be pushed off the platform. The equipment only consists of unified boxing gloves, mouthpiece, groin cup and trunks. Differences in the scoring rules include throws, kicks and strikes awarded the same, and throws only scoring when the competitor remains standing. This change in rules have a noticeable effect in the outcome of the fights, as there rules do not favour any specific kind of skill applied.

In 2002, the International Wushu Federation organized the 1st Sanshou World Cup in Shanghai gathering the top Sanshou athletes from the last World and Continental Championships and offering money prizes for the first places. In 2003, at the 7th World Wushu Championships in Macau, Female Sanshou was added for the first time at an international scale. During these years, several Chinese Sanda fighters have participated in K-1 and Pride competitions, and various succesful tournaments have been organized such as Sanda -vs- Karate Kyokushin , Sanda -vs- Muay Thai, and many more.

Today, there are Sanda fighters testing their skills in a new tournament called Art of War, the mixed martial art format competition of China.

Sandawang Competition


Sandawang Competition


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