Full Contact Kung-Fu Competitions

Full contact Kung-Fu known as Sanda or Sanshou has been practised in China since before the birth of Christ. Today, as then, competitors square up to each other on a raised platform knows as a Lei Tai. Historically the winner was the one to throw his competitor from the Lei Tai. Due to a complete absence of safety equipment and Kung-Fu masters specialising in particularly harmful techniques, Sanshou tournaments frequently ended in death. Attempts to form a regulated national competition circuit in 1928 had to be brought to a close because of an excess of fatalities. The potential loss to the Kung-Fu establishment was deemed to be too great and in the end the winner was voted for by his peers.

Sanshou is now an official part of Wushu where they accompany Wushu tournaments, and are considered as another event in addition to the forms contests. In this scenario Sanshou tournaments are considerably less violent, with competitors often (but not always) wearing headgear. Deadly techniques are banned and this free-form fighting style of Kung-Fu focuses on strikes rather than grappling. Unlike previous matches which only ended in surrender or defeat, Sanshou matches nowadays are scored on points as well as knockouts. Throws are still used frequently but in many competitions throwing a competitor from the ring does not win the round. It just earns more points. The unique barrier-free Lei Tei fighting environment engenders a different approach to fighting. Here an opponent cannot be boxed into a corner but the edges must instead be avoided, resulting in a circling approach to combat, quite different from other ring events.

Sanshou tournaments are also held in China in their own right, without the accompanying taolu events. Those fought on a Lei Tai surrounded by water consider a throw from the platform (and into the water) as decisive. There is also a yearly competition called The King of Sanda which follows more traditional Sanshou rules such as allowing knee strikes and throwing.

Outside China most Sanshou contests insist on the use of protective equipment. The exception to this is Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competitions such as K-1. Sanshou fighters are often present at these no holds-barred, brutal tournaments and can be seen employing trademark Sanda techniques to great effect. Against martial artists from backgrounds such as Muay Thai and Karate, Sanshou fighters wear their opponents down with extremely quick thrusting side kicks to the head or by repeatedly intercepting their opponent kicks and sending them to the floor.

Sanda techniques are also taught to the Chinese police and military personnel. Many more strikes not considered suitable for Kung-Fu competition are taught, including elbow and knee strikes along with advanced locking, choking and grappling techniques.

  • Here is a Sanda video taken of the final match in the 2000 King of Sanda competition. Check out the speed of those kicks and observe the massive height difference between the competitors (the smaller cpmpetitor became champion). Compared to western boxing, Sanda has very few weight divisions.