Wushu Competitions

Wushu is a modernised form of traditional Kung-Fu that concentrates almost solely on forms. Philosophy, internal concepts and many of the more esoteric aspects of Kung-Fu are sidelined in favour of learning physical skills for performance in competition. Sanshou is the full-contact element of Wushu where competitors try to K.O. each other using a variety of strikes and a limited set of grappling techniques. Wushu’s worldwide governing body is the International Wushu Federation (IWUF).

Wushu forms (Taolu) consist of different punches, kicks, stances and other Kung-Fu techniques, strung together into a single sequence. Solo forms are split into two categories:

  1. Compulsory Forms. Modern Wushu has created different solo forms to represent different styles of Kung-Fu. Such forms are pre-set and cannot be changed, so they are known as compulsory forms. Each competitor performs exactly the same form and the one who does it best will be judged the winner. Traditional forms from well known classic Kung-Fu styles may also be performed. As a general rule this is more common in China but the UK has also seen such displays. For example, Jon Foo, a martial artist from the UK, competed in and won Drunken Boxing at the UK Wushu championships, a hitherto little seen form at the event.
  1. Individual Forms. With the assistance of his coach, a competitor may design his own form depending on certain criteria. The term nandu is given to acrobatic movements in Wushu. There are many types of acrobatic Kung-Fu movements ranging from being difficult to perform, to being extremely difficult and in some cases requiring absolute perfection so as not to injure the practitioner (a 720 degree horizontal twist ending in the splits whilst holding a sword for example). In order to stop individual Wushu forms from becoming the all out blistering display of pure acrobatics seen at martial arts tricks contests, the number of nandu are limited in any one form. The increasing skill level of competitors and the further elaboration of more and more challenging nandu means that individual forms are steadily becoming more difficult.

The majority of the compulsory forms were first laid down in 1958. These different form comprise the main events of a Wushu tournament and are as follows:


Changquan sometimes known as Long Fist, is representative of the Northern Style of Classical Kung-Fu. It draws on the Shaolin style of external Kung-Fu and physical preparedness. Of all the compulsory Wushu forms it requires the most agility and flexibility as competitors spin and leap around the arena. Kung-Fu acrobatics such as side somersaults, butterfly twists (360 horizontal spins) and turning leaping kicks typify this dynamic form. Punches and kicks are long reaching, pre-emptive strikes, reflecting the combat philosophy that ‘the best defence is attack’. Due to its explosive and spectacular nature, Changquan is one of the most popular taolu of modern Wushu and is always likely to be seen at any exhibition event.

The Changquan style also has several separate weapons events:

  • Dao. The Chinese broadsword Chanquan form involves spinning acrobatics while holding the Dao and snapping its flexible blade for maximum effect.
  • Jian. The double edged straightsword is cut and thrust in a flurry of attacks, including high aerial turning thrusts and movements that drop into full splits.
  • Gun. The Chinese staff is long and unwieldy yet it must be manoeuvred with incredible rapidity in its Changquan form. The staff is employed mainly in spinning strikes as the competitor twists and flies in near constant motion around the arena. Aerial twists are performed by holding the staff close to the body as the competitor spins
  • Quiang. The Chinese spear is tossed in the air, caught again and repeatedly thrust. The flexible tip of the Quiang is put into full effect in this rapid Wushu form.


Nanquan means Southern Fist and is representative of the multitude of Kung-Fu styles originating in the areas south of the Yangtze River. Much of the modern day Wushu taolu is composed of elements taken from the major Southern family styles such as Hung Gar, Mok Gar and Lei Gar in addition to Choi Lei Fut. Nanquan is a powerful form, focusing on deep firm stances and dynamic punches that twist out from the waist. Strikes are accompanied by an explosive shout called a fasheng. The Southern styles were always known for their intricate handwork, and precision in the Nanquan form is a must for competitors. Although there are relatively few kicks in contemporary Nanquan, a number of acrobatics and jumping kicks were recently added to make the form more diverse. At advanced levels the Nanquan include one back-flip, a tuck back somersault and a 720 degree hurricane kick.

  • Nandao. The Nanquan style of using a Chinese broadsword or Dao is a truly fearsome display of intricate cutting and thrusting techniques. Sword thrusts are performed explosively from low stances and accompanied by a fasheng just like in the empty-handed Nanquan form.
  • Nangun. The Southern style of staff play employs rapid staccato strikes with either end of the staff, with a strong emphasis on deep stances and rapid footwork. There are some big aerial acrobatics such as a butterfly twist in the Nangun form. Some punches and other hand strikes are performed while switching the gun to the other hand.


Taijiquan or Taiji Fist was chosen to represent Tai Chi Chuan and the internal Chinese martial arts. As each of the several styles of Tai Chi contains dozens of forms, the contemporary Wushu form borrows from each to make a universal style. Thus, attributes from each of the family styles of Chen, Wu, Sun and Yang Tai Chi Chuan are used. This Wushu Tai Chi Chuan form is also known as the 42 (Competition) Form and was first inaugurated at the 1990 Asian games. Taijiquan is longer than the external Wushu forms at around 5 minutes. Movements are slow, graceful but extremely precise and powerful. The form must be fluid and the competitor relaxed and yet dynamic when striking. Taijiquan requires great concentration and years of dedicated practise to be performed well at competition level.

  • Taijijian. As in its empty handed form the Tai Chi Chuan double edged sword form must be performed with elegance and calm that belies its true power. Extremely difficult balances where one leg is suspended high in the air and held, plus low stances followed by sudden aerial leaps, show that Tai Chi is not just a health sport for the elderly.

Dual events

Dual events or duilan in Chinese, involve choreographed combat routines that are the wushu equivalent of classical Kung-Fu’s sparring forms. These events typically involve two or even three competitors fighting against each other with a variety of weapons or empty hand techniques. Aerial acrobatics, near suicidal breakfalls and aerial tumbling make this event extremely popular and great fun to watch.

  • Check out this classic black and white Wushu video showcasing the very best of Wushu’s various taolu forms – taken from the annals of Billy Bilang’s martial art tricks website.