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San Shou / Wushu / Kung Fu


San Shou
Photo from the site Women in Martial Arts

Русская версия


There are a variety of modern forms and modifications of traditional Chinese Martial Arts. Nowadays, the three most popular terms are widespread far beyond China - "San Shou", "Wushu" and "Kung Fu". As far as the three names are concerned in the present-day context, the term San Shou applies to the specific contact combative sport created in the 20th century in China based on reinterpretations of traditional Chinese Martial Arts, whereas the terms Wushu and Kung Fu usually have broad interpretation covering not only combat itself but also all forms of Chinese Martial Arts including exhibitions, gymnastics and self-defense exercises.



Kung Fu (or gongfu) is a well-known Chinese term often used today to refer to Chinese martial arts. Its original meaning is somewhat different, referring to one's expertise in any skill, not necessarily martial. The term Kung Fu was not popular until the 20th century, thus the word would be seldom found in any ancient texts. The term was first known to have been reported by a Westerner, French Jesuit missionary Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, in the 18th century and was known little in the mainstream European languages until approximately the late 1960s, when it became popular because of the Hong Kong films, especially those by Bruce Lee, and later Kung Fu - the television series. Before that it was referred to primarily as "Chinese boxing". Kung Fu, as it is written here, refers to the general term of Chinese martial arts. Shaolin Kung Fu refers to various martial art styles that were developed in the Shaolin temples (including Northern Praying Mantis, Wing Chun, Black Crane, Black Tiger, Dragon, Snake, Leopard, Southern Praying Mantis, Tiger and White Crane). This topic is far beyond the scope of the review of female combative activities.

Wushu literally means "martial art". It is a more precise term than the widely used term kung fu, which can mean either martial art or "skill". In the broadest sense, the word wushu may refer to any martial art in the world, though in practice it often refers to the modern sport named "wushu" or the various styles of Chinese martial arts. Contemporary wushu competitions (including world championships regularly held since 1991) consist of two disciplines: contact sport of san shou and exercise system "Taolu" arranged according to the regular changeable movements of attack-defense and advance-retreat. These movements are typical for the traditional Chinese martial arts.

There are various philosophies around the terms wushu and kung fu, suggesting a deeper meaning. The following three elements must be present: motivation, self-discipline and time.

San Shou (or Sanshou or SanDa) is the official contemporary contact combative sport representing free-fighting and being composed of various aspects of traditional fighting styles in China. The two main styles that san shou is composed of is kickboxing and "shuai jiao", a Chinese form of wrestling. Actually, San shou is a typical combined combat sport, which includes punches, kicks, grips and throws. San shou tournaments are one of the two modern wushu disciplines recognized by the International Wushu Federation. San shou is rapidly growing in popularity all over the world. There is now a saying in China: "San shou shi wushu de jinghua" - "San shou is the quintessence of Wushu". In other words, this martial art has accumulated all the best from Chinese Martial Arts. San shou is rapidly growing in popularity all over the world. Presently, San Shou competitions are held in over 75 countries world wide.

Thus, as far as a real combative activity is concerned, the art of San Shou is of our interest.

The term "San Shou" also spelled "Sanda" translates as "unbound hand" and refers to a free fighting style where the rules are designed in order to simulate actual combat in the most adequate way. San Shou matches are fought on a raised platform called the "Lei Tai". The history of duels on "Lei Tai" goes back to centuries ago when challenge matches in China were fought both bare handed and with weapons with no rules - often resulting in death or serious injury. For instance, at the National Chinese tournament in Nanking in 1928, the fights on the Lei Tai were so brutal that 12 contestants were not permitted to fight for fear of killing off some of the great masters of the time. So changes were needed!

Modern San Shou developed into a sport about the same time as modern Wushu during the 1960's by the Chinese Government. In order to establish standard rules for the new fighting style, the great masters from all over China were given the task of organizing the huge heritage of Chinese Martial Arts in to a system of rules in which different styles could compete. Protective equipment was also added to further reduce the risk of serious injury.

As a result, the combined combat sport of San Shou has been created including a wide array of full contact punching, kicking, takedowns and throws derived from the traditional application of Chinese Martial Arts. Finished hold (chokes, arm locks etc.) have been excluded from the rules which forces the fight to continue at a fast pace. San Shou addresses the three ranges of fighting: kicking, punching and grappling which adds realism of the hand-to-hand combat to the sport. A fighter can win by a knockout or by points; points are also awarded for the techniques according to effectiveness. A bout consists of two 2-minute rounds, plus a third round if after the first two rounds scores are even. Forcing the opponent off of the platform is also a major technique of San Shou.

According to the rules, fighters have five seconds after clinch to execute a takedown, throw or sweep or they are separated by the center referee. Contemporary San Shou bouts may take place on either a raised platform with no ropes or in a boxing ring with ropes. In the most of competitions, women must wear a pelvic protector. Fighters must wear fighting gloves and special shoes.

Sometimes San Shou competitions are accompanied by contests in "Tui Shou" (pushing hands), a fighting style, which also belongs to the martial art of "Tai Chi Chuan". In Tui Shou opponents push each other to body in attempts to bowl the opponent down. Attacks may be made within restricted areas of the body: from the below the base of the neck to above the coccyx or bladder area. Pushing the neck, head, bladder area, hip joint or leg is illegal.

Althouth International Kickboxing Federation holds competition by the San Shou rules, it is a mistake to think of San Shou is just of form of kickboxing - the strategies of San Shou are much more complex and diverse.


These are general Sanshou rules at the world championships:

- Attacking and defending techniques of any wushu san shou schools can be applied;

- The head, the trunk, and the thighs are valid parts for hitting;

- The back of head, the neck, and the groin are prohibited for hitting;

- Attacking using the head, the elbow, or the knee, or pushing back on the opponent's joints;

- Forcing the opponent to land with the head or intentionally smashing the opponent down;

- Attacking the head of the opponent when he or she is down with any technique.


Women began practicing San Shou and real combat with the framework of Wushu and Kung Fu just recently mostly coming from kickboxing and other martial arts. Among variety of San Shou tournaments, the most important international events are World Wushu Championships, Sanshou World Cups and the International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) events. Almost all women's champion positions are occupied by Chinese fighters while the majority of prize-winners live in China, the Indo-China area and the adjacent East Asia. If female fighters from outside that area are considered the following ones should be pointed to:

48kg (105lbs): Van Milnes (USA), Maria Avramidou (Greece), Clara Patrugan (Romania), Cristiana Toporaste (Romania);
52kg (114lbs): Vielmi Ambra (Italy), Jenna Castillo (USA);
56kg (123lbs): Ekaterina Nikolaeva (Russia), Sarah Ponce (USA);
60kg (132lbs): Susan Paschkewitz (USA), Hanna Sillen (Sweden);
65kg (143lbs): Tiffany Chen (USA), Juliana Justino (Brazil), Ebba Lexmark (Sweden), Tanya Annette Bowyer (Great Brittain);
70kg (154lbs): Elaina Maxwell (USA), Joanna Skamla (Poland), Sandra Leigh Ackerman (South Africa), Raana-Ellen Mareikura (New Zealand).

Among the above mentioned athletes the most successful is Elaina Maxwell who won gold at World Wushu Championship in 2003.


Episodes of San Shou bouts

Tiffany Chen in action
Tiffany Chen in action

Jenna Castillo against Katie Meehan in a 2001 bout
Jenna Castillo against Katie Meehan in a 2001 bout


Hanna Sillen against Sofia Danielhag. Photos from the site Sweden Fitness magazine

Hanna Sillen against Sofia Danielhag

Hanna Sillen against Sofia Danielhag

Hanna Sillen against Sofia Danielhag

Hanna Sillen against Sofia Danielhag


Prominent San Shou fighters

Elaina Maxwell
Elaina Maxwell

Jenna Castillo
Jenna Castillo

Sarah Ponce
Sarah Ponce

Clara Patrugan
Clara Patrugan

Ebba Lexmark
Ebba Lexmark

Tiffany Chen
Tiffany Chen

Hanna Sillen
Hanna Sillen

Susan Paschkewitz
Susan Paschkewitz

San Shou
San Shou
Tiffany Chen knocking out her opponent. Photos from the site William Chen Tai Chi Chuan


San Shou San Shou outdoor practicing in Taiwan. Photo from the Australian site

San Shou Taiwan ladies demonstrate San Shou. Photo from the Australian site


San Shou
San Shou training. Photo from the site Shadowhand Taijiquan


San Shou
San Shou outdoor training. Photo from the site Daniel Roga


San Shou
San Shou bout. Photo from the site The US Wushu Union


Wushu Taolu
Wushu taolu exercise. Photo from the site Vietnam.net


Wushu Taolu
Lena Bogdanova performs a taolu. Photo from the site Russian Federation of Traditional Wushu and Sanshou


Wushu Taolu
Kung Fu self-defense training. Photo from the site Wing Chun For Women


Videoclips from Youtube

2009 World Wushu Championships in Toronto. San Shou women bouts



Category 60kg: semifinal - Aurelie Nicole [FRA] vs. Wang Gui Xian [CHN]



Category 65kg: 1/4 final - Valerie Domergue [FRA] vs. Yeliz Findik [TUR]



Category 70kg: 1/4 final - Aline Loue [FRA] vs. Georgiana Radovicescu [ROM]



Category 52kg: 1/4 final - Sarah Belala [FRA] vs. Ana Rodrigues Fatia [BRA]]


Combined styles


>> Combative activities

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