San Shou: History & Development
by, Brent Hamby

San Shou is the official full contact fighting sport of modern Wushu which is rapidly growing in popularity both in the US and abroad. As an integral part of most Wushu competitions, San Shou has been an important event at the World Wushu Championships since its inception in 1991. Presently San Shou competitions are held in over 75 countries world wide. Recently San Shou has also become a professional sport in America.

The word "San Shou" also spelled "Sanda" translates as "unbound hand" and refers to free fighting where the rules are designed to most accurately simulate actual combat. San Shou matches are fought on a raised platform called the "Lei Tai". Historically, the Lei Tai dates back centuries in China where challenge matches were fought both bare handed and also with weapons with no rules—often resulting in death or serious injury. At the National Chinese tournament in Nanking in 1928, the fights on the Lei Tai were so brutal that the final 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 define a standard kung fu 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 complete. Protective equipment was also added to further reduce the risk of serious injury. 

The rules of San Shou allow for a wide array of full contact punching, kicking, takedowns and throws derived from the traditional application of Chinese martial arts. Finishing 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 great realism to the sport. A fighter can win by a knockout or by points, points are also awarded for the techniques according to effectiveness. In a tournament, you fight for 2 rounds of 2 minutes each, plus a third round in case the first 2 score even. Forcing the opponent off of the platform is also a major technique of San Shou. It is a mistake to think of San Shou as just Kick Boxing because the strategies of San Shou are very different.

There is a now a saying is China: San Shou shi Wushu de Jinghua—
San Shou is the quintessence of Wushu.