To its innate advantage, sanshou is a sport with a high excitement level. Executed in three, two-minute bouts, competition takes place on a platform - often called a lei tai - that is 24 feet square and raised two feet from the floor, significant in that some rules stress throws and grappling to maneuver the opponent off the platform, along those lines, sanshou is easy for the observer to understand - a clear component in successful spectator sports such as Western boxing.
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Also for safety reasons, certain techniques are not allowed in sanshou competition. While leg sweeps and throwing are permitted and are awarded high points, the fighters are not allowed to hit at the throat, or kick to the groin, spine or knees. Other moves including elbow strikes, open-hand strikes, biting, and head-butts have also been forbidden. However, cautious changes are occasionally made when they are proven to benefit both competition and competitor. Professor Xia Bai-hua is head of the Technical Institute in Beijing, China, and was sanshou chief referee at the 1993 Second world Wushu Championship in Malaysia. According to Professor Xia, "one (upcoming) rule change will allow knee strikes and elbow strikes, in addition to the current repertoire of punches, kick and throws. The objective of our research is to make competition more exciting and spectacular for the audience, but also to be safer for the contestants," said professor Xia. "In order to accomplish these goals, new protective equipment has to be designed that will not limit fighting technique."
Other organizers would prefer to return to sanshou's ancient origins, however, Adam Hsu, who just returned from Beijing, related that Zhang Yao-Ting, the president of the Chinese Wushu Research institute, and chairman of the Chinese Wushu Association wishes to name a chuang yuan - an older term designating "the best" with origins in national examinations in the Confucian sacred text - in a national sanshou tournaments in the various provinces. More unconventional in light of the fact that it could limit international competition. Zhang Yao-Ting expressed a desire to gradually eliminate protective gear. "He wants to take it away step by step," said Hsu.
Equally intriguing when discussing various full-contact rules is sanshou's connection to kuoshu, often seen as the Taiwanese counterpart to the Chinese based sanshou. [ ... ] Though a few see a stringent dividing line between the sports, some such as Goh see less contrast. "The rules will always be slightly different," says Goh, but "the various names all mean the same thing."
Others see the distinction as primarily historical. Huang Chien-Liang, president of the united States Kuoshu Federation and Chinese American Kuoshu Federation, notes that "kuoshu has another meaning as 'national art.' In 1928, the Central Kuoshu Academy was formed, and they sponsored a full-contact tournament, but when the Communists took over China, the original Chinese government moved to Taiwan, where, in 1955, they held a full-contact tournament, calling it lei tai. At that time, they used the original rules; no protection, and no weight class - whatever number you picked up, you fought together. In 1975, Taiwan sponsored the first World Wushu Tournament, and started to have weight class division. So by 1992, Taiwan had already sponsored seven kuoshu lei tai fighting events," he says.
Meanwhile in China, "kuoshu had been oppressed during the Cultural Revolution," notes president Huang, "and martial arts was then allowed only for performance until 1979, when wushu was allowed to include self-defense, so practitioners began writing the rules for the sanshou wushu tournaments, and the Communist government held a tournament called sanshou."
Confirming the common direction of kuoshu and sanshou toward safety, however, president Huang approves of the rules changes in full-contact kung fu. "In 1986, at the fifth world tournament in Taiwan, they had a separate weight class, but still no protection. So many people suffered a broken nose and other injuries." As a result, the international Kuoshu Federation - of which Huang is vice-president - decided to change the rules. "So since 1988, the new rules apply."
Surprisingly, the varied opinions, organizations and interests in full-contact kung fu have seemed to foster rather than hinder its growth. Progression has been strong and steady throughout the last two decades according to Anthony Goh. "In the early 1970s, full-contact kung fu was being promoted in Southern Asia. Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong were active in championship competitions." Goh comments. "Thirty-eight countries participated in the first Wushu World Championship in Beijing, China in 1991, and 53 countries participated in the 1993 championship in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Athletes from all the countries competed in the sanshou division. The United States also sent sanshou teams both times," he says. [ ... ]
Professor Xia Bai-hua expresses the belief that "according to our research during the past few years, many techniques in the traditional systems are not practical. It is important not to be preoccupied with arguments of traditional versus modern techniques. It is also not a good idea to 'protect' traditional systems by tailoring the rules to exclude, for example, foreign styles. Also, it is important to sift through the traditional Chinese arts to see which techniques are usable in sanshou. It is important to experiment with and thoroughly train in the traditional techniques to determine their effectiveness."
Others stress the similarities already present between sanshou and more traditional kung fu. "for example, the t'ai chi technique 'Waving Hand Like Clouds Drifting By' is widely used in countering the opponent's kick," notes Yu Zhi-bo, the coach of the Sanshou Team of Beijing Wushu Institute, which was headed by Wu Bin. "It is a very effective way to absorb and catch the opponent's leg."
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Master Li Wing-Kay, president of the Brazil Chinese Kuoshu Federation, a representative of South America Khoshu Federation, and an international referee for wushu and kuoshu, however - who notes that "approximately 80,000 people in Brazil practice kung fu and nearly all of them are involved in sanshou" -echoes many who see sanshou as a chance to improve realistic fighting skills. "If you only practice (kung fu) without competition, why not practice other kinds of sports such as swimming or dancing?" said Kay.
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Tat-Mau Wong was Full-contact champion of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia in the 1970's, and is licensed promoter of full-contact kickboxing in California and promoter of full-contact events open to all martial arts. He commented that full contact "is really tough training. It's not like usual kung fu training. It's mental game. You have to know your opponent and know yourself to win."
Even some kung fu styles must adapt their way of thinking to participate in sanshou. Dr. chi-Hsiu D. Weng, who is president of the United States Shuai-Chiao Association, notes that a majority of people in his style "would look at sanshou as a more combative expression of techniques already taught in shuai-chiao, but that are not practical in tournaments. In any case, the joint locks and joint attacks of shuai-chiao are not allowed in sanshou competition. Under the current sanshou scoring system, a throw is not valued as highly as it would be in a street-fighting situation. Being thrown head-first onto hard concrete, or being stuck with a joint attack, would have a much more decisive effect in a real fight, than being struck by a single punch or kick"
Nonetheless, Mark Wong, also a shuai-chiao practitioner, sees sanshou as an opportunity for martial artists. " to test their skills." He teaches martial arts at the Chinese American International School at the San Francisco Presidio military base and at his club in Oakland, California. "it would be interesting to see people with different martial arts backgrounds sparring." Says Wong. "many people work on theory, or they only fight in a certain style, and think that their style would work against everything else. Through sanshou, kung fu practitioners can try their skills against other styles, and see how they fare in this king of competition.
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