Sanda (Sanshou or Chinese Kickboxing) is a holistic and full-contact fighting system combining traditional Kung Fu and modern combat methods. The Chinese military developed a multifaceted fighting system, which includes close-range kickboxing with grappling techniques, throws and sweeps.
What is Sanda?
An integral part of Chinese Martial Arts, Sanda is a modern competitive sport where two people use martial arts techniques such as kicking, hitting, throwing, and defence, following specific rules to fight unarmed.
Sanda is different from practical defence and attack. It starts from the concept of sports, and the competition rules restrict many techniques. It is necessary to protect the safety of athletes to the greatest extent so that a killing technique can fully display its sports attributes under the constraints of human civilization. Modern Sanda is also different from traditional martial arts, inherited and improved based on traditional martial arts. In the case of not violating the competition rules, athletes can use the techniques of various martial arts schools in the competition.
The origin and development of Wushu Sanda
Survival and maintaining one’s safety are the primitive instincts of humankind. In ancient times, people used punching, kicking, tripping, grabbing, and falling in hunting practices to survive and gather supplies. After private ownership came, wars between clan societies and tribes occurred occasionally, and using force became the most important means of gathering wealth. Survival instinct called for military skills, and training tribal members required martial skills. However, this is far from Sanda in the sports category. After a long time, the intuitive activities of fighting between humans and beasts and fighting between humans once transitioned to conscious combat exchanges, and a qualitative leap occurred. It is the germination of Sanda.
People’s unarmed fighting techniques developed somewhat in the Shang and Zhou dynasties. In the Shang Dynasty, training soldiers used offensive and defensive fighting techniques. In the Zhou Dynasty, martial arts training became an essential part of education, and there were special training times and content.
During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period, due to the fierce battles and attacks for hegemony, all countries attached importance to the influence of “fighting” and “strike” on the combat effectiveness of the army, the application of martial arts on the battlefield, and active training in peacetime. The fighting techniques of the period have developed to a new stage. Martial arts has become a conscious, purposeful, and organized activity. At the same time, the sports nature of offensive and defensive combat is gradually being recognized. Just as Sun Tzu once pointed out that “fighting and stabbing strong warriors,” in addition to martial arts, competitions also enhance physical fitness. Improving their understanding of the offensive and defensive fighting techniques moves Sanda towards sports competition.
In 1975, in Jianling, Hubei province, a wooden castor was discovered in a tomb from the Qin dynasty. A hand-fighting scene was painted on the back of the wood. The scene shows that the fight takes place on a stage, and one of the people stretches his hands forward as a referee.
With the implementation of the “Martial Examination System” in the Tang Dynasty, the development of martial arts’ offensive and defensive fighting techniques was extensively promoted, making martial arts more popular, its sports nature more apparent, and the bare hands fighting competitively. In the Tang Dynasty, bare hands fighting skills such as wrestling, hand-to-hand fighting, sumo, and other mixed techniques were used. It was spread to the east towards Japan and contributed significantly to the development of Japanese martial arts.
In the later period of feudal society, during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the development of martial arts gradually matured. Various martial arts styles continued to develop and were greatly appreciated by the people. Due to the different boxing styles, multiple forms of martial arts began to spread widely, especially the folk “beating ring.”
For example, in festive banquets, the master of the ring in the public arena faces all the challenges. Boxers from all over the world could compete on the stage with local approval. The competition rules were determined through temporary negotiation, and no unified competition rule existed.
Rich Techniques & Strong Practicability
The opponent’s body is the target of attack. From the perspective of the types of martial arts used globally, there are four types named “kick, beat, throw, and hold.” The “kick” refers to attacking the opponent’s body with legs. The “beat” refers to attacking the opponent’s body with the technique. The “throw” refers to the movement of breaking the balance of the opponent’s body and causing him to fall to the ground. The “hold” refers to using the principle of anti-joint action of the human body to control the joints of the opponent’s body so that it cannot move at will.
According to the characteristics of the temporal and spatial nature of technical actions, the four techniques of kicking, beating, throwing, and holding can be classified into two categories, named “kicking and hitting” and “wrestling.” Most of the more mature mainstream unarmed fighting sports can be classified into kicking and wrestling, such as boxing, taekwondo, Thai boxing, and free fighting. Judo, Aikido, and Sangbo belong to wrestling combat sports. The only exception is Sanda. It combines the characteristics of these two types of combat. The technical system is unique and has the comprehensive features of unarmed combat. Therefore, Sanda’s techniques are exceptionally rich, which allows athletes to change competitive strategies. At the same time, it is more practical in real life to defend yourself and fight against enemies.
Due to Sanda’s rich and diverse technical methods includes most of the kicking, hitting, and wrestling techniques, covering the time and space of long, medium, and short distances. In the long-term development of Sanda, far-kicks have been gradually formed. One can use the leg method to attack and defend when the distance is long. When the distance is short, one can use the boxing method to attack and defend, and when the two parties are entangled, one can use the wrestling method to attack and defend. This technical feature makes it completely different from mainstream martial arts today, especially the fighting sports represented by the Olympic Games, such as boxing, taekwondo, judo, and wrestling. Thai boxing and Sanda are more flexible and changeable. This technical feature of Sanda makes it more suitable.
Body strengthening and control of the temper at will
Sanda exercises the human body more comprehensively. The techniques of Sanda include not only boxing and leg use but also wrestling and a combination of these technical movements. In actual combat practice, it is necessary to constantly observe, judge, attack, or defend according to different situations in an ever-changing case. Long-term practice of Sanda can significantly exercise the human body’s flexibility and ability to respond to unexpected situations, improve the body’s muscles, ligaments, bones, and other motor organs, as well as the functions of breathing, circulation, and nervous systems, and improve the body’s health. Not only that, but the long-term practice of Sanda can also temper people’s will and strengthen their spiritual qualities such as perseverance, courage, decisiveness, courage, and happiness.
The etiquette of Sanda derives from traditional martial arts etiquette, and the International Wushu Federation stipulates that the “boxing ceremony” is adopted worldwide. It is a ritual with typical Chinese traditional characteristics. The “Bao Quan Li” is formed by the fusion of the traditional Chinese martial arts “Bow ceremony” and the Shaolin Wushu “Bao Quan Ceremony” and then refined and formed with rich cultural connotation. The salute method is:
- Stand upright with the feet close together;
- The left hand has the four fingers stretched together, and the thumb tucks in;
- Make a fist with the right hand;
- The left palm covers the right fist and pushes forward from the chest so that the arms form a circular shape in front of the chest;
- The head is upright, and the eyes look at the other person.
The completion of the whole movement should be natural and full of energy. The meaning of the movement is:
- Holding a fist with the right-hand means advocating martial arts;
- Covering the fist with the left palm means supporting virtue and making friends with martial arts;
- The four fingers of the left palm are close together, implying the unity of martial arts across the world;
- The thumb of the left palm is inside meant modesty, never arrogant;
- The arms in a circle mean that the world of martial arts is a family.
In Sanda competitions or training, due to wearing boxing gloves, the etiquette is the same as the above requirements, except that the left palm is a fist, both hands fold in front of the chest, and the action of “boxing salute” is enough. At the beginning of each match, the athletes bow to the audience. Before each round, the athletes must bow to their coaches after they take the stage, and the coaches bow back. The athletes embrace each other’s fists. When the game’s result is announced after the end of the game, the athletes change positions. After announcing the result, the athletes first held each other’s fists and then, at the same time, bowed to the referees on stage, and the referees returned the salutes. Then they salute the opposing coach, and the coach bows back.
Sanda Basic Skills
Sanda program will teach you the basics of footwork, stances, striking & kicking combinations and techniques that this dynamic fighting style offers. A wide range of technical manoeuvring, power generation, and fighting strategies are taught and practised using self-discipline and traditional principles within a safe training environment, emphasising learning correct technique and gradually building skill sets and fitness levels confidently.
Appropriate training equipment and protective safety equipment are worn during sparring training. However, sparring is optional for those interested in applying the principles. So you can train comfortably without the worry of injury. It’s a great way to learn self-defence while getting a great workout and releasing the day’s tension.
*For beginners, loaner equipment can be provided. Students who wish to participate in this class are encouraged to have their equipment, i.e. gloves, shin guards, headgear, and pads.
Straight Front Punch
Straight Back Punch
Turn Around Punch
Front Swing Punch
Back Swing Punch
Sanda combines full-contact kickboxing, which includes punches and kicks, with wrestling, takedowns, throws, sweeps, kick catches, and even elbow and knee strikes. In competition, Sanda traditionally takes place on a raised platform, similar to a boxing ring without ropes. Through dynamic warm-ups, pad and bag work, solo and partner drills, and basic conditioning exercises, Sanda helps develop and improve stamina, increase flexibility, power and strength, Balance and Coordination, and mental health. It is suitable for men and women of all fitness levels and backgrounds.
We offer intense conditioning classes to help students get into fighting shape and designated sparring classes for those looking to get into competition. Our core classes offer the best instruction in Chinese kickboxing and wrestling, where you can learn applicable fighting skills while getting a great workout and meeting your martial arts and fitness goals.
Sparring is where fighters build the understanding and endurance to compete. Sparring incorporates sparring drills and partnered rounds to help students understand and feel the application of their art and build a solid foundation for competitive fighting. This class also offers discussions on strategy and application for competitive Sanda, along with body conditioning drills to prepare your body for the high impact of free fighting. This program is HIGHLY recommended for anyone looking to get into competitive fighting and for students looking to gain a deeper understanding of the effectiveness and use of their martial training.
This full-contact Martial Artsjoint locks emphasises free fighting and comprises of:
- Da – Upper Body Strikes
- Ti – Lower Body Strikes
- Shuai – Throws
- Qin-Na – joint locks, chokes and submission holds
*Students who wish to participate in this class must have their equipment, i.e. gloves, shin guards, headgear, mouth guard etc.
For students who cannot attend live classes at the Temple, we offer the option to become Apprenticeships in Shaolin Online.
The Chinese martial arts tradition has always emphasised “making friends with martial arts,” that is, through the common hobby of martial arts, one can learn skills, exchange skills and ideas, and enhance friendships.
With the widespread dissemination of Sanda globally, it can also promote exchanges with foreign Sanda enthusiasts to learn about Chinese culture by practising Sanda. Sanda competitions can promote economic and trade exchanges and contribute to economic prosperity.
Written with Qi by Shifu Shi Yanjun
Shaolin Warrior Monks Head Coach