Wushu is the official martial art taught in the People’s Republic of China. Wu Shu (“War Arts”) is practiced by millions in China, and is included as part of the training for all police and military personnel. Though it is a form of Kung Fu which has been taught in China for centuries it is a rigid system, and has no attachment to any of the mystical beliefs of the past. The government is more concern with physical aspects of the martial art and spiritual beliefs been replaced with propaganda, and political training which take up much of the student’s training time. When a student is not taking part in political training they will take part in group and partner exercises as well as weapons practice.
Contemporary Wushu was created in 1949 as part of the communist government’s attempt to create a national sport, and though the people were more than happy with the styles of martial arts they had already. All previous forms of Kung Fu were outlawed and even the Shaolin monks were greatly restricted. In recent years the government has tried to take the politics out of sports, but with limited success because of how repressive the government is in general. Still tournaments have been running since the early 1990’s, and the sport is practiced outside of China. The two Wushu forms that are practiced are Taulo and Sanda, but neither is suited for self defense.
The hand movements are called Ba Ji, tumbling moves are Di Tang, and Tung Bi is full arm movements. The animal katas are called Xing Yi. The weapon katas for Wushu includes a large number of different types of swords, the nine-section whip, three section staffs, spears, and other ancient Chinese weapons. The central Committee of National Physical Culture must accredited all students and teachers who must embody the ideals of communism. At first glance Wushu looks impressive with a large number of moves and a large selection of weapons in its arsenal to choose from in battle. The art would seem to be a good choice to study until closer examination. For all its flash this form of Kung Fu lacks substance and won’t stand up in real world conditions.
Taulo is considered to be a form of Kung Fu, but isn’t at all like any of the effective martial arts forms of the past and is like gymnastics. It is a point based systems where points are given out based on performances that can last from two to twenty minutes, and there is no contact. While traditional weapons like swords, butterfly knives, and staffs are used they’re light weight versions and they and the routines are useless in combat. The programs are broken up into barehanded, short weapons, and long weapons portions, but include jumps, flips and other impressive routines. This style of Kung Fu is completely useless when it comes to self defense, but is a good form of entertainment.
Sanshou or Sanda the Chinese combat sport based off of Chinese boxing, wrestling, and kickboxing. Originally, the military used it as a way to test martial arts, but it developed into a competition sport in the early part of the twentieth century. Sanda draws from Lei tai martial arts matches where competitors fought barehanded or with weapons on a high platform. Fights would continue until death, injury, or one of the competitors was thrown off the platform.
In Sanda today a competitor can still win a match by throwing their opponent out of the ring. Striking and grappling are allowed, and it is much more aggressive than Wushu which it is often paired with in tournaments in China. The military has their own version of Sanda, but the sport version restricts a number of moves including elbow strikes, chokes, and joint locks. When competing internationally Sanda practitioners have fought in many style-versus-style competitions against Muay Thai, Karate, and Tae Kwon Do fighters.
Unlike the Japanese art of Jujutsu which is pragmatic Wushu is more about looking good while you perform the art. A typical student will do many impressive leaps, back flips, and strikes, but while doing so leaving themselves open to attacks, because the art lacks any real defense. In dealing with an armed attacker a Wushu student will be unprepared unless they’re carrying a weapon themselves (it isn’t very practical to carry a Chinese broadsword or spear with you on your morning commute).
If a student of combatives and hand to hand self defense was to encounter a Wushu student the combatives student may take a few initial hits, but would quickly close with the Wushu student, and would throw or grapple them and take control of the fight. If the Wushu student was armed with any of their traditional weapons they would find themselves disarmed with their weapon in the hands of the fighter who used practical self defense techniques. In the end Wushu is a performance art, and at best a combat martial art that would only get you in trouble in a street fight. The art even has its critics among modern practitioners of Kung Fu who say the government has stripped all tradition and practically from the art.
This form of Kung Fu is a sport and shouldn’t be relied on for self defense. It should also be noted that Colonel Fairbairn who fought in 600 non-training fights during his time as a police officer in Shanghai China made an extensive study of many Chinese martial arts including Kung Fu didn’t incorporate them in his many books on fighting and self defense. Fairbairn would base his many books on his experiences, and what he learned at the Kodokan while earning his black belt in Judo. The lesson is winning the fight is more important then looking good and losing the fight.
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by Damian Ross