Wushu is the umbrella term for all martial art styles originating in China, includes disciplines ranging from tai chi to full contact fighting. Known more colloquially as kungfu, many former wushu competitors have gone on to Hollywood careers as actors, stuntpersons, and fight coordinators.
For competition purposes, wushu has been standardized, with two categories: taolu and sanda. Both offer cinematic visuals that light up the competition carpet and full-contact fighting platform.
Taolu, or forms, are choreographed routines. Routines are divided into two categories: empty-hand (without weapons) and weapons, which include broad sword, straight sword, staff, and spear. Competitors perform their routines on a standard-sized taolu carpet and core elements are scored on technical difficulty and quality of movement.
Traditionally, taolu routines showcase the athlete’s flexibility, stamina, strength, speed, balance, and co-ordination. Audiences love the incredible flying acrobatics like flips, jumping twists and full splits that accompany empty-hand routines and the flash and thunder of straight sword and broadsword.
Sanda is full contact fighting. Fighters are paired by weight class, and matches of three rounds each are conducted on a traditional fighting platform called a lei tai. During a bout, sanda athletes may employ punching, kicking, wrestling, and throwing techniques from all styles of wushu. Competitors win by accumulating more points than their opponent, by knocking their opponent out of the lei tai, or by a knockout.
With its integration of many techniques, sanda closely resembles MMA. Sanda finals usually pack the arena seats, and raucous shouts and cheers create an electrifying energy in the audience. No matter how tough the competition, athletes always display exemplary sportsmanship, with hugs given after the winning round, and respect given to coaches and judges.