Wushu (simplified Chinese: 武术; traditional Chinese: 武術) is both an exhibition and a full-contact sport derived from traditional Chinese martial arts. It was developed in China after 1949, in an effort to standardize the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts, although attempts to structure the various decentralized martial arts traditions date back earlier, when the Central Guoshu Institute was established at Nanking in 1928. The term wushu is Chinese for “martial arts” (武 “Wu” = military or martial, 术 “Shu” = art). In contemporary times, wushu has become an international sport through the International Wushu Federation (IWUF), which holds the World Wushu Championships every two years; the first World Championships were held in 1991 in Beijing and won by Yuan Wen Qing.
Competitive wushu is composed of two disciplines: taolu (套路; forms) and sanda (散打; sparring).
Taolu involves martial art patterns and maneuvers for which competitors are judged and given points according to specific rules. The forms comprise basic movements (stances, kicks, punches, balances, jumps, sweeps and throws) based on aggregate categories of traditional Chinese martial art styles and can be changed for competitions to highlight one’s strengths. Competitive forms have time limits that can range from 1 minute, 20 seconds for some external styles to over five minutes for internal styles. Modern wushu competitors are increasingly training in aerial techniques such as 540-, 720-, and even 900-degree jumps and kicks to add more difficulty and style to their forms.
Sanda (sometimes called sanshou or Lei tai) is a modern fighting method and sport influenced by traditional Chinese boxing, Chinese wrestling methods called Shuai jiao and other Chinese grappling techniques such as Chin Na. It has all the combat aspects of wushu. Sanda appears much like Kickboxing or Muay Thai, but includes many more grappling techniques. Sanda fighting competitions are often held alongside taolu or form competitions.
In 1958, the government established the All-China Wushu Association as an umbrella organization to regulate martial arts training. The Chinese State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports took the lead in creating standardized forms for most of the major arts. During this period, a national Wushu system that included standard forms, teaching curriculum, and instructor grading was established. Wushu was introduced at both the high school and university level. This new system seeks to incorporate common elements from all styles and forms as well as the general ideas associated with Chinese martial arts. Stylistic concepts such as hard, soft, internal, external, as well as classifications based on schools such as Shaolin, Taiji, Wudang and others were all integrated into one system. Wushu became the government sponsored standard for the training in martial arts in China. The push for standardization continued leading to widespread adaptation. In 1979, the State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports created a special task force to teaching and practice of Wushu. In 1986, the Chinese National Research Institute of Wushu was established as the central authority for the research and administration of Wushu activities in China.
Changing government policies and attitudes towards sports in general lead to the closing of the State Sports Commission (the central sports authority) in 1998. This closure is viewed as an attempt to partially de-politicize organized sports and move Chinese sport policies towards a more market-driven approach. As a result of these changing sociological factors within China, both traditional styles and modern Wushu approaches are being promoted by the International Wushu Federation.
Contemporary taolu events
A Jian dual event (choreographed)
Wushu events are performed using compulsory or individual routines in competition. Compulsory routines are those routines that have been already created for the athlete, resulting in each athlete performing basically the same set. Individual routines are routines that an athlete creates with the aid of his/her coach, while following certain rules for difficulty.
In addition to events for individual routines, some wushu competitions also feature dual and group events. The dual event, also called duilian (对练), is an event in which there is some form of sparring with weapons, or without weapons or even using bare hands against weapons. The dual event is usually spectacular and actions are choreographed beforehand. The group event, also known as jiti (集体), requires a group of people to perform together and smooth synchronization of actions are crucial. Usually, the group event also allows instrumental music to accompany the choreography during the performance. The carpet used for the group event is also larger than the one used for individual routines.
Previously, international wushu competitions most often used compulsory routines, while high-level competitions in China most often used individual routines. However, after the 2003 Wushu World Games in Macau it was decided to opt for individual routines in international competition with nandu (难度; difficulty movements) integrating a maximum 2 point nandu score into the overall maximum score of 10.
There is some controversy concerning the inclusion of nandu in wushu because many of the movements created for the specific events are not originally movements used in those styles. In addition the number of injuries which have resulted from the inclusion of these nandu have caused many people to question their inclusion.
Those who support the new difficulty requirements follow the assertion that they help to progress the sport and improve the overall physical quality of the athletes.
Changquan (長拳/长拳 or Long Fist) refers to long-range extended wushu styles like Chaquan (查拳), Huaquan (華拳/华拳), Hongquan (洪拳; “flood fist”), and Shaolinquan (少林拳), but this wushu form is a modernized style derived from movements of these and other traditional styles. Changquan is the most widely seen of the wushu forms, and includes speed, power, accuracy, and flexibility. Changquan is difficult to perform, requiring great flexibility and athleticism, and is often practiced from a young age. All nandu movements must be made within 4 steps or it will not count for nandu points.
Nanquan (南拳 or Southern Fist) refers to wushu styles originating in south China (i.e., south of the Yangtze River, including Hongjiaquan (Hung Gar) (洪家拳), Cailifoquan (Choy Li Fut) (蔡李佛拳), and Yongchunquan (Wing Chun) (詠春拳/咏春拳). Many are known for vigorous, athletic movements with very stable, low stances and intricate hand movements. This wushu form is a modern style derived from movements of these and other traditional southern styles. Nanquan typically requires less flexibility and has fewer acrobatics than Changquan, but it also requires greater leg stability and power generation through leg and hip coordination. This event was created in 1960. All nandu movements must be made within 4 steps or it will not count for nandu points.
Taijiquan (太極拳/太极拳, T’ai chi ch’uan) is a wushu style famous for slow, relaxed movements, often seen as an exercise method for the elderly, and sometimes known as “T’ai chi” in Western countries to those otherwise unfamiliar with wushu. This wushu form is a modern recompilation based on the Yang (楊/杨) style of Taijiquan, but also including movements of the Chen (陳/陈), Wu (吳/吴), Wu (武), and Sun (孫/孙) styles. Competitive contemporary taiji is distinct from those traditional styles it draws from, in that it typically involves difficult holds, balances, jumps and jump kicks. Modern competitive tai ji requires good balance, flexibility and strength.
Dao (刀 or knife) refers to any curved, one-sided sword/blade, but this wushu form is a Changquan method of using a medium-sized willow-leaf-shaped dao (柳葉刀/柳叶刀).
Nandao (南刀 or Southern Style knife) refers to a form performed with a curved, one sided sword/blade based on the techniques of Nanquan. The weapon and techniques appears to be based on the butterfly swords of Yongchunquan, a well known Southern style. In the Wushu form, the blade has been lengthened and changed so that only one is used (as opposed to a pair). This event was created in 1992.
Jian (劍/剑 or double-edged sword) refers to any double-edged straight sword/blade, but this wushu form is a Changquan method of using the jian.
Taijijian (太極劍/太极剑 or Taiji double-edged sword) is an event using the jian based on traditional Taijiquan jian methods.
Gun (棍 or staff) refers to a long staff (shaped from white wax wood) as tall as the wrist of a person standing with his/her arms stretched upwards, but this wushu form is a Changquan method of using the white wax wood staff.
Nangun (南棍 or Southern cudgel) is a Nanquan method of using the staff. This event was created in 1992.
Qiang (槍/枪 or spear) refers to a flexible spear with red horse hair attached to the spearhead, but this wushu form is a Changquan method of using the qiang.
Other taolu routines
The majority of routines used in the sport are new, modernized recompilations of traditional routines. However, routines taken directly from traditional styles, including the styles that are not part of standard events, may be performed in competition, especially in China. These routines generally do not garner as many points as their modern counterparts, and are performed in events separate from the compulsory routine events. Among these, the more commonly seen routines include:
Baguazhang (八卦掌) – Eight-Trigrams Palm
Bajiquan (八極拳/八极拳) – Eight Extremes Fist/Boxing
Chaquan (查拳) – Cha Fist/Boxing
Chuojiao (戳腳/戳脚) – Poking Feet
Ditangquan (地躺拳) – Ground-Prone Fist/Boxing
Fanziquan (翻子拳) – Tumbling Fist/Boxing
Houquan (猴拳) – Monkey Fist/Boxing
Huaquan (華拳/华拳) – Hua Fist/Boxing
Nanquan (南拳) – Southern Fist
Paochui (炮捶) – Cannon Punch
Piguaquan (劈掛拳) – Chop-Hitch Fist/Boxing
Shequan (蛇拳) – Snake Fist/Boxing
Tantui (弹腿) – Spring Leg
Tanglanquan (螳螂拳) – Praying Mantis Fist/Boxing
Tongbeiquan (通背拳) – Through-the-Back Fist/Boxing
Wing Chun (詠春拳/咏春拳) – Eternal Spring
Xingyiquan (形意拳) – Shape-Intent Fist/Boxing
Yingzhuaquan (鷹爪拳/鹰爪拳) – Eagle Claw Fist/Boxing
Zuiquan (醉拳) – Drunken Fist/Boxing
Traditional weapons routines
There is also a traditional weapons category, which often includes the following:
Changsuijian (長穗劍/长穗剑) – Long-Tasseled Sword
Shuangshoujian (雙手劍/双手剑) – Two-Handed Sword
Jiujiebian (九節鞭/九节鞭) – Nine Section Whip
Sanjiegun (三節棍/三节棍) – Three Section Staff
Shengbiao (繩鏢/绳镖) – Rope Dart
Dadao (大刀) – Great Sword
Pudao (撲刀/扑刀) – Horse Knife
Emeici (峨嵋刺) – Emei Daggers
Shuangdao (雙刀/双刀) – Double Broadsword
Shuangjian (雙劍/双剑) – Double Straight-Sword
Shuangbian (雙鞭/双鞭) – Double Nine Section Whips
Shuanggou (雙鈎/双钩) – Double Hook-sword
The other major discipline of contemporary Chinese Wushu is 散打 Sǎndǎ, or 运动散打 (Yùndòng Sǎndǎ, Sport Free-Fighting), or 竞争散打 (Jìngzhēng Sàndǎ, Competitive Free-Fighting): A modern fighting method, sport, and applicable component of Wushu / Kung Fu influenced by traditional Chinese Boxing, of which takedowns & throws are legal in competition, as well as all other sorts of striking (use of arms & legs). Chinese wrestling methods called Shuai Jiao and other Chinese grappling techniques such as Chin Na. It has all the combat aspects of wushu.
Sanda appears much like Kickboxing or Muay Thai, but includes many more grappling techniques. Sanda fighting competitions are often held alongside taolu or form competitions. Sanda represents the modern development of Lei Tai contests, but with rules in place to reduce the chance of serious injury. Many Chinese martial art schools teach or work within the rule sets of Sanda, working to incorporate the movements, characteristics, and theory of their style.
Chinese martial artists also compete in non-Chinese or mixed combat sports, including Boxing, Kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts. Sanda is practiced in tournaments and is normally held alongside taolu events in wushu competition. For safety reasons, some techniques from the self-defense form such as elbow strikes, chokes, and joint locks, are not allowed during tournaments. Competitors can win by knockout or points which are earned by landing strikes to the body or head, throwing an opponent, or when competition is held on a raised lei tai platform, pushing them off the platform. Fighters are only allowed to clinch for a few seconds. If the clinch is not broken by the fighters, and if neither succeeds in throwing his opponent within the time limit, the referee will break the clinch. In the U.S., competitions are held either in boxing rings or on the raised lei tai platform. Amateur fighters wear protective gear.
“Amateur Sanda” allows kicks, punches, knees (not to the head), and throws. A competition held in China, called the “King of Sanda”, is held in a ring similar to a boxing ring in design but larger in dimension. As professionals, they wear no protective gear except for gloves, cup, and mouthpiece, and “Professional Sanda” allows knee strikes (including to the head) as well as kicking, punching and throwing.
Some Sanda fighters have participated in fighting tournaments such as K-1 and Shoot Boxing. They have had some degree of success, especially in Shoot boxing competitions, which is more similar to Sanda. Due to the rules of Kickboxing competition, Sanda fighters are subjected to more limitations than usual. Also notable competitors in China’s mainstream Mixed Martial Arts competitions, Art of War Fighting Championship and Ranik Ultimate Fighting Federation are dominantly of wushu background. Sanda has been featured in many style-versus-style competitions. Muay Thai is frequently pitted against Sanda as is Karate, Kickboxing, & Tae Kwon Do. Although it is less common, some Sanda practitioners have also fought in the publicly viewed American Mixed Martial Arts competitions.
List of major international and regional competitions featuring wushu include:
World Wushu Championships
World Junior Wushu Championships
World Combat Games
East Asian Games
Southeast Asian Games
European Wushu Championships, organized by the European Wushu Federation
National Games of China
South Asian Games
Wushu is not a Summer Olympic sport; the IWUF has repeatedly backed proposals for Wushu to be added to the Olympic programme, most recently as one of eight sports proposed for the 2020 Summer Olympics. However, it failed to reach the final shortlist, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ultimately voted for the re-inclusion of wrestling instead. In March 2015, IWUF executive vice president Anthony Goh stated that the Federation was planning to propose Wushu again for the 2024 Summer Olympics. As part of new IOC rules allowing host committees to accept proposals for new sports to be added to the programme (allowing the addition of sports of local interest to the Olympic programme under an “event-based” model), in June 2015, Wushu was shortlisted again as part of eight sports proposed for inclusion in the 2020 Games in this manner. However, it did not make the final shortlist of five.
Owing to its cultural significance in China, the IOC allowed the organizers of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing to hold a Wushu tournament in parallel with the Games as a separate event—the first time that the IOC has allowed such an event.
Donnie Yen (甄子丹) – Chinese martial artist and actor, trained with the Beijing Wushu Team. Gold medalists for various international Wushu Competitions. Known for his portrayal of Ip Man, mentor of Bruce Lee.
An Tianrong (安天荣) – having graduated from Changchun Physical Education and Sports College, An Tian Rong is a former national (China) champion and wushu pioneer. He was approved as a national (China) and international level judge in 1980, has taught at numerous universities throughout China, and authored more than 50 books on internal and external martial arts. Among the national/international champions he’s coached, while on Wu Bin’s coaching staff for the Beijing Wushu Team, he provided guidance to the international celebrity, Jet Li and his student, Jinzhao Au, won the Japanese national champion title in 1986.
Steve Coleman – Longest running Great Britain Wushu champion 2002–present, Captain GB Wushu Team, starred as Shane Powers in film On the Ropes (2011 film).
Jon Foo – Learned Kung Fu when he was 8 years old, but didn’t begin serious training in Wu Shu until he was 15. Starred as Jin Kazama in the film adaptation of Tekken.
Jiang Bangjun (江邦軍/江邦军) – a well-respected international Wushu Champion. He was the Men’s All Around Wushu Champion in 1996 and 1998. Personally invited to the Beijing Wushu Team by Wu Bin, he became the lead Athlete and Coach for the Beijing Wushu Team. Today, he has opened a Wushu school in Virginia Called PMAA (Professional Martial Arts Academy).
Jet Li (李連杰/李连杰) – possibly the most famous wushu practitioner in the world. He started wushu as a competition sport and gained fame as he took the National Wushu Champion of China title five times as an original member of the Beijing Wushu Team, he was later selected to demonstrate his wushu on the silver screen in the worldwide hit film Shaolin Temple. Many of his old teammates have also appeared on-screen with him, especially in his older movies.
Jade Xu (徐慧慧) is a martial arts actress and multiple World Wushu Champion. She won the World Championships three times in a row and the first (gun/staff) and second (dao/broadsword) place in the Olympic Wushu Tournament Beijing 2008 and became one of the most famous female Wushu athletes in the world. Soon after her athletic career, Jade Xu received offers to star in various international Film and TV productions, such as Tai Chi 0, Tai Chi Hero, The Legend of Wing Chun and Michael Jackson: One, and successfully launched her second career, as an actress.
Liu Yu is an author, former Head Coach of the U.S. Wushu Team from 1997 to 1999. She is now teaching at the Wushu Taichi Center is located in San Luis Obispo, CA.
Philip Sahagun is a martial arts champion who has promoted the art of Wushu as a finalist on two of China’s top-rated reality competitions, Kung Fu Star and Jackie Chan’s Disciple. In 2008 & 2009, Philip performed Wushu while touring as a martial arts ‘Ninja’ performer for Tina Turner, Queen of Rock and Roll, record breaking Tina!: 50th Anniversary Tour. He has represented America twice at the World Traditional Wushu Festival in China winning both gold and silver medals for the U.S. Team. Today he serves as the head Instructor of traditional Martial Arts at his family owned and operated South Coast Martial Arts in Southern California.
Ray Park – Showcased his skills in wushu in several major films, including his portrayal of Darth Maul in 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, as well as Toad in the film X-Men (2000) and as stunt-double for Robin Shou and James Remar in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. He also heavily retrained prior to filming G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, in which he portrayed the martial arts expert Snake Eyes.
Wu Bin (吳彬/吴彬) – Jet Li’s coach in the Beijing Wushu Team, training more wushu champions than any other coach in China.
Wu Jing (吳京/吴京) – Chinese actor who was sent to the Beijing Sports Institute at Shichahai in Beijing when he was 6 years old. Like Jet Li he competed as a member of the Beijing Wushu Team in national level wushu competitions in China. Both his father and grandfather were also martial artists 
Yuan Wenqing (原文庆) – One of the most famous, successful, and skilled wushu practitioners in the world who has won countless gold medals in Chinese, World, and Asian Championships. He is a former Shanxi wushu team athlete trained by the coaches Pang Lin Tai and Zhang Ling Mei. He is most famous for his ChangQuan, DaoShu, GunShu, ShuangDao, and DiTangQuan. A number of his routines (TaoLu) became the official standard competition routines (GuiDing) for a number of years until the new GuiDing TaoLu’s were introduced.
Zhao Qingjian (赵庆建) – Started learning martial arts at the age of 7, and was a standout member of the Beijing Wushu Team. Retained his #1 ranking at the 2009 All China Games. Currently has retired from the professional circuit of competition.
Zhao Changjun (赵长军) – One of the best classical contemporary wushu legends of the 20th Century. His rivalry with Jet li was legendary, losing first place in men’s longfist at the 1978 Men’s Longfist competition, legend says it was due to Zhao’s pinkie being slightly off, resulting in a minuscule deduction that cost him gold. After Jet li left to become an actor, the playing field was set and for nearly an entire decade Mr. Zhao Changjun was left to dominate the scenes in national Wushu competitions in the 80’s. It has been said that “the ’70s belonged to Jet, but the ’80s belonged to Zhao”. Trained both in traditional and contemporary Wushu, Ditang Quan, Gunshu and Daoshu are known as “Zhao’s Three Uniques”. He was also trained in traditional Cha quan, a uniquely Muslim traditional wushu style. Retiring in 1987, he currently owns a Wushu school.
Wushu has faced criticism as a competitive sport. It has been criticized by some traditional martial artists for being too commercialized, losing many of its original values, and potentially threatening old styles of teaching. Such critics argue that contemporary wushu helped to create a dichotomy between form work and combat application.