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Wushu and acrobatics training in China

Wushu is a traditional Chinese sport, which pays attention to both internal and external activities. 

Wushu was created in the People’s Republic of China after 1949, in an attempt to nationalize the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts. Most of the modern competition forms (taolu) were formed from their parent arts by government-appointed committees. 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.


Wushu training combines acrobatics, speed, strength and complex coordination.

What does Wushu mean?

Wushu is the proper term of Chinese martial arts, but is also a general term meaning martial arts. To understand the traditional meaning of Wushu, we need to understand each element of the character. The Chinese character for “Wu” is made up of two elements. The first one means “to stop” and the second one means a “lance”. The lance is a spear like weapon used in war in the past. “Shu” means art. So a definition of Chinese martial arts is the art of stopping war or the art of stopping violence. They say, combine the character to stop with the character lance to make the character “martial“. In other words:

True bravery is the ability to cease fighting before it starts.

Wushu styles and classifications

Competitive Wushu is composed of two disciplines: Taolu (forms / routine exercises) and Sanda (sparring).

1. – Taolu

Taolu involves martial art patterns and maneuvers for which competitors are judged and given points according to specific rules. The forms comprise of basic movements (stances, kicks, punches, balances, jumps, sweeps and throws) based on aggregate categories of traditional Chinese martial art style 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 and 720 degree jumps and kicks to add more difficulty and style to their forms.

In addition to events for individual routines, some wushu competitions also feature dual and group events. The dual event, also called duilian, is an event that can involve 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, requires a group of people to perform together; 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.

a) Barehanded

All bare-handed forms belong to this category, such as:

  • Changquan (Chaquan and Huaquan)
  • Taijiquan
  • Nanquan
  • Xingyiquan
  • Baguazhang
  • Tongbiquan
  • Fanziquan
  • Piguaquan
  • Shaolinquan
  • Chuojiaoquan
  • Ditangquan
  • Xiangxingquan

b) Weapons

  • Short weapons: broadsword, sword and dagger.
  • Long weapons: spear, cudgel, falchion and long-handed broadsword.
  • Double weapons: double broadswords, double swords, double hooks, double halberds and double twin-head spears.
  • Soft weapons: nine-section whip, double whips, single broadsword plus whip, three-section cudgel, meteoric hammer and rope dart.

c) Duilian (dual event)

  • Bare-hand sparring would involve fist sparring and grappling with a sparring partner.
  • Armed sparring, involves broadsword combat, sword combat, spear combat, cudgel combat, single broadsword against spear, double broadswords against spear, long-handled broadsword against spear and three-section cudgel against spear.
  • Bare-hand against weapons like broadsword, spear or double spears.

d) Jiti (group event)

Includes all the exercises practiced by six or more persons, with or without weapons, forming patterns, in synchronized movements. These exercises are sometimes performed to musical accompaniment.

2. – Sanda (Wushu combat)

All free combat between two fighters through the trials of intelligence and techniques under regulated conditions and according to fixed rules. The competition events are: Sanda (sanshou), push hands and short weapon duels.

Wushu History

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. In 1979, the State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports created a special task force to teach and practice of Wushu. Wushu is both an exhibition and a full-contact sport derived from traditional Chinese martial arts.

In 1986, the Chinese National Research Institute of Wushu was established as the central authority for the research and administration of Wushu activities in the People’s Republic of China. Changing government policies and Master Yanlong Li 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 Chinese government.

According to Wikipedia, most events were first set up in 1958. These 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.

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, integrating a maximum 2 point nandu score into the overall maximum score of 10.

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