What’s Wushu?

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Wushu is a martial art developed over 2,500 years ago in China. It has evolved into a full contact sport with competitions held every two years by the International Wushu Federation. The sport includes taolu, a choreographed routine judged on form and difficulty, and sanda, a real combat match. Wushu includes different disciplines with bare hands and weapons, and is expanding in popularity worldwide.

The Chinese word wushu translates as martial or military arts. It is both a generic term for martial arts and a specific discipline of full contact sport. Since 1991, the International Wushu Federation (IWF) has held a world championship every two years, in recent competitions attracting more than 1,000 elite competitors.
Over 2,500 years ago, the style was developed as both a means of promoting healthy exercise and a survival fighting method during frequent times of warfare in China. Over thousands of years it has evolved as a fighting style meant to be pragmatic and functional while maintaining an aesthetic beauty. Modern wushu is divided into many different disciplines, including taijiquan and kung fu.

In competition, two types of shapes are used. In taolu, routines that demonstrate the athletes’ skills and abilities are performed alone, in pairs, and even in large groups. The competitions are not fights, but rather choreographed routines that demonstrate correct offensive and defensive positions and tactics. In a sense, forms of taolu are more closely related to gymnastics than martial arts matches. Competitors are judged on their adherence to correct form and the difficulty of the maneuvers they perform. As the competitive sport is still quite new, the level of difficulty keeps increasing as more talented athletes join the discipline.

Sanda wushu involves real combat matches, similar to wrestling and boxing. Matches are fought with bare knuckles and allow for wrestling style punches, kicks and some grappling. Sanda and Taolu performances are often held simultaneously, giving viewers a variety of different styles to watch simultaneously.

The sport is designed for flexibility of use. There are forms of Wushu that are performed with bare hands, with short weapons and with long weapons. Commonly used weapons include clubs, single- and double-edged swords, and spears. Each weapon dictates the movements of its form, leading to highly specialized maneuvers. Many principles of the style are used in kung fu movies to create elaborate martial arts fight scenes.

Bare hand forms are widely seen and can be fascinating to watch. The Changquan style is perhaps the most spectacular, involving gymnastic elements such as flips and aerial rotations, and combat movements such as kicks and punches. Changquan performers are usually extremely flexible and must train for many years to achieve proficiency. In the 21st century, a slower form of empty hand wushu has found incredible popularity around the world. Taijiquan, or tai chi, involves slow, flowing movement patterns to increase flexibility and meditative skills.

The most exciting thing about modern wushu is that the form is ever-expanding as it grows in popularity. Since the first world championship in 1991, the competitions have become popular around the world, leading to subsequent world competitions held in Canada, Armenia, the United States and Italy.

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