Sanda is China’s official full contact combat sport. It was formerly known as Sanshou and get’s called Chinese Boxing or Chinese Kickboxing. It’s seen as the equivalent to Thailand’s national sport of Muay Thai, but with its own complex history of development.
Sanda in History
Sanda is believed to originated from ancient Chinese Lei Tai arena fights. The ‘Lei Tai’ was a raised arena platform where martial arts bouts, either with weapons or bare knuckle, were held. In ‘sanctioned’ bouts there would be a referee and judges present. Fighters would lose if they surrendered, were incapacitated or were pushed or otherwise forced off the raised podium. The winner would ‘own’ the podium until another fighter climbed up to challenge them. If no other challengers came forwards the ‘owner’ was declared champion. Private duels were also held on the Lei Tai and may be fought to the death.
The fights remained pretty brutal up well into the 1900’s. A report from 1928 said that at a national competition in Nanking the final 12 fighters were banned from continuing as they feared the death of some of the best practitioners in the country. Before the ban of traditional martial arts during the cultural revolution the Chinese government gathered Sanda masters to create a standardised style.
The military then taught recruits the techniques to see what worked in practice. This is similar to the development of the Russian martial art of Sambo. Rules were developed, like introducting padded gloves, and eventually a style was developed in the 1960’s as a sporting competition and civilian self defence technique.
The modern Sport
Modern Sanda lets fighters use a wide variety of striking techniques. These include punches, elbows, knees and kicks but also takedowns and throws – though joint locks and chokes are not permitted. The height of modern Sanda competition is the world championships, held every two years, where top practitioners compete to see who’s best.There’s a history of Sanda practitioners competing in other disciplines to determine which styles are most effective. A number of well known practitioners have gone on to have success in other sports. UFC Champion Zhang Weili, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Cung Lee and Pat Barry have all got a Sanda backgorund.