A Brief History of Sanshou
by Master Li, Yongqian
Sanshou: San means open or free. Shou means hands. Sanshou literally means open or free hands. Sanda: San again means open or free. Da means hit, beat, or fight. Sanda is the more common term, whereas Sanshou is the official name since Da makes it sound too brutal or violent.
As a fighting skill, Sanshou has a very long history in China and has had various names in Chinese martial arts history, such as Xiangbo, Shoubo, Chaishou, Qiangshou, Jiji, and Daleitai. As a part of modern competitive sports and a part of modern full contact martial arts in China, Sanshou has a relatively short history.
In March of 1979, the China National Sports Committee (CNSC), the highest official sports administrative body in China, decided that three institutions--the Zhejiang Provincial Sports Training Center, Beijing Physical Education University (former Beijing Physical Education Institute), and Wuhan Physical Education College--should begin to experiment with Sanshou as a formal competitive Wushu sport. Due to the lack of official sponsorship before that time, Sanshou did not have standardized techniques, training methods, and especially rules. The main tasks of the three institutions chosen to develop Sanshou sport were to formulate competition rules, judging methods and training methods as well as to publicize Sanshou as a sport in China.
In May of 1979, the three institutions introduced Sanshou in a performance in a national Wushu competition in Nanning, Guangxi province. At the same time, there were established some other city's and provincial teams to perform Sanshou to experiment with Sanshou at the local level. During the national sports meetings in October 1979, CNSC organized for the first time a Sanshou performance for the public and the athletes were selected from the Zhejiang team, the Beijing Physical Education University team, and the Hebei provincial team. The performance consisted of not only techniques, but also training skills. The purpose of the performance was to solicit from the judges, coaches, and athletes in the Chinese martial arts field ideas concerning the development of the sport. By May 1980, more Sanshou teams were set up, in addition to the initial three institutions, and they all performed Sanshou in the national Wushu competition in Taiyuan, Shanxi province. Meanwhile, Beijing Physical Education University and Wuhan Physical Education College held experimental Sanshou competitions for their own athletes in order to get more competition and judging experience.
In October 1980, CNSC organized experts from the three institutions to draw up Sanshou competition rules and to solicit opinions from the public. In May 1981, Beijing Physical Education University and Wuhan Physical Education College experimentally competed for the first time in public in a national Wushu competition in Shenyang, Liaoning province. In January 1982, CNSC organized the 1982 National Sanshou Competition Rules Conference in Beijing to draft the first official Sanshou competition rules. There were six teams invited to the conference: Beijing city team, Shandong provincial team, Hebei provincial team, Guangdong provincial team, Beijing Physical Education University team, and Wuhan Physical Education College team.
From the beginning of the reintroduction of Sanshou until the official competition took place, a period of about three years, CNSC spent a significant amount of money and involved hundreds of athletes and martial arts experts as well as Sanshou enthusiasts to promote the Sanshou sport. Finally, in January of 1982, the Sanshou competition rules were drafted, the Sanshou judging system was established, and Sanshou training system was formulated. After almost 30 years of silence because of political instability in China, Sanshou was finally revived. Under the first official draft of the competition rules, Beijing held the first formal national Sanshou competition in November 1982. According to the draft rules, the competition took place on a nine meter diameter open circle, which was later changed to a traditional square platform, which is called Leitai. Sanshou rules have been changed slightly from time to time, making the rules more detailed.
As part of Chinese martial arts, Sanshou is attracting worldwide attention, with more and more countries and athletes involved in the sport.
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