Introduction of Sanda (Free Fighting)
Shaolin Temple teaches about a dozen or so different varieties of kung fu related wushu, among them a discipline that is akin to what is called kickboxing today (the term "kickboxing" was invented by a Japanese martial arts promoter of recent times). However, sanshou – or sanda as the discipline is called in China today – can best be described as "free fighting", which, although it may seem to imply "anything goes", has a number of restrictions as well as being composed of a number of fixed elements. In fact, sanda is taught together with taolu ("forms"), the latter of which refers to a series of specific movements, depending on the attacker's approach, designed to repulse the attack and then to overpower the attacker.
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There are four main elements of sanda: ti (kicks), da (punches), shuai jiao (mainly throws today, but also grappling designed to block attacks or to apply pressure to key arteries or nerves, though shuai jiao was originally a form of head-butting with a horn-like device attached to one's head, imitative of duels between male horned animals during the mating season, and which duels often involved throwing the opponent, or knocking him off balance, with a flick of the head and with the front feet firmly anchored), and chin na (catching and locking an opponent's joints, a technique seen in traditional Western forms of wrestling). Note that the kicks and punches of sanda are not intended to "draw blood" (break jaws and noses), but are aimed instead at vital areas of the body which, when properly struck, can incapacitate the opponent without necessarily resulting in bodily harm, though, where required, they can – as in other forms of wushu – even provoke death.
The essence of taolu is to study and practice a series of specific movements, based on the actions of one's opponent, beginning first with the response to the opponent's initial approach. After this, any number of sequences might follow, and the sanda-taolu fighter must adapt to these. This therefore requires careful study of the various possible "moves" (think of a chess game) of one's opponent, so that one is prepared for the appropriate response to any eventuality. This, however, is the easy part, for all these responses – defensive as well as offensive moves – must be coordinated so as to flow together in a single, fluid movement. This means that the sanda-taolu fighter must constantly be aware of precisely where in this duel he finds himself and instantaneously and fluidly execute the appropriate next move, be it a locking movement, a throw, a kick or a punch.
One of the primary reasons for learning taolu together with sanda (it is not unreasonable to imagine, in this connection, the inseparability of the yin and the yang) was partly to keep the old techiques, or forms, alive (the Chinese is a very tradition-bound culture), and partly to prevent a strictly sanda-oriented free style form of fighting from degenerating into formlessness, or "anything goes" (alas, much of the kickboxing one sees today is of the latter variety). Thus sanda-taolu, as it is practiced by a genuine Shaolin master, is a very compact sport that makes the most of a minimum of space, or, as a Westerner might be tempted to say of the way sanda-taolu is practiced: less is more. Which pretty much sums up the philosophy of Kwai Chang Caine, the Shaolin monk in the Kung Fu TV series.