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Many people view martial arts as a sport. This idea for traditional Chinese martial arts is only a recent phenomena. The orgin of this idea can be traced to the National Government policies of the 1920's. Wushu can now be considered to be the sporting event with particular rules and regulation that can be use for competitions. However, it should seen as a complement not an alternative to traditional practise.

This section highlights some of the memorable examples in each genre.

1. Wuxia - the Chinese Martial Arts Fiction
2. Comics, Theatre, Television (Asia, West)
3. Bruce Lee and Heroic Cinema
Sports, Blood Sports and the Mixed Martial Arts
5. Video Games and the New Arm Chair Warriors



T he desire for competition and the satisfaction of the ego is a part of human nature. Wuxia novels and Chinese martial art history are inundated with stories of battles and contest between different martial artists. If the skill level of the competitors is high, then the test of skills can be completed without a serious damage. This is not often the case because martial arts are essentially developed for combat, any serious contest can result in severe damage and even lead to a lost of life. This dangerous, life and death battles in Chinese martial arts became an important part of the mystic and to some - their appeal. The arrival of Western technology and Western ideas radically changed the fabric of Chinese Civilization. The use of guns can essentially negate years of training in the martial arts. On a physical level, the importance of martial arts in self-defense and combat diminished. Following the example from the West and from Japan, many community leaders advocated the idea of using martial arts for sport and health. These intellectuals understood the advantages of organized physical training and recognized the significant contributions of martial arts turn sports such as wrestling, boxing and fencing in the West. They might also be influenced by the success of newly created sporting disciplines such as Karate, Judo and Kendo, which increased the spirit of the Japanese population.

Kuoshu - the beginning

In 1928, the Nationalist government banned the old traditions of private duels and lei tai contest. In order to revitalize the Chinese traditions, three famous armed forces generals, Zhang Zi Jiang, Li Jing Lin and Fung Zu Ziang organized the first national Chinese full contact competition in Nanjing. The contest, in lei tai format with no protective gear, was an open contest but many masters did not compete. Following some martial art tradition, they did not prove themselves in "sporting"contests - only in serious duels. However, the event did gather together at one time some of the great martial artists. The contest was extremely competitive, resulting in many injuries and two deaths. The final 12 contestants were not permitted to fight beause of the high rate of injury. The winner was utimately decided by a committe of their peers. In the end, some styles and individuals established a good reputation - for example, "the Divine Crushing Fist" Gu Ruzhang (Ku Yu Cheung) ranked among the top ten and many Hsing Yi practitioners also placed highly. Another tournament was organized in 1933 and winners in this event include Li Kun Shan (Preying Mantis), Wang Yu Shan (Praying Mantis) and Ch'ang Tung Sheng (Shuai Chiao).

In the same year, the Republic Government also established the Central Guoshu Institute, in Nanjing. The purpose was to promote the Chinese Martial arts on a national level. They invited some of the greatest living masters and the winners of the 1928 competition to create a standard curriculum for the teaching and dissemination of Chinese Martial Arts. The Institute chooses five masters:

  • Gu Ruzhang of Northern Shaolin and Cha Styles
  • Wan Laisheng of Northern Shaolin and Spontaneous Boxing Styles
  • Fu Zhensong of Bagua Style
  • Wang Shaozhou of Northern Shaolin and Cha Styles, and
  • Li Xianwu of Northern Shaolin and Spontaneous boxing Styles

They represent the standard bearers for the Institute and their purpose was to disseminate their techniques to the southern provinces of China. In Chinese Martial arts history, this event is known as `The Five Tigers from the North who went south'.

In 1939 the Chinese Guoshu Delegation was organized to visit Southeast Asia. In the same year, the Chinese Guoshu Team gave a demonstration in Berlin at the XI Olympic Games. Among the masters that performed include:

  • Fu Shuyun. Born in 1915, studied bagua zhang from Wu Junshan at Central Guoshu Institute. Now living in Taiwan.
  • Luo Chengli demonstrated Mian quan (Cotton boxing)
  • Wen-Guang Zhang, a Cha Quan exponent
  • Zheng Huaixian the late president of the Chinese Wushu Association
  • Zhang Wenguang, a Han Chinese Muslim

After the Olympics, the wushu demonstrators went to Denmark, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria and Italy, where they were warmly received as envoys of the Chinese people and highly acclaimed for their performances with bare hands or such ancient weapons as swords, cudgels and spears.

The National Program was destroyed by the war with Japan. Many outstanding martial artists were killed fighting for their country. The Central Guoshu Institute had to move out of Nanjing at the beginning of the war and had tochanged locations almost every year for the duration of the war. In 1946, the Institute returned to Nanjing, however the move back was largely symbolic. The war left the Institute with no office, no activities and no money. Two years later, the Institute was no more.


On October 1st, 1949, Mao Zedong established the People's Republic of China. In his youth, Mao was a strong supporter of Martial Arts - recognizing its value in building strength and self-confidence. His ideas appeared for example in "A Study in Physical Culture", one of the first articles he wrote for the paper New Youth (1917). He outline his vision of a physical culture, in which martial arts played an important role, for the purposes of making "savage the body" and promoting "military heroism". His view changed once he was in power. In order to consolidate their position in the countryside, the Communist party attempted to remove any opposition, which had traditionally fostered regionalism and personal loyalties - this included religion, village associations and the practice of martial arts.

In place of traditional practice, the Chinese Government implemented nationally administered programs to appropriate and control the practice of martial arts. In 1949, the government created the All China Sports Federation with the idea of promoting sports that best serves the interest of the state. The adapted the term, Wushu, to replace the term Guoshu promoted by the Nationalists. Martial arts were now considered to be part of that national physical education program. By 1951, all private martial arts schools were labeled "feudalistic" and ordered closed. The next year the State Physical Culture and Sports Commission were created and a number of new regulations regarding the practice of martial arts were introduced. Instructors could no longer refer to themselves as "Sifu" and the Baai Si (initiation ceremony) was declared illegal. Instructors were now referred to as "coaches".

Superficially, Martial Arts as a sport should be an improvement. Amongst its advantages include: standards, clear sense of progress for the students, elimination of secrecy and other dangers due to individual egos. However, on a deeper level, the nature of traditional martial arts training was diminished. Despite government claims to the contrary, the sport of Wushu is not simply martial arts in a formalized educational setting. It is first and foremost a program designed for physical fitness (i.e. to promote health, discipline, self-confidence, etc.). The rich heritage and diversity of traditional practice would have been lost. Fortunately, some people continue to train in the old ways waiting for the change in government attitude. This will not happen for another thirty years. During the troubled years, the drive towards standardization continued

In 1953, the Nation-wide Traditional Sports Demonstration and Competition was held in Tianjin, at which Wushu was the major content. Wushu was listed as a formal course in local sports institutes and their physical education departments.

In 1956, the Chinese Wushu Association was set up in Beijing, and Wushu thus became an official competition event. In 1958, The State Physical Culture and Sports Commission compiled the first draft of Wushu Competition Rules. Routine exercises such as the Simplified Taijiquan, Changquan, Broadsword play, Swordplay, Spear play and Cudgel play of first class, intermediate class and primary level were published successively.

In 1959, the Chinese government officially breaks with the past, they stated that the state will no longer recognized styles or systems. Instead, all martial arts were divided into five basic categories, "Long Fist" (referring to all empty hand techniques and influenced by Northern style boxing), broadsword, straight sword, staff and spear. After some protests, a category referred to as "South Fist" was also introduced to represent the martial arts of Southern China. This state controlled martial arts program is the basis for what is today referred to as "contemporary Wushu". The progress and intentions of the Chinese government was interrupted by the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76). A period of turmoil that cost great hardship and suffering to the Chinese people not just in the Martial Arts but in all aspects of the society. Mao shut down China's schools, and encouraged the youths of China (organized into Red Guards) to attack all traditional values and "bourgeois" things and to test party officials by publicly criticizing them. Mao believed that this measure would be beneficial both for the young people and for the party cadres that they attacked because they will be a force of revitalization. The movement, organized into armed groups known as the "Red guards", quickly escalated their mindless destruction; many elderly people and intellectuals were not only verbally attacked but were physically abused. Many died. Eventually, the Red Guards themselves splintered into zealous rival factions, each purporting to be the true representative of Maoist thought. Ultimately, chaos rein, as open rebellion appears between fractions and the fierce battles almost lead to civil war. It took the death of the great Helmsman, Mao Zedong and the conviction of the Gang of Four (1976) before any semblance of normalcy returned China.

Slowly, the state regains control and old policies were re-established. Wushu as part of physical education one again became a priority of the government. In 1979, competitive free sparring was introduced, as part of the Wushu training. It became a competition event in 1989.

In 1982, the policies of the Chinese government was re-started their physical education initiatives by holding the first National Wushu Conference in Beijing. Under the guidance of the Chinese State Physical Culture and Sports Commission and the Chinese Wushu Association, Wushu associations, Wushu schools, Wushu societies, research societies, Wushu teams of amateur sports schools and teaching centers were set up in many counties in all provinces, cities and autonomous regions. Effectively forming a vast network to promote Wushu through out China.

By 1984, Wushu specialty has been established in some Physical Education Institutes and Normal Institutes to bring up undergraduates and postgraduates of Wushu. In the same year, the State Council recognized a Master's degree for Wushu.

In 1986, the Chinese Wushu Research Institute was introduced as a standards body for conducting academic and technical researches on Wushu. In a break with the previous ideologies of the state, the new government recognized the importance of traditional training. The Chinese Wushu Research Institute conduced a nation wide survey on the precious cultural legacy of traditional Chinese Martial Arts. By the 1990's, traditional styles can once again be practiced openly. In fact, the International popularity of traditional martial arts provides added impetus for their revitalization within China. Shaolin, Hsing Yi, Bagau and Tai Chi are just some of the traditional styles that once again finding their prominence as alternatives to Wushu training.

International Wushu

After the fall of the Nationalist government in 1949, many martial artists fled to Taiwan or Hong Kong. In Taiwan, the government continued their previous policies of standardization for the martial arts still under the banner of Kuoshu. However, their model of development is less rigid then their mainland counter parts. The central organizations, Chinese Taipei Kuoshu Federation and the International Chinese Kuoshu Federation are comprised of more than 20 different styles of traditional martial arts and include many different private clubs and associations among its members. They do not offer certification in Kuoshu within their physical education system in comparision to the organizations on the mainland.

The difference between Kuoshu and Wushu are disappearing especially in sports competition and Kuoshu practitioners are adapting the forms and standards of Wushu. The Chinese government's also tried to promote their development of Wushu as part of their national physical education program to the International community. They believe correctly, that an International network of Wushu interests can only strengthen the Chinese program. With the strong support of the Central government, various promotional activities were organized including

  • In 1983, Central and local governments sent Wushu delegations, teams, instructors and experts to go abroad giving performances and lectures in order to promote the idea and system of Wushu.
  • In 1985, The First International Wushu Invitational Tournament was held in Xian, and the Preparatory Committee for the International Wushu Federation was formed.
  • In 1986 the Second International Wushu Invitational Tournament was held in Tianjin.
  • In 1987 the First Asian Wushu Championships was held in Yokohama, Japan, and the Wushu Federation of Asia established.
  • During the 1988 China' s International Wushu Festival, International Routine Competition and International Wushu Free Sparring Challenge Tournament were held in Hangzhou and Shenzhen, which made sanshou formally stepped into international wushu arena.
  • In 1989, the second Asian Wushu Championships was held in Hong Kong
  • In 1990 at the XI Asian Games in Beijing, wushu was introduced as an official competition event. Wushu teams from 11 countries and regions participated in the wushu competition. The International Wushu Federation was formally established in the same year.
  • By 2008, China hopes to introduce Wushu once again in to the Olympics

By the end of the 1990's, competitive Wushu training and tournaments became an established sport in many countries. However, Wushu has not displaced the established training of traditional martial arts. Nor should it, because traditional training brings with it a right heritage and culture that even the strongest Chinese Wushu advocates are rediscovering.

San Shou to San Da

Fighting as a sporting contest have a long history and can be found through out the world. These contests represent controlled environment that provide rules and regulations so that competitors can challenge each other in relative safety. Examples of sport contest include:

  • Boxing - limits to hand strikes above the waist
  • Wrestling - limited to grappling and submission holds.
  • Sumo wrestling is an ancient Japanese sport
  • Fencing - use of protective clothing to fight with swords.
  • Thai Boxing - limits to kicking, knee strikes and hand strikes
  • Savate or boxe francaise, originated in France around 1830. Focus on strikes with kicks.
  • Kick boxing - arise out of full contact karate tournaments in the 1960's. Allows hand and leg techniques. The ISKA ("International Sport Kickboxing Association") sanctions the rules for their sport. Other organizations include the WKA (international only), WKC (U.S. and Europe), the IKF (international) and USAKA (U.S. only).

In the modern era, other martial arts brought sporting competitive elements to their discipline. Examples include:

  • Karate. Both armature and professional competition exists.
  • Judo. An Olympic event since 1964.
  • Tae Kwon Do. An Olympic event in 2000.

Those competitive systems test physical fitness and skills within the context (rules) defined by the system. For those that view martial arts as a sport, they represent models that can also be implemented in Chinese Martial Arts. This view can be found during the formative stages of wushu development with the introduction of rules for free sparring.

In traditional Chinese martial arts, San Shou, "Unbound Hand", was first developed as a relative safe way to test fighting skills. San Shou is a type of full contact fighting that strongly resembles the old "Lei Tai"type of challenges. A competitor tries to throw or hit the opponent to obtain a submission or a knock out in order to win. Athletes may use all generally recognized punches, kicks, sweeps and throws, from traditional Kung fu/wushu styles. This eventually evolves into "Sanda" translates as "unbound fight" the rules and regulations were formalized in 1960. Although Sanda and San Shou competition plays homage to its roots, the actual competition is more like Thai boxing, Kickboxing and mixed martial arts. In fact, there is always considerable interest in comparing combatants from different systems. Usually those contests are promoted as Sanda vs. Karate or Sanda vs. Thai Boxing events.


Blood Sports and the Mixed Martial Arts

Boxing and Wrestling

Korean lightweight champion Duk Koo Kim lays on the canvas, knocked out by Ray Mancini in the 14th round at Caesars Palace on November 13, 1982. Kim struggled to his feet, but collapsed moments later and died of brain injuries on November 17.

The general public has an almost insatiable fascination with competition, violence and danger. Gladiators fought and died to the roars of the crowds in the Coliseums of Rome. This bloody legacy continues into modern time. The American Journal of Medical Association (JAMA) puts boxing deaths at a rate of 0.13 per 1,000 fights. That translates into an average of 1 death in 7,692 fights. Those are statistics. The harsh realities of death leave a haunting image. In a nationally televise match in 1982, Duk Ko Kim was knocked out in the 14th round and eventually died in a match with Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini. That is a vivid example of the inherent dangers in any fighting contest. However, it is this danger that tends to attract the public.

In 1979, Art Dore Bay City, Michigan organized the first of many Tough man Contests. Art Dore, a former boxer, trainer, and promoter started this venue after the professional bouts he was organizing were falling short of expectations. TO ensure that it represented "amateurs", the rules state that no one "can have more than five amateur victories in five years." The fighters wear 16 ounce gloves which are heavier than those used by professionalsinorder to provide more protection. They also wear protective headgear and are not allowed to bite, pull hair, hit to the back of the head or kidneys. In general, contestants did not use fighting techniques rather they rely on brute strenght, the ability to absorbed punishment - blood and guts. At least eight deaths have been linked to Tough man contests since they began in 1979. This eventually led to the banning of this type of events and its decline in popularity. The public however, has gained an appetite for this type of spectacle.

Vince McMahon born 24th August 1945 in North Carolina is a third generation of the McMahon family to be involved in wrestling. In 1968, he graduated from the East Carolina State University with a degree in Business Administration and enters the wrestling promotion business. In 1971, his father made him the head of operations in Bangor, Maine. McMahon had a vision - to consolidate various regional wrestling organizations under a national banner. He also refocused wrestling from the traditional vision of wrestling as a sport to entertainment that involves theatrics, costumes, characters, plots and theatres. He hired athletes that are not only is skillful but have a great public personality. Every fight is a battle between good and evil, arguments settled by brute force and power. Through several television and cable deals, McMahon's World Wrestling Federation created a popular demand for this new type of entertainent. By 1987, the WWF sold $80 million in tickets to live events and the federation was also drawing record numbers of viewers for their pay-per-view events on television. McMahon and the WWF have identified, exploited and profited from the public's demand for violence - the more realistic the better! In 1999, the WWF went public capitalizing on the raising stock market. A perfect ending for an American Dream? The WWF (now the WWE) is a multi-million dollar corporation satisfying the voyeuristic appetites of the masses. Realistic fighting as entertainment is now a proven money generator!

UFC and Mixed Martial Arts

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) started as a promotional tool for the Gracie Jiu Jitsu system. Rorion Gracie, Art Davie, John Milius (writer and director, Conan: The Barbarian), Bob Meyrowitz and his New York-based Sephamore Entertainment Group (SEG) helped to put the event together. On November 12, 1993, Royce Gracie, the younger brother to Rorion, competed with seven other fighters from across the world. It was a nasty bloody affair and Royce won at the end of the elimination bout. The public was enthralled by this new type of fighting and showed their support of the UFC. The concept of mixed martial arts became popular in North America. UFC became another regular fighting entertainment. By 2003, UF 42 has been announced with cable deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ultimate Fighting Championships and Mixed martial arts competition are often presented as no hold bar events where "anything" goes. Competitors from a diverse fighting background (kickboxing, karate, wrestling, jiu-jitsu) fight in a enclosed ring (the octagon, a cage or a boxing ring) using very little protective gear. Initially, most types of strikes and submission holds are allowed. The organizers try those formats only to found that the fights were too brutal for regulators. A scene of someone being beaten bloodied and unconscious proved to be too much even for the most ardent sports fan. In time, the referees gained more experience and power, enabling them to stop the fight earlier. In addition, more rules on the type strikes and techniques were imposed. In the end, Ultimate Fighting became a recognizable brand of fighting entertainment. Its success also leads to other types of competition such as

Mixed Martial Arts Around the World

The competitive nature of combative sports have a long history around the world. Thai boxing (Muay Thai) is known for its tough fighting conditions. Since the end of the War, the Japanese has been interested in "realistic" combat sports. One of the first events were full contact karate tournaments. Sosai Masutatsu Oyama and his Kyokushin Karate was a well known promoter of such events. Kyokushin students were famous for their aggressiveness and ability to absorbed punishment.

Shoot fighting is a mixed martial arts fighting system started in Japan by professional wrestlers. On April 10, 1984, a group of professional wrestlers, led by Akira Maeda, formed the Japanese group UWF. Later, other famous wrestlers such as Satoru Sayama (the original Tiger Mask in New Japan Pro Wrestling), Kazuo Yamazaki, Yoshiaki Fujiwara and Nobuhiko Takada, also joined this new group. The outcomes of the matches were predetermined, but each added more realistic styles of fighting that include kicking and striking. This new league ended only after a year but the public's interest in this new style of entertainment resulted in new attempts in creating new shoot fighting organizations.

In 1991, Akira Maeda created RINGS using sambo players (Russia) and kick boxers from Europe. This group is still holding tournaments in Japan. Currently, mixed martial arts organizations in Japan inlude Pride fighting produced by Antonio Inoki and Pancrase, a form of hybrid wrestling, that started with Funaki, Suzuki, and Yusuke Fuke. Ken Shamrock, a well known UFC fighter, was also a Pancrase champion.

In Brazil, mixed martial arts tournaments appears under the name of Vale tudo. Vale tudo is a Portuguese word for "almost anything goes". Vale Tudo is an old Brazilian tradition started by Portuguese sailors who fought on the docks for money. Now, Vale Tudo represents "no holds bar" fighting dominated by jiu-jitsu fighters. UFC fighters such as Marco Ruas, Pedro Rizzo and Rodrigo Ruas popularized this style of sports competition. Vale Tudo tournament became popular in Japan.

In Russia, sambo or sombo, is a mixed martial art style started and promoted by the Russian government since the 1920's. Regular tournaments are held in Russia and Europe. Oleg Taktarov and Dmitry Stepanov popularized this style in North America in the UFC.

Blood Sports

Mixed Martial Arts as a sport is now an international entertainment business. Well conditioned atheletes now fights for hundreds of thousands of dollars in high tech arenas. Modern gladiators satisfying the crowd's demand for controlled violence. Although they try to connect to their roots by playing homage to their martial art roots, they should not be confused with the true spirit and intentions of traditional martial arts. Fighting is just one component of the martial arts experience. Where is the skill in punching a man into submission?



[1] Beijing Wushu Team (US), Covering the Beijing Wushu Team, US Wushu and Wushu in the Olympics. Maintened by Raffi [2003/03]
[2] Beijing Wushu Team (China) Coached by Wu Bin (the trainer of Jet Li). [2003/03]
[3] Chinese Kungfu-Sanshou Covers news on Sanda by Chang Lichings. [2003/03]
[4] The Banning of Tough man Contests, Big Brother Breaks up the Fight!,, Timothy J. Thompson's, third year law student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of law. [2003/03]
[5] Max[2003/03]
[6] Mixed Martial Arts Coverage[2003/03]

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Last update: 12/13/2003