Not too long ago, wushu was a martial art foreign to many people all over the world.
But with the influx of athletes breaking into the mainstream world of mixed martial arts coming from wushu, the discipline has finally been recognized for its impressive form.
With its long history and superb style, what exactly is this unique martial art and what makes it so different?
Origins Of Wushu
The literal translation of the word “wushu” stems from two Chinese words – the word wu, which means “military” or “martial,” and the word shu, which translates to “art.”
In 1949, the Chinese government standardized the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts.
Nearly a decade later, the Chinese State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports combined the strengths of traditional Chinese martial arts, resulting in the wushu sport that we know of today.
Wushu was then included in most Chinese curriculums in schools, prompting its rise to relevance.
Sanda And Taolu
Wushu branches out into two major disciplines: sanda (sometimes called sanshou) and taolu.
Mark Sangiao, founder of Lakay Wushu in Baguio City and one of the modern-day wushu practitioners in the Philippines, explained the difference.
“In sanshou, we have sparring – it’s full contact,” he says. “Taolu, on the other hand, is basically the form, pattern, and technique, without contact.”
In a traditional wushu sanda competition, athletes compete on an open mat with eight-ounce gloves, body protection, mouthguards, and headgear. Strikes from other martial arts, like kickboxing and boxing, are allowed.
For former ONE Lightweight World Champion and three-time Southeast Asian Games wushu gold medalist Eduard “Landslide” Folayang, what makes wushu sanda different from other forms of striking-based combat sports is how it incorporates takedowns.
“It is like kickboxing with takedowns. You can catch feet and get a takedown, but there’s no ground fight, so when you knock someone down, that’s automatically a point,” Folayang says. “That’s the difference between other striking disciplines – there’s a bit of wrestling involved.”
Taolu, on the other hand, involves movements, forms, and techniques, which are often done individually or by a group. Unlike sanda competitions, taolu practitioners earn points when they demonstrate forms.
Contemporary taolu events branch out to three major fields of competition: barehanded, short weapons, and long weapons.
But how, exactly, did the martial art from China become a global sporting phenomenon?
Influence Of Wushu Around The World
In 1987, Filipino-Chinese businessperson Francis Chan formed the Wushu Federation Of The Philippines in Binondo, Manila, which is often referred to as the city’s Chinatown. Joining Chan was Julian Camacho, who has led the federation ever since 1988.
Camacho’s aggressiveness in expanding the sport in the country paid dividends. With boxing and kickboxing in the Philippines getting overcrowded, wushu opened doors for other athletes (some who would later become heroes in another sport altogether – mixed martial arts).
But a defining moment came for wushu at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, China. It was the first time the martial art was demonstrated in the quadrennial meet.
A student by the name of “The Prince Of Wuhsu” Yuan Wen Qing mesmerized spectators with his ability to blend all traditional Chinese martial arts into one modern discipline. With Yuan getting all the attention and winning all the medals, other countries began to practice wushu.
In the 1990s, movie stars were also doing their part to popularize wushu. Jet Li and Jackie Chan, who both used the discipline in their action films, became two of the biggest stars of the decade and influenced many athletes to take up the sport.
As for the Philippines, it became one of the hotbeds for wushu outside of China. The martial art hit at just the right time.
Famous Wushu Practitioners In ONE
Wushu in the Philippines gave Filipinos another international sporting event that they could get behind, and it opened the doors for many of the mixed martial arts stars that we know today in ONE Championship.
Though Sangiao does not compete anymore, he was one of the pioneer wushu coaches in mixed martial arts and produced five ONE World Champions who came from a wushu background.
Also, a determined man from Iloilo City named Rene “The Challenger” Catalan became one of the best wushu practitioners in the country.
Catalan’s love for wushu may have come by accident, but it is a sport that he is thankful for, nonetheless.
“Wushu is where I really focused. Back then, I was always getting beat up. It was really hard training under our coach, Yu Shi Bu,” he says.
“I worked hard every single day, and I endured for my family. I was rewarded, eventually. Through wushu, I was given a chance to fulfill my dream of representing the country in sports, like Onyok Velasco (a silver medal-winning boxer at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games).”
With the help of wushu, Catalan transformed himself into one of the best strawweights in ONE.
Today, wushu continues to grow. The martial art will appear in the 2022 Youth Olympic Games in Dakar, Senegal – the first time it will be included as an Olympic sport.
World Wushu Championships, the Asian Games, and the World Games, among others, also promote wushu competitions all over the globe.
In the Philippines, the martial art could not be stronger, which is evident by the recently concluded 2019 Southeast Asian Games in the country.
For Folayang, this is the reason why the Philippines should invest more than ever into the sport.
“I hope our officials are more open in strengthening the sport,” he says.
“Right now, I am slowly seeing it. I think they are trying to include it in Palarong Pambansa (Philippine National Youth Games), and that’s a very big thing for it because you’ll already see potential from the grassroots level.
“This sport is a goldmine for us, particularly in the last SEA Games. I think in sanshou, almost 80 percent of us got the gold medal. I think four of five got gold, so that’s a big percentage.
“Now that we’re getting recognition, I hope the country will take up more interest in the sport of wushu.”
Wushu may have started in China, but its spread across the world is proof that the sport will continue to grow over the next decade.
Read more: Top 5 ONE Championship Wushu Athletes