Is Sanda a Good Martial Art?

Sanda, or sanshou, is a Chinese martial art comprising a system of sports competition akin to boxing, as well as a system of self-defense. It’s a legitimate type of martial art that is very effective in boxing competitions. But it’s not really good enough for a self-defense system.  

What is this type of combat art? 

Sanda is a sport that is regarded as a competitive form of kung fu. It is translated as “free fighting.” Wushu also means “combat”. It is the official full-contact Chinese combat sport.  

It includes a great variety of techniques and has fewer restrictions than other well-known contact sports such as Muay Thai or Kick Boxing.                                                     

Sanda helps practitioners develop physical fitness, endurance, combativeness, flexibility, fluidity, power and agility, and promotes control of the body and emotions.  

Sanda, also known as “Sanshou”, is a martial art oriented towards combat sport, using traditional wushu techniques. It is fought using fist techniques, kung fu kicks, projections, defensive techniques, sweeps, and Chinese wrestling projections. 

China and the diversity of its martial arts 

The interest in this art lies in the fact that it comes from an environment where the martial practice is often combined with spirituality.  

Even if Sanda remains purely an external art, all the “cousin” disciplines have a strong spiritual connotation and make it possible to work on the management of emotions. 

In this environment, it is, therefore, easier to discover certain internal practices in addition to a combat sport. This is something that everyone finds particularly interesting. 

History of Sanda 

In 1924, the Chinese Nationalist Party created a military academy in the Guangdong region. It aims to create the elite of the army. The party also decided to effectively train these modern soldiers in unarmed combat. 

The aim was to draw inspiration from the Russian system for the inculcation of discipline, as well as for the indoctrination, and the methods of training. 

The creation of the Sanda in China was inspired by sambo. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the Guomindang clearly stated that he wanted to learn from their methods, and hired a certain Mikhaï Borodin. He was responsible for leading the training of the soldiers. 

Today, after China, Sanda is popular in countries like Russia and Armenia. It is a sport in expansion. 

Sanda as a defensive system 

Sanda was developed by the Chinese Army as a direct decision from the Chinese Government. Various traditional fighting styles, such as Lei Tai, were studied and combined with modern techniques.  

Thus, Sanda can be seen as a synthesis of traditional kung fu techniques in a more heterogeneous and flexible system. 

Sanda places its emphasis on enhancing fighting ability in real situations, rather than developing the ability to achieve elaborate forms of combat. 

As a form of unarmed self-defense, it includes takedowns, kicks, punches, strangles, and blocks. 

Weapons in Sanda 

In addition to the unarmed fight with the style-specific elements, Sanda can be trained with traditional Chinese weapons such as stick, saber, sword, spear, dagger, halberd, fan, etc.  

The Tang Lang Jian (praying mantis sword) is also used. It is slightly longer than a normal Chinese sword and is wielded with one or both hands. 

As practitioners of martial art, Sanda fighters are always aware of the dangers of our techniques. 

This includes both the respectful and careful handling of each other during training and the use of skills in a self-defense situation. 

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Principle and evolution of Sanda 

This art of combat had a strong imprint of close combat. The Russian involvement had left some traces on this discipline. 

For the non-sporting part, more techniques and strikes are allowed. The Chinese therefore codified Sanshou under these 4 categories: 

  • Da (Percussions): fist, palm, elbow, fingers, head. 
  • Tui (Shooter): Kicks, knee, sweep. 
  • Shuai (Throws): Wrestling, throws, brought to the ground. 
  • Na (Seizures): Seizures, keys, submissions. 

You can observe that there is a variety of techniques. The involvement of kung fu wushu makes it more complete. This makes Sanda a varied and very interesting sport discipline. It combines the aspect of combat sport and the martial art of self-defense. 

How do you compete in Sanda? 

In “Amateur Sanda,” kicks, punches, knees (not to the head), and takedowns are allowed. Competitors wear eight to ten-ounce helmets, chest protectors, and gloves, as well as a shell, wrist and ankle bandages, gloves, and mouthpiece. 

In “Professional Sanda,” knee blows (even to the head), as well as kicks, punches, and knockdowns are allowed. Also, fighters do not wear protective equipment, except gloves, mouthguards, and genitals. 

The official Sanda (senior) competitions are held on a ropeless ring called “Leitai”, with a height of 60-80 cm and dimensions of 8 x 8 meters per side for the canvas. 

Within the framework established by the regulations, athletes may use hitting or throwing techniques from any style of wushu. Although, there are certain prohibited movements. It is valid to hit the head, torso (including chest, abdomen, waist, and back), and legs. 

The fights last three rounds, each with a duration of two minutes, with one minute of rest in between each.  

Sanda is a technical match. You are awarded a score after each round for techniques successfully executed. The athlete who wins at least two of the three rounds or knocks out his rival will be declared the winner. 

The modalities that are in the competition are: 

  • Sanda IWUF: According to the regulations of the international federation, full-contact bouts are overseen by sideline judges. 
  • Semi-Sanda: Semi-Sanda pursues technical superiority, restricting techniques, and impact zones. Within these margins, moderate contact could be established or avoided. The blows are scored without exerting real pressure on the opponent. 

The difference between Sanda and other forms of boxing 

Sanda is very similar to kickboxing and Muay Thai. But what is the difference between these three combat sports? 

It is quite simple. Kickboxing is a form of punching-boxing that allows low kicks (kicks in the legs). On the other hand, the sport prohibits nudges, knee strikes, and throws. 

Muay Thai allows knee strikes, elbow strikes, and throws. So there is a good contrast between the two. 

Sanda is therefore a perfect blend of these two disciplines. It allows projections as in Muay Thai but prohibits knee and elbow strikes, such as in Kickboxing. 

The start of Sanda professional competitions 

For sports application, the sanshou does not provide for the application of techniques on the ground. The first practitioners of this art would be soldiers.  

In 1997, China and the United States organized professional fights based on kickboxing. That is to say, they will be based on the rules of kickboxing. They also decided to remove the usual protections (helmet and shin guards). 

It is due to this competition that Sanda got its name. This name means “free and complete combat” or “full-contact fighting”. 

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However, Sanda really became popular from 2003 when the fighting skyrocketed. Because of the popularity of this Chinese art, inter style meetings were organized. 

Some good professional Sanda fighters are: 

Cung Le 

Cung Le is a Vietnamese-American Sanda practitioner, MMA veteran, and actor. He is the former Strikeforce champion in the middleweight category. He has a striking style that is quite aesthetic and impressive to look at. 

Cung Le started taekwondo very early, then went into wrestling. But it was at the age of 19 that he took up Sanda seriously. He participated in 40 amateur fights, and his record stands at 38 victories for 2 defeats. He then went professional and went on 12 fights in Sanda and kickboxing in which he emerged undefeated. 

We can find big imprints of Sanda and also of taekwondo in his techniques. Cung Le has excellent kicks, in particular the hammer kick, like an Andy Hug or the returned kick. 

His larger Sanda print is visible when his opponents drop their legs during a middle kick. The mowing is immediate. 

Zabit Magomedsharipov 

Zabit Magomedsharipov is an MMA fighter of Russian descent. He currently fights in the featherweight category for the UFC. 

For UFC fans, you have certainly seen Zabit’s fights which offer unexpected, and often acrobatic, streaks. 

Zabit started wrestling at a young age and started Sanda at the age of 12. He then collected the following titles in wushu Sanda: 

  • 4x Russian Champion 
  • 1x European Champion 
  • 1x World Championship (World Cup winner ) 

Zabit has a totally unpredictable fighting style with excellent kicks. He is very comfortable in the fist phases, as well as in the wrestling phases. Like Cung Le, he has excellent return kicks. 


Sanda is an excellent martial art if you want to practice a combat sport and self-defense. It is also suitable for those who are directly or indirectly interested in Chinese philosophy. Because in China, it is featured in many martial arts. 

Sanda is therefore the right mix of boxing and wrestling while removing the elbows and knees for those who find it too brutal. 

Once again we have an art that has proven itself in many aspects, such as confrontation in sport, training of military forces, and self-defense. 


Hi - I'm Jonathan, and I've been passionate about fighting ever since I was a little kid. I did some Karate, Judo, and Kickboxing, and always wanted to try Aikido. I started this site to indulge my passion for Martial arts, answering all the geeky questions I had. Now I want to share all the information I've learned with you guys.

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