"Wushu" which literally means "martial arts", is an ancient art of Chinese origin that grew out of complex system of physical training, hundreds of years of military experience, traditional Chinese medicine, religious and philosophical doctrines of Taoism and Buddhism. It is a well-proven means of keeping fit and is being practised by millions of people of various ages and cultures. As a centuries-old sport Wushu that evolved from strengthening exercises for martial artists, is extremely rich in content and varies in form. "There are scores of movements and hundreds and thousands of routines, each composed of movements – kicks and punches, crouches and dodges, leaps and turns – that are arranged in set patterns. Regular practice produces beneficial effects not only on muscles and bones, but also on the nervous, respiratory and cardio-vascular systems." Practicing Wushu requires physical exertion and skills; Wushu has become a highly competitive sport in all its disciplines and as such it is recognised by the International Olympic Committee as a sport. Today’s Wushu is practised as recreational and cultural activity, strengthening health exercises, internal and spiritual cultivation and sport from the amateur to the elite and professional level.
Note: The concept of Wushu is different from the one that appeared in the West in 60’s. Every Chinese martial art was called Kung Fu implying "hand-to-hand fighting." However, the Chinese equivalent of "Kung Fu" is “degree of perfection attained in any line of work”. Any kind of activity requiring professional skills such as cooking, painting, teaching music, etc. can be regarded then as "Kung Fu." Today’s Kung Fu schools are usually business enterprises focussing on self-defence and teaching mixed martial arts including kick-boxing. There is a number of international Kung Fu federations that promote it although Kung Fu is not recognised as sport in the Olympic sense as it is not structured for competitions. Some of the old traditional schools that appeared in the West after their masters left mainland China because of the Cultural Revolution of 1949 have chosen to use “Kung Fu” term although their styles belong to the traditional Wushu. Martial arts movies have also added to the confusion.
As a competitive sport, Wushu is displayed in taolu – standardised or self-created complex routines – that can be performed solo or with a partner; and Sanshou (Sanda) – sparring. Competitions are run on the special type of carpets for modern and traditional Wushu endorsed by the International Wushu Federation and a special platform for Sanshou/Sanda – Lei Tai. Four major weapons used in modern Wushu competitions are: straight sword, staff, broadsword and spear. The divisions in the competitions observe the gender and age factors as well as level of the skills.
There are four kinds of world championships for Wushu organised every two years and supported by the International Wushu Federation, a member of the IOC:
- World Wushu championships (for the elite level, includes eleven selected divisions of Wushu: bare-hand routines, weapons, and sparring);
- World Junior Wushu Championships (the same as for adults);
- World Traditional Wushu Championships (open to all practitioners of all ages, with emphasis on traditional styles);
- and the World Sanshou Championships.
Wushu therefore is a term encompassing the disciplines of modern/sport Wushu; traditional Wushu/Kung Fu; Taijiquan/Tai Chi; Qigong and Sanshou/Sanda.