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Wushu: How India embraced a Chinese tradition

With a track record of medals, India now plays to win at international Wushu events.

Wushu: How India embraced a Chinese tradition

The Indian contingent for the Wushu World Cup 2024. (Photo credit: SAI Media)


Bhabesh Agarwalla

Updated: 18 Jun 2024 10:40 AM GMT

When the unheralded Puja Tomar won her maiden UFC bout at the UFC Louisville 2024, a quick background search revealed that she was a former National Wushu champ.

Cut to the 2024 BRICS Games and we have been witness to the Indian Wushu contingent delivering a stellar performance, bagging eight medals.

So how did Wushu, a traditional Chinese martial art, which literally means martial technique, gain traction in India?

Wushu in India

Introduced to India by the Late Anand Kacker in 1989, Wushu has maintained a rather low-profile over the years. It took almost 17-years for India to send its first set of players to the Asian Games of 2006.

Thereafter, the martial artform has been consistently contributing to India's medal-tally in the last four Asian Games, a haul that comprises of two silvers and eight bronze medals.

Since then, India has not looked back.

Last year, at 2023 World Wushu Championships 2023 in Texas, USA, India clinched 3 medals to finish 18th out of the 72 participating countries.

Players like Pooja Kadian, Poonam Khatri, Roshibina Devi, and Aparna Dahiya are just perfect examples of the progress the country has made.

But how does Wushu work? What are the disciplines and how are points won?

Taolu and Sanda

Wushu is broadly categorized into two main disciplines - Taolu and Sanda. While the former focuses on form, the latter involves sparring, much like UFC.

Taolu routines are performed solo or in groups and athletes are judged based on choreography, technique, balance, power, and rhythm.

Here, athletes perform choreographed routines before a panel of judges that grade them based on the difficulty of movements, execution, and overall presentation.

Taolu, though, have several facets:

  • Taijiquan (Tai Chi): Emphasizes slow, controlled movements and deep breathing, promoting balance and internal strength.
  • Changquan (Long Fist): Is characterized by extended, flowing movements, kicks, leaps, and punches.
  • Nanquan (Southern Fist): Focuses on strong, stable stances, and powerful, explosive techniques.
  • Other Taolu Styles: Include weapons routines such as Dao (broadsword), Jian (straight sword), Gun (staff), and Qiang (spear).

A second Wushu discipline is Sanda, a full-contact combat sport that combines techniques inspired both by traditional Wushu and modern combat sports.

Sanda, therefore, includes punches, kicks, throws, and sweeps. Matches are typically held in a raised ring, and athletes wear protective gear.

In Sanda, fighters are scored on effective strikes, takedowns, and control of the match, with points being awarded for clean techniques and penalties handed for rule violations.

From China to the world

With its roots firmly in China, Wushu has traditionally been practiced in the region for thousands of years as Kung Fu.

Such has been its influence that Wushu has been mentioned in Chinese literature, in poems and sometimes, in stories.

In the early 1960s, the Chinese government regularised various martial arts and introduced them in school curriculums, resulting in the formalisation of Wushu.

This push for standardization led to widespread adoption of the sport, eventually leading to the formation of the International Wushu Federation(IWUF) on October 3, 1990.

Since then, Wushu has been a permanent part of the Asian Games, South-East Asian Games, and the Universiade.

The IWUF just fell short of convincing the International Olympic Committee to include Wushu as an Olympic sport. That said, Wushu was demonstrated in the 2014 Youth Olympics at Nanjing, China and there was an international tournament played alongside the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Apart from the multi-sports events, Wushu World Cups and World Championships are global events that fans can look forward to.

Bearing the principles of peace, friendship, health, and nature, Wushu is now practiced in over 120 countries.

Possessing an almost perfect blend of power, grace and art, the artform has placed itself ahead of the other martial arts in its bid to mobilize global appeal.

And with superstars like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee practicing it and the inclusion of Wushu as a medal sport in the 2026 Dakar Youth Olympics, Wushu has well and truly arrived on the world stage.

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