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Know your major: sanda

  • Source: Global Times
  • [21:27 December 29 2009]
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Duan Xunyuan, a sanda junior at Beijing Sports University, high kicks in the university gym. Photo: Courtesy of Duan Xunyuan

By Xue Fei

Brimming with ancient wisdom and millennia of culture, there is a lot to learn in China, providing for some of the rare and unusual majors offered that are otherwise unavailable in other parts of the world.

In this first installment of Know Your Major, the Global Times touches gloves at Beijing Sports University (BSU) with young martial art masters in the making, getting the low down on the daily punch-up that is sanda school.

Femme fatale

There is a Chinese saying, "train either in the hottest days in summer or the coldest days in winter," which unfortunately for Duan Xunyuan is an accurate description of the curriculum.

"It is really tortuous, sometimes I just want to give up," said Duan, a sanda junior and one of only 16 female students in the program.

"Every time when I come back to the dorm and undress I find new bruises. You know, all girls want to look beautiful," she joked.

Studying since she was 15, Duan was a scrappy tomboy who often fought with local boys at home. However, she rarely uses her sanda outside the ring.

"We know it would be a disaster if we used it in our daily life. If we did, it would send people to the hospital and ever trigger legal disputes," Duan explained.

Kick out of history

Today's sanda, or "free fighting," is a modern incarnation of much older mixed-style kung fu and wrestling with elements of Western boxing. Scientifically synthesized for maximum efficiency in real-life fighting scenarios during the early part of the 20th century, sanda is taught to most Chinese military and police forces as standard hand-to-hand combat training.

Focusing on street practical throws, locks and grappling, sanda is now one of the most widely practiced martial arts in China. Notorious for its Lei Tai matches, a traditional Chinese competition format that was originally conducted bare-knuckled, sanda's no holds barred slugfests usually end in one of three ways: a surrender, one opponent being forced of thrown from the ring or a breaking of a bone/excessive bleeding.

Despite new regulations requiring the use of thinly padded gloves, the sport still is brutal, drawing not only blood, but also large crowds and many students.

"Sanda is usually considered to be a symbol of strength, but in fact, it's an art of wisdom which draws strength from the essence of taijiquan," Guan Yu, a sanda junior, told Global Times as he recounted his first match against a gargantuan middle school classmate.

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