San Shou is the official full contact sport of modern Wushu, which is rapidly growing in popularity in both the U.S. and abroad. As an integral part of most Wushu competitions, San Shou has been an important event at the World Wushu Championships since its inception in 1991. Presently San Shou competitions are held in 75 countries worldwide. Recently San Shou has also become a professional sport in North America.
San Shou, also known as "Sanda", translates as "unbound hand" and refers to free fighting where rules are designed to most accurately simulate actual combat. San Shou matches are fought on mats, rings, and on a raised platform called a "Lei Tai". Historically, the Lei Tai dates back centuries in China where challenge matches were fought both bare handed and also with weapons with no rules - often resulting in death or serious injury. At the 1928 National Chinese tournament in Nanking, the fights on the Lei Tai were so brutal that the final 12 contestants were not permitted to fight for fear of killing off some of the greatest masters of the time, so changes were needed.
Modern San Shou developed into a sport about the same time as modern Wushu, during the 1960's by the Chinese Government. In order to define a standard kung fu fighting style, the great masters from all over China were given the tsk of organizing the huge heritage of Chinese martial arts into a system of rules in which different styles could compete. Protective equipment for amatuer fighters were also added to further reduce injury.