Explanation of Sanshou and Taolu Competitions
Application refers to the practical use of combative techniques. Chinese martial arts techniques are ideally based on efficiency and effectiveness. Application includes non-compliant drills, such as Pushing Hands in many internal martial arts, and sparring, which occurs within a variety of contact levels and rule sets.
When and how applications are taught varies from style to style. Today, many styles begin to teach new students by focusing on exercises in which each student knows a prescribed range of combat and technique to be drilled; these drills are often semi-compliant, meaning one student does not offer active resistance to a technique in order to allow its demonstrative, clean execution. In more resisting drills, fewer rules are applied and students practice how to react and respond. 'Sparring' refers to the most important aspect of application training, which simulates a combat situation while including rules and regulations in order to reduce the chance of serious injury to the students.
Competitive sparring disciplines include Chinese kickboxing, Sǎnshǒu(散手) and Chinese folk wrestling, Shuāijiāo(摔跤), which were traditionally contested on a raised platform arena Lèitái(擂台). Lèitái represents public challenge matches that first appeared in the Song Dynasty. The objective for those contests was to knock the opponent from a raised platform by any means necessary. San Shou represents the modern development of Lei Tai contests, but with rules in place to reduce the chance of serious injury. Many Chinese martial art schools teach or work within the rule sets of Sanshou, working to incorporate the movements, characteristics, and theory of their styles. Chinese martial artists also compete in non-Chinese or mixed Combat sport, including boxing, kickboxing and Mixed martial arts.
Forms or taolu in Chinese are series of predetermined movements combined so they can be practiced as one linear set of movements. Forms were originally intended to preserve the lineage of a particular style branch, and were often taught to advanced students who were selected to preserve the art's lineage. Forms were designed to contain literal, representative and exercise-oriented forms of applicable techniques which would be extracted, tested and trained by students through sparring sessions.
Today, many consider forms to be one of the most important practices in Chinese martial arts. Traditionally, they played a smaller role in training combat application, and were eclipsed by sparring, drilling and conditioning. Forms gradually build up a practitioner's flexibility, internal and external strength, speed and stamina, and teach balance and coordination. Many styles contain forms using a wide range of weapons of various length and type, utilizing one or two hands. There are also styles which focus on a certain type of weapon. Forms are meant to be both practical, usable, and applicable as well as promoting flow, meditation, flexibility, balance and coordination. Teachers are often heard to say "train your form as if you were sparring and spar as if it were a form."
There are two general types of forms in Chinese martial arts. Most common are "solo forms" which are performed by a single student. There are also "sparring" forms, which are choreographed fighting sets performed by two or more people. Sparring forms were designed both to acquaint beginning fighters with basic measures and concepts of combat, and to serve as performance pieces for the school. Sparring forms which utilize weapons are especially useful for teaching students the extension, range and technique required to manage a weapon.
Even though forms in Chinese martial arts are intended to depict realistic martial techniques, the movements are not always identical to how techniques would be applied in combat. Many forms have been elaborated upon, on the one hand to provide better combat preparedness, and on the other hand to look more aesthetically pleasing. One manifestation of this tendency toward elaboration which goes beyond combat application is the use of lower stances and higher, stretching kicks. These two manoeuvres are unrealistic in combat and are utilized in forms for exercise purposes. Many modern schools have replaced practical defence or offense movements with acrobatic feats that are more spectacular to watch, thereby gaining favour during exhibitions and competitions. This has led to criticisms by traditionalists of the endorsement of the more acrobatic, show-oriented Wushu competition. Even though appearance has always been important in many traditional forms as well, all patterns exist for their combat functionality. Historically forms were often performed for entertainment purposes long before the advent of modern Wushu as practitioners have looked for supplementary income by performing on the streets or in theatres. Forms designed solely for demonstration first appeared during the Yuan dynasty.
Many traditional Chinese martial artists, as well as practitioners of modern sport combat, have become critical of the perception that forms work is more relevant to the art than sparring and drill application, while most continue to see traditional forms practice within the traditional context—as vital to both proper combat execution, the Shaolin aesthetic as art form, as well as upholding the meditative function of the physical art form.
Another reason why techniques often appear different in forms when contrasted with sparring application is thought by some to come from the concealment of the actual functions of the techniques from outsiders.