Not seen as a style itself, rather it is considered as just one of the two components of Chinese martial arts training and is often taught alongside with taolu (forms) training. However, as part of the development of sport wushu by the Chinese government, a standard curriculum for sanshou was developed. It is to this standard curriculum that the term "Sanshou" is usually applied.
This curriculum was developed with reference to traditional Chinese martial arts. This general Sanshou curriculum varies in its different forms, as the Chinese government developed a version for civilians for self-defense and as a sport.
The generalized modern curriculum practiced in modern wushu schools is composed of different traditional martial arts fighting styles from China, but mainly based on scientific efficiency. Sanshou is composed of Chinese martial arts applications including most aspects of combat including striking and grappling, however when Sanshou was developed as a sport, restrictions were made for safety reasons as well as to promote it as a non-violent sport. Examples of such restrictions included no blows delivered to the back of the head, throat, spine or groin and the discontinuation of the combat when any of the fighters fall to the ground. However many schools, whether traditional or modern, practice it as an all round martial arts system with no restrictions, only adapting their training in relation to competition rules prior to the event. Sanshou tournaments are one of the two disciplines recognized by the International Wushu Federation.
Sanshou's competitive history involved barehanded or lei tai fights in which no rules existed. However, even sanshou as a competitive event developed in the military as these bouts were commonly held between the soldiers to test and practice barehanded martial skills, ability and techniques. Rules were developed and the use of protective gloves etc. was adopted. It was originally used by the Kuomintang at the first modern military academy in Whampoa in the 1920s. Later it was also adopted as a method by the People's Liberation Army of China.
One can see Sanshou as a synthesis of traditional Chinese fighting techniques into a more amorphous system and is commonly taught alongside traditional Chinese styles which Sanshou techniques, theory and training methods are derived from. The emphasis of Sanshou is on realistic fighting ability.
Yùndòng Sanda (Mandarin Chinese, Sport Free Fighting), or Jingzheng Sanda (Mandarin Chinese, Competitive Free Fighting): A modern fighting method, sport, and applicable component of Wushu / Kung Fu influenced by traditional Chinese Boxing, of which takedowns & throws are legal in competition, as well as all other sorts of striking (use of arms & legs). Chinese wrestling methods called Shuai Jiao and other Chinese grappling techniques such as Chin Na. It has all the combat aspects of wushu. Sanda appears much like Kickboxing or Muay Thai, but includes many more grappling techniques. Sanda fighting competitions are often held alongside taolu or form competitions. Sanda 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 Sanda, working to incorporate the movements, characteristics, and theory of their style. Chinese martial artists also compete in non-Chinese or mixed combat sports, including Boxing, Kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts. Sanda is practiced in tournaments and is normally held alongside taolu events in wushu competition. For safety reasons, some techniques from the self-defense form such as elbow strikes, chokes, and joint locks, are not allowed during tournaments. Competitors can win by knockout or points which are earned by landing strikes to the body or head, throwing an opponent, or when competition is held on a raised lei tai platform, pushing them off the platform. Fighters are only allowed to clinch for a few seconds. If the clinch is not broken by the fighters, and if neither succeeds in throwing his opponent within the time limit, the referee will break the clinch. In the U.S., competitions are held either in boxing rings or on the raised lei tai platform. Amateur fighters wear protective gear. "Amateur Sanda" allows kicks, punches, knees (not to the head), and throws. A competition held in China, called the "King of Sanda", is held in a ring similar to a boxing ring in design but larger in dimension. As professionals, they wear no protective gear except for gloves, cup, and mouthpiece, and "Professional Sanda" allows knee strikes (including to the head) as well as kicking, punching and throwing. Some Sanda fighters have participated in fighting tournaments such as K-1 and Shoot Boxing. They have had some degree of success, especially in Shoot boxing competitions, which is more similar to Sanda. Due to the rules of Kickboxing competition, Sanda fighters are subjected to more limitations than usual. Also notable competitors in China's mainstream Mixed Martial Arts competitions, Art of War Fighting Championship and Ranik Ultimate Fighting Federation are dominantly of wushu background. Sanda has been featured in many style-versus-style competitions. Muay Thai is frequently pitted against Sanda as is Karate, Kickboxing, & Tae Kwon Do. Although it is less common, some Sanda practitioners have also fought in the publicly viewed American Mixed Martial Arts competitions.
Some well-known Chinese Sanshou fighters include Bao Li Gao, and Liu Hailong who is known as "The Conqueror of Muay Thai" as he has beaten many of the top Muay Thai fighters. Some Sanshou fighters well known in the United States include the IKF and former Strikeforce middleweight champion, Cung Le, and Marvin Perry. Other Sanshou based fighters who have entered MMA include KJ Noons, Patrick Barry, UFC fighter Zhang Tiequan.Muslim Salihov, the European and world champion from Russia beat 4 top Chinese fighters from different weight categories, including the Chinese champion from the 90 kg category and became the first non-Chinese to claim the "King of Sanda" title.
Jūnshì Sanda (Mandarin Chinese, Military Free Fighting): A system of unarmed combat that was designed by Chinese Elite Forces based upon their intense study of traditional martial arts such as Kung Fu, Shuai Jiao, Chin Na and modern hand-to-hand fighting and combat philosophy to develop a realistic system of unarmed fighting for the Chinese military. Jùnshì Sanda employs all parts of the body as anatomical weapons to attack and counter with, by using what the Chinese consider to be the four basic martial arts techniques:
Da – Upper-Body Striking – using fists, open hands, fingers, elbows, shoulders, forearms and the head
Ti – Lower-Body Striking – including kicks, knees and stomping
Shuai – Throws – using Wrestling and Judo-like takedowns and sweeps, and
Chin-Na – Seizing – which includes jointlocks, strangulation and other submissions