Sanshou (Chinese: 散手; pinyin: sǎnshǒu; literally "free hand") or Sanda (Chinese: 散打; pinyin: sǎndǎ; literally "free fighting") is a Chinese hand to hand combat, self-defense system, and combat sport. Not seen as a style itself, but is rather considered as just one of the two components (taolu and sanshou) of Chinese martial arts (Kung fu) training and is often taught alongside with taolu training. It may simply be seen as the practice of martial applications in a realistic environment or simply free fighting. However at the same time the modern standard taolu curriculum was created by the Chinese government. They created and formalised a standard curriculum for sanshou as well. This curriculum was developed by experimenting with the Chinese military experiences in close range and hand to hand combat with reference to traditional Chinese martial arts. Chinese martial arts masters that were still in China (prior to the abolishment of traditional martial arts during the Cultural Revolution) gathered to contribute the creation of the standard curriculum. This general sanshou curriculum varied in its different forms, as the Chinese government developed a watered down version for civilians for self defense and as a sport. However in traditional wushu circles the practise of sanshou may vary and is practiced in relation to their taolu. Later the official name reverted back to Sanda. The term Sanda has a longer history and is more commonly used.
One can see general sanshou as a synthesis of traditional Chinese kung fu 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.
As an unarmed self-defense, close combat system, Sanshou includes ti (kicks), da (punches), shuai (Shuai Jiao), and na (Chin Na). Sanda as a sport has a very great emphasis on throws. One of its most distinguished techniques is the "kick catch". This is when one person kicks and the person performing the throw catches the kick and then trips the person kicking when he's on one leg.
As a sport, San Shou/San Da 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 US, competitions are held either in boxing rings or on the raised lei tai platform. Amateur fighters wear protective gear. "Amateur Sanshou" allows kicks, punches and throws. If the rule set is referred to as "San Da", knees to the body are also permitted. 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 mouthpeice, and are allowed to use knee strikes (including to the head) as well as kicking, punching and throwing.
Some Sanshou 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 Sanshou. Due to the rules of kickboxing competition, Sanshou fighters are subjected to more limitations than usual. Also notable competitors in china's mainstream Mixed Martial Arts competition, Art of War Fighting Championship are dominantly of wushu background.
Sanshou has been featured in many style-versus-style competitions. Muay Thai is frequently pitted against Sanshou as is Karate, Kickboxing and Taekwondo.