One of the main tasks of San Shou as an adcvanced training practice is to go beyond set forms / katas and individual
techniques into open freestyle fighting.
In this respect it is easy to see how San Shou, practiced as a style / martial
art in its own right,has become little more than a Chinese version of Kickboxing. Compared to traditional oriental martial
arts martial sports such as kickboxing have a small number of techniques and a heavy emphasis on sparring, bagwork and so
on. In this kind of training the ability to utilise technique, to control the opponent, to react quickly and so on are much
more important than the scientific and often abstract development of accurate and effective techniques and styles of fighting
Modern schools teaching traditional oriental martial arts often take the oppostite approach, dedicating long hours of
practice to refining and perfecting technique, learning a large range of techniques and studying the abstract principles involved
in combat, without ever actually preparing students for the chaotic and unpredictable nature of real fighting. Students of
such schools may study for years but when faced with a real life fight situation all that training will often go out the window
and they will revert to just basic kicking and punching like a kickboxer.
Each of these two approaches is evidently missing something. Between the two is the real traditional Oriental approach
of beginning with the abstract study and practice of forms and then learning to transcend this form in the more advanced stages
of training - a step which is often missing in modern schools, especially those geared towards Wushu competition which is
basically a performance art rather than a martial art.
True San Shou is not simply a form of kickboxing, but rather refers to this advanced stage of training through which
form is transcended. This page has been written primarily as an introduction to San Shou for students of traditional martial
arts who have learned their forms dillignetly and now wish to go beyond form into the formless art of open freestyle fighting.
In other parts of the San Shou section I will look at the principles of San Shou as well as specific San Shou training
and teachniques. In this section I intend to look at three areas specifically relating to the transendence of form training;
1 - Creating your own forms
2 - Imaginary opponent training #1 (Divergent forms and combination strikes)
3 - Imaginary opponent training #2 (free form training)
4 - Sparring
1 - Being a bit playful in your training, trying different things and creating your own forms is an important first step.
If you can create effective forms yourself then it shows that you have a felt understanding of the art and are not simply
repeating what you are told to do. Have fun with ti and try out many things before settling on those that feel right. You
may like to use sections of other forms and put them together in new combinations or begin from scratch with single techniques.
2 - Imaginary Opponent training is a little bit like what is known in the west as shadow boxing, and it is a very important
part of San Shou training. In its simplest form it just means that as you practice a technique, or a form, you create an image
in your minds eye of an oppononet in front of you; imagine yourself in the kind of situation in which you would realistically
use the technique that you are practicing, imagine the opponent moving to strike you and yourself striking them. This training
serves many purposes; it helps to 'programme' automatic reactions, it helps you to execute your technique correctly, and it
is a good way to begin to move beyond form training into San Shou training.
Although it is always useful to practice forms, at whatever level of training you have reached, at this stage you should
also be looking to practice your art in a more realistic manner. In many cases forms or katas in oriental martial arts training
do not, as you may think, contain combinations of techniques as they may be used in combat. Often the specific combinations
of techniques in these forms are given to teach a praticular principle, to give an understanding of a particular pattern of
movements, or to aid in physical development and conditioning. It is therefore important at this stage to spend some of your
training time concentrating on 'combinations' rather than 'forms' with an emphasis on realism and practical application.
Another useful trick is to create forms with 'divergent pathways'. what I mean by this is that you create two forms which
begin the same but then diverge in different directions after a given technique. The idea is that if you opponent reacts one
way then the form goes along the best path to deal with that, but if they react differently then so must you. Think about
what an opponent might realistically do and create any number of forms accordingly. This helps to open up your forms practice
and make it less rigid.
3 - As your imaginary opponent training progresses not only will you have a larger and more fluid range of forms but
also you will find your visualisation skills improving. As you practice the 'divergent forms' as described above you should
now try to delay the decision as to which pathway to follow until the last moment, imagining your opponent moving instanly
as you make your choice, until it almost seems as if this imaginary opponent is making the decisions themselves. At this stage
you can practice 'continuous forms', or free form practice, in much the same way as a western boxer would shaodw box, for
as long as your fitness or time allows.
4 - Sparring is obviously also an important part of San Shou training. If you find it difficult to remain within your
style when sparring, and find yourself fighting scrappily and not using the majority of what you have learned then you may
find it best to concentrate on two-man sets for a while before going back to sparring. You should also remember that the purpose
of a sparring match is not to win but to learn and improve. It is better to stay within your style and lose, especially in
the early stages when you haven't done much sparring before, than to win a scrappy fight - because that teaches you nothing.
You should also consider whether fear is holding you back; if you are padded up and taking part in a semi-contact match then
you should not be scared of getting hit.