2016 was an awesome year for Wushu competition and Wushu championships around the world.

The International Wushu Federation (IWUF) oversaw more than a dozen continental and international tournaments — three in particular give a real sense of how far the sport of Wushu has come in the 21st century.

  • The 6th Junior World Wushu Championships in Bulgaria brought on a slew of new breakout teenage stars.
  • The 8th Sanda World Cup in Xian, China, put sanda’s elite hard-hitting champions on the full-combat stage.
  • The first ever Taolu World Cup in Fuzhou,China – the “best of the best” taolu world stars battling not only for gold but also for prize money.

Through the lens of award-winning sports photographer W. S. Chen here’s a look at the blood, sweat and tears of victory and defeat in these action-packed wushu events:

In Burgas, Bulgaria the 6th World Junior Wushu Championships were held September 26-October 3, with over 600 participants from 51 countries. This event was created a dozen years ago to nurture wushu youth talent under 18 and prepare athletes better for the World Wushu Championships.
China ranked first in the rankings, partly due to Mengxuan Zheng’s rocking 9.40 jianshu performance.
russia wushu
Russia – among the world’s top Wushu teams – shows off some new young talent with Anna Shataeva.
wushu jump
Wushu takes flight – changquan athletes keep looking to go higher, faster.
debbie yeung hong kong taji
Hong Kong’s Debbie Yeung also shows how taijiquan can fly.
junior wushu championship
A lot of Wushu’s future world champions debut at this biennial youth event. The Junior World Wushu Championships offers 3 levels of categories (A, B and C) so the youngest athletes can get experience competing on an international stage.
Kseniya Bakumova sanda
A star is born -- an overjoyed Belarus team thrills to Kseniya Bakumova’s double gold victory in changquan and gunshu – and she’s only 15. Her dad, pictured behind her to the left, is also her coach.
young sanda fighters
Fighters may be young fighting full contact sanda, but they still display some impressive technical skills.
audrey meeks sanda
16-year-old American sanda fighter Audrey Meeks hails from Texas, where they grow ‘em tough. She has trained in sanda for 9 years. This championships in Bulgaria was the first time she’s traveled outside the U.S. For many youth athletes these games offer opportunities to experience new countries and cultures, and make international friends.
sanda fighting
Sanda offers a complete package of fighting techniques and takes place on the leitai. This raised platform stage adds drama and a singular scoring component -- if you knock your opponent off you get 3 points.
wushu kung fu kids
Once the fight is over and the gear is off, fierce game face turns into smiles. Some of wushu’s longest friendships are forged in the competition ring and warm up halls. The wushu is well-known for its tight community -- these kids get together at international events, but stay connected through social media no matter where they go home to.
Turkey Iran Sanda world cup
Turkey and Iran battle it out in the semi-final of the 8th Sanda World Cup in Xian, China, held November 4-6. For this elite cup event, fighters had to qualify by placing at last year’s World Wushu Championships in Jakarta. These are the top stars of the sanda world.
sanda xian sanshou
The Xian event showcased the best of the best sanda skills – this elegant toss off the leitai in the semifinal gained China’s Ji Hui Zhu 3 points on his way to the gold medal in the 48KG category.
king of sanda salikhov
The powerful Russian sanda team was made most famous by the “King of Sanda,” the great Muslim Salikhov, who won a record 5 World Championship gold medals. Salikhov’s younger “brother” Ali Magomedov is the rising prince, and in Xian he showed off the stylish techniques his team is feared and respected for.
top female sanda sanshou
Iran decisively takes down Vietnam in the women’s 60KM division. Both nations contribute many of sanda’s top female athletes to world competition.
sanda danshou world cup
China emerged as undisputed champs of the Sanda World Cup in Xian, winning 10 gold medals in 10 weight divisions. A Saturday night full house rained cheers and applause on Chinese sanda stars, and the event was broadcast on Chinese television.
India Surya Singh sanda
India’s Surya Singh’s kick finds its target on Philippine opponent Francisco Solis in the semifinal.
Asian boxing
Fighters from the lighter weight divisions of Asian countries like Vietnam, China, Hong Kong and Philippines display dazzlingly fast kicks and jabs.
women sanda sanshou match
Don’t be fooled by the Amazon-warrior skirt some sanda teams have adopted for their female fighters – these kicks are lethal!
China Ling Ling Liu taolu
China’s 26-year old Ling Ling Liu brings cheers with her awesome takedown of Indian opponent Monika in the women’s 56KG final.
Ling Ling China Taolu
Besides winning the gold medal, Ling Ling gets a hug from Coach Zhang, the man behind the China sanda powerhouse. Gold medalists also walked away with 10,000 RMB prize money as an extra sweetener.
fuzhou china taolu
The IWUF launched the inaugural 1st Taolu World Cup this year to give elite wushu athletes a chance to compete with the best of the best – and for cash money. 81 star athletes from 21 countries competed in Fuzhou, China November 18-20.
Iran Zahra Kiani taolu
The lovely Zahra Kiani left no doubt she is Iran’s dazzling rising wushu star – here she takes a silver medal in women’s changquan with a score of 9.57. Also a gold medalist in Bulgaria just a month earlier, she was a breakout star at the previous year’s World Wushu Championships. Look out for her on the podium at next year’s World Wushu Championships in Kazan, Russia.
russian Sandra Konstantinova taolu
Watch out for those Russians! Sandra Konstantinova catches some air enroute to a silver broadsword medal.
Michele Giordano taolu
Michele Giordano scored a personal best (9.59) and not one but two bronze medals for Italy in nangun and nanquan. The charming Italian champion told reporters it was a dream come true.
Xiao Xiao Lai taolu flip
Spirited golden girl Xiao Xiao Lai wowed the audience with dramatic flips and a high toss of the spear – she commented at the last World Wushu Championships, “I don’t think of it as competition – just showtime.”
Liudmyla Temna ukraine taolu
Training conditions are challenging in Ukraine these days. Longtime champion Liudmyla Temna anchors a Ukrainian team whose spirit and hard work make them among the best.
Taolu power and dramatic style wushu championships
Taolu’s power and dramatic style are helping make it TV-ready for viewing audiences. This event was broadcast live on Chinese television and digital platforms to over a million viewers. Let’s hope the Olympics take notice.
Wushu athletes
Wushu athletes focus not only on training the body, but also on cultivating “wu de,” or martial ethics. Respect for judges and officials is valued, and expected, at each competition.
Chen Wei Seng
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