The practical combat effectiveness (the practicality of martial arts techniques in real combat) of Chinese martial arts is considered to be its main characteristic, and changes to it may affect its development. During the sportification of Chinese martial arts, especially in wushu taolu, its practical combat effectiveness has always been the focus of controversy. This study aims to reveal the changing process of practical combat effectiveness in wushu taolu by analyzing all versions of the competition rules, as well as interviews of former athletes. The main findings are as follows:
(1) In the 1973 rules, the “difficulty of techniques” was emphasized. Along with the introduction of difficult movements, wushu taolu techniques gradually shifted to an emphasis on speed and agility. A tendency of ignoring the offensive and defensive features of the techniques has appeared.
(2) In the 1979 rules, practical combat effectiveness was temporarily emphasized. In order to halt the decline, movement difficulty was excluded from the rules. However, a trend to pursue speedy and agile movements still existed. Since difficulty was limited by the rules, athletes began to redesign their weapons and jerseys.
(3) In the 2003 rules, due to the international popularization of wushu taolu, the degree of difficulty was reintroduced, and the difficulty score was raised greatly from 0.2 point to 2.0 points. At the same time, the number of major movements was decreased.
(4) The major influence on the decline of the practical combat effectiveness of wushu taolu is its difficulty. Emphasizing the degree of difficulty without questioning the practical combat effectiveness may lead to wushu taolu losing its characteristics. If wushu taolu is considered to be a sport and at the same time categorize itself as a martial art, it is necessary to clarify the definition of difficulty and analyze the relationship between difficulty and practical combat effectiveness of wushu taolu.