PARIS: Dressed in a blue kimono and a yellow belt, a fighter jumps on his opponent’s neck, grabs him with his legs and knocks him to the ground amid a round of applause.
This is vovinam vietvodao, a spectacular martial art from Vietnam, whose World Championship will be held on Saturday in Paris.
Kicks, punches, elbows, knees, rolls, jumps… the authorized movements are many and varied. But the discipline is best known for its “flying scissors” technique of attacking its opponent by grabbing it with the legs, as Vietnamese warriors once did to dislodge horsemen from the Mongol army.
“Vovinam is based on techniques that have existed since the dawn of time and were used in martial arts to neutralize the opponent,” Tran Nguyen Dao, 66, told AFP.
“Since then, these techniques have been transformed into a more playful sport, but we have kept the traditional aspect, even at the top level to preserve its authenticity”, continues this “grandmaster” of the discipline.
“In the heart of the battle»
It was in 1938 that vovinam acquired its nobility under the impulse of its founder, Nguyen Loc, who codified the rules by combining elements from several Asian martial arts.
Banned by the French colonists and then during the North-South War, it continued thanks to the perseverance of the masters before spreading to more than 70 nations around the world.
Tran Nguyen Dao was also sent to France in 1975 to contribute to the development of vovinam outside Vietnamese borders.
On Saturday, several hundred competitors from all over the world (France, Belgium, Vietnam, Burkina Faso, Senegal, etc.) gather in the Georges-Carpentier hall in Paris to compete for the thirty titles awarded during this sixth edition of the Coupe of the world.
Trials take place either in one-on-one combat or in a choreographed confrontation where two or more fighters demonstrate their skills.
The followers are trained to use their hands and their legs by seeking harmony between strength and flexibility, but also from a certain level to handle traditional weapons: halberds, knives, long sticks, sabers.
“When I swing a halberd, I put myself in the place of a general”, describes Serge Crozon, 52, 6th dang master, with a big smile. “I am no longer Serge, I cut out everything around me, I am at the heart of the battle in my mind.”
Specials, stunts and 2be3
Understudied by Omar Sy and recently nominated for the Taurus Awards (equivalent to the Oscars for stuntmen) for his performance in the movie Mortal Kombat, this famous stuntman learned the discipline at Longjumeau in the Paris region before becoming a champion in France, Europe and the world.
“Without vovinam vietvodao, I wouldn’t have gone this far (in the profession of stuntman)”, explains the one who has seen several generations of performers pass on the tatami, including Frank Delay and Filip Nikolic, two members of the famous boy band from the 90s. 2be3.
“It’s a very rich martial art, very physical with rolls, falls, jumps. It’s very demonstrative”,
But limiting vovinam to physical performance would be reductive, insists Tran Nguyen Dao, who recalls the purpose of the discipline: the training of “the true man”.
“There is a technical course up to the 4th degree, then you have to submit a thesis to go up to the 10th,” he explains. “There is a real research work.”
Less well-known than other martial arts, vovinam now has more than 2.5 million practitioners worldwide, according to the state-run Vietnam News Agency.
“We want to develop the discipline with a much wider audience because it is a martial art apart from”, says Serge Crozon. “It is one of the most authentic martial arts, where the sport has no value without the tradition.”