The Art of Traditional Wrestling
a beautiful spring day in Nam Dinh, a light breeze blows over the
multicoloured traditional flags planted at the four corners of the arena
where the finalists of the National Wrestling Championship are about to
it not for the dry rhythm of the drum and the overheated ambiance
appropriate for sporting events, the surroundings might be a set for an
artistic performance, insofar as Vietnamese traditional wrestling (vat)
resembles dancing. Indeed, the most impressive aspects of this extremely
popular sport are its picturesque and well-choreographed qualities.|
waiting for the fights to begin sit around a "carpet." There is no ring
or rope. Using lime, villagers have drawn a square of around 10m on
each side. The audience sits around the square, watching with
anticipation as wrestlers rub their sweaty hands on the earth, all the
while watching their opponents out of the comers of their eyes.
"Toong! Toong! Toong!"
The drum calls two competitors to the fight. Like all traditional
Vietnamese sports, a drum, a gong or sometimes both accompany wrestling.
The drum adds rhythm and stimulates the athletes. A speaker announces
the competitors, who stand up and step forward to the middle of the
"carpet." They are barebacked and wear red shorts with a silk belt
around their waist, red for one contestant and yellow for the other.
dance with light footsteps recalling those of birds. Their arms make
supple and undulating movements, displaying their musculature.
go the warm-up stage, a spectacle full of panache and rich in colour.
Normally, this lasts two minutes while the drums continue beating.
Although the performances vary according to schools of martial arts, ail
warm-up dances must match the drum's rhythm. Once the wrestlers have
finished their warm-up, the principal referee introduces the wrestlers
by raising their arms as in boxing. Then the wrestlers turn away, facing
opposite sides of the arena. The drum resumes with well-spaced rolls.
The two adversaries turn, face to face, and shake hands. Then, with
hands on their hips, they stare at each in defiance. As the drum gives a
dry beat, they turn and step away from each other. They take further
steps as the drum continues, this time at a greater and greater speed.
With this, the "artistic" part of the match ends. There are no gifts
once the fight officially begins. The wrestlers turn around. They bend
their backs and, lowering their knees until they almost crouch, extend
their arms. Eyeing one another, they advance toward each other as if
gliding, preserving their equilibrium for the first strike.
beating of the drum regulates the fight. The rhythm accelerates as soon
as one of the adversaries initiates a hold. It returns to normal once
danger has passed, as if the drum wants to let the wrestlers recover
their breath and preserve their guard. When a wrestler falls, the rhythm
accelerates, becoming more and more pressing. A finishing stroke of the
drum puts an end to the combat when the loser's shoulders touch the
ground. The winner and loser stand up, applauded by a prolonged drum
Each wrestler has his own holds, passed down by his coach,
who is the only person who knows these secrets. The winner is the
wrestler who turns his adversary with his "face to the sky" and forces
his shoulders to touch the earth. Under modem regulations, a match is
composed of three four-minute rounds. But traditional matches often
lasted for hours, since the rules did not allow a draw.