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Sports 101: What is Vovinam?

Vovinam isn’t the most well-known sport, but it’s definitely worth learning about, especially if your national athletes have been winning medals for it.

The Southeast Asian Games is one of the best places to discover athletic talents from across the region, and even from your own home country. But apart from this, it is also a great opportunity to discover sports you had never heard of before. 

Have you ever heard of Vovinam? If you aren’t deep in the martial arts space, then it’s likely that you haven’t. But it’s one of the martial art competitions in the SEA Games and one that the Philippines actually excels at. 

So, let’s dive into the sport a little deeper.

What is Vovinam?

Vovinam was created by Vietnamese martial arts teacher Nguyễn Lộc in 1938 as a way of coming up with an effective form of self-defense that would help the country defend themselves against colonial rule, as the country was under France’s rule at the time. 

Although it originated in Vietnam, one of the things that sets Vovinam apart from other martial arts is that it takes different elements from various techniques and combines them all to create a unique style of combat, while still utilizing Vietnamese foundations. For instance, it makes use of Taekwondo kicks and throws from Judo

As a practice, Vovinam is also based on the concept of ‘yin-and-yang,’ and thus, it promotes a balance between what they call ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ combat skills, which involves training both the body and the mind, respectively. 

How does it work?
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Combining different techniques from various disciplines, Vovinam practitioners make use of many combative moves such as kicks, punches, grappling, and strikes. In addition, as the practice evolved, some practitioners also incorporate weapons, such as swords and spears, to their techniques. 

However, its foundations still rest upon self-defense. Because of this, Vovinam practitioners learn how to adapt to multiple situations and how to react to an opponent, both physically and mentally. 

Similar to other martial arts, Vovinam practitioners can rise through the ranks depending on the skills they develop, and these ranks are represented by belts. 

Novices start with a blue belt, and following this, they can word upwards to reach yellow, red, and white belts, with white considered as the highest form of mastery in Vovinam. 

Vovinam at the SEA Games

While it is the most popular martial art in Vietnam, Vovinam started to gain more international popularity in the last edition of the Southeast Asian Games which was held in their very own home country. 

As a competitive sport, and similar to other forms of martial arts, athletes can compete in either the performative or combative categories. The former refers to artistic performances meant to showcase the different movements and techniques of the sport, while the latter refers to one-on-one competitions between athletes.

As expected, the Vietnamese won the most gold medals in Vovinam in the 2021 SEA Games. However, other countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia also performed well. 

In this year’s edition, it would seem that Vovinam has expanded in reach and interest among athletes from other countries. For instance, representatives from the Philippines were able to capture podium appearances, performing well in the sport. 

Banner image from Wikimedia Commons

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