VoVinam, The Traditional Vietnamese Martial Art - Antonio Graceffo

Bob Hubbard

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Land of the Free
VoVinam, The Traditional Vietnamese Martial Art
Antonio Graceffo

They beat the Chinese, the French, the Americans, and even Genghis Khan in
war, so I figured the Vietnamese could teach this Brooklyn Monk Something
about fighting.

Vovinam is taught everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The
practitioners see it as a matter of national pride, similar to the way
Koreans view Tae Kwan Do. Vovinam is a very complete martial art with
elements taken from many styles. There are kicks from Tae Kwan Do, but
also a limited number of shin kicks and knee kicks. There are grapples
from Hop Kido and throws from Judo. There are also a limited number of
elbow strikes. They train with an array of weapons, taken from China,
Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.

Because Vietnam is still a communist country, there is no professional
fighting at all. So, the Vovinam guys werent ready to go fight in the
UFC. But, with a bit of tweaking, the style looks like it could be
modified to use in MMA competitions. As far as traditional martial art
(TMA) goes, Vovinam was a lot more interesting and complete than Tae Kwan
Do. Anything that includes a grappling component is more multi-dimensional
than a stand up kicking art. Unfortunately, because Tae Kwan Do is now
part of the Olympics and the SEA Games, there is a huge push, particularly
in Communist countries, to build world class teams. The cost is that the
local martial arts are dying out.

In Cholon, Saigons China Town, I found a massive sports center. In the
basement there was a full weight lifting gym. Gyms in Vietnam were quite
complete and training was cheap. Membership in a gym costs les than $10
per month. The other five floors of the building were dedicated to martial
arts. Walking up the stairs, I felt like Bruce Lee, climbing the tower in
Game of Death. On the first floor there were about a hundred people
doing karate. On the next floor, Kung Fu. Up a level, Kendo and Aikido. On
the next floor, Karate and Tae Kwand Do again.

The price of martial arts training was $6 per month.

On the top floor, I found my home, boxing.

I was in Vietnam to learn something new, so I concentrated on Vovinam. The
problem with most TMA (Traditional Martial Arts) is that there isnt
enough of a cardio component, nearly no strength component, and no
toughening or fighting training. So, I set up a training schedule of
weights in the morning, followed by Vovinam in the evening and boxing at
night. The boxing was the perfect addition to make my training day

In Ho Chi Minh City people, go out late, study late, and train late. The
streets are full of cars and motorcycles, at all hours. Boxing started at
7:30 PM, which is amazing, because in Cambodia, no one would ever consider
going out that late. Even more amazing, as I was leaving the two hour
workout, people were coming in for their martial arts lessons.

When you walk into a new martial arts school in Asia, there is always the
thing about showing respect. They are sizing you up, so you dont want to
look weak. But you dont want to look challenging either. If they think
you have only come to fight, they may not train you, or they may hurt you.
Or if they think you are showing disrespect, they wont deal with you at

In boxing, there is none of this. The minute I walked into the boxing gym,
the coach, Mr. Ahn, welcomed me with open arms. He was all smiles, asking
me a million questions about my training and experiences in other
countries. He called the boxers around to listen to the stories and ask me
questions. With the martial arts guys, I have to build rapport before I
can take out my camera. Mr. Ahn, on the other hand, immediately asked if
the boys could take some photos with their new American friend.

As there is no professional boxing in Vietnam, all the boys were amateurs.
Most were around 22 years old. They attended university fulltime and boxed
part time.

I asked if I could fight in Vietnam, Mr. Ahn laughed and told me that in
the whole country there were only four boxers registered at 81 Kgs, the
highest weight division. At national championships they give one gold,
one silver, and two bronze medals. So, everyone wins.

In Thailand I am always amazed at the steps they are taking to improve
their training, such as brining in foreign coaches or sending coaches to
other countries. Vietnam was the same. One of the teams coaches had
trained in Thailand with the Vietnam national boxing team.

We can learn from them. Said Mr. Ahn. In the lower weight divisions,
the Philippines and Thailand are the best in Southeast Asia.

Philippine champion, Mani Paquoia (Pac Man) was almost as much of a hero
to the Vietnamese boxers as he was to the Filipinos.

Talking about my Muay Thai experience, Mr Ahn told me, We had kickboxing
prior to 1979. But then it was banned. Now they would like to bring it
back, but there isnt even an association or a team yet.

Traditional wrestling is also dying out. Maybe it exists in the
provinces, and probably not every day, just at festivals.

The good thing about training in a socialist country is that the
government supports sports and education programs. Sports are made
available to nearly everyone, regardless of how poor they are. The
downside, of course, is that while top athletes will have state of the art
training and equipment, the average gym is not as good as one we would pay
for in a rich country. Boxing training at the sports complex was free, but
the boxing team had absolutely nothing. They had half a heavy bag and some
rotting, smelly glove.

The bag was hung too high and not heavy enough for me to do body punches
or low kicks. There were no coaches mitts for pad-work. Mr. Ahn showed me
where there had been a floor to ceiling bag, but it was broken. One very
cool piece of equipment they did have was a makiwara board hanging on the
wall. This padded boarded is normally used in karate and other martial
arts to practice focus punching. The boxers used it for speed and power
drills. One guy would stand at board, throwing one-two, one-two as fast
and hard as he could for thirty seconds, while his partner shadow boxed.
Then they would switch off. Thirty second board, thirty seconds shadow,
alternating for three minutes. It was brutal! By my third rotation on the
board I was completely beat. My arms would barely stay up.

During the drill, Mr. Ahn stood by, and made sure my hands were coming
back to a proper guard position between punches, so I was punching off my
face, straight through.

Usually when I train with amateurs the coaches leave me alone and let me
train what I want, which is nice, if I am there for a short time. I like
them to leave me alone because amateur boxing is so different from
professional boxing. Fr example, they turn their hands over when they
hook, which pros dont do. I dont want them to undue my skills.
But if I am going to be there for a year it is a problem because then I am
not learning anything new.

Watching one of the best guys train, he was very fast and had good form
and tremendous power or his size, but his hands were down at his sides,
like Muhammad Ali, and he was wide open. Maybe he was fast enough that it
didnt matter, but I was shocked at how open many of them were.

The gym didnt have a heavy bag, which would be the bulk of my training as
a heavyweight pro. I got the impression that amateurs didnt work the
heavy bag the way pros do. Most of their work was shadow boxing and mock
sparing. Amateurs I have trained with in Philippines, Vietnam and other
countries did a lot of things we dont do, such as sliding drills,
punching drills, and blocking drills. Maybe we could benefit from these
training techniques too.

After the board work, Mr. Ahn had me spar with two of his guys, one round
each. We didnt hit each other hard, just worked.

The second boy I sparred with had one hand on his waste, and punched off
his hip. He did all right with it, but it still looked dangerous. The cool
thing he kept doing was switching off, left and right hand lead. He didnt
actually change his lead leg, but would twist his body about 50% and lead
with a right hand jab. It was tricky and kept giving me a new picture to
look at.

They didnt have a ring, so we were sparring on the floor. Normally I
shepherd my opponent onto the ropes or into the corner and pound them.
This is much harder to do in an open fighting situation. The speed and
stamina of the smaller amateur is a bigger advantage in an open situation.

In pro boxing you are always looking for that knock out or a win by
attrition. You lead with the left, but you are constantly trying to set
the man up for the big right hand. In amateur boxing, you are trying to
win by points. Throwing a flurry of punches, whether they are hard or not,
will win you points.

Training with the Vietnamese was great fun, and I look forward to
continuing my study of Vovinam, supplemented with boxing and weight
lifting. Maybe I will find out who is trying to start the professional
kickboxing league and I can help out. Maybe we can build a Vietnamese MMA
team and take the Southeast Asian title.

Tan Da helped me to find a school where I could learn Vovinam, the
quintessential Vietnamese martial art. Vo means fight. Vovinam is also
called Viet Vo Dao, or the way of Vietnamese fighting.

Vovinam is a synthetic martial art, founded by Nguyen Loc in 1938. The
practitioners wear blue karate ghis and earn belts just as in many
traditional martial arts.

Apparently in the past, the Vietnamese martial arts were as developed as
those of China. A martial arts university was founded nearly a thousand
years ago, where students studied all forms of combat and also read the
classics, such as Tsun Zu, The Art of War. National exams were held
regularly until some time during the French occupation. Even under the
French, martial arts continued to develop with Vietnamese students
competing in French competitions of foreign martial arts from Korea,
Japan, and China.

Today, the students of Vovinam seem very proud to be studying their
national art, but like in many parts of the developing world, society
pushes young people to excel in their studies, particularly English and
IT, and to make money. Given the difficulty I had in finding teachers and
teams I would say that martial arts are on the decline in Vietnam but
still infinitely more alive than in Cambodia or Lao. Tae Kwan Do seems to
be extremely popular and was being taught at many high schools and
universities. Most parents feel that letting their kids study Tae Kwan Do
is a good compromise since they probably wont get injured. And, now that
Tae Kwan Do is in the SEA Games and the Olympics, Tae Kwan Do becomes a
matter of national pride, the same as gymnastics or other Asian dominated

The sad thing about the rise of Tae Kwan Do and economic prosperity is
that it means the demise of traditional martial arts.

Training with a team who met in one of the most famous high schools of Ho
Chi Minh city, at a glance the art looked a lot like Tae Kwan Do with that
same round house kick, which hits with the top of the foot. Tae Kwan Do
style kicking pads were used and students did drills, running and kicking,
leaping and kicking multiple targets. The forms also looked like Tae Kwan
Do katas. But when I started rolling with one of the instructors, I found
there was a lot more to the art than high kicks and leaps.

The teacher was named Master Hai. I would find out that nearly everyone I
met in Vietnam was either named Hai or Nguyen. Nguyen was a traditional
hero in ancient literature and was also one of Ho Chi Minhs original
names. Hai admonished me for taking photos of his class. As a result, the
story was never able to run in American magazines because there were no
images. I try to like TMA but I sometimes get angry and just want to punch
these guys in the head. I just didnt think it was good for PR to prevent
foreigners from studying your art or photographing it.

Hai did agree to let me train with him, and once again the price was very
low, a few dollars per month. He required me to wear a blue ghi, which is
the typical uniform of Vovinam. Almost all of the students were black
belts, but I would find out that red was the highest. Remember, when you
invent your own martial art, it is important that black not be the highest
belt. That way you can be totally unique. One of the styles I had studied
in Philippines the highest belt was red, white and blue.

Vovinam contained a lot of impressive joint locks and locking throws,
similar to Hop Kido. There were some throws that seemed to have come right
out of a judo textbook, In judo they grab the clothes. Explained the
teacher. But if you try and grab someone by the T-shirt it will rip and
what if he isnt wearing a shirt? So, we only practice throws that can be
done from body lock positions.

He had a few very cool hip throws where he either locked his arms under
mine or grabbed my head and threw me.

When the throw is completed the students did a lock and control or
followed up with a punch. I didnt see any actual submissions, chokes or
finishing moves.

The strike side of the art showed the influence from neighboring Cambodia
and Bradal Serey (Khmer kickboxing). Vovinam contained low kicks, all be
it with the top of the foot, but still they were striking down into the
calf muscle. They used some knee strikes. The most obvious connection with
Cambodian martial arts was the use of elbows. Vovinam had about five
different elbow strikes, including the uppercut elbow, hook elbow, and
spin elbow which are techniques pretty much unique to Cambodia and

Hai kept referring to Vovinam as Vietnamese kung fu, showing the Chinese
influence in Vietnamese culture.

Vovinam was one of those typical traditional martial arts that I have
trouble practicing. I hate wearing a ghi. Southeast Asia is bloody hot and
I prefer wearing my Muay Thai shorts and T-shirt. We had to stand in rows,
military style, according to rank, and do our exercises in unison.

There was a lot of standing and static throwing punches, chops, and
elbows. The knees were straight during these drills. Hai yelled at me for
dropping into a fighters crouch.

I asked one of the instructors if Vovinam used elbows. He answered, Yes,
several of our combinations involve elbows.

Vovinam has a number of standard combinations. If your opponent kicked a
certain way, you countered with combination 3. if he struck another way,
you countered with combination 7. From what I understood, if you started a
combination, you had to finish it and these strikes could only be done
within the context of these combinations. It seemed very restrictive and
not at all conducive of actual fighting.

Being TMA they practiced the old, strike at my face with a lung punch,
freeze, and I will block it, deflect it, twist your arm and throw you. I
kept wanting to ask him if anyone had ever done any of these techniques
for real. One of the stupid drills they had me do was to stand square,
once again with your knees stiff, and my hands on my hips. The teacher
would throw a very slow punch to my face and I was supposed to block it
with my opposite hand. Any time I didnt do it exactly as he wanted, Hai
would laugh at me.

If you do this in a fight, you will get your nose broken.

I wanted to answer, if you mouth of at me again, your going to get your
nose broken. The only way I can even tolerate TMA is by convincing myself
that it isnt supposed to be about fighting. It is supposed to be about
art or culture or tradition or something. But then when they bring up the
subject of foght9ng I just get aggressive. If this isnt fighting, why is
he talking about fighting? And if this is fighting, why I am standing with
my knees braced, my legs square and my hands on my hips? Who would fight
like that? And its not like, he is a master and he could fight like this
and win. No, the rules are the same for everyone, I dont care who you
are. If you come into a fight like that, you will lose.

How was this stance superior to my normal fighting stance, my Muay
Thai/boxing stance?

Hai wanted to teach me a hook, but when I moved my legs, he yelled at me.
He wanted me to hook from this same stupid position with my hands on my
hips and my knees straight. Then he yelled at me for not putting my
shoulder into. I was like, what are you retarded? Boxers through the best
hook in the world. And believe me, if someone showed me a better hook I
would do it. To hook properly, have to stand in fighting stance. And the
way you get your shoulder into is by rotating at the hips and pushing off
with your back leg. Standing square like this not only were you not going
to have any power, but you were going to hurt yourself.

Maybe that was the plan all along, to get me to through out my back.
Perhaps this was revenge for the war. You never knew in Vietnam when the
war would rear its ugly head.

The next argument came when he wanted me to turn my fist over on the hook.
This is a repeated argument I have had all over Asia. Modern fighters,
ones who absorb(rather than reject) the new information flowing throughout
the world, do not turn their fist over on a hook. You always turn your
fist on a straight punch, but never on a hook. But all of these
traditional martial arts have you turning the fist on a hook. But once
again, they are only punching the air. None of them train on a bag for
several hours per day as a real fighter would and none of them are
actually fighting. So, I guess they can throw their hook however they want
to and it will be fine.

One thing they did right in Vovinam was the warm up. It was composed of
useful martial arts techniques. When you do Tae Kwan Do in other
countries, often, they rush through the exercises counting very fast in
Korean ish, ni, sam sa.which actually isnt even the counting system
Koreans use for counting exercises in Korea. In so many of these schools I
have seen the amount of time they hold a stretch is less than ten seconds.
The only reason they dont have more injuries is because the guys are so
young. But, in Vovinam we did real exercises and at a pace that was

In most martial arts schools I have trained in (non fighting schools) they
do like ten pushups and ten sit ups. In Vovinam we did pushups for about
three or four minutes and abs for about twenty minutes. We also did
kicking and punching drills which looked as if they were taken from Tae
Kwan Do. One guy held up the TKD style kick pad and the other guy kicked
it as many times as he could in a certain time limit. Real fighters dont
do this drill because it doesnt test your ability to throw good kicks. It
tests your ability to do the drill. The first kick is real. After that,
the guys are only bringing their leg back half way before kicking again.
They are practicing wrong, but very fast. And admittedly they can all do
this drill better and faster than me. But this has zero impact on whether
they can kick in a fight or not.

When people practice this type of drill the kick pad is general held high,
head or shoulder height. This is also something I almost never practice.
In Muay Thai, most of our kicks are from the floating ribs down and of
course we hit with our shins, whereas these guys were hitting with the
tops of their feet.

In their kicking and punching drills they either stood still or moved in a
straight line. Real fighters practice moving in circles.

While I was kicking I saw the guys practicing their grappling. On the
whole, and as far as TMA goes, Vovinam was infinitely better than Tae Kwan
Do or other traditional martial arts I had seen. It was more
multi-dimensional. They had a lot of grappling. Some of it looked like Hop
Kido and a little clearly came from judo. The Korean influences were
obvious in all aspects of the art. After a throw they would go to the
ground and use a lock to submit and control the opponent. But because this
was TMA the series ended when the thrower put the opponent into a lock.
There was no actual wrestling or countering or escaping going on. It was,
you attack me. I throw you and put you in a joint lock. Ok, now, you stand
up and I attack you and you throw me and put me in an arm bar.

Like in most TMA when Hai talked about fighting it was always theoretical.
If someone strikes you They had prepared various silly self-defense
techniques such as if someone grabs you from the side, from behind in a
bear hug, in a chokeYou employ this tricky means of escape. They also had
misconceptions about other arts. One of the instructors explained to me
that Vovinam was more lethal than Muay Thai because in Muay Thai you just
kick once and stop, but in Vovinam you kick and punch at the same time.

I really wanted to fight him so he could show me the failings of my boxing
and Muay Thai.

Once again, I was having trouble studying TMA. I know there a lot of
cultural and health benefits to TMA, but I still couldnt do it.

Traditional martial art can be excellent for your health because it will
increase the range and variety of your movements. We lose flexibility and
get sick in old age because we reduce the types of movements we do. We
stand up, walk, sit at a desk, and open the refrigerator everyday. When
you were a child you climbed, you slid, you jumped, you belly flopped, you
went under the couchyou moved your body in every way possible. As an
adult, even if you exercise you are limited in what you are doing. If you
lift weights, how much are you actually moving? How many different kinds
of motion do you do in a day? Yoga would be an exception but even a dance
class or aerobics has you on your feet most of the time.

I can do all my boxing and kickboxing movements, but those are pretty
limited compared to what children can do or what TMA requires. Even as a
boxer, I, you, all of us do the same things every day. Muscles and joints
begin to function only with the scope of very limited range of motion. The
movements I do in my boxing routine are the same ones I have done for
twenty years. If I do something that feels like boxing or Muay Thai I am
pretty good at it. But as soon as I get out o that comfort zone I am lost.

Looking at one of my Vietnamese training partners I could see that a kid
sixty kilos is stronger than me at certain angles. When I actually threw a
kick or a hook the way he wanted me to, he was stronger. I am certain that
my hook, thrown my way, is stronger than his hook thrown his way. But if I
see TMA as exercise then throwing his hook would be a way for me to
develop muscles I dont normally use. It is the same concept as swimming
as cross training. You work muscles which are neglected in your regular

As you get older you develop these tunnels of motion in all of you joints,
your wrists, neck, elbows, back, shoulders If you move within your
familiar range you are fine. If you do anything else, you get injured.

I think for an older guy, doing TMA may be a really good way of preserving
general health. The problem is doing TMA alone wont do it because there
is not enough cardio and almost no strength work. The cardio at Vovinam
was running around the gym in circles. That is just silliness. I refuse to
run inside of gyms or dojo. That is not cardio. It is an excuse for cardio
and it is really bad for your knees to run in too tight of a circle. You
need at least twenty minutes of cardio work to get a work out.

As with Tae Kwan Do practitioners, the dexterity that the Vovinam guys had
with their feet was impressive. They were as good with their feet as I am
with my hands. They can put a kick anywhere on your body they want and use
any part of the foot they want. They can effectively plant a kick up,
down, or sideways. That is impressive and they have a lot of techniques
kicking low and then high with out the foot touching the ground. The
flipside of course is that they have never kicked anything; never kicked a
bag, never kicked a target. Most likely, they cant do it in a real fight,
or they might hurt themselves.

Vovinam had more grappling than most TMA. Once you have kicking, punching,
and grappling you have a pretty complete martial art. I wish that more
people around the world were doing Vovinam rather than Tae Kwan Do. But in
a country with no professional fighters at all how could you expect them
to learn it? In Cambodia I dont know how kickboxing and TKD could exist
in the same universe. Cant the TKD people see how weak their style is
compared to kickboxing? Now, MMA and k-1 are big I Korea and yet they
still believe in their TKD.

I was not in Vietnam to disprove them. In the context of what they were
doing, Vovinam was very good. The pride is also a good thing. They love
their country, and they should be proud of Vietnams progress. In Cambodia
I always had a feeling that there was no hope for the future. But in
Vietnam I think the people are capable of achieving anything they want to.

The final martial art I looked at in Vietnam was Tieu Lam, Vietnamese Kung

The aged Master Hai (everyone in Vietnam is named Hai) draws his sword and
bows. He drops into a low stance and the sword comes over his head and
around his body. He rises up on one leg, steps out with his foot and drops
back into a low stance. With the perfection of a warrior sculpture he
pauses in a forward stance, the sword fitting his frame like an extension
of his arm. Sword practice over, he goes through a similar routine with a
long spear. Fighting imaginary opponents, he shuffles forward, backward,
turns, strikes behind him, leaps, smack the floor with the weapon, and
lunges forward. His practice continues with a chinese fan, wielding the
delicate weapon with lethal precision. Last, he practices with his bare
hands. This is a daily routine which he has maintained for nearly half a

The art is Thieu Lam, and Master Hai has practiced his whole life. In
spite of his advanced years, he still manages to teach several group
classes as well as private lessons in the Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) sports
complex, located in China Town. His favorite form which he demonstrates
for foreign visitors is called call Lao Ho Thuong Son, which encompasses
fifty-eight movements.

This form contains all the best of Vietnamese Martial Art. He explains.
The form takes nearly four minutes to complete, months to learn, and years
to master.

According to data published by the Thieu Lam association, Thieu Lam can
trace its origins to China. The art was developed as a hybrid art, a mix
of Choy Gar and Hung Gar style of Kung Fu and was originally taught in
Guangdong province. Later, Wing Chun was added to the mix.

In watching the master and his students go through their paces, the
influence of Northern styles is clear. In fact, much of the movements they
use are identical to techniques and forms taught at the Shaolin temple
today. At times, however, the southern influence becomes apparent, as they
sometimes use a pigeon toed stance. The students would also hlaf twist at
the hips and drop into a low stance, similar to that used in Wing Chun.

The Thieu Lam style was brought to Vietnam by M簞 Luu Phu, who was born
near Canton in 1909 and died in 1971 in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). He
trained with his master in China, until 1937, when he left China, fleeing
the Japanese invasion. Millions of Chinese live in Vietnam. They came in
various waves, most recently, escaping the Japanese war or the Chinese
civil war. At the beginning, they lived in tight Chinese communities,
divided into dialect groups, with Fujians living together and Guandongese
living together. At that time, Kung Fu was not taught to outsiders, and
Thieu Lam remained a purely Chinese art. After 1975, Vietnamese students
were permitted to study the art. M簞 Sui Dau, a student of M簞 Luu Phu
became a master and taught the art to Chinese and Vietnamese alike, until
his death in 1991.

Thieu Lam is divided into two major schools, Thieu That Son and Trung
Son Thieu Lam Tu. Master Hai belongs to a sect called Kim Ke Tay Son

Training a Chinese art in Vietnam is a unique experience. It is always
fascinating to see which aspects of Chinese culture they chose to keep,
and which they abandoned. In studying other Vietnamese martial arts, such
as Vo Vinam, it is also interesting to see which elements of Chinese Kung
Fu were adopted and incorporated into other Vietnamese arts.

Thieu Lam included a good number of knees and elbows, including the over
the top elbow, which must have been picked up in the Indochina region.
There were also a lot more joint locks than you would expect to find in a
Shaolin art. These may have been adopted from Vo Vinam, the national
martial art, or directly from Korean martial arts such as Hop Kido.

They used a lot of the ever-returning fists, similar to Wing Chun. Master
Hai punched, and then in one fluid, circular motion, came back with a back
fist, followed by a hammer fist. He was constantly striking in circles or
figure eights with repeated strikes.

Everything we do is based on circles. Explained master Hai, pointing at
a Yin Yang symbol over his door. With his weathered features, his face
showing signs of age and wisdom, the Master looked like a caricature of a
teacher. If you were casting a Kong Fu master in a movie, Mr. Hai would
have been your first pick.

We use circles both up and down for blocking. We also have animal styles
such as monkey and dragon. Said Mr. Hai, pointing out some similarities
with Chinese martial arts.

Several of the Vietnamese students referred to their martial art as
Vietnamese Kung Fu, the same way people in China use the name Kung Fu as a
general word for martial arts.

Although a close first cousin to Kung Fu, Thieu Lam had its own unique
Vietnamese character. In china they use a low stance, but in Vietnam we
use medium stance.

The horse stance looked like it came from southern China or Wing Chun.

When your opponent strikes with the right hand, you have to block with
the left, and vice versa.

Mr. Hai showed me that if you block with the opposite hand, you will have
your opponent tied up in his own limbs, and it will be impossible for him
to hit you. Also, it leaves him wide open for you to do a quick jerking
joint manipulation and break his arm at the elbow.

As with many traditional martial arts, there was no sparring. They
practiced their fighting in patterns, so, to do the drill, both parties
would have to know his script. A student struck, Mr. Hai came of the block
and into a strike with the same hand. When rolling with me he hit me in
the floating ribs, which is more something we emphasize in kickboxing than
in Kung Fu. When I threw a kick, he kicked my leg and hit me with his
knee, another Muay Thai-esque technique. When we were playing around, he
blocked my kick with a cross knee and then kicked the inside of my thigh
with the ball of his foot, This is basically a Muay Boran sequence. The
most telling Indochina move was when he blocked and then stepped in with
an elbow strike to the head, followed by a forearm smash to the elbow,
while trapping the hand and hyper-extending the elbow.

Concentrate where you hit. Said Mr. Hai. In China they hit in the
liver. In Vietnam we hit in the heart.

The thing that some students find boring when studying kung Fu is the lack
of practical application. Mr. Hais students, for example, never did
anything apart from forms, which they repeated over and over again. They
never sparred and never tried ttheir techniques against a live opponent.
Every few years I try to do TMA(Traditional Martial Art), and always quit
because I prefer fighting. Kung Fu, however, is the one form of TMA I can
forgive because they never actually claim to be fighters. Kung fu is
beautiful and on some level, practicing Kung Fu demonstrates a deeper
commitment to the art than does fighting.

The thing I really liked about practicing with Master Hai was doing the
warm up. A Kung Fu warm up is a sensible exercise. Not only does it
prepare your muscles for training, as well as strengthening and creating
flexibility, but moving through all of those stances and techniques is
much more interesting than standing in front of a mirror in the gym doing
sets and reps. Doing the stances, the squatting, bending, and twisting, up
and down, is good for you body, and will help to maintain health and
flexibility into old age. Adding TMA, especially Kung Fu, to your overall
health regime makes a lot of sense. Most days in ho Chi Minh City, I
trained with Mr. Hai and then trained with the boxing team. The
combination of the two programs seemed to work well for me.

In addition to Thieu Lam, the Vietnamese have a rich and diversified
martial arts history. At a book store I discovered there was no shortage
of books about the various Vietnamese martial arts. The only problem was,
none of them were in English. So, youll just have to wait for my next

Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia.
His book, The Monk from Brooklyn, is available at amazon.com. He is the
host of the web TV show, Martial Arts Odyssey. See his videos on youtub.

His website is speakingadventure.com
Join him on facebook.com
Contact Antonio: antonio@speakingadventure.com
Antonio Graceffo begs you to please say a prayer for the people of Shan
State, Burma.