|Fighting fit: Malte Stokhof (L) appreciates the common spirit of Japanese martial arts, which embraces honesty about one's self. — VNS Photo Andy Lang
by Le Huong
The name of Dutchman Malte Stokhof has become familiar with Japanese martial artists in HCM City, not only because of his talent for Japanese sword fighting combat (Katori Shinto-ryu), but also for of his efforts to pass his passion on to local residents.
Katori Shinto-ryu is considered the origin of many Japanese martial arts and includes techniques such as bare hands fighting: hitting, locks, holds and throws, long sword, short sword, staff, spear and naginata, which is a Japanese blade on the end of a pole.
Stokhof started judo at the age of six in Indonesia, and then took up Thai boxing. After several years, he found out that boxing was too aggressive for his personality so he switched to Japanese Aikido, and then studied its roots before finding Katori Shinto-ryu.
Stokhof appreciated the common spirit of Japanese martial arts that embraces honesty about one's self.
"You cannot lie about your capability otherwise you may get injured or even die in a match. Honesty forces you to train harder to improve yourself," he said.
"It's the same in normal life, you should be honest to yourself about your weakness."
Stokhof practised the art by himself for six years while working for the Netherlands Organisation for International Co-operation in Higher Education in Viet Nam.
He first came to Viet Nam nearly 14 years ago and returned to the country in 2005.
"Viet Nam is an interesting country with a beautiful language, rich history and diverse culture, which is different in the north, the centre and the south," he said.
"I love the strong energy here, where everybody works hard to build the country," he said.
"Everytime I come back to Viet Nam from a trip, I find at least 20 new buildings on the way from the airport to my home. People here are so polite, open and helpful."
Now the father of two children, Stokhof spends time with his family and training martial arts.
Though he went every year to Japan to practise with Risuke Otake, the sensei saw that his level had not improved and told him he should no longer train alone. His Japanese mentor gave him a special certificate appointing him the leader of Katori Shinto-ryu in Viet Nam, and after that, Stokhof opened his training classes.
Stokhof received lots of supports from local martial arts masters and authorities when he opened his first "dojo" (training centre) in District 7 in March 2012.
"Vietnamese people know about judo, karate and aikido, but no one knew about Katori Shinto-ryu," he recalled,
"It's easy to recruit students as people are curious, but very few students stay with us for long as they must spend three hours a day practicing the same basic techniques, which is rather heavy and boring in comparison with other schools of martial arts."
Among his present 50 students at three training centres in HCM City, he guesses maybe half will go on to take it seriously.
"I will run my ‘dojo' as a leader until someone gets to my level and can act as the leader of the art in Viet Nam," he said.
"I've already chosen three students for that role to hand over my certificate when I leave the country."
"I want to make sure that Viet Nam is a centre for martial arts so more and more foreigners will flock to Viet Nam to train."
Stokhof manages the centres so that anyone can join the classes, from low-income students to foreign expats, where wealthier people may contribute more to support young talents to continue with the art and have a chance to attend classes in Japan.
Dao Duc Cong, a trainee, said the art was not too challenging provided students stuck to their passion.
"I've had encouragement from my teacher, which has helped me get this far," he said.
"Step by step, I have got stronger, more confident and behave better in and outside of class."
Brian Chesher, a foreign expat, said the art provided both mental and physical exercise.
"It's fantastic because everyone trains 110 per cent. Our ‘sensei' is a tactician in martial arts. He wants to improve and he wants us to improve." — VNS