BINH DINH — Drumbeats and the clang of gongs accompanied spectacular performances of traditional martial arts on Wednesday night at the opening of the fourth International Festival of Vietnamese Traditional Martial Arts.
|A performance during the opening of the International Festival of Vietnamese Traditional Martial Arts in Binh Dinh Province. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Tung
The event, in the central coastal province of Binh Dinh, has drawn more than 1,300 martial arts instructors and practitioners from 27 countries and territories.
In the most impressive performance, martial arts students, practitioners and instructors went down on their knees, facing the statue of King Quang Trung on the central stage. In the dim light of torches and candles, with the soft beat of drums in the background, the moment felt completely sacred.
Binh Dinh martial arts have been popular since King Quang Trung – Nguyen Hue (1752-92) waged a war against the Chinese Qing invasion in north Viet Nam.
"Vietnamese traditional martial arts developed when the Vietnamese people were protecting the nation against foreign invaders. Now, they have become a part of our national cultural heritage," Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan said at the opening ceremony.
Nhan said martial arts training should be part of schoolchildren's mandatory education - not only in Binh Dinh, but throughout the nation.
"It is a great honour for Binh Dinh – the birthplace of martial arts – to host the international martial arts festival. It is a chance for martial arts lovers from all over to meet and strengthen their friendship," said Le Huu Loc, the provincial People's Committee chairman. "The festivals have become larger and more spectacular since the first one was organised in 2006."
Each time practitioners return to the place that gave birth to these traditions, they feel a sense of coming home.
Vietnamese-Indian Tambi Matt, head of the France-based Than Long Thien Dai Ho sect said his sect attended all the four festivals since 2006.
"I would like to spread awareness of Vietnamese culture through martial arts, so any foreigner learning the sport will learn about this rich and varied culture," said Matt, whose 13-year-old son is also a sect member and attending the event.
Matt teaches his French students that martial arts is not for fighting, but for training the body physically and intellectually and for learning about culture.
Head of the Binh Thai Dao sect instructor Diep Le Bich, who boasts more than 30 years of teaching martial arts abroad, said the festival was not only an opportunity for martial arts followers to meet each other, but also to make the sport known to the world.
"Living far away in the UK, I always look forward to Binh Dinh. In 2007 I started teaching Binh Thai Dao for both British and Vietnamese people, with the hope of making traditional Vietnamese martial arts more popular abroad."
Binh said there are about 2,000 Binh Thai Dao followers worldwide.
The festival activities include martial arts performances among sects, antagonistic fighting, displays of martial arts uniforms and weapons, an exhibition of photos related to the sport and the festivals, and a conference on raising the profile of Vietnamese martial arts and establishing the International Federation of Vietnamese Martial Arts, as well as food, singing and poetry reciting.
One highlight of the festival is a beauty contest for female martial arts followers. This year's contestants include six female practitioners from Belgium, Russia, Luxembourg and France, who have all been studying Vietnamese martial arts for at least 10 years.
Contestants who make it to the final round will show off how well they wear both ao dai (traditional Vietnamese long dress) and martial arts uniforms, and will also get a chance to showcase their martial arts skills. A question-and-answer round will decide which of the five finalists wins the competition.
Twenty-year-old Morgame De'le'pine from Belgium said she was intrigued by the beauty contest.
Martial arts practitioners can look beautiful even when they are performing violent movements, said De'le'pine.
She expressed regret that she could not participate in the previous festivals due to her study schedule, so this time she made sure to set aside a few days to attend.
Truong Thi Minh Hien, 18, from the province's Quy Nhon City said, "Contestants don't have to perform complicated movements. What's important is how they look during the performances. Movements must be correct, quick, and strong, and the eyes must convey the meaning of the movement."
According to the deputy head of the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Dinh Khac Dien, "each contestant must show a certificate identifying himself or herself as a martial arts follower and must be at least 1.6m high".
"Through this event, which is unique to the International Festival of Vietnamese Martial Arts, we hope to showcase the real beauty of the martial arts world."
The final will take place tonight as the festival wraps up. —VNS