Pencak Silat stars grapple with rule changes, limitations at SEA Games

March 11, 2023 - 09:51
Although pencak silat originated from an Indonesian martial art, Vietnamese athletes have long been among the world's best.

Pencak Silat

Pencak silat performers train at the Hà Nội National Sports Training Centre. VNA/VNS Photo

HÀ NỘI — Despite Việt Nam's international pencak silat dominance, they have lowered their target to just three gold medals at the 32nd SEA Games in May as they grapple with rule changes and limitations placed on the event by the hosts, Cambodia.

Although pencak silat originated from an Indonesian martial art, Vietnamese athletes have long been among the world's best.

The four coaches and 30 athletes summoned for the Games will compete in 13 tanding (combat) and four seni (performance) events. Their target is three golds less than the previous Games in Việt Nam last May.

Head coach Nguyễn Văn Hùng said the modest target is due to injuries and the rules and competition format set by the organisers.

Two key fighters, Trần Đình Nam and Nguyễn Văn Trí, will miss the Games due to injuries. Nam is a SEA Games defending champion, while Trí is the reigning Asian Games champion.

"While Nam and Trí recover, we have called young athletes to replace them in the team," Hùng said. "They are good in the profession, but we still need time to ensure that they can take charge of the missions."

Pencak silat fighters must adapt to the new ruleset and format, which will be applied at the coming 32nd SEA Games. — Photo

Cambodia has used its right as host to reduce several tanding events, including weight classes from U75kg to U95kg, Việt Nam's strongest categories.

It means that the champion of the men's U85kg Nguyễn Duy Tuyến and men's open class (over 95kg) Lê Văn Toàn are staying at home, while women's world U75kg champion Quàng Thị Thu Nghĩa is cutting weight to compete in the U70kg class.

Losing weight is a nightmare for every fighter. Their strength is diminished, their stamina is lessened, and they are more susceptible to injuries during training.

"We are strong at heavyweight, but Cambodia only organised medium and lightweight classes," said Hùng.

"We have good fighters in these classes, but they are not as dominant as the heavyweights. Our chance of winning is only 50-50."

Việt Nam faces personnel problems in the seni events, as many veterans retired after the recent National Sports Games, and their replacements are inexperienced at international competitions.

The national team are aiming to win at least three gold medals. — VNA/VNS Photo

Cambodia also regulates that every participating country, except for the hosts, can only take part in a maximum of 70 per cent of events in martial arts.

"This rule narrows opportunities to win for all guest delegations, therefore, we have to calculate carefully to pick up the right people to represent Việt Nam," he said.

In addition, the World Pencak Silat Federation has issued a new competition format and altered how points are given to fighters.

"We need a lot of time to learn by heart the new format of the competition," said women's world U75kg champion Nghĩa.

"We have been doing the old way for a long time. It isn't easy to switch immediately. We are sometimes still confused with the new things in real matches."

Coach Hùng said it would take time for athletes to become fluent under the new ruleset. He hopes they will perform strongly at the SEA Games and then the Asian Games in September in China.

As part of their preparations, the team will follow a programme of three periods focusing on improving fitness, increasing strength and stamina, and preparing for competition.

It is expected that an intensive training course abroad will be organised so that athletes will sharpen their skills better before the Games. VNS