Mixed martial arts (MMA) is growing in popularity as a form of indoor exercise amongst young people in Ho Chi Minh City, with followers saying practicing the combat sport offers quite a number of benefits in the face of a sedentary urban life in Vietnam’s burgeoning metropolis.
MMA, as the name suggests, refers to an all-inclusive martial art form where people from different schools of martial arts can join and fight.
It is a full-contact combat sport that allows striking and grappling.
Many MMA gyms have been opened around Ho Chi Minh City, attracting hard-working young adults coming regularly to let off steam and get into their desired body shape.
An alternative to gaming
At around 6:00 pm on a midweek day, martial arts classes at the MMA Fight Academy, located in a small alley on Tay Hoa Street in District 9, Ho Chi Minh City, begin to liven up with the noisy workouts of more than 20 young male students and office workers.
Le Thanh Quang, a freshman at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology and Education, books his hours for every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
He signed up primarily to save himself from his gaming disorder.
“Since moving on to college, I have been relieved of the high school stress and indulged myself in smartphone games,” he said.
“I could while away a whole day just burying my nose in games, YouTube videos, and Facebook. I used to spend all my evening hours from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm just doing worthless things, but now my gym membership has put my time management back on track.”
Like many other young Vietnamese undergraduates, Quang lives alone in Ho Chi Minh City, far from his family.
The healthy habit of practicing MMA helps to pull himself together.
Before his membership here, this 1.6-meter man weighed merely 48 kilograms, but his body has transformed fantastically after four months of persistent practice.
He now weighs 53kg, with six packs gradually taking shape.
“I feel much healthier. My body looks better, which makes me enjoy coming to the gym more,” Quang said.
Nguyen Le Dung is another gym member with stern determination to steer away from after-hours partying.
The young police officer, from the central city of Da Nang, is receiving on-the-job training in Ho Chi Minh City.
“MMA enhances my moves and refreshes my spirit. It’s really good for my job, too,” he said.
Work by day, MMA by night
The newly opened Hac Bao (Black Panther) gym on Cay Keo Street in Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City also heats up with activity in the evening hours.
Instructor Ngo Xuan Hai, the gym’s founder, says that his long-term goal is to train professional MMA fighters in Vietnam.
His gym is calling to a considerable number of young adults.
Thai Ngoc Vinh is a 29-year-old trainer currently working for Hac Bao.
|Thai Ngoc Vinh (left) and Le Van Huong engage in practice combat at the Hac Bao gym in Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Me Thuan / Tuoi Tre|
He dropped out of college after his freshman year, thinking it was not the right path for him, and took up temporary jobs at textile factories.
However, ever since dabbling his feet in the martial arts world two years ago, starting with Muay Thai – a traditional martial art form originating in Thailand – and then MMA, he has discovered a much better career path.
“Martial arts transformed not only my appearance but also my life. I’ve found my passion,” he said.
“Doing sports surely helps to keep fit, but more importantly it increases my confidence in interpersonal relationships.”
Le Van Huong is another keen member at Hac Bao.
He believes the gym gives him a healthy environment to exercise his body and mind after his morning hours working as a deliveryman.
Originally coming from the north-central province of Thanh Hoa, Huong said he drove past an MMA club in Ho Chi Minh City during one delivery trip and was dumbstruck by the devout workouts of all the young men inside.
He promptly signed up out of his childhood love for martial arts and has been an active member ever since.
For the last 12 months, Huong has not missed a single session every evening after his delivery hours.
He has set his sights on becoming a professional fighter in this art form.
According to his trainer Ngo Xuan Hai, this young man possesses the passion it takes to realize the dream.
“He is also physically built for this sport, having the right health, height, and weight. But it should take loads of practice if he is to become a professional fighter,” Hai said.
Johnny Tri Nguyen, a well-known action movie star and stuntman in Vietnam, owns an MMA gym named Lien Phong (The Winds).
“MMA refers to a martial art form that accepts most types of moves, so people with backgrounds in other martial arts can also come for a friendly fight,” he said.
“In Vietnam, we used to have something called free fight.”
He explained that the old days’ free fight was a kind of uncontrolled combat where contestants fought to the death.
However, the modern MMA is more of a sport, so lethal moves like poking at the opponent’s eyes, striking lethal spots on the body or hitting the genitals are prohibited, Nguyen said.
All martial art forms are good
According to Nguyen Van Hung, a high-ranked Taekwondo trainer in Ho Chi Minh City, martial arts are meant to improve one’s health and a sense of protection of oneself and others.
“But I believe the biggest boon from doing martial arts is a stronger will. Those who can pursue to the highest rank have the strongest will of all, or they would have given up very early on,” Hung said.
To him, any martial art form will do good if the practitioner simply hopes to better their health and self-defense.
He went on to explain that the traditional Vietnamese Vovinam, the Korean Taekwondo, and the Japanese Karatedo entwine both fighting and art.
MMA, on its part, is a more practical approach stressing one’s strength in actual combat.