Vovinam - A global sport

vovinam việt võ đạo
When we think of Vietnam most of us recall images of an impoverished and war-torn nation, but nowadays this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Vietnam has one of the world’s fastest growing economies and as a nation has a huge drive for development and recognition on a global scale.

With this development comes opportunity for the export of cultural materials and ideas - this is where our topic shows its face - Martial Arts.

The Vovinam System

vovinam việt võ đạo
The largest and most easily recognized style of Vietnamese martial arts is Vovinam aka ‘Viêt Võ Đạo’. Vovinam comes from the words Võ (literally fighting) and Vietnam pushed together.
The traditional name of Viêt Võ Đạo translates as “The way of Vietnamese Martial Arts”
Vovinam has spread rapidly in terms of practitioners and recognition since Vietnam opened its borders to international trade during the early 1990’s. Currently there are Vovinam schools in more than 50 countries, across Asia, Europe, North and South America, Australia and Africa.

vovinam việt võ đạo
The International Vovinam federation estimates there are around 500,000 practitioners excluding Vietnam, putting worldwide figures at well over a million.

As international trade and relations develop further, Vovinam is set to become recognized as one of few genuinely authentic South-East Asian systems. In the words of Grandmaster Nguyễn Văn Chiếu:  “A Global Sport”.

vovinam việt võ đạo
Late Grandmaster Lê Sáng with International Masters 2008

Features of Vovinam

Vovinam is a diverse and dynamic martial art. Vietnamese arts traditionally include a lot of high and low range targets, and Vovinam follows this principle famed for its brutal 21 low kicks and ‘flying scissor’ takedowns.

It has many features common across South-East Asian Martial Arts - Fast and aggressive knees and elbows, explosive high kicks and heavy grappling.

There is also a diverse range of weapons taught as part of the Vovinam syllabus; Long and short staffs, swords and halberds. Less-commonly students are also taught knives and small blades reminiscent of Malay/Indonesian styles.

Vovinam also includes various other Asian influences, there is a strong focus on the hard and soft elements or ‘Cương-Nhu and similar to Chinese systems has a strong code of ethics and etiquette.

Uniforms are influenced by the Japanese ‘Gi’ - historically Vietnam held some of the largest trading ports of South-East Asia and received a lot of Japanese influence over the years.

Vovinam is a well-rounded and complete system - one of few that covers everything from battlefield weapons and stand up fighting to grappling and groundwork. As the saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention”.

History of Vovinam

vovinam việt võ đạo
Grandmaster Nguyễn Lộc
The style was officially founded 1938 by the late Grand Master Nguyễn Lộc, a resident of the capital city - Hanoi. As a child Nguyễn Lộc was encouraged to study various indigenous and foreign influenced martial arts by his parents. Living in Vietnam during this era was dangerous and self defence situations were often a reality. After sometime he began to uniform the styles and techniques he had learnt into an efficient and practical martial art whilst being careful not to disregard important cultural and historical features.
During these years Vietnam was a colony of “French Indo-china” and due to their oppressors Vovinam was taught in secrecy for a number of years.
Eventually Nguyễn Lộc’s style became too popular and attracted unwanted attention - so much so, that he was forced to relocate. After the French had been expelled from the country, Grandmaster Nguyễn Lộc moved to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) opening his first official training centre in 1955.

From here the popularity of the martial art developed rapidly and is now one of the top official sports of Vietnam. After Nguyễn Lộc ‘s passing Vovinam was continued by his successor the Late Grandmaster Lê Sáng, and is now headed by Grandmaster Nguyễn Văn Chiếu operating from Ho Chi Minh City.

Below is a recent video about Nguyễn Văn Chiếu and the spread of Vovinam filed for CNN’s ‘Human to Hero’ series.

Vovinam Facts

The Ranking system runs strangely compared to many martial arts - Blue is the lowest ranking belt, followed by Yellow, then Red and White the highest symbolizing Purity and transcendence.

The first women received a “Senior Master” ranking in 1999.

The ‘Đạo’ in ‘Viêt Võ Đạo’ is the equivalent of the Chinese “Tao” or Japanese “Do” meaning path or way

Vovinam is one of 36 sports included in the South East Asian (SEA) Games alongside Olympic Tae Kwon Do, Pencak Silat and Wushu - All of which are already well-known in Western Countries. 

The logo is based upon the Yin-Yang design with a map of Vietnam in the centre - the 2 largest cities Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh take the places of the poles.

About the Author:

Gus Roe is a disciple of traditional Vietnamese martial art ‘Bửu Sơn Phật Môn Quyền’, based in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Since a young age he has formally trained and competed in Tae Kwon Do, Wing Chun, Judo & various other styles.

He is currently working on film and written projects documenting some of the lesser known martial traditions of Vietnam.

For more information about this story or to speak directly to the author please contact through:

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