Wrestling for glory at Viet­nam’s fes­ti­val

The main draw is Vat Cau, a sport that started as a train­ing ex­er­cise for sol­diers

The Hindu - - LIFE -

Bare-chested men in brightly coloured belts grap­ple for pos­ses­sion of a gi­ant wooden ball at a Viet­namese fes­ti­val, tum­bling from corner to corner as hun­dreds of ex­cited spec­ta­tors cheer them on.

They are play­ing Vat Cau — a cen­turies-old sport which be­gan as a train­ing ex­er­cise for sol­diers and con­tains el­e­ments of wrestling and rugby.

Vat Cau is the main draw of a three-day an­nual fes­ti­val held in Thuy Linh vil­lage dur­ing Viet­nam’s Tet Lu­nar New Year, just 10 km from Hanoi.

A sin­gle match has four sep­a­rate teams of eight men wear­ing waist straps of dif­fer­ent colours. They tus­sle over a 17-kg ball made from the wood of a jack­fruit tree, la­bo­ri­ously inch­ing it to­wards one of the holes dug in each team’s corner.

“This game is the tra­di­tion and the pride of the Thuy Linh peo­ple,” Le Duc Duong, an ath­lete with 15 years of ex­pe­ri­ence play­ing Vat Cau, said.

In tip-top shape

Be­fore the an­nual show­down at Thuy Linh’s com­mu­nal tem­ple, each sports­man must train in sports like swim­ming, run­ning and body­build­ing to get in tip­top shape, he added.

The au­di­ence at Satur­day’s com­pe­ti­tion were in high spir­its, laugh­ing and cheer­ing as a match an­nouncer com­mented on the ath­letes pounc­ing on each other in the field.

“Some of our ath­letes have a six-pack body, and some have a six-pack-in­one,” he said wryly.

At the end of the three­day tour­na­ment, the squad with the most points ad­vances to the next round, and the cham­pi­ons in the fi­nal stage will re­ceive a cash prize of $260 to share be­tween them — a small re­ward that gifts brag­ging rights to one team among the 16 com­pet­ing.

Dat­ing back to the 11th cen­tury, the game was in­vented by a revered gen­eral to teach his re­cruits about the im­por­tance of team­work, in­tel­li­gence and strength when fight­ing against for­eign in­vaders, fes­ti­val or­gan­iser Le Minh Xuong said.

“(This game) in­her­its the tra­di­tion of our fore­fa­thers, which is to train the men in the vil­lage to have health and fit­ness for the ul­ti­mate pur­pose of pro­tect­ing our home­land,” he said.

But for the play­ers to­day, the stakes are not so high.

“We play this game for fun ac­tu­ally. The prize is not im­por­tant for us,” 20-year-old player Nguyen The Hien, a kick­box­ing trainer, said.

“Each year we play it and it brings joy to us.”

AFP ■

Ball game: Peo­ple watch­ing as men wres­tle for the prized ball made of jack­fruit wood dur­ing ‘Vat Cau’in Hanoi.

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