Where to Learn Martial Arts in HCMC

By: Kristian Goodchild

Not only in HCMC, self-defence has fast become one of the most popular ways to stay fit and healthy, and for good reason. While CrossFit may carry a certain hipster sheen, it has very little application in a world where self-assuredness and confidence can make or break you on a daily basis. Martial arts combine intense exercise with precise training that gives students the confidence and ability to defend themselves – a combination that provides excellent all-round self-improvement.

learn martial arts in hcmcPhoto by Joren De Groof

Self-defence isn’t about learning how to crack skulls and break arms. It’s about instilling a belief in one’s ability to tackle the harshest conditions that life can throw at you. Most martial arts are focused on avoiding conflict rather than instigating it – “The art of fighting without fighting”, as Bruce Lee famously said.

And with a huge array of different styles and disciplines available, anyone should be able to find a technique that resonates with them.

Choosing Your Style

Karate is hugely popular in Saigon, with a multitude of different styles practised. The best sensei in town has to be Sensei Michael Kloesser, who teaches a particular style from Okinawa known as Shorin-Ryu (pine style). After years teaching all over the world, he is now the proud owner of the new Honbu Dojo, the official headquarters of Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Seibukan Vietnam (496/22/17 Duong Quang Ham, Go Vap District).

 Karaté in Saigon

Michael insists that when deciding what style of self-defence to try you should look beyond the discipline, and instead judge each class based on the attitude of the master: “It’s not the kind of martial art we should look for but the quality of the teacher. And I don’t mean their qualification or certificate. I always suggest just looking at the teacher of a school. His behaviour, his passion with people and for his martial art. Martial arts are for the mind and heart first; and to fight for survival second...”

While Karate, Kung Fu, Muay Thai and Taekwondo are popular disciplines on offer, people are now looking at more exotic styles. With the increased popularity of MMA (mixed martial arts), many niche styles are enjoying a resurgence.

MMA in hcmcPhoto by Thinh Dinh

Krav Maga, an Israeli-developed combat style that incorporates elements of fighting disciplines from around the world, is one such style. Made famous in the Bourne Identity movies, Krav Maga is one of the most ruthless fighting styles, incorporating weapons training, improvisation and unarmed combat.

Taught at the Saigon Sports Club by Stephen Davison, the style isn’t pretty, but it’s amongst the most effective forms of self-defence if learned properly.

Krav Maga Saigon

Saigon Sports Club offers a raft of other styles ranging from kickboxing to judo. It claims to be the biggest gym in Asia, and the diversity on offer would certainly add plausibility to the claim.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), a favourite among MMA champions, is seeing record numbers of new students around the world, drawn to its versatility and effectiveness in real-world situations. Saigon Luta Livre is a favourite among BJJ aficionados, and the training provided by Erik Koehne has contributed to the gym’s stellar reputation for Brazilian catch-style wrestling.

BJJ Saigon

Vo Vi Nam: A Truly Vietnamese Martial Art

But often overlooked is the one martial art with true claims to Vietnamese heritage, Vo Vi Nam. With a combination of armed and unarmed techniques, Vo Vi Nam borrows elements of Kung Fu, Muay Thai and various other regional disciplines to form a composite style unique to the country. Many Vietnamese learn from an early age, but foreigners are welcome to learn it as well. Potential students could try Rach Mieu Sports Centre (1 Hoa Phuong, Phu Nhuan District) to see if it’s a good fit.

And if you’d rather just spectate, Quan Khu 7 on Hoang Van Thu , Tan Binh District, plays host to all manner of fighting events, from taekwondo to aikido, kickboxing to karate.

learn martial arts in hcmcPhoto by RudreshCalls on Flickr

It also offers training. Local practitioner Sean Duffy explains: “The boxing practitioners are from all around the districts and some of the trainers are or were members of the Vietnamese armed forces.”

With so much available, what excuse do you have? Get out there and start fighting!

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