Monday, September 25, 2017

Myanmar martial arts’ French affair

Tomorrow 300 martial artists from across Europe and Africa will converge on the French city of Grenoble for the annual International Thaing Bando French Open.

European grand master Hla Win gives a demonstration at celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of thaing in France. SuppliedEuropean grand master Hla Win gives a demonstration at celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of thaing in France. Supplied

Myanmar’s martial arts of lethwei boxing, naban wrestling, and bando and banshay thaing will all be on display, as skilled fighters from more than a dozen countries flock to the biggest thaing competition in Europe.

In March, celebrations commemorated 30 years since thaing was introduced to France by American Jonathan Collins in 1986.

The eighth edition of the French Open is organised by the Grenoble University Bando Kick-boxing Club and the French Bando Federation, and supported by the International Thaing Bando Association, based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Jean-Roger Calliére, president of the French Bando Association, told The Myanmar Times that the competition “honours practitioners of martial arts and combat sports in Myanmar”.

However, some elements of these martial arts must be translated for participation in the West.

Lethwei fighters – many of whom are actually trained in muay thai – compete under altered conditions for safety reasons.

“You know it is difficult for the authorities to accept such violent rules,” Calliére said, “So we do a mix between lethwei and bando boxing.”

As such, gloves must be worn and head butting is outlawed. Amateur combatants must also wear protective headgear.

Lack of exposure plays a part too. The greater familiarity with other combat forms means naban – Myanmar’s native wrestling style – has been adapted for wider competition.

“We use special rules close to Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” added Calliére.

Collins’ master Maung Gyi created this synthesis of Myanmar martial arts known as bando when he introduced thaing to America 1958.

Oddly, in much of Europe and America, thaing – the overarching term for the martial arts of Myanmar – is known as bando or more recently bando thaing’

In Myanmar, bando specifically relates to an subset of thaing that is unarmed and displays fighting styles based on the movements of animals.

But Maung Gyi thought thaing was too hard for Anglophones to pronounce.

His father, Ba Than Gyi, is widely credited as one of nine grandmasters who helped revive thaing after independence and establish the Myanmar Thaing Federation – which celebrated 50 years of existence in January.

Thaing took hold in France, and from 2002 until 2008 a competition called the Bando France Cup was held. Then, in 2009, the purely French affair opened up to the world.

Now, as Russians, Danes, Nigerians, and Afghans rub shoulders with Myanmar expats to celebrate traditional Myanmar martial arts, the universal appeal of thaing is shown.

It even transcends age.

“The great master in Europe is Sayagyi U Hla Win. He is 80 years old and lives in Liverpool, England.” Calliére said.

 additional reporting by Matt Roebuck

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