As the world’s attention is on the Rio Olympics, Brazil’s most famous martial art, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, is creating a stir in downtown Phnom Penh, as a 27-year-old French-born Cambodian passionately promotes the combat sport as effective self-defence for women.
At the heart of BJJ is the concept that a smaller, weaker person can keep a bigger and stronger attacker at bay by using technique and leverage to take a fight to the ground.
It is with this now widely accepted principle that Vivaddhana Khaou launched his H/Art Academy in the centre of the city inspired by his training and competition experiences at Japan’s Axix Jiu-Jitsu.
Born in Paris, Khaou’s father is Cambodian and his mother French, and an urge to try “something challenging” after his studies in Phnom Penh took him to BJJ at the Prokout Fitness and Fight Center and had him hooked on a career path.
Khaou feels he is driven by passion to promote jiu-jitsu among Cambodians, especially women, for whom he believes the style serves as the best form of self-defence.
“We have an opportunity to bring a new discipline to Cambodia. It makes sense to want to have more Cambodians training. And that is one of the primary reasons why I started the H/Art Academy.
“It aims to be a place where anyone can train, regardless of class, gender or age. Having my own place allows me to have more control over making sure we can get more Cambodians to train,’’ he said.
“A highly respected jiu-jitsu coach once said it’s not how good your jiu-jitsu is, but how good it is for you. I would like to drive this point home,” Khaou told the Post.
The academy’s basic classes and all women’s self-defence have been designed to prepare a trainee to experience bigger and stronger opponents.
“Simply put, we teach our trainees to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations. This is how women can feel safe, secure and confident,’’ the instructor said.
The academy’s focus on women also aligns with the movement to end violence against them through practical solutions like jiu-jitsu to defend themselves.
Every jiu-jitsu academy around the world has different routines. Some like to focus on sparring, some on drilling certain techniques until they become second nature, while some others concentrate on drilling, sparring and conditioning. At H/Art, however, there is a bit of everything.
Sessions often end with “open mat”, which lets anyone do anything they want on the mat, whether resting, drilling, stretching, working out or sparring.
“Jiu-jitsu is still new in Cambodia and not many people have heard of it. Despite the growth of MMA in the region, Cambodia’s preference for kun Khmer overshadows the importance of groundwork,” Khaou said.
According to Khaou, jiu-jitsu is about submitting an opponent on the ground, rather than pinning or throwing them. It requires the use of leverage, momentum, inertia and the understanding of body mechanics.
“It aims to be the most effective form of ground fighting and to complement the most effective styles of stand-up martial arts, like kun Khmer, English boxing, muay Thai and taekwondo,’’ he said.
At present there are 20 trainees at the academy, most of them men, but gradually more women are expected become involved once they realise the power of the martial art for self-defence.
Anyone above 13 years of age can get started on basic lessons at the academy.
Khaou is keen to get recognition for the fighting style from the Kingdom’s prime sports body, the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, so the country can be represented at major events.