The Warriors

In Vietnam, betting on cock fights has for centuries become a hugely popular pastime for many Vietnamese men who are fond of a flutter.
Cockfighting, a long-standing form of popular entertainment, is organised during traditional festivals throughout Vietnam.
Cockfighting, a long-standing form of popular entertainment, is organised during traditional festivals throughout Vietnam.

It is an afternoon of Hanoi in early days of spring. A section of the newly built road near the West Lake gets stuck by a big crowd. The scene is not that of a car accident but the crowd gluing their eyes at the fighting cocks right on the grass bank of the lake.

At a round ring, a pair of fighting cocks quickly come close to each other. The black cock suddenly jumps high while springing upon the grey cock’s head violently amid big shouts and applause of spectators.

The fight has been lasting for three hours. The black cock continuously attacked the grey rival. Its sharp claws leave a deep cut int;o its rival’s eyes. As a result, the grey cock lacks sensible reactions and begins to run around the ring.

Spectators stand outside the ring. Only the fighting cocks’ owners are allowed to enter the area to care for their warriors. The grey cock finally loses because, under the fight law, it has left the ring twice and does not return.

A demanding game

Cockfighting, a long-standing form of popular entertainment, is organised during traditional festivals throughout Vietnam. Cockfighting, which is a popular game that attracts most men, is both an entertainment and a confrontation. This game has been widely played throughout Vietnamese history for a long time since the Ly Dynasty (in the 11th century).

Over the past centuries, cock fighting has been a cultural fine trait of Vietnamese people. The season for the game often last between December and April of the lunar month. However, the game takes place the most during the Tet traditional festival, in which many localities throughout the country organize the game as a festival. Cock fighting is interesting and exciting because of the cocks’ strength and people’s century-long martial spirit.

As a long-standing form of popular entertainment, raising cocks for cockfighting necessitates heavy investments in time and labour. Professional trainers choose young chickens carefully, individually preparing their food and drink, bathing them, separating them from hens, and training them in fighting positions. A fighting cock must be so acquainted with its owner that it will allow only the owner to hold him.

Having rolled up his sleeves, Nguyen Manh Tham puts a piece of cloth into a bowl of water mixed with some alcohol. He then carefully massages his beloved black cock, from its head to body. The august cock cranes his long neck to enjoy its owner’s fond massage, after it has just worsted its adversary.

The 35 year old, who works for a Hanoi-based computer trading company, has been raising fighting cocks for 15 years. He says that his sole hobby is cock fighting and nothing can be more precious than his ten fighting cocks, which have almost won victories in any game.

“I began raising fighting cocks when I was 12 years old. I love the violence of the games and the moment I massage the animals and they win victories,” Tham says.

Stroking the cock’s grazed ear, he says that it takes much time and efforts to “produce” a good fighting cock. He has to choose young chickens carefully, individually preparing their food and drink, bathing them, separating them from hens and training them in fighting positions.

According to him, in order for your cocks to have thick and tough skin, you have to use a type of liquid made from fresh saffron, alum and alcohol to massage the cock. Besides that, the cock must be kept in the sun frequently.

“Often, a cock can join a fight when it is at least 10 months old,” Tham says.

Fighting cocks, which come from three main species, are commonly called “sacred cocks” or “combat cocks”. Black cocks with a red comb and a long neck are full of stamina and will fight to the bitter end. White cocks with ivory-coloured feet and round yellow eyes are hot-tempered and perform “lightning battles”. Meanwhile, five-coloured cocks having black, yellow, brown, red and blackish blue feathers can fight with flexibility and often run away if they lose.

Before a cockfight begins, cocks’ owners compare the size, weight and combat achievements of their fighting cocks.

If one cock has longer spurs, its rival is allowed to wear artificial spurs. After the discussion and agreement, the owners bring their animals into the ring and keep them in two separate halves of the ring until a signal is given to start the fight.

The fight will end when either of the cocks is defeated. It includes many rounds with each round often lasting 10-15 minutes. Cocks usually attempt some trial feints to gauge their foes’ reactions before giving mortal thrashings such as a double kick against the foe's body, a cut to the neck using spurs or pecking out the rival's eyes.

Hanh says that booties for the winner can be money from the losers or even the defeated cock. In the past, the participants of cockfights were normally honest, forthright and friendly. The winners would treat the losers.

A trickish game

However, though cock fighting can be seen everywhere, this game seems to be losing its traditional fine traits.

46-year-old Luu Van Hai, owner of six fighting cocks in Hanoi’s Nghia Tan district, says cock fighting is also used as a type of gambling with tricks.

“Cock raisers in many cases ties a small sharp knife to the legs of each cock a piece of string before the cocks fight. This aims to worst the rival in the shortest period of time,” Hai says.

He says that his sole job is raising fighting cocks and bringing them to fights everywhere in hope of victories almost every week.

After long persuasion, he tells me about the dark side of the game. “Almost cockfights relate to gambling. Cocks’ owners can bet with one another, and the same is also true to many spectators,” Hai says.

More cunningly, for instance, he reveals, cocks’ owners can bet more for their opponent’s fighting cock.

“They will try to take all actions to make their own cock lose the fight. For example, they subtly hold their cock in such a way to prevent it from its best attack strategy,” Hai says. “In another trick, they feed their cock with certain food a few hours before the fight. They can also press sensitive muscles of the animal in such a way that it looks perfectly healthy but is actually unable to fight at full strength.”