It is not known when cockfighting first appeared in Vietnam. But it is widely known that a good fighting cock must be carefully selected through the mother hen’s bloodlines and appearance.
To choose a fighting cock, the colour of its feathers must be considered. Purple-feathered cocks are usually strong and brave with good fighting abilities. But one should be careful, because some may have been crossbred between a hen bred for producing fighting cocks, and an ordinary rooster raised for meat.
35-year-old cock owner Lê Thanh Tùng of Cao Trung village in Hanoi’s outlying district of Hoài Đức says he has raised fighting cocks for many years. He explains how he feeds fighting cocks:
“I’m now raising about 20 cocks from a breed handed down by my ancestors. A cock more than a year old can start competing. The cocks are given the best of treatment until they are about 2 years old. Every day the cocks need to be bathed, have their faces washed, and do exercise. Besides unhusked rice and vegetables, you can feed them some meat, snakes, and eels to increase the amount of protein. When they get about 9 or 10 months old, they need to be trained in fighting tactics, as when you practice martial arts.
It’s said that anyone who gets interested in cockfighting becomes obsessed. They are ready to travel long distances to find a good ‘gà nòi’ or pedigreed fighting-cock. Once they have one, they will spend most of their time with it. At this point, it’s hard to know whether they own the pedigreed fighting cock or the pedigreed fighting cock owns them. Tung shares the experience he has gained in years of raising fighting cocks:
“One of the most important things is to vaccinate the fighting cocks to prevent the diseases which they often suffer from at year’s end. Vaccinations can begin when a cock is about 1 month old and injections can be given twice a year. I raise fighting cocks for entertainment, not for sale”.
Cockfights are often staged during traditional festivals and they’re not unusual in Cao Trung village. Whenever a village festival is held there, all local fighting cock owners – old and young – gather in the big yard in front of the communal house for a competition. A cockpit is set up – a 2-meter ring walled by a 20cm-high bamboo screen.
Before a cockfight begins, the owners agree on the terms among themselves. They compare the size, weight and fight records of their roosters. If one rooster has longer spurs, its rival is allowed to wear artificial spurs. After the discussion and agreement, the owners bring their birds into the ring. The cocks are kept in two separate halves of the ring until a signal is given to start the fight. Cocks usually attempt some trial feints to gauge their competitor’s reactions before giving mortal thrashings: a double kick against the rival’s body, a cut to the neck using spurs, or pecking out the rival’s eye.
After searching far and wide, Tùng has finally found a rival for his warrior. The two cocks draw close to each other trying to unleash devilish tactics on their rival. Suddenly, Tùng’s purple-feathered cock jumps up with its two legs lifting high, then stretching, and finally striking the head of the grey-feathered cock. The rival immediately pecks at the purple cock’s chest. At that moment, the first 15-minute round is declared over. Tùng hastily takes his cock from the pit to another place to care for it.
“During the 5-minute break, I have to give it a drink and a massage, dipping a towel in warm water and applying it to the cock’s wounds. During a fight, the rules are as follows: a bird that runs in the first five minutes results in a “no fight” or defeat. A bird that dies in the ring loses. The owner of a weaker cock who stops the fight for any reason such as trying to keep his bird alive is declared the loser”.
Tung says that as in other regions of Vietnam, there is no limit to the numbers of rounds. It’s up to the two parties to agree upon the number of rounds for the fight. Some pits allow beak and feather repair. Others do not. He explains further:
“The winner will be presented by village elders with a flag and a towel. There are a number of common postures in fighting tactics. They are ‘đánh hầu’ or attacking the neck, ‘đánh mé’ or attacking the top of the head, and ‘đấm tức’ or kicking at the breast or belly.”
Putting his fighting cock in a bamboo cage, Nguyễn Văn Hồi, another Cao Trung villager, waits for a competitor to begin a spar. The 70-year-old has had a passion for cockfighting for more than 20 years. He says to become a fighting cock, the cock needs special care and training. After it is 4 months old, each cock will be raised in a separate cage. Until it can crow clearly, its head, neck, chest, and thigh feathers are trimmed to show the skin.
“In the morning, I feed it with unhusked rice; at noon I apply a hot compress for 20 minutes using a towel soaked in water steeped in mothewort, tea leaves, and saffron. But the application of a hot compress can only be done after it is about a year old. There’s a saying that a beautiful fighting cock should have the head of a peacock, the body of a cormorant, and a firm skin with the color of a flag. The most important part is its pair of spurs and legs, which must be brawny. Before a spar, the cock should not be fed too much.”
According to experienced cock owners like Mr. Tùng and Hồi, less than 20% of hatched and trained cocks become professional fighters. Each weighs up to 3.5 kg and its fighting career lasts 1 to 3 years. After that cocks with excellent fighting skills are kept for breeding purposes.
There are a number of places in Vietnam famous for producing fighting cocks: Van Cu and Nghi Tam in Hanoi in the north, Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai, and Nha Trang on the central coast, and Ba Ria-Vung Tau in the south.