Saigon Fun Club brings a unique new pastime to the city: archery. By Ruben Luong. Photo by Fred Wissink.

Early on a Saturday last month, 11 Vietnamese archery students competed against one another in a tournament in District 5. The prize would be a bow. For the first challenge, they shot a moving target launched into the air by a small catapult. But beforehand, Hoang Van Anh gave them some unexpected advice: Don’t focus on the bullseye.

“People just want to hold the bow and shoot right away,” Anh says, “but it’s important for them to listen first.”

Many view archery as an entertainment sport, but forget it’s also an exercise in discipline. As curious onlookers trickled into the tournament, keeping a safe distance, Anh told his students to concentrate on their form and technique rather than the bullseye.

Tall and silver-haired, Anh is a certified instructor for the National Field Archery Association in northern California, where the Da Nang-born videographer is based. He is also the founder of Saigon Fun Club, an entertainment sports club offering the city’s first archery course.

In spite of modern caricatures of archers (Hawkeye, the brawny hero from The Avengers, comes to mind), the Saigon Fun Club doesn’t always follow the script on what an archer should look like or do in Vietnam. For one thing, Anh wears sandals.

“Do I look like an archer?” Anh asks, glancing at himself.

“Archers should at least wear real shoes,” he jokes. “Not like me,”

He adds, by way of explanation: “This country is so hot.”

Anyone as young as eight can give archery a try at the club. There are two locations: a short-range classroom in District 1 and a new entertainment arena with a cordoned-off lot in District 5, where Anh gives me a tour.

Anh says he started the club because he wanted to introduce a unique pastime for locals. Archery is embedded in the histories of Asian countries, such as China, Japan and Korea, where it played a substantial role in hunting, rituals and mounted warfare before the Common Era. But it has never been as prevalent in Vietnam. To date, Saigon Fun Club is one of the only archery ranges open to the public in the country.

In general, archers begin by standing straight. Arms are extended perpendicular to the body and feet must be in line with the shoulders. To rest the bow, archers tip it against the opposite calf to ease its weight when lifting it back up.

The two styles of archery, traditional and Olympic, differ in how one holds the bow and anchors the arrow. Students in the archery course learn both styles on the third floor of the Youth Culture House in District 1. There, a glass wall encloses a 12-metre range. Racks of imported bows from the United States separate 12- to 35-pound recurve bows (used for combat, sport and Olympic style archery) from 22- to 60-pound compound bows (used for advanced hunting and moving targets).

Each class, students aim at paper targets mounted on boards in the range.

“I learned how to aim with two eyes,” says 25-year-old Khanh Le, who’s been taking archery courses for three months. “In movies, you see archers focus with one eye, but the most correct way is to use both of your eyes on one point.”

Classes also incorporate games, such as shooting names on balloons to eliminate competing classmates. The most popular activity is dueling from opposite ends of the range. Students wear fencing masks, and the tips of the arrows are padded for protection.

It seems dangerous, but there haven’t been any accidents so far. Anh is a big proponent of safety, especially since the sport is new to Vietnam. Rules about how to shoot on signal, retrieve the arrow from the bullseye, and hold the arrow are made clear.

Though anyone is welcome to give it a shot, archery does take a lot of time to master. “You must practise a lot,” says Nguyen Can Trong, an architecture student who’s been at the club for a month.

“You don’t need to work very hard, but you have to be serious,” Anh says of the sport. “Archery is not only about your strength. Most of it is how you use your mind. If you are distracted, you’ll never get the target, even if you’re the best archer.”

The archery class meets twice a week for two-hour sessions. Each archery course is three weeks and costs VND 300,000. The entertainment arena in District 5, which features 28-metre ranges and simulated hunting, charges VND 50,000 for 30 minutes. 

Saigon Fun Club
Youth Culture House
4 Pham Ngoc Thach, 3rd floor, D1
08 73 00 83 04
8am-10pm .
105 Tran Hung Dao,D5
08 66 82 03 66