Trutnev a VIP at Friday Night Fights

Practitioners of kung fu, karate and numerous other martial arts spent Friday night pummeling each other largely thanks to Natural Resources and Ecology Minister Yury Trutnev and Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko.

A black belt in karate, Trutnev looked on from his VIP seat at Luzhniki Arena with his wife and two sons. Kiriyenko, was absent, but with a valid excuse: The aikido black belt was with President Dmitry Medvedev in India, where the state nuclear body is building nuclear power reactors.

"I spent 20 years out on the mats," Trutnev said, his hair closely cropped and shoulder muscles bulging through his jacket. "Today, I can say that I could have won some of the fights that took place."

The event was the third edition of the Battle of Champions held by the Russian Union of Martial Arts since Trutnev and Kiriyenko set up the organization in 2005.

The umbrella group they co-chair now unites 56 national federations for martial arts ranging from hardcore karate to capoeira, a Brazilian fighting style that many other fighters regard as nothing more than a folk dance.

Although Trutnev and Kiriyenko play leading roles in the country's martial-arts scene, they have received much less of the combat sport's spotlight than Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a judo master, whose love of the sport has generated endless coverage in the media.

Trutnev is able to throw his weight around well enough in his day job. A single pronouncement Thursday in favor of fertilizer maker Uralkali was followed by an 11.6 percent surge in its stock, despite an ongoing investigation into whether the company should pay damages for a mining accident in 2006.

This kind of battle was likely far from his mind Friday night. Music blasted away before a column of scantily clad female drummers in stylized 18th-century hats walking down the aisle to the arena floor to open the tournament.

Over the next four hours, fighter after fighter made his way down the aisle, flanked by jets of fire, to the elevated ring to face off in battles, usually pitting a contestant from one martial art against one from another.

Trutnev holds an honorary fifth dan in Kyokushinkai karate, a style placing heavy emphasis on full-contact fighting without gloves or any other protective equipment.

He earned the rank for his services to his school of karate, Trutnev said after the tournament. He held a third dan when he and Kiriyenko established the union.

Trutnev earned his third dan the hard way after passing the required examinations, said Alexei Gorbylyov, first deputy chief of the Kyokushinkai Karate Federation, which follows combat rules slightly different from those in Trutnev's style.

The honorary title was conferred by the International Karate Organization, headquartered in Tokyo, at the request of one of the organization's member federations in Russia, perhaps the Kyokushinkai Karate Federation, Gorbylyov said.

The federation could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Honorary karate belts appear to be de rigueur among the country's political class.

At least in nominal terms, the fifth dan puts Trutnev on par with Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who holds the same honorary rank from the International Karate Organization, Gorbylyov said. Putin holds an honorary seventh dan from the same organization, Gorbylyov said.

Neither Luzhkov nor Putin are known as enthusiasts of the sport.

Trutnev began training as a kyoshin-kai student in 1970s after taking part in freestyle wrestling, judo and sambo, he said. Sambo is a Russian martial art involving grappling and submission holds. He went for the first karate workout out of curiosity when a school opened in his hometown of Perm, he said.

"It turned out that the people there worked hard, and it evoked respect," Trutnev said. "I was compelled to continue training."

As a minister, he practices the art at least three times per week, he said.

In what may be the influence of his karate practice, Trutnev was very curt in opening and closing the tournament on Friday, speaking for only about 30 seconds on each occasion.

"Everybody had a chance to prove that he is the strongest. Some succeeded and some didn't," he said in conclusion. "It means the fights will go on; it means we will meet again."