An attempt to study THE CULTURAL HISTORY of TRADITIONAL VIETNAMESE MARTIAL ARTS – Section 1

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HUNG NGUYEN MANH

       With an attempt to study the cultural history of martial arts, an intangible cultural heritage of our nation, we have to wait for the Historical Research Association of Vietnam and many Historical Research Associations of different provinces and cities, as well as many scholars and masters of martial arts in Vietnam and foreign countries. If so, we are not sure when we will be able to have valuable materials for a scientific study of the history of Vietnamese martial arts. However, if we only gather available documents stored in national archives, we can only be satisfied temporarily. Moreover, our temporary satisfaction is mainly from the era of feudalism with superior martial arts materials such as the Military manual under the Tran Dynasty. This Military manual was reserved only for military leaders and members of the imperial family to practice martial arts in Giang Vo (Martial Arts School) (since 1253).

       Military leaders under the Tran dynasty such as Tran Quoc Tuan, Tran Quang Khai, Tran Khanh Du, and Pham Ngu Lao, went down in history with many streets in Saigon and other cities named after them. These military leaders destroyed the invading intentions of Mongolian troops. However, through ancient bibliographies and folk tales, we can only collect martial arts resources from the Trieu dynasty to the reign of Trung Nu Vuong (Empresses Trung) (40-43 AD). These two female military leaders used to ride elephants, use swords, and lead female warriors to defeat To Dinh troops.

      Under the Dinh dynasty (968-980), military leader Dinh Tien Hoang taught the warriors how to use canes – the average-sized rods (according to Toan Anh). Also, in the Le Thanh Ton dynasty (1460-1496), the imperial family established martial arts examinations and battle trainings. It should be noted that at that time, there were 2,767 military mandarins and 1,825 of them knew martial arts. Since then, Le Thanh Ton has been revered as the founder of the study of Vietnamese martial arts thanks to his efforts in building a system of martial arts training.

       During the reign of Nguyen Hue (Quang Trung), it is said that he learned Vo Tien (Gods’ martial arts) on Cha Diem Mountain (Truong Son Mountain Range) in Binh Dinh Province with a master of martial arts named Hien (Giao Hien – teacher Hien). Later on, he became a legendary military leader who defeated the Chinese army. Since then, his hometown, Binh Dinh province, became the home land of a reputable martial arts branch (especially in An Vinh and An Thai Villages). Also, in 1938, the martial arts branch Vovinam – Martial arts of Vietnam was formed and still exists until these days in Vietnam and many countries around the world.

       There is a folk song with many variations which revealed the role of women in the hometown with a cultural heritage background of martial arts:

Ai về Bình Định mà coi
Con gái Bình Định múa roi, đi quyền.
(Let’s go to Binh Dinh
To admire the girls who practice canes and martial arts forms)

       However, after the French army imposed control over Vietnam, teaching martial arts was banned to prevent uprisings.

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       Thanks to early awareness from a prolonged people’s war of the nation, Vietnam was free from imperial control. After that, Vietnam focused on building the foundation of martial arts study among the people right after the end of the one-thousand-year Chinese domination. Also, from the traditional perception of Eastern philosophical foundation in the world of China (according to Vandermeersch1), the development of Vietnamese martial arts study was also influenced by Confucianism.

       The world of China had its foundation from the abstract philosophy of Yi Ching. Yin and Yang and the Five Basic Elements are the origins as propositions to develop the rules of human society. Perhaps it is a classic and great book on the world view and philosophy of life — as an immutable rule for the survival of all creatures.

       Therefore, our nation’s lives, especially the spiritual life, were also affected by that immutable rule. Culture as well as the study of martial arts cannot exist without this eternal rule.

* * *

      A part of the public presumed that Chinese Classics, particularly the seven classic texts on martial arts history, called Seven Military Classics2, were used as manuals to teach and study martial arts. Why did not we, Vietnam, compile our own martial arts manuals? In order to answer this question, let us go back to the martial history of the nation. We can see that war experiences were noted into books called Vo Kinh (Military Classics) and Vo Ta (Vietnamese Traditional Martial Arts). Vo Kinh is a Bible of martial arts study which was used by Hung Dao Vuong Tran Quoc Tuan to train the warriors. It is the Binh thu yeu luoc (Sumary of Military Tactics) or Binh phap cac nha (Military Tactics) which was mentioned by Tran Hung Dao in the “Proclamation to the Officers” in the XIII century.

       Besides, this archive of historical books was complemented with the manual by Dao Duy Tu (from the 17th century) called “Ho truong khu co” (The war manual of Dao Duy Tu). Additionally, there were other book archives interpreted as the combination of martial arts theory and practice. They can be found in Han-Nom (Chinese characters and classic Vietnamese characters) book stores, such as Vo nghe quoc ngu ca (classified as AB 597) with not only commentaries but also images, textures, etc. for interpretation and decoration.

* * *

… continue …

NOTE:
◊  Figure’s source:  vietcadao.com

SEE MORE:
◊  An attempt to study THE CULTURAL HISTORY of TRADITIONAL VIETNAMESE MARTIAL ARTS – Section 2.

◊  An attempt to study THE CULTURAL HISTORY of TRADITIONAL VIETNAMESE MARTIAL ARTS – Section 3.

BAN TU THU
11 /2019

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