HUNG NGUYEN MANH1
What is “Vo Coc”? That is the name I call on my own when seeing its shape” rather than recognize its origin – from the jungle or fields – to be named among the “knight wanderer”. The martial arts that I introduce are “Võ rừng – jungle martial arts” or “võ ruộng – fields martial arts”, “võ đường phố – street martial arts”, “blind alley martial arts”, or “võ giang hồ – wanderer martial arts”?!
During my youth, I have not seen anyone perform that kind of martial arts, just listen, just watch Tiger form (tiger style), Monkey form (monkey style) Snake form (snake style) or Phoenix form with hands up as high as wings. In general, man often imitates the motion, action of the animals to create the martial arts as the animals’ styles to fight for self defense in the beginning. But people do not often pay attention for the toad. Do they describe this type of martial arts in Tieu Ngao Giang Ho or Anh Hung Xa Dieu? Or from a certain country in Africa – with two rhino horns – or in Southeast Asia – with a rhinoceros horn – hidden secrets, or in the dark jungle, or swampy area of poor ghettos?!
* * *
It was an afternoon… I recall. At that time I was a schoolboy. From school I came home just at the door – by the railroad tracks – in the area of gate 1, Saigon. I met a “bottles guy” sitting on the stone. On his back – a sack, at his feet – a yellow dog. He sat silently, looking forward as did not notice me – a boy who was standing in front of him as the god of the soil. – Where are you from? “A bum?”
My voice style as a “mobster in Saigon” to ask his notice but did not make him to pay attention.
Only the dog with its tongue out looked up at me as its manner “to greet” on behalf of its owner. Thus it was “polite” so I calm my voice.
– Do you go wrong way?
– No! Just playing! OK?
I did not answer but I raised my chin to ask continuously:
– Are you a bottles guy?
He nodded, but his eyes were “strange” to me. Thus that was alright to get used to him! I sat beside him. The dog wagged its tail to sound friendly.
– Do you have home?
He shook his head.
– Well! It is dark, you stay here.
He looked at me?
– Is it OK?
– Yes I will tell the chief of inter-family.
It seemed that I was “a leader” but still getting “a gang boss”.
* * *
Since then, I had “two friends” – he and the dog. Every morning, he carried a sack to pick up the wasted materials along the railroad tracks from gate 1 to kilometer 11 and then went straight to Go Vap, Di An. The dog ran like Te Thien to help monk Tam Tang, went and returned on the “Silk Road”. In the afternoon, teacher and student returned to sleep on the bench near the tracks.
By the afternoon, the sun shined, the bottles boy came back early, holding the sack that had worn with some wasted materials. The bottle, vase, broken vessel, pot without a bottom, bottles de saut (parachute boots) in rags, the tattered pants … They seemed “new goods” – which I did not care. Then I entangled – a bum voice.
– Let’s go to the Thai Binh Market.
He nodded then went with me. The dog ran behind us – like walking into a new adventure – crossing the street that knew nothing its life, a follower. As for the bottles boy, almost the whole way to town was unfamiliar, because it was not the good way to earn for his life. At the street with three directions, on the left of a gas station was Thai Binh Market, on the right was Khai Hoan theatre, looking back at the field with a crowd of people gathered on the lawn, we tried to see what that was which passengers gathered to see “Shandong martial arts medicine performance”. But they were two French men – a small man and a big man with bear. They were performing martial arts in white uniforms, one black belt and the other white.
As I just appeared, the small man caught me to the lawn, hit me with a Judo technique that made me fall down facing the sky and he clenched my neck freely. Surprise! I did not recognize anything but stirred arms and legs, then muttered! Suddenly, the bottles boy dashed then kicked to the head of the small French man that made him unhand me. Then I stood up! The dog barked loudly! Then growled!
Immediately, the big French man dashed to catch the bottles boy, he went back. The French man approached to hit with the direct punch of martial arts technique. The bottles boy went back fast to avoid to the left side. The big French man approached to kick the bottles boy. Every body startled “Oh”. Someone yelled “Watch out! Watch out!”
The bottles boy jumped to the right. No efficiency, the big French man bent to pull out the knife from his trousers leg. It was a dagger. Every body retreated far away. I stepped back with the dog then stood with a guard position. The atmosphere was tense. At that time all eyes were on the bottles boy. He still carried the sack. He stared at the French man to watch the way of his techniques. “Put the bag down!” someone shouted. He put the bag down. The French man attacked him with a dagger continuously. He twitched his body then lay down with the feet out and in, moved to the left, to the right as a toad. The French man did not know how to hit, then bent to hit down with the top of the dagger. Every body shouted:
– Hey! Toad, jump away!
Without saying, “Thang Coc” – now with a new nickname – overturned like greased lightning and kicked with double feet to the hand holding dagger of the French man. The dagger left his hand and fell down on the grass. Thang Coc overturned to take the dagger to “display” but did not use it. Everybody applauded loudly. In a miserable situation, the French man hit Thang Coc incidentally. Thang Coc moved to avoid then suddenly kicked directly to the groin of the French man. He grimaced then encircled his groin by hands. Everybody applauded loudly again. Two French men signaled to run away to the opposite many-storied houses. They ran and shouted “Mẹc xà lù! A – nam – mit (Fuck you, Vietnamese!)”
Everybody held three of us as to requite for the deep revenge. In particular, the dog was thrown to the sky by the people. Then hold! Then throw! Hooray. The dog cried noisily. I felt a little “envy”. It had no accomplishment in this close combat but “barking, barking, barking”. But I suddenly realized that he was barking like a trumpet esophagus. It barked more, the troops assaulted more. So the bottles boy had a support team. He was self-confident and drastic. Therefore the battle was successfully finished. All people continued to throw the dog up down! It “barked, barked, barked”.
In the first instance I evaluated this achievement, the bottles boy deserved 10 points. And I had 7 points due to the battle by the “strategy of enduring”. Although I was captured and tortured by the opponents I only muttered, did not give any details. Luckily I was rescued in time. So my merit had to be 8 points. But gradually, I thought the dog had to be 8 points. So obviously it used it’s “muzzle” like a cannon fire “to threaten” and weaken the enemy spirit. After this, I felt that the dog deserved 9 points.
Then everyone disbanded automatically. After that police came and whistled loudly! The dagger was seized by a mobster at Thai Binh market as the booty. Since then, there was something like admiration and regard in my mind to him as a friend or rather a teacher!
One day I asked the brother:
– You know martial arts!
He was silent.
– What martial arts branch is! Talk about it!
He was also silent.
– The toad martial arts? Look like it!
He also said nothing!
But in the full moon night, Thang Coc called me to practice the stances and then exhale, inhale. A few days later, he taught me to move hands and feet to four directions with one foot pulled back and the other pushed out. Then he told me to touch the ground with the fingertips of both hands to test the strength. Then set out two legs flat as a female dancer.
After that he taught me a ground form as a “toad” that I haven’t ever seen before in any martial arts schools in my life from Saigon to Ma Lang, Nga Ba Chu Ia or Xom Cui to Phu Lam. Then to Japan, France, the United State of America, Italy,
Germany, Oeclioslo Yisikia…, afterwards, I have not seen anyone performed that kind of martial arts!
And I still did not know the roots of “Thang Coc” where he came from and who his master was. Surely, he had to haYe master. And how was his life? I did not miss this opportunity!
1. Associate Professor, Doctor of History.
(source: The Pioneers who have paved The Way for Vietnamese Traditional Martial Arts to The World – Part 3)
◊ MASTERS who taugh me “Vo Coc” – Vi-VersiGoo
◊ MASTERS who taugh me “Vo Coc” – Fr-VersiGoo
◊ MASTERS who taugh me “Vo Coc” – Ar-VersiGoo
◊ MASTERS who taugh me “Vo Coc” – Ch-VersiGoo
◊ MASTERS who taugh me “Vo Coc” – Sp-VersiGoo
◊ MASTERS who taugh me “Vo Coc” – Ru-VersiGoo
BAN TU THU