TRADITIONAL LITERATURE and MARTIAL ARTS of VIETNAM – Part 2

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HUNG NGUYEN MANH

… be continued …

Martial arts schools & Regulations

    Vietnamese martial arts of Vietnam officially developed in martial arts schools in feudal reign.

    Therefore, if literature had its early rightful place in the royal court, martial arts also developed in parallel in the Vietnamese history of war and peace. Wars occurred constantly and martial arts had the victories. Sometimes, even martial arts mandarins could change the imperial institution. Tran Quoc Tuan was honored as Hung Dao Vuong. He was a martial arts mandarin not only of Vietnam but also of the world. He was recognized as a field marshal who destroyed the ambition of ruling the world of the Mongolian empire. The warriors of this Mongolian empire could sit and sleep on horseback during invasions, like armored invaders. The warriors brought along the dream of Genghis Khan’s, which was “getting the sun kneel down under his feet” when they could reach the horizon on their powerful horses.

     The arrogant style like above was developed in the early history of humans, such as the Roman empire, or the surviving empire in the modern and contemporary history, the Nazi empire, which the history of Vietnam experienced.

    Outside rice fields and villages, where the fighting spirit was lighted for revolutions against foreign aggressions, there were many patriotic heroes. We need to mention different dynasties with major contributions in building the country within the political platform of Oriental philosophy.

    Let us slice through the historical period of Nguyen Dynasty. Vietnamese martial arts entered a formal training system with many events occurring at Lord Trinh Cuong era.

– A martial arts school was opened in 1721 (the second year of Bao Thai, Le Trung Hung era) and appointed giao thu (mandarins in charge of education in a town).

– There were martial arts examinations in 1723 (4th year of Bao Thai) and they were held every three years (the same as the literature exams).

    Unlike today’s industrial society, Eastern feudal society of the old time did not implement annual enrollment but every three years with different years for literature and martial arts. For martial arts, the examinations were organized as follow:

1.    Thi So cu (Examination of Local Recruitment): Organized at the local towns in the years of Mouse, Horse, Cat, Chicken. The ones who passed would get the Tao si diploma (similar to the bachelor degree).

2. Thi Bac cu (Examination of Great Recruitment): Organized at the capital to recruit Tao si (similar to doctor) in the years of Dragon, Dog, Buffalo, Goat. The first year was the year of Goat, 1724, in Thinh Quang ward with eleven people considered pass.

    During the 69 years of Le Trung Hung era, there were nineteen examinations with 199 tao si, among whom were 59 tao si xuat than (with martial arts background) and 140 dong tao si xuat than (similar to martial arts background).

    During Nguyen Dynasty, the 18th year of Minh Mang (1837), there was a new regulation.

    The emperor announced that “so far martial arts examinations have no regulations yet.” Therefore, the emperor set the regulations for the competitions, which were still under the rules of the Le dynasty.

    The competitions were for people who had martial arts and military classics xperiences. The competitions were held every three years through martial arts examinations named after the literature examinations: Thi huong (provincial examination) in the years of the Tiger, Monkey, Snake, Pig; and thi hoi (metropolitan examination) in the years of Dragon, Dog, Buffalo, Goat.

    Especially, in the 6th year of Thieu Tri era (1846), the emperor allowed one an khoa (special favor examination) called khoa thi Vo kinh (Military classics examination) for candidates of 31 provinces. It was similar to the Literature thi Dinh (imperial court examination).

    There was one difference in the Nguyen dynasty from the Le Dynasty, which was the omission of the theory test (military classics) and the focus only on martial arts techniques. Perhaps since then, Vietnamese martial arts brought the “violence” into the public mind.

    All candidates must go through three examinations sequentially: The first examination was weightlifting. The second examination was using staff, shield, and performing martial arts forms. The third examination was using muskets.

    The third examination is the last examination for those who could not pass the first two. Most candidates could not hit the target because muskets were prohibited while peasants in small villages did not have proper shooting yards to practice.

    Above is the first martial arts examination session of the Nguyen dynasty, which was held in the capital to award vo cu nhan degree (martial arts bachelor). In 1848, the first year of Tu Duc, examination regulations were changed. The candidates did not attend all three examinations sequentially but each of them. If they failed any of the three, they were not allowed to be tested further in other fields.

    In the third year of Tu Duc (1850), the examination procedures were changed again. Candidates attended the first two examinations sequentially. If they received high scores, they were allowed to take the third examination then considered pass. The forth year of Tu Duc (1851), the emperor set two examinations, Vo hoi thi and Vo dien thi, then thi Dinh. If candidates had knowledge of martial arts, they could register the cu nhan vo (martial arts bachelor examination). If they were illiterate but passed the theory examination, they were considered second-rank only. If registered, the candidates would have an oral test with five questions on The Four books, Military Classics and manuals of famous generals in the past and present. If they could answer fluently, they would be allowed to take the thi dinh. The prize for these candidates were an dien ban yen (the emperor’s favor) and granted a horse for vinh quy bai to (returning home to pay thanks to ancestors after achieving academic honors) (Figure 4), the same as literature thi dinh. There was a drawing of Henri Oger in 1908-1909 describing a doctorate with preferential treatment during the Nguyen Dynasty. Here, the drawing does not show the image of “Ngựa ông đi trước, võng nường theo sau” (a young bride was riding in a palandquin preceded by her husband on horseback).

    We know the image of the doctors returing home in the early of the century, when the world of China started to decline so they were granted only flag, board, horse, and parasol.

Examination area

    Examination area was a vacant land, surrounded by bamboo fence; there were guard houses with flags at four corners; outside were sharp bamboo sticks to prevent intruders.

    The examination area was divided into four main areas called vi (sub-area) with four different names of skills: tri, dung, tai, luc [trí, dũng, tài, lực] (wisdom, courage, wit, strength). Before each vi was a hut of three meters high and equipped with guns. Guard houses had balconies to observe the entire examination areas. Below were cottages for the candidates to rest. We do not see the image of the cottages of the martial arts examinations yet but H. Oger showed us the examination tent of literature examinations (Figure 5).

    Finally, the thi huong [thi hương] (provincial examination) was held to select a sufficient number of martial arts bachelors.

    However, only a few candidates registered for the tao si [tạo sĩ] title so the emperor could not hold thi hoi [thi hội] (metropolitan examination). Therefore, the examination was held in the capital Hue [Huế] only. Furthermore, there were not enough judges to guard the examinations. Also, some of them had sectarian spirit. That was why the Tao si [Tạo sĩ] examination was only for royal descendants. In Binh Dinh [Bình Định] and Hanoi [Hà Nội], there was no list of tao si [tạo sĩ].

    Since then, thi hoi could not be held. Binh Dinh [Bình Định] became famous for the title of the martial arts school of cu nhan [cử nhân], tao si [tạo sĩ].

    Thi hoi [Thi hội] was similar to thi huong [thi hương] but with different weights, 66 kilograms for thi huong and 72 kilograms for thi hoi [thi hội]. Besides, the distance for weightlifting in thi huong was about 64 meters and 80 meters for thi hoi [thi hội].

… CONTINUE …

BAN TU THU
12 /2019

SEE ALSO:
◊  TRADITIONAL LITERATURE and MARTIAL ARTS of VIETNAM – Part 1
◊  TRADITIONAL LITERATURE and MARTIAL ARTS of VIETNAM – Part 3

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