Types of MARTIAL ARTS SCHOOLS through FEUDAL DYNASTIES

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    During the evolution of mankind from ancient medieval history, powerful empires in the East (Mongolia, China,…) or in the West (Roman, Greece,…) always wanted to conquer poor countries within or outside the region to satisfy their ideology of monarchy.

    Also, in the history of evolution in modern and contemporary history, civilized Western countries with scientific inventions (electricity, steam, ships, weapons) found their ways to invade developing countries in the East and exploit them as colonies to serve for democracy and capitalism.

    During the evolution, Vietnam [Việt Nam] became the aim of the invasions “to be civilized”.

    Therefore, Vietnamese civilization was affected by many civilizations from China, Japan, India, Europe, the United States.

    From ethnic groups who borrowed Chinese language and culture to develop the culture of the nation during the middle medieval history, in modern and contemporary history (from the late 19th century), Vietnam [Việt Nam] switched to use Latin scripts in the world of China1 in East Asia: An Nam [An Nam] (Vietnam), An Dong (South Korea), Yamato (Japan), ….

    From ancient medieval to modern history (until the French army imposed their control over Vietnam in the late 19th century), the traditional education system in Vietnam [Việt Nam] was deeply influenced by Confucian foundations for thousands of years of history.

    Therefore, to train the ruling class to help protect and develop the feudal dynasties, the training method used in Vietnam [Việt Nam] to find talents was no different from the Chinese model.

    Attempting to find out about this matter, we can go briefly through basic contents as follow:

    Vietnamese nation soon thought of education methods to select human resources and to use talented people to inherit the dynasty or for power and political changes.

    When selecting military leaders for the feudal court, there were two methods:

    The first method is selecting based on personal contributions and merits or members of imperial family. People selected by this method did not go through training. This method was used before the 16th century.

    The second method is professional training. Members of imperial family who were military leaders would be trained to be officially promoted in martial arts schools. Giang Vo [Giảng Võ] School was the first school of martial arts at that time.

    Giang Vo [Giảng Võ] School was built in Tran [Trần] Dynasty (1253). It was a place for military leaders and imperial members to practice martial arts for the selection. From this martial arts school, the Military manual was written, which was the textbook based on experiences on real battlefields.

    Therefore, many famous generals listed above were found during Tran [Trần] Dynasty.

    However, each dynasty had their own selections. Since the early Le [] Dynasty (986), warriors’ selection was only based on physical fitness (healthy bodies) or performances (martial arts performing).

    The Le [] dynasty had their own way of selection. Until the reign of Le Du Tong [Lê Dụ Tông] (era’s name is Bao Thai [Bảo Thái]), selections simulated those during the reigns of Duong, Tong, Thanh [Đường, Tống, Thanh] (Trinh Cuong’s [Trịnh Cường] reign), which followed the international method at the time used by China, a strong country with influence in a large area, particularly in East Asia (Japan, Korea, Vietnam).

    After that, the first martial arts examinations started at Giang Vo [Giảng Võ] School in 1721 (the second year in Bao Thai [Bảo Thái] reign). There were mandarins called giao thu [giáo thụ] (mandarins in charge of education in a town) who monitored the martial arts education for mandarins with a specific curriculum called Military classics.

    Until the reign of Le Du Tong [Lê Dụ Tông] (1721) that the new teaching method was used for everyone, in a way that we call socialization nowadays. Vo hoc [Võ học] so, the office of martial arts study (in the capital Thang Long [Thăng Long]) was under the control of a responsible mandarin.

    Since then, the rules and regulations for martial arts contests were set, as strict as for the selections of literature mandarins.

    While the literature contest was organized into three levels of “thi huong, thi hoi, thi dinh” [thi hương, thi hội, thi đình] (provincial examination, metropolitan examination, imperial court examination), martial arts contest were conducted at only two levels. The first level was So cu [Sở cử] (thi Huong [thi Hương]); the second level was Bac cu [Bác cử] (thi Hoi [thi Hội]).
The competition was so strict that the poet Tran Te Xuong [Trần Tế Xương] had difficulties in his exams. He exclaimed:

For eight years he could not help violating the examination regulations [Tám năm không khỏi phạm trường quy].

    Regulations were applied strictly for both literature and martial arts competitions. A table of regulations could usually be seen outside the school for candidates to know. H. Oger recorded the rules’ content but the Han Nom [Hán Nôm] woodblock was too small to be annotated (Figure). As for martial arts competition, the first rule was not to bring any books. However, sometimes books were copied in small scales on the peel of the jackfruit’s seeds (nowadays students also use the small copies called phao [cheating in exams]).

NOTE:
1: LÉON VANDERMEERSCH, Le nouveau monde sinisé, Paris: Seuil, 1985.
◊  Image – Source: Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng in “Kỹ thuật của người An Nam” (Technique du peuple Annamite) of H. Oger in Hanoi (1908 -1909)

BAN TU THU
11 /2019

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