Vietnamese Traditional Martial Arts In The USA

* Grandmaster Trương Văn Bảo

Vietnam Traditional Martial Arts Federation

The USA (United States of America) is a civilized nation living in freedom and democracy. This federal republic consists of fifty states and one federal district. Its capital is Washington DC. The USA is a young country of more than 200 years old, counting from its Independence Day on July the Fourth 1776. However, thanks to its dynamic energy, practicality, respect of intellectuals and unbiased use of international talents and geniuses, the USA is currently the world leading power in many fields, including sports and martial arts.

Vietnam had a long history of inter-connection with France and the US. Many Vietnamese students in France became expatriates who settled down and started their businesses in France. Some students financially supported by their own families to go study in the US rarely stayed behind after their successful graduation. Most returned to Vietnam to serve. The other category of students studying in the US were Army cadets and officers from the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). They came from the Navy, the Infantry, the Air Force and were sent out to be trained by the then - US Ally. All of them returned after successful graduation to serve their motherland. The opportunity to expose and propagate different aspects of the Vietnamese culture, particularly traditional martial arts, was far and few within that time frame.

After the end of the Vietnam War and the normalization of Vietnam - USA diplomatic relations, mass Vietnamese immigration to the United States started, which led to the blossom of Vietnamese Traditional Martial Arts in the USA. There were Vietnamese-originated competitors who won the titles of world champions of Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Kickboxing, Sanshou (Wushu), such as Cung Le (born in 1972), Nam Phan (born in 1983). They competed on stages surrounded by the net “B40”, a sure sign of a fierce and competitive match performed by professionals. In the US there are two categories of athletes, the Professionals and the Amateurs.

Not all expatriates forget their motherland. Lullabied by childhood songs, most nurture a dream to come home. Vietnamese traditional martial arts blossom as an expression of that dream, to bring home closer to them.

“Nostalgia for motherland, sweet and fragrant childhood memories, immense rice fields, full-of-sunlight afternoons, the limitless horizon, I perched on the bufflalo's back listening to my mother's voice. Coming home to a thatched roof, to a mother working tiredlessly for her children. Birds! Bring my homesick words with the clouds back to my motherland!”... (Tran Manh Hung - Motherland).

“Motherland! The grey hair of my beloved mother; the lullaby of my childhood; the soft arms embracing my head; Oh, the memorable images have never faded away.”…(Pham Duy - Nostalgia for motherland)

The Masters who are the Veteran Army Officers of the Republic of Vietnam followed their hearts to make Vietnamese Traditional Martial Arts popular in the USA. They established associations and federations of traditional martial arts abroad, leading to the final formation of the General Association for the Development of World Martial Arts. Many other schools of Vietnamese traditional arts have had the chance to join hands to build up the movement as well. These masters on several occasions have been back to Vietnam to participate in international competitions or international traditional martial arts festivals held in Binh Dinh, or to visit local martial arts organizations.

The schools currently operating in the USA are Bac Phong Vo Dao (GM Tu Vo Hanh), Phi Long Tay Son (GM Ly Hoang Tung), Quyen Dao Vo Cong (GM Ha Quoc Huy), Tan Gia Quyen, Binh Dinh Martial Arts Training Academy (GM Tan Nhat Bich), Bich Quang Mon - Tay Son Binh Dinh (GM Tran Van Dau), Vo Lam Dao Viet Nam (GM Vu Duc), Dich Vo Dao (GM Huynh Ninh Son), Han Bai Duong (GM Ha Kim Danh), Bach Ho Thanh Long (Master Huynh Duc Nhiem), Vo Tran Dai Viet (Master Nguyen Minh Tuan), Kien An Kung Fu (GM Nguyen Lam), Tien Long Vo Dao Binh Dinh (Master Song Yen Phi), Tay Son Vo Dao (Master Ho Buu), Hung Vuong Club (Master Pham Thuy Khue)… with famous grandmasters of international martial arts as Dr. GM Pham Gia Con (Hapkido & The duc khi cong hoang hac), Professor Dang Thong Phong (Aikido), GM Truong Van Hai (Taekwondo ITF), GM Bui Duy Canh (Vietaitaido), Professor Thai Thuc Thuan (Judo), GM Tu Vo Hanh (Taekwondo ITF), GM Van Binh (Taekwondo ITF), Professor Pham Cong Huyen (Judo), GM Van Cong Dinh (Taekwondo), GM Mai Viet Hung (Taekwondo ITF) and others.

Financially, it is not difficult to construct a martial arts school. However, to maintain the school’s activities effectively is not a simple matter because different societies in different countries love and comprehend martial arts differently, both positively and negatively

Grandmaster Tan Nhat Bich (Dao Van Bich), a former Air Force Officer of the Republic of Vietnam, who settled in Boston, Massachusetts, had established both a martial arts club and a training academy for Binh Dinh traditional martial arts. His purpose is to preserve Vietnamese history and to keep alive Vietnamese traditional culture through the teaching of martial arts.

Even though living abroad, grandmaster Tan Nhat Bich left a part of his heart and soul back home. I met him during The 1st International martial arts festival of the General Association for the Development of World Martial Arts in 2007 in Westminster, Orange County, California. I truly appreciated his and his students' efforts, of the Tan Gia Quyen martial arts club and the Binh Dinh martial arts academy. Together with martial arts students from other schools, Tan Gia Quyen performed the pure martial arts of Binh Dinh Vietnam, from barehand techniques to weapons use to countervailing techniques.

In 2013, during The 2nd International martial arts festival, I met grandmaster Bich and his students again. They had traveled a long distance from Boston, Massachusetts to Westminster, California to help strengthen and affirm Vietnamese traditional martial arts position in the community abroad. Impregnated with Vietnamese pride and martial spirit in California, grandmaster Bich's students recreated the historic battle of Dong Da, where the Emperor Quang Trung had defeated the Qing dynasty's invaders. The performance left a deep emotional imprint on the audience. Grandmaster Bich loudly read the famous poetry of Emperor Quang Trung: “We beat you because we like to wear our hair long; Beat you because we like to blacken our teeth; Beat you, so none of your war chariots could run off; Beat you to keep your weapons from going home; Beat you so history knows Vietnam has its own king.” (Translated by John Balaban)

Together with other masters living abroad, grandmaster Tan Nhat Bich brings in a sizeable contribution to the development of Vietnamese Traditional Martial Arts in the USA.

The USA is a country of freedom and of stable democracy. Maintaining Vietnamese Traditional Martial Arts prestige in the community is a challenge. Western countries are pragmatic; they prefer actions over words. Results of qigong are measured by machines, not by compliments; a new medicine is evaluated and approved by rigorous criteria from a medical council of scientists; a Martial Art to be affirmed and recognized has to be true and cannot be faded.

The USA impressed and continues to impress the world with its martial art spirit at the end of the Civil War that lasted from 1861 to 1865, also called “The War Between the States”. The winning Generals saluted and shook hands with the losing Generals. They did not curse; they did not insult; they did not reattribute; they did not torture the losing ones. Soldiers of the two sides killed in battles were given equally dignified burials and respectfully remembered at national cemeteries, especially the Arlington National Cemetery. Thanks to its martial art spirit, the USA has become a powerful nation.

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