Hue – birthplace of Vietnamese martial arts masters

Besides Binh Dinh, Hue, the location of Vietnam’s former capital, is the second locality in the central region which has yielded so many masters creating or training in traditional Vietnamese martial arts over the last four centuries.

Kings of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) in Hue – the current capital city of Thua Thien Hue Province – respected martial arts practitioners and masters as much as other mandarins in the king’s court.

In recent decades, numerous masters of Hue have brought their martial arts to other locations across Vietnam and to places like the U.S., Europe, and Algeria.

Vo Thanh Mieu (Martial Arts Saint Tbple) is located on a street by the Huong (Perfume) River and not far from the iconic Thien Mu Pagoda.

King Minh Mang of the Nguyen Dynasty ordered the construction of the tbple in 1835 to honor and worship martial arts masters.

Now, visitors can see five large stone steles planted in the center of the previous tbple to record and sing the praises of their contribution.

The names of around ten martial arts masters have been engraved on two of the five stone steles there, including Pham Huu Tam, Ta Quang Cu, Mai Cong Ngon, Pham Van Dien, Nguyen Van Van, Duong Viet Thieu, and Tran Van Hien.

These martial arts masters were all bestowed the rank of Doctor of Philosophy during the Nguyen Dynasty.

Rbarkably, they all trained in disciplines of Vietnamese martial arts. Vietnam has over one hundred branches of traditional martial arts and the ‘essence’ of all of these branches was collected to form a branch called Vo Kinh (a martial art used by mandarins to protect the royal court that was initially prohibited to normal people).

An Cuu, a famous location in the former Hue capital, was home to many masters of the Vo Kinh branch.

The sect was initially taught to mbbers of the royal court. In 1970 foreigners brought their martial arts to Vietnam, and late master Truong Thang opened a martial arts school to confirm the pride of his nation and officially named the branch Vo Kinh Van An.

The current head master of the branch is Truong Quang Kim, living in Hue.

Besides teaching martial arts, Kim also offers treatment to cure injuries based on his knowledge of at-risk parts of the human body through martial arts.

Different from Vo Kinh is Vo Ta (Vietnamese traditional martial arts trained in the masses). Vo Ta is officially named Bach Ho Son Quan, which means “White Tiger Mountain King.”

Nguyen Thi Thuy, 70, pray at the tbple of the Bach Ho Son Quan branch in Hue. Photo: Tuoi Tre

This branch was orally transmitted among the masses in Hue that it was created by Nguyen Huu Canh, one of the great mandarins of the Nguyen Dynasty.

According to head master Tran Van Loc of the Bach Ho Son Quan, the branch was founded in the 17th century by famous general Canh.

During the late 17th century, he was assigned to enlarge Vietnam southward to Bien Hoa, now the capital of the southern province of Dong Nai, Saigon or Gia Dinh (the former name of Ho Chi Minh City), the Mekong Delta, and surrounding areas.

His soldiers trained in this branch of martial arts and won the battles to dominate those locations.

Initially, Bach Ho Son Quan was only taught among mbbers of the royal courts and their families. After Nguyen Huu Canh died, the head master title was given to Nguyen Huu Hoa, and many others belonging to the Nguyen Huu family.

During the times of the 19th head master Nguyen Huu Khanh, the branch lifted its restriction and was then taught to ordinary people.

After this, Nguyen Huu Can, the son of Nguyen Huu Khanh, developed the Bach Ho Son Quan branch widely amongst the masses during the resistance of Vietnam against French invaders.

Nguyen Thi Thuy, 70, who has followed her father Nguyen Huu Can into a martial arts career, recalled a teaching from her father, “When your foe stumbles and falls, you must extend your hand to lift him up instead of continuing to beat him.”

It has been said that only those who abided by his teachings and were calm and kind in disposition were taught the lethal fighting techniques.

Now, Nguyen Huu Trung, the son of master Can, is running a school in Dong Nai Province to further spread the Bach Ho Son Quan branch.