In 1968, the house at 31 Sư Vạn Hạnh (Tổ Đường) intitially has only a ground floor. In 1992, the housing structure was added another level and the open top balcony area. A few years later, upon the open top balcony, the altar hall was constructed with a joint office for Grandmaster Lê Sáng to work and rest. This project was managed by Master Kiều Công Lang’s construction company.
Upon entrance to the 3rd floor, you will see the Founder’s altar hall. Walking along the balcony, passing the altar hall you come to the Grandmaster’s living quarter. The room is hardly spacious; the steel singles were nailed to the roof as ceiling; the space area is 4.2m x 3.5m and the restroom 1m x 2.4m. Initially, the room has only an automated fan; and not until 2001, an air conditioner was put in.
The tiny space of the private quarter is quite airy with one entrance, one window parallel to Sư Vạn Hạnh street and another window parallel to Nguyễn Chí Thanh street. Stepping into the room, on the right side is the altar of Grand master’s parents. On the left is a leaning chair where he sleeps and rests, placed facing Nguyễn Chí Thanh street. A number of books, newspapers, magazines, pens, tea pot… set on a rectangular table located on the left (along the window facing Sư Vạn Hạnh street); next to a small chair with its back placed against the wall, for a guest; In front (of the chair) is the TV, a VCR, and right below is a feet-rest stool. Surrounding the room many photos and images are hung on the wall, a bookshelf full of books (not including the several bookcases in the Founder’s altar hall. Grandmaster reads many different types of book ranging from philosophy, region, history… to many saga of classic writings of eastern and western cultures.
He values books preciously. In a poem title “the soul of books” (Hồn Sách) he opened it as follows:
All essence of heaven and earth distilled to this
These pages so thin yet they carry loaded thoughts,
Pen may be senseless, but the soul takes command,
Writer not here, but these words are my substitute teacher…
During a conversation at Tổ đường, Grandmaster recalled: “On the journey from Hà Nội to Sài Gòn, I brought a long a number of precious books. Later, I kept those books along with a number of documents and writings of the Founding Master in several wooden chests. During Mậu Thân new year (1968), my mother was concerned about the house may get burned down and she brought it to be kept at a neighbor’s home. Unfortunately, the neighbor’s house was burnt, while my rented house on Minh Mạng street (now called Ngô Gia Tự street) remained unharmed. Those book chests, I miss them dearly!…” On 24-10-1993, Grandmaster autographed the Chu dịch (set of 2 book volumes) authored by the respected Sào Nam Phan Bội Châu, published by Khai Trí Bookstore in 1969. This set of books are still kept at my private book collection as a precious heritage.
Within this tiny room, for the past 15 years, Grandmaster has read multitude of books, contemplated deep thoughts, wrote and updated võ đạo teachings, inscribed memoirs, created beautiful poems… In the early morning or at unoccupied times, Grandmaster came to the stone table set in front of the Founder’s altar hall to relax and read newspapers. Besides the guest room, at this stone table set, he received guests and welcomed his visiting students. The plant pots stay constantly green, thanks to Grand master’s daily diligent care and love. Occasionally, he came down to shop for household items or to walk around at Hòa Bình park near Tổ đường.
He also loved flowers and ornamental plants. About a month before he was hospitalized for the last time, Grand Master requested to buy more plants and Nguyễn Tấn Trung brought in over a dozen of potted plants including miniature coconut tree, Bougainvillea, Ixora… Tấn Trung recalled emotionally: “That day, Grandmaster was particularly happy!” While giving care to the new plants, he said: “Arrange, decorate these lovely plants. When I move on, I will be contented…”
In this tranquil space, living alone in this top floor quarter, no doubt, more than once he was feeling lonely in his old age, particularly at late night. Occupied by my own life, I did not have many chances to visit Grandmaster and talk with him as much as I would like… That would be my sore regret!
After going through “peritoneal dialysis” at the hospital for some time, he asked master Sen to clean up the room so it would become the memorial place for his parents and for him. He said to master Sen: “Remember me until you pass on, that should be sufficient!” After cleaning and sorting, master Sen invited me and master Khoa to see the room. However, upon his returning (from the hospital), he moved back a couple bookcases, put up some photos and rearranged the room according to his liking.
After his passing, what did he leave behind? “Things of this world I’ll leave behind, press on my journey with empty hands” (Thanh thoát poem). According to the inventory of October 07, 2010: A small amount of cash, souvenirs, gifts, photos, 75 potted plants… several bookcases with over 500 valuable books. Personal belonging includes nothing of high value: 2 leaning chairs made of rattan, 1 old luggage, 1 TV, 1 VCR, 1 small refrigerator, 1 tea table, 1 auto-fan, 1 air conditioner… However, the spiritual value of his belonging is so vast, difficult to measure and estimate. His contribution includes the enhancement and systematization of the võ đạo teachings with universal humanity values and the technical system of Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo left behind by the Founding Grand master Nguyễn Lộc.
I hope the Council Master Trustee will keep this room as the “memorial chamber of the Grandmaster” that will help masters, instructors, and all students everywhere who visit Tổ đường can visit and see Grand Master’s living quarter where he worked, rested and imagine a humble life he has lived.
Môn sinh Nguyễn Hồng Tâm