(Translation by Trinh Do)
Tall, strong, dignified, possessing a piercing gaze that reflects deep conviction and confidence, having a deep yet friendly voice, a warm and gentle smile, and a generous, forviging heart – These are the characteristics that define Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC – a revered teacher, a founder of a martial arts discipline, and a man with a mission to preserve, protect, and grow the legendary martial art tradition of the proud, indomitable Vietnamese people. Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC was an innovative and creative pioneer who embarked on a great conquest of the century, seeking the way to triumph over one’s own physical and mental weaknessess and overcoming all challenges and adversities. These extraordinary characteristics defines the lasting image of our late Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC, the founding father of VOVINAM VIỆT VÕ ĐẠO.
Our Founding Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC was born on April 8, 1912, in the year of the Rat in Hữu Bằng village of Sơn Tây province ( North Viet Nam). He grew up in a time when Vietnam was colonized by France and several fervent revolutionary and patriotic movements were growing in the country. At the time, the Vietnamese patriots and the French colonialists were waging a fierce battle for the hearts and minds of the youths. On one hand, many revolutionary leaders secretly recruited and called on the youths to rise up against the French colonial rule with violent means. On the other hand, the French colonialists tried to tame any patriotic fervor among young people with promises of easy lives, fame and power. By promoting liberal, decadent, and “free” Western cultural values, the colonialists were hoping to put a blinder on the eyes of young Vietnamese and turning them away from revolutionary, patriotic callings.
Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC was aware of but didn’t follow either sides in this heated battle. While he strongly opposed and condemned the brutal rule of the French colonialists, he wasn’t ready to follow a violent, revolutionary approach to remove the French. While recognizing that only a revolution will bring independence to the country, he believed that to bring about lasting, successful change, Vietnamese youths must have strong ideals, indomitable will, physical strength, endurance, and the ability to defend themselves and be willing to defend the nation.
To successfully overthrow the oppressive French rule would have been a very difficult task. Yet, to protect the independence and to rebuild the nation would be much harder. Thus, Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC wanted to train a generation of youths that have both the physical strengths and indomitable will. They would be people who will bring about lasting victory for the country. With this goal, he focused on guiding youths to a path of personal change, a revolution of one’s own body, heart, and mind instead of simply the political revolutions driven by the nationalistic, popular movements of the time.
With this the grand ambition, Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC devoted his time to study and trained in many different disciplines of martial arts, as well as learning literature and philosophy. From his study, he recognized that all martial arts styles have unique advantages. Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC also knew just simply learning a particular style of martial arts would not be sufficient given the small, slight built of most Vietnamese. In every struggle, willpower and honors are two very important factors that determine the outcome. As such, beside martial arts training, he wanted to instill in his students a sense of patriotism and to bind themselves to the national honors. With Vovinam, he wanted to give Vietnamese youths a martial arts discipline bearing the name of their own country and representing the nation’s indomitable spirit. Vovinam would give Vietnamese youths a mean to develop themselves and to claim independence and glory for their country and discipline.
A student of Vovinam under normal circumstances can be good-natured, kind, and courteous. However, when having to defend the honor of the nation or school, he or she would rather die than quit or be defeated. With this rationale, he combined wrestling and traditional Vietnamese martial arts to create a distinctive discipline known as VOVINAM. When he had completed his research and creation of Vovinam, he secretly trained a number of friends in the martial arts in 1938.
A year later, in the fall of 1939 he took his disciples to perform the first public demonstration at the Hanoi Opera House. The performance was a great success. Subsequently, Dr. Ðặng Vũ Hỹ, chairman of the city Sport Club invited Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC to collaborate in opening martial arts classes for youths in Hanoi. Accepting the invitation, the Grandmaster opened the first public classes in the spring of 1940 in the Hanoi Education College (Ecole Normal). Afterward, several other Vovinam classes were also started. At the time, Vovinam students achieved remarkable progress due to a sophisticated and scientific training method, the strong moral and patriotic attitude of the discipline, and the courageous examples set by Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC.
In the fall of 1940, a French colonial official named Ducoroy attended and chaired a martial arts demonstration organized by the city Sport Club. Since Ducoroy, who represented the ruling colonialists, sat in the audirence, Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC did not let his students bowed to the audience like usual. Instead, he led them backstage to bow and pay respect the ancestor altar. During the performance, the Sport Club chairman invite d the Grandmaster to the stand so that Ducoroy could pin a medal on him. After leaving the stand, Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC quietly took off the medal and put it in his pocket, while directing the demonstration. His quiet actions were meant to not provoke unnecessary hostile reactions from the colonial government, yet still demonstrated an indomitable patriotism. The actions had strong psychological impacts with Vietnamese youths, particularly Vovinam students, and rekindled in them a strong patriotic fervor.
Since then, VOVINAM became a spark for many movements to openly oppose the French colonialists. At this point, we also want to clearly state the position of VOVINAM during that time as well as in the present and the future. VOVINAM is not a political organization, and as such, does not have political activities. However, VOVINAM does not infringe on the personal freedom and citizenship of its students, and thus does not forbid its students to engage in their individual political activities.
VOVINAM ’s goal is to develop its students in their martial arts skills and philosophy, not to participate in political or social activities. However, when the situations demanded it, VOVINAM was always ready to lend a hand to the government or other patriotic organizations in the quests to save and protect the country or to save victims of disaster. These participations do not mean that VOVINAM serves any specific individuals or organization. They only mean that VOVINAM was doing its part to serve the country and the Vietnamese people during time of needs, and afterward would return to its main goal of developing the martial arts and the philosophy of the martial artists.
With this position, Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC accepted an invitation to collaborate with the government of Prime Minister Trần Trọng Kim. He also didn’t forbid his students from engaging in political or revolutionary activities in their personal capacity. At this time, VOVINAM collaborated with other patriotic groups to organize many national holidays such as the Commemoration of the National Ancestors (giổ tổ HÙNG VƯƠNG), the Commemoration of the Trưng sisters (kỷ niệm HAI BÀ TRƯNG), as well as participating in disaster and hunger relief missions. VOVINAM also continued to open many martial arts classes at the Hanoi Education College, the Bưởi High School, Ấu Trỉ Viên field, Bãi Septo and Bãi Nhà Ðèn. In addition, two organizations were formed by Vovinam masters to train future fighters for the country: the Ðoàn Võ Sĩ Cảm Tử (The Fearless Fighters), composing of strong, muscular young men, and the Ðoàn Anh Hùng Ngày Mai (The Tomorrow Heroes), composing of young students under 18. At the same time, a martial arts class opened to the general public was started at Việt Nam Học Xá, training everyone in the use of the fighting stick and machetes. The class attracted thousands of students and built a sense of confidence and the code of the fighter in the general public.
The popular appeal of Vovinam in the general population reached a peak during this time, as represented in the slogan “không học Vovinam không phải là người yêu nước” (If you don’t study VOVINAM , you are not a patriot). In April 1945, many VOVINAM masters were sent to different parts of the country to accelerate the development of VOVINAM and to provide Vietnamese youths with a weapon to resist the French invaders. On December 19, 1946, when the national resistance against the return of the French colonialists exploded, VOVINAM students joined the fight against the invaders as patriotic Vietnamese citizens, regardless of political orientation. Many VOVINAM students had courageously die for the country, and many others became legendary commanders in the early days of the first Indochina War.
Travelling to many different areas, Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC and his disciples opened many martial arts training classes for civilians and soldiers such as the class for youths at Thạch Thất village, classes for army officers at the Trần Quốc Tuấn Military Academy, classes for militias, guerillas fighters, classes for platoon and company commanders at Chuế Lưu and camps Thanh Hương, Ðan Hà, and Ðan Phú. Later, when he understood the true nature of the Communists, Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC and his disciples left the resistance and went to Phát Diệm. Accepting the invitation of Trần Thiện, General Commander of the Catholic resistance force, Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC sent his students to train the Catholic soldiers and the youths of Phát Diệm. In August 1948, he returned to Hanoi and reopened many VOVINAM classes here.
In 1951, he collaborated with many other leaders to organiz the Việt Nam Võ Sĩ Ðoàn (The Vietnam Fighters Federation) and rebuilt the VOVINAM movement by opening many public martial arts classes in Hàng Than high school in Hanoi. In July 1954, he immigrated to South Vietnam with some close students. Here, he opened a martial art school at Thủ Khoa Huân street in Saigon. He also sent students to teach the martial arts at the Hiến Binh Quốc Gia (National Guards) School in Saigon, Trung Tâm Huấn Luyện Hiến Binh Quốc Gia Thủ Ðức (The Training Center of National Guards in Thu Duc), and training classes for the Army Construction Corp.
Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC passed away on April 4, 1960 in Saigon and was buried at the Ðô Thành Cemetary, at Mạc Ðỉnh Chi in Sài Gòn. Before passing away, he handed over the Grandmaster title and responsbilities to the current VOVINAM leader, Grandmaster LÊ SÁNG.
Grandmaster NGUYỄN LỘC had dedicated his whole life to build a strong foundation for the Vietnamese national martial arts and the code of the martial artists. He had bequeathed to us and future generations an incredible gift and legacy. Every year, on the anniversary of his passing, Vovinam students from all corners of the world commemorate this day, burn incense to remember the father of the national martial arts, and to remind ourselves to continue following his examples to serve our people and mankind.