The Grand Masters

Published: 10/04/2009 05:00



The veteran masters of Binh Dinh province have upheld the spirit of Vietnam’s martial arts.

The veteran masters of Binh Dinh province have upheld the spirit of Vietnam’s martial arts.

The martial arts master Phan Tho once said: “Highly talented martial artists are respected by dragons and tigers and the most righteous of men will keep even deities in awe.” Phan Tho, now 80 years old, hails from Tay Son district of Binh Dinh province, considered the heartland of martial arts in Vietnam. Born in a small, damp house by the rice fields of Binh Nghi village, Tay Son district, Tho spent his entire life trying to earn the respect of dragons and tigers.

But from born humble origins he spent most of his childhood tending to buffaloes and cows as his parents were but simple farmers. Despite the fact they had no interest in kung fu, Tho had a burning desire to learn martial arts. When he turned 18 he decided to go in search of a “master” with whom he could study.

Normally, people learned martial arts from their father or older brother in Vietnam. It was rare that a master would teach someone from outside their family lest that person gain an advantage over them. But Tho’s genuine intentions and patience helped him win the trust of several masters who helped forge the young apprentice into a grand master over the years.

Famously, at one stage his parents even sold two of their three oxen to raise money to pay for offerings made to the founding father of a martial arts school at Tho’s initiation ceremony. It must all seem like a lifetime ago to Tho now. He cannot remember how many times he stepped into the ring around the country over the years, though certain bouts still stand out in the memory. In 1972 when Tho was in his forties he confirmed the brilliance of traditional Tay Son martial arts singlehandedly by defeating his much feared opponent, a Korean officer, who was a fifth dan black belt in taekwondo.

“For the first time confronted with a strange type of foreign kung fu, I was a little hesitant,” recalls Tho. “When the fight commenced, both opponents exchanged fierce blows, aiming to knock each other out.” “Near the end of the fight, my opponent tried a roundhouse kick.

I applied a kick boxing method where you enter the “enemy’s territory” – one leg stepped closer to him, the other leg swept his standing leg, one of my hands parried his kick to my head, and with my other hand I hit him below the navel. That final movement is called ‘find a pearl in the lower ground’ and it knocked him out instantly!” This kung fu master also remembers one gruelling duel with a boar.

Proudly showing off two long fangs he pulled out of the boar after killing it over 50 years ago. At the time, a war was raging and boars were frequently coming out of the woods and rampaging through people’s paddy fields, gardens and sugarcane crops. One day an enormous boar was found hiding in a bush near where Tho lived.

Tens of young martial artists armed with knives and pickaxes surrounded the wild beast but the animal managed to butt them away. Informed of the fight, master Tho rushed to the scene and bravely took on the wild boar singlehandedly, defeating the beast within minutes.

The Tiger of Central Vietnam

In An Hoa village (Phuoc An today) in Binh Dinh province, master Ha Trong Son was feted as an invincible fighter. Born in the 1930s Ha Trong Son also had a passion for kung fu as a child. At the age of 15, he emerged victorious from a fight with one of his peers, and his reputation quickly grew. Soon he was nicknamed ‘The Tiger of Central Vietnam’. Now in his late seventies, sadly Son’s memory is failing fast.

“I can’t remember much about my youth,” says Son before instructing me to ask his younger associates about his feats in the past. Master Ham Huu Nghia used to follow ‘Tiger Son’ everywhere and fought by his side in the ring throughout the country. “Once the power of Ha Trong Son’s fist frightened all his opponents when they were fighting in the ring,” says Nghia.

“He was initiated into martial arts when he was only seven and he had already fought many title fights by the age of 17. “He also excelled in Chinese kung fu and even western boxing. His grip was as strong as a tiger’s, his eyesight was like a wild cat’s and his hand and feet movements were well calculated.”

In 1944, at the Indochina Martial Arts Contest Festival held in Danang, ‘The Tiger of Central Vietnam’ knocked out a renowned French boxer to the astonishment of many people and he was undefeated in central Vietnam for years on end. Today he is a pensioner and rarely leaves home but his legend is still very much alive.


Provide by Vietnam Travel

The Grand Masters - Profiles - In depth |  vietnam travel company

You can see more

enews & updates

Sign up to receive breaking news as well as receive other site updates!

Ads by Adonline