Westerners Who Love Vietnamese Martial Arts

“Traditional Vietnamese martial arts, like traditional Vietnamese culture, are only for self-defense, not for attacking others. Counterattacks happen when the Vietnamese face an impasse. I don’t find this in any other martial arts. That’s why I’ve come to love Vo Kinh.” – Arie Pieter van Dujin, Vo Kinh practitioner.

Lucas (with stick) and Arie (with nunchaku) practice at Vo Kinh Van An Club

The Past
Almost four years ago, traditional Vietnamese martial sect Vo Kinh Van An held a show for the debut of its professional club in Hue. Among the spectators was Dutchman Arie Pieter van Dujin. Falling in love with Viet Nam’s style of martial arts then and there, he asked the master to accept him as a student, though at the time he was busy with his job as an economic specialist with a fisheries project in Hue.

Arie was nevertheless taken in. In his class, he was outstanding thanks to his bigger, taller body than those of his Vietnamese classmates. Seeing Arie in the class, more westerners from America, Australia and South Africa have come to study at Vo Kinh Van An. Understanding more about Vietnamese martial arts and culture, they have called more friends to the club such that now there are usually around 20 foreigners at any given time.

The Present
It’s shortly after 5:00am. On Hai Trieu Street, leading to the Vo Kinh Martial Arts Club at number 7/106, there appear some people doing morning exercises. Among them, Philips rushes to the club. Inside, other foreigners are already in their practice clothing, following their master’s actions. Philips begins practicing with a dagger.

“I’ve learned how to use almost 10 weapons. I will try for all of the 18 weapons in Vo Kinh martial arts before I return to my country,” he says.

Philips is working as an advisor at a factory in the ancient capital of Hue. Before discovering Vietnamese martial arts, he fell in love with a Hue lady, and spread his time between his job, his lover and Vo Kinh – though it seems he gives her less time than he devotes to martial arts.

“The martial arts originated from the citadel of the Nguyen Dynasty. By studying it, I want to explore it more,” he says. Philips comes to the club right after work, reducing his time spent on other leisure activities. One day, his lover called while he was at the club… He answered that he was “doing some research,” and his fellow students roared with laughter at his little lie. A few days later, however, he came in wearing a very long face, saying that his lover had bid him goodbye. “I felt sad those days, but when I came to the club to practice, I was ok,” Philips recalled.

As for one Lucas William Thornblade from the U.S., a Fulbright scholar in community healthcare at the Hue Medicine University, his passion for Vo Kinh martial arts is also very high. He has about one month before he finishes the Fulbright program and returning to America. At that time, he will have to say goodbye to Vo Kinh after almost a year of practicing the martial arts. But he has sent a letter to his university requesting a research extension until the end of this summer. “Because Vo Kinh has many deep aspects and I do want to discover more of its original features,” says Lucas.

Vietnamese Culture Behind Martial Arts

Arie practices the fan with the club's master

Recently, Arie told the author of this story, “I’ve learned a new weapon. It’s a fan. Let me show you.” His body glided rapidly over the floor, his arms manipulating the fabric fan skillfully. The fan opens, closes, flashes forward and backward, slashes up and down with opening and closing snaps.

Wiping away sweat, Arie says, “A fan is normally used to cool you but when necessary, it can become an effective weapon.”

Arie is a serious student. He always tries to learn more from his master and Vietnamese students, not only about martial arts but also Vietnamese culture. “It’s not merely chatting. Behind are many cultural stories for me to know.”

He recalled, “In the beginning, I got to know the basic spirit of Vo Kinh. It’s different from Chinese kung fu. Both Vo Kinh and Binh Dinh martial arts [also of Viet Nam] don’t use a series of moves to attack your rivals and to imperil them. They just use each separate move aimed at unprotected points to prevent your rivals from hurting you.”

Quoc Nam – T.T.

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