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The timeless martial art of Binh Dinh



The south central province of Binh Dinh is the home of an art that has transcended time. It was so beloved by the locals, it became known after the province itself: Vo Binh Dinh (Binh Dinh Martial Art),

 a fighting form that is now on the cusp of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status.

The timeless martial art of Binh Dinh
Female martial artists of Phi Long dojo performing at Duong Long towers. —Photo

The precise origins of Vo Binh Dinh have long remained a mystery. Historians speculate that it originated in the 15th century, during conquests in the south. As Binh Dinh was unstable during its early years, King Le Thanh Tong sent warriors and generals there for peacekeeping. The generals eventually settled and their knowledge was passed down through generations, particularly martial arts. 

Vo Binh Dinh further developed during the 18th century’s Tay Son Dynasty, accumulating from exchanges with other martial art forms across the country.

Martial arts were then systemized and even became part of the national examinations, with the army itself being fully trained in Vo Binh Dinh. Dojos grew in numbers. Encouraged by the kingdom, Vo Binh Dinh was in its heyday.

The timeless martial art of Binh Dinh
Ha Gia Loi, 13, makes an impression with her long staff use. — Photo

Over six hundred years later, the sound of masters and students practising Binh Dinh martial art has not faltered. There are currently 177 dojos housing over 12,000 practitioners with 101 masters across the province, according to the President of the Binh Dinh Martial Arts Federation, Bui Trung Hieu.

Multiple martial arts village are spread throughout Binh Dinh with a diversity in styles. Tay Son District has Phu Lac, Xuan Hoa, An Vinh and Thuan Truyen villages; while Phu Cat District is famous for Phu Nhan, Dai An and Hoa Hoi villages. An Nhon District has An Thai and Thang Cong making their names.

British writer and martial arts expert Augustus Roe, the author of The Martial Arts of Vietnam, has studied the form and is an enthusiast for it.

“I spent some time in Binh Dinh to research the local systems. In doing so, I travelled to many of the renowned ‘Martial Art Villages’ in the region. Each of these tiny hamlets has their own specific flavour and speciality style,” Roe told Việt Nam News.

“For example, Thuan Truyen is known for staff fighting, An Vinh is known for its female fighters (the village was founded by a descendant of the legendary female warrior Bui Thi Xuan), An Thai is known for its stronger (masculine) unarmed style and Long Phuoc Pagoda is known for its peaceful, Buddhist approach to combat.”

The timeless martial art of Binh Dinh
Teaching Vo Binh Dinh in Phan Tho dojo in Binh Dinh. — Photo

Binh Dinh martial art is special for its diversity, which encompasses a wide array of knowledge and weapons, from the many dojos across the province. It is relentless and powerful in attack, but calm and poised in defence, utilising the yin-yang theory in its development of punches and kicks.

Although diverse in styles, Binh Dinh martial art focuses on four basic aspects: respiratory training, empty hand combat, weaponized combat and willpower training.

The Vietnamese Binh Dinh Martial Art Federation divided the lessons of four aspects into seventeen routines, with weaponized combat utilising eighteen different weapons, including long staffs, swords, spears and axes.

The timeless martial art of Binh Dinh
Vo Minh The, founder of the Binh Dinh Tactician Martial Arts style. — Photo

The three most well-known styles in Binh Dinh martial art are the empty-hand styles of An Vinh and An Thai, and the Thuan Truyen long staff style. They have the most practitioners and their popularity is even etched into nursery rhymes.

A famous saying goes “Trai An Thái, gái An Vinh”, which means that An Thai style is practised mostly by men, whereas An Vinh style is popular among women. It is based on the fact that the An Thai style utilises power in their moves, suitable for males. The An Vinh style, however, is based on speed and the assumption of a taller opponent, which made it easier for females to learn. The Thuan Truyen style, on the other hand, uses a long staff, a famous weapon among commoners in the past.

“During a visit to Long Phuoc Pagoda, I had an opportunity to train directly with Grandmaster Truong Van Vinh (a descendant of the legendary Truong Van Hien, who taught the three leaders of the Tay Son Uprising). Sparring with some of his disciples, I was amazed at their creative approaches to dealing with my significant weight and height advantage. Their motto ‘Speed first, then strength and accuracy’ was certainly put into use effectively,” said Roe.

Perhaps one of the most famous masters of Binh Dinh martial art is master Phan Tho (1926-2014). Nicknamed “Binh Dinh’s greatest hands”, Master Tho was legendary for his knowledge and use of all eighteen weapons in Binh Dinh martial art.

Learning martial arts from the age of seventeen, he endured 18 years of travel and learning from multiple teachers across Binh Dinh. One of his most well-known victories was against a South Korean taekwondo martial artist in 1972. Although smaller than his opponent, Tho was able to evade his opponent’s attacks, before landing the famous “Viper Poison Attack” to knock out the Korean.

In 1998, he was again challenged by an arrogant taekwondo master from South Korea, who repeatedly mocked Vietnamese Martial Arts. The Korean fighter started the match with two powerful kicks, but Tho evaded them with ease. Before the opponent was able to strike the third kick, Tho found an opening, struck a powerful blow that made the Korean fall on his back and admit defeat.

Tho continued his teachings until his death in 2014, passing his mantle to his son Phan Duc, before his grandson Phan Minh Hai took over in 2018.

The dojo of Ho Nganh is well-known in Binh Dinh. Its namesake, Master Ho Nganh was the best long staff user in the entire province. Ho Nganh’s mother, Le Thi Quynh Ha, was a participant in the kingdom’s martial arts competition and was one of his first teachers.

Ho Nganh’s famous move, the “Reverse Long Staff Strike” was taught and perfected by his mother and passed down to his followers and descendants. Today the Ho family has a lineage spanning five generations, with a profound knowledge of martial arts and the Thuan Truyen long staff style.

Master Ho Nganh passed away in 1976, and was posthumously honoured by the Vietnam Institute for Martial Arts Research in 2018 for his contributions.

The timeless martial art of Binh Dinh
Children practising at a dojo in Le Xuan Canh.

The style continues to be studied by locals and foreigners alike and is widely admired for its traditions, and loyalty of its followers. It’s a martial art tradition that continues to leave Roe enthused.

“The most impressive aspect of Binh Dinh martial art for me is the pride and dedication that the region’s martial artists feel for their system. For many in Binh Dinh, martial arts are simply a way of life; generations of families, groups of friends and husbands and wives train together with commitment and enthusiasm every single day,” Roe said. 

“Although Binh Dinh is a place of stunning natural beauty, it has also suffered through centuries of hardships. However, despite all of this, the spirit, generosity and warmth of its fighting people still shine through. For me, this strength of character is what martial arts are truly about.”

In recognition of more than 500 years of development and contribution of Binh Dinh martial art to Vietnamese culture and sport, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam has granted permission for the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to begin the process of proposing that UNESCO recognise Binh Dinh martial art as an intangible cultural heritage, with many martial artists responded positively to the news.

Binh Dinh martial art has been a National Intangible Heritage since 2012, and the UNESCO move is likely to provide global exposure for this legendary martial art.

Faced by the tests of time and the import of other martial arts such as taekwondo, karate and MMA, Binh Dinh martial art is still growing, not only as a sport but as an art form and a valuable aspect of Binh Dinh and Vietnam’s culture as a whole.

Source: Vietnam News



SEA Games torch carried through streets of Hà Nội



SEA Games

The 32nd SEA Games torch is carried through the streets of Hà Nội, the first stop of its ASEAN journey, on March 24. VNA/VNS Photos

HÀ NỘI – Excitement filled the air as the 32nd SEA Games and 12th ParaGames torch made its way through the streets of Hà Nội on the morning of March 24 at the start of its ASEAN tour ahead of the highly anticipated regional sports event in May.

Brimming with symbolism, the torch was ceremoniously lit from a small lamp that had landed on Việt Nam’s soil two days prior, and had been carefully guarded at the Cambodian Embassy.

Witnessed by Cambodian and Vietnamese leaders, sports officials, as well as hundreds of athletes and local people, the lighting of the torch was a powerful reminder of the unity and spirit of the ASEAN community.

In a stirring speech, Cambodian ambassador Chea Kimtha expressed his gratitude to the Vietnamese Government, the Việt Nam Olympic Committee, and all other agencies involved for their support and tireless efforts in organising the torch relay.

Organisers worship before the torch relay ceremony. 

She said the torch relay ceremony showed the good relationship between the two countries and the traditional friendship that had been built up and maintained for a long time.

“SEA Games is considered a major festival for Southeast Asian countries,” said Đặng Hà Việt, director of the Việt Nam Sports Administration. “Cambodia and other countries organised many activities to respond to and celebrate the SEA Games and ParaGames.”

“Việt Nam is the first leg of the 32nd SEA Games torch relay after the host country. I want to reaffirm that Việt Nam will always support with utmost effort for successfully organising the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia.”

Cambodian ambassador Chea Kimtha holds the torch during the first part of the relay.

Runner Nguyễn Thị Huyền carried the torch under the escort of 200 athletes, guests, and thousands of residents.

The relay started from the embassy office to the streets of Quang Trung, Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Đông Kinh Nghĩa Thục Square, to Hàng Trống, Bà Triệu, Lý Thường Kiệt and returns to the embassy.

Director of the Việt Nam Sports Administration Đặng Hà Việt (right) presents the torch to runner Nguyễn Thị Huyền.

The torch will leave Việt Nam tomorrow to visit Manila, the Philippines, before touring Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei), Jakarta (Indonesia), Dili (Timor Leste), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Singapore, Bangkok (Thailand), Yangon and Naypyidaw (Myanmar) and Vientiane (Laos) on April 25.

Athletes and sports officials run during the torch relay.

It will arrive in Cambodia on April 27 and travel around the country until May 5.

The SEA Games will be held on May 5-17 in Phnom Penh and four other localities. The ParaGames will run from June 3-9, mainly in Phnom Penh. VNS


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SEA Games torch to tour Hà Nội



SEA Games

Southeast Asian best 400m runner Nguyễn Thị Huyền will be honoured to hold the SEA Games torch when it is in Hà Nội on March 24, part of its regional tour ahead of the Games opening ceremony. VNA/VNS Photo

HÀ NỘI — The 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games torch will be carried around Hà Nội, the first stop in its tour of 10 ASEAN countries, on March 24.

The torch, escorted by nine members of the Cambodian delegation, arrived in the capital city on March 22, and was warmly welcomed by leaders of the Việt Nam Sports Administration.

The torch is 75cm tall and weighs 1kg. It is designed following the shape of the Romdoul, Cambodia’s national flower. 

The torch relay stands for solidarity, friendship, and good cooperation among nations in the region.

Earlier, King Norodom Sihamoni presided over a torch lighting ceremony on March 21 at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, marking the start of the torch relay. 

Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni (2nd right) lights the torch with a candle lit from the sun’s rays as Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) looks on during a ceremony prior to the 32nd SEA Games at Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap on March 21. AFP/VNA Photo

This year, the SEA Games flame was ignited by the rays of the sun on the roof of the sacred temple. The ceremony was timed to coincide with the equinox, when the sun crossed the plane of the earth’s equator and day and night are of equal length. At that time the sun rose exactly on the top of the main temple of Angkor Wat. And the flame was lit up and was considered a sacred fire.

King Sihamoni then passed the torch to nine well-known Cambodian athletes, including two SEA Games gold medalists, to run around the temple area before it travelled to Việt Nam the next day.

Speaking about the event, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Tourism and Special Envoy of the Cambodian SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games Organising Committees Hor Sarun said it was the first time that the kingdom hosted the regional sports meet. Apart from the competition, the torch relay was an indispensable part of the Games. 

He said Cambodia especially cared about the torch relay organisation sending the torch  to all 10 countries with a view to widely popularise the 32nd SEA Games to all people.

The sacred flame is kept at the Cambodian Embassy in Hà Nội before it travels around the city. Photo courtesy of Khem Sovannra

In Hà Nội, the relay will be kicked off at 9am. National runner Nguyễn Thị Huyền will take the honour to hold the torch, escorted by 10 other outstanding athletes and hundreds of other people and guests. The delegation will start from the Cambodian Embassy and go through different streets in Hà Nội before returning to the embassy.

The next stop of the torch will be the Philippines, followed by Brunei, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and Laos, before returning to Cambodia on April 27.

The SEA Games will be held on May 5-17 in four localities with opening and closing ceremonies at the Morodok Techo Stadium in Phnom Penh. It will be followed by the 12th ASEAN Para Games on June 3-9. VNS


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Fantasy literature struggles to find readers




FANTASY LOVERS: Experts share their joy for Vietnamese fantasy works at a talk-show held by the Kim Đồng Publishing House. Photo 

The world of fantasy literature has seen amazing works such as Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and Twilight, but experts say very few Vietnamese writers are interested in the genre, which is relatively new to them.

Seeing the vast potential for sales that promise many opportunities for fantasy writing talent to develop, some young writers have moved into the field and had initial success, but more efforts are needed to attract more readers.

“This market has been built before thanks to many world-famous fantasy books imported, translated and published in Việt Nam. It is from this background that readers started to pay attention to Vietnamese fantasy works,” the Thanh Niên (Young People) newspaper quoted Khúc Thị Hoa Phượng, director of Women’s Publishing House, as saying.

“However, the number of writers interested in this genre of literature in the country is unable to meet demand. The number of authors of the nineties generation, including those for fantasy, is still too small, and their works sporadic,” she said.

“It is our desire that fantasy writing will not only be expanded, but also attract writers with in-depth works. It means that the writers not only invest in a methodical one or two books, or a series of stories, but stick their whole life to writing them. By doing that, this new types of books will develop in a professional direction.”

COVER VERSIONS: Two of the good fantasy books by young writers have attracted readers. Photo 

Fantasy is a literary genre that opens up endless fiction with stories about the supernatural, magic or things only in the imagination. For the past 10 years, a limited number of young Vietnamese authors have boldly experimented with the style.

Among such writers are Nguyễn Nhật Ánh with the series Chuyện xứ Lang Biang (The Story of Lang Biang) and Phan Hồn Nhiên with Những Đôi Mắt Lạnh (Cold Eyes) and Chuỗi hạt Azoth (Azoth Beads).

Some fantasy books have won prizes for young writers, such as UREM – Người đang mơ (UREM -The Dreamer) and Yagon – Những Kẻ Vô Cảm (Yagon – the Emotionless) by Phạm Bá Diệp, and Người Ngủ Thuê (The Sleeper) by Nhật Phi.

Recently, Nguyễn Đình Tú, a writer specialising in detective novels, has also tried his hand at the fantasy genre with the novel Bãi Săn (Hunting Ground).

FICTION: Outstanding Vietnamese fantasy books of the early 20th century have impressed readers. Photo

Publishers claim young readers have a taste for fantasy, so they have launched several writing contests to stir up interest and encourage authors to try the genre. But lift-off has been limited.

According to Phạm Bá Diệp, part of the reason is that there are not many veteran writers interested in fantasy, while the younger ones do not have much experience, and their writing skills are not strong enough.

Moreover, some publishers do not dare to risk investing in fantasy works, preferring love stories, which are seen as a safe bet, Diệp  said.

Some publishers claim that not even professional writers in the country can meet the standards of a fantasy series that needs to be written in a long-form imaginative way with a logical, tight and clearly built universe.

Vietnamese fantasy literature

Vietnamese literature in the early 20th century saw many outstanding achievements in which fantasy writing flourished with authors and works such as Thế Lữ with Vàng và Máu (Gold and Blood); TchyA with Thần Hổ (God of Tiger) and Lan Khai with Truyện Đường Rừng (The Tale of Forest), which are among the best and earliest written fantasy books in modern Vietnamese literature.

BOOK WORMS: Readers today are looking for fantasy works, but not many writers are interested in this genre of literature in Việt Nam. Illustration photo

The period was a significant era for the country’s modern literature, and fantasy at that time attracted great attention from readers and critics. In newspapers, fantasy stories were in instalments and much-welcomed by the public.

Speaking on a talk show held recently by the Kim Đồng Publishing House to highlight the beauty of Vietnamese fantasy literature, Nguyễn Thị Năm Hoàng, a literary expert, said fantasy was a reflection of reality.

“Literature always has its own explanation, making people more mature. Each fantasy writer of each period of time offers a unique experience. Lan Khai offers a story within a story. TchyA is a source of highly philosophical material, while Thế Lữ brings out the poetic beauty of the mountains and taking journeys. Each brings their own atmosphere, customs and traditions,” Hoàng said.

“Through the works we see magic and mysterious scenes, but they are also very real. Each work is a vivid and rich picture of nature.” 

Meanwhile, writer Di Li said these works could most accurately be described as horror fantasy literature. According to Li, contemporary literature has lost its atmosphere because we no longer have “forests” to store the legends.

“People have destroyed the very places where legends are kept. In fantasy works by Thế Lữ, Lan Khai and TchyA, the writing style is a bit old but still attractive and lures readers. Fantasy literature has always been popular because it opens the imagination for readers to travel through the pages of a book,” he said.

“Readers are still looking forward to welcoming Vietnamese fantasy series that are more elaborately invested and attractive. However, the journey for fantasy books to find a stand and to conquer readers is still arduous and challenging.” VNS 


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