Memories of the Con River almost sink into oblivion. The traces which made An Thai and An Vinh become well-known martial arts villages in the past could hardly be found in Tay Son district.
“In the old days, people practiced martial arts to protect their property,” many elderly villagers said. “An Vinh and An Thai are two villages where many rich merchants lived, so they all practiced martial arts. These villages are located at two sides of the Con River.”
The river of the past
Martial arts master Tran Dan, living in An Vinh hamlet, is now older than the days he was present at martial arts tournaments.
Grand martial arts master Tran Dan is not as strong as before. He now practices martial arts as a way of doing exercises.
“Previously, villagers could practice martial arts at any places available,” he told us. “They worked in the fields in the daytime and practiced martial arts at nighttime.” He recalled and smiled as if he saw the splendid age of Binh Dinh martial arts appearing in front of his house.
The researcher Pham Dinh Phong is also enthusiastic about the “river of martial arts. “Two martial arts villages of An Vinh and An Thai were always against each other,” he said. “They tried to practice martial arts to compete with each other.” Phong remembered the beautiful memories when doing a research on traditional martial arts at two villages.
It is two villages where three Tay Son’s brothers – Nguyen Nhac, Nguyen Hue, and Nguyen Lu – met their first martial arts instructor, Truong Van Hien. This is written in the study on finding the origin and unique features of Binh Dinh’s traditional martial arts, co-authored by Phong and his colleagues.
The tutor Hien moved from the north to live in Binh Dinh. He opened a school in An Thai village and Nguyen Nhac became one of his students when he came here as a betel merchant.
With his fame, Nguyen Hue and Nguyen Lu then also came to learn martial arts from him to prepare for their uprising later.
Their rising-up was not only the farmers’ uprising but the age of knights, according to the scholar Vu Ngoc Lien. The farmers who represented poor people having strong aspiration for freedom rose up. In stories about the Emperor Quang Trung, Binh Dinh’s traditional martial arts was one of key role contributing to the success of the uprising.
The river of martial arts
In present-day August, the Con River is still dry, but two villages of An Thai and An Vinh are now quiet. They see no one practicing martial arts day and night. In these villages, the atmosphere of practicing martial arts is not as bustling as in the old days.
The martial arts master Tran Dan hasn’t taught martial arts. His youngest son is now opening a martial arts club at home. He said, “The young people only practice martial arts in the summer as they have to study at school during 9 months. No parents now want their children to choose martial arts as their career for it has no bright future.”
Nguyen Van Tan, also called Bay, is a well-known disciple of martial arts master Diep Truong Phat (Tau Sau) who moved from China to live in Binh Dinh and taught martial arts techniques to the locals. In Bay’s house, many pictures of Binh Thai Dao School are put on the wall.
Diep Le Bich, a Tau Sau’s paternal grandchild, opened a martial arts club teaching Binh Thai Dao sect after returning from England. As for Bay, he gave up teaching martial arts long time ago and opened a small shop in front of his house’s yard, which used to be a place for martial arts practice.
“I didn’t intend to become a martial arts instructor when starting to learn martial arts,” Bay said. “I only wanted to train myself.” When Master Diep Le Bich showed her interest in opening a martial arts club in An Thai, Bay’s love for martial arts had a chance to blaze up again.
However, Bich’s martial arts club closed then. Bay is still keeping the pictures of the club and its martial arts practitioners, hoping that the atmosphere of traditional martial arts will come alive one day.