Master Lê Sáng’s family originally resided in Thanh Hóa Province, but he was born in autumn of 1920 in a house on the banks of Trúc Bạch lake in Hà Nội, the oldest son of Mr. Lê Văn Hiển (known professionally as Đức Quang, 1887 – 1959) and Mrs. Nguyễn Thị Mùi (1887 – 1993). His two sisters are Lê Thị Xuất (1927-2004) and Lê Thị Dư who is also known as Hoài Hương (borned on 12-9-1937).
In 1939, after suffering a severe illness which left him walking with difficulty, he followed his mother’s advice and began studying martial arts in order to strengthen his legs and improve his physical health. Good fortune steered him to Founding Grandmaster Nguyễn Lộc’s Vovinam class at the Hà Nội Pedagogical College (Ecole Normale). Due to his natural ability, intelligence, and diligent practice, after just a few years he was chosen by Founding Grandmaster Nguyễn Lộc to take part in the work of training others in Hà Nội. From then on, he became as close to Grandmaster Nguyễn Lộc as a younger brother is to an older brother, sharing in his labors and his hardships, following him as he taught the discipline of Vovinam in many places in northern provinces of Việt Nam such as: Hữu Bằng, Chế Lưu, Ấm Thượng, Thanh Hương, Đan Hà, Đan Phú, etc.
By the end of 1954, he was assigned by the Founding Grandmaster the task of opening a Vovinam classes in Sài Gòn and Gia Định areas. By 1957 (year of Đinh Dậu), when the Founding Grandmaster fell ill, Master Lê Sáng took over and taught all disciples who were trained by Founding Grand Master at the time; in the meantime, he opened 3 more on Trần Khánh Dư street (in Tân Định district), on Sư Vạn Hạnh boulevard (next to Ấn Quang pagoda), and another on the corner of Trần Hưng Đạo boulevard and Huỳnh Mẫn Đạt street (area is known for Moulin Rouge – name of a dancing club that has ceased to operate). At the end April of 1960, before passing away, the Founding Grandmaster named master Lê Sáng the next leader in charge of the Vovinam discipline.
Early in 1961, due to the state of affairs in the country at the time, a government policy prohibited all martial art disciplines in Sài Gòn to operate, Master Lê Sáng stopped teaching temporarily. A while later, Mr. Nguyễn Hải (a brother of the Founding Grandmaster) who ran a rubber plantation and a lumber yard in Buôn Ma Thuột and Quảng Đức, needed help and he asked Master Lê Sáng to provide oversight on the operations. By late 1963, when the policy was lifted and the disciplines were allowed to operate openly again, he returned, coordinated with his core staff and began the recovery period and planned a new phase of expansion for the discipline.
As the closest and most senior disciple with almost 20 years of working at the Founding Grandmaster’s side, Grandmaster Lê Sáng had unparalleled knowledge of Vovinam’s philosophy and techniques. With natural talent and deep sense of commitment, Grandmaster Lê Sáng has maintained unity within the discipline; along with contributions of generations of masters, instructors, students, and a large base of supporters, Grandmaster Lê Sáng has further expanded upon the ideas of Founding Grandmaster Nguyễn Lộc and developed Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo martial art into a philosophy with a scientific and practical technical training system as we know it today. In the mid of 1960’s, although living in constrained circumstances, he has not only directed the Vovinam movement but also spent his days training students for hours on end and his nights hunched by a lamp writing books and articles, systemizing the Founding Grandmaster’s philosophy of martial arts.
The ideology steers Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo disciples toward a noble life philosophy: “Live, let other live, and live for others”. Following it, a Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo disciples not only gain martial arts ability to overcome one’s own weakness of mind and body, the person can also organize for himself or herself a decent life, but also not to interfere with other lives as well as also has the responsibility to help others living well, and willing to sacrifice personal, tangible or intangible, interests to serve the common good of the discipline and the society at large… Furthermore, he was constantly honing and improving the Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo techniques to become even more rich and useful, suitable for variety of people. Even at very old age, Grandmaster Lê Sáng continued his research and enhanced the technical program to adapt to the new development phase when Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo has begun to show strong growth overseas following the milestone laid initially in France since 1973.
All important contributions of Grandmaster Lê Sáng is the prelude for creating the basis for Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo movement to thrive, flourish and gradually spread over 40 countries around the world, making a strong impression of Vietnamese martial art traditions as well as a cultural identity of the people of Vietnam.
Beyond his responsibility and dedication to the discipline, Grand Master Lê Sáng also participated in other activities. He was elected Secretary General of South Vietnam Martial Arts Coalition and the General Treasurer Olympic Commission of South Vietnam for several consecutive terms (from the early 1960s to early 1970s). During that time, with high sense of responsibility, shrewd business skills and impeccable integrity, he earned respect of the sport officials and masters of other disciplines.
Not only a skilled practitioner of the martial arts, Grandmaster Lê Sáng possessed excellent business sense; he was also a leader with great management abilities and a truly talented and creative individual. With clear, beautiful strokes of calligraphy brushes, he has composed many poems of deep and stirringly emotions, and of chivalrous nature. Some of the poems of the Grand Master (under pseudonym of Quang Vũ or Huy Vũ) were transposed into popular songs. In his daily life he lives simply, always willing to help a friend and always displaying true sincerity in his encounters with others. To his disciples, he is a whole-hearted teacher, loving and tolerant. When his parents fell ill, he cared for them thoughtfully and carefully, never leaving their sides. His life is an example of humility, with constant self-improvement, and non-stop self-learning process to adapt and fulfill the role that the Founding Grandmaster has entrusted in him. Even when he personally or the discipline facing momentous obstacles, and what seemingly insurmountable challenges, his work ethic shines with impeccable integrity, endurance, and optimism in brighter days ahead.
For nearly a year, although with his declining health, Grandmaster Lê Sáng’s mind stayed very lucid and brilliant. Even in the last days of life struggling with illness, the Grandmaster still demonstrated a high sense of responsibility for the discipline’s mission while preparing to transfer leadership responsibilities to the Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo’s Council of Managing Masters.
Remained unmarried until his death, without the burden of family, instilled with Eastern philosophy, through his talent and impeccable morality, he became the star pupil of the Founding Grandmaster Nguyễn Lộc. Grandmaster Lê Sáng has sacrificed nearly his entire life to the work of building up and developing the discipline of Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo.
After a period of grave illness, at 3 am on September 27, 2010, or the eighth month of the lunar calendar, year of the Tiger, Grandmaster Lê Sáng has gone forever at 91 years of age. The departure of Grandmaster Lê Sáng is a major loss to the martial arts in general and to the võ đạo teachings; and undoubtedly it’s a great misfortune for all Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo disciples worldwide.
Disciple Nguyen Hong Tam
English version – translation by vovinamvvd