As the waves constantly cresting and rushing one another forward, the learned one teaches and guides the unlearned ones, gradually Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo disciples spread Vietnamese martial arts to many places in the world. The early arrivals on a new territory open martial art classes and training clubs; and that’s how the Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo movement organically build up their presence in the past. Recently, in Taiwan, images of youth, children appearing in Vovinam blue martial art uniforms, and they saluted one another with all the solemnity. These beautiful images start showing up on a Facebook member’s home page who has an unmistakable nickname, written in Vietnamese: “Vovinam Đài Loan” (Vovinam Taiwan). Could not contain my sense of curiosity, I want to learn how Vovinam was introduced to the island. The story of Vovinam Taiwan is particularly interesting because unlike other cases, the first sprout of Vovinam seed on the island nation appear to be an act of self-germination.
Through Facebook, I sent a short message in Chinese to Vovinam Đài Loan expressing my desire to ‘befriended’ and also admitting that I’m not fluent in Chinese, and that the sent message was only a result of machine translation. Vovinam Đài Loan responded quickly in English. From then on, we discussed many things and that’s how I gain a better insight about the people and events of the Vovinam Taiwan story.
Behind the Facebook nickname “Vovinam Đài Loan” is a dynamic young Taiwanese man with an intense passion for Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo. At age 29, Peng Shu-Chun (彭蜀鈞) is a teacher in Xigang district (西港區) of Tainan city, Taiwan (Republic of China). No stranger to martial arts, Shu-Chun trained Taekwondo for 17 years, learned Chinese Hung Gar Kung, a well-known Chinese martial art discipline for 14 years, and has also studied Karate for about 1 year. Earned his black belt 3rd dan in Taekwondo, he had been a coach for nearly 10 years. Graduated from the Chinese Culture University, department of Chinese martial arts and dance, Shu-Chun currently teaches physical education and teaches Vovinam martial arts.
Since 2011 he began to take notice of Vovinam martial arts on the Internet. Never been to Vietnam and does not have access to any certified coach or Vovinam martial arts master previously, he has been self-learning Vovinam techniques through Youtube videos. Taking advantage of his wealth of martial arts background, and a deep passion for Vietnamese martial art, he absorbs Vovinam moves quickly and practices what he learns from the recorded video clips. In addition, Shu-Chun spent many hours studying võ đạo teaching (budo), and translated them along with other technical materials so that he can pass them on to his students. He said that, after my research and self-study, “I found Vovinam’s teaching to be well organized and comprehensive, consisting a good variety of martial arts skills”. He was particularly impressed with the fluent moves and it’s very applicable techniques. Shu-Chun also admits, “since then I also realized that my martial arts knowledge is limited and lacking”. With what he has learned, he has started to teach Vovinam to children in elementary schools where he teaches physical education.
The story of Vovinam Taiwan is still at a very early stage as its history is being written every day. Shu-Chun enthusiastically shared with me that he now has an instructor who is fluent in Vovinam techniques of the formal training program. It was a very rare coincidence when he met someone known as Fan Wen Jun. Intrigued by the insertion, I inquired further and learned that they made contact through Facebook and met for the first time 2012 at a McDonald’s restaurant. According to Shu-Chun, this meeting “has changed my overall opinion of the martial arts.”
The instructor that Shu-Chun mentioned is a young man, only 23 years old, named Phạm Văn Tuấn (Fan Wen Jun in pinyin) who is also known on Facebook as “Tình Phiêu Lãng” (“drifting love”). I contacted Tuấn and received a quick reply. I later learned that Tuấn has come from Vietnam and has been working in Taiwan for two years. He recalls of his two Vovinam teachers with great respect, who taught him Vovinam techniques and instilled in him the honor code of Vietnamese martial arts (Việt Võ Đạo) while he was still in Vietnam. Master Nguyễn Hoàng Đạo is the head of Vovinam movement of Thái Bình province and was his first teacher. After arriving in Hà Nội to study, he continue practicing Vovinam under tutelage of Master Lý Chiến Thắng in Từ Liêm district, Hà Đông, Hà Nội. Tuấn recalls fond memory of his two teachers with admiration saying “both teachers were fantastic.”
As the sail catching wind, Peng Shu-Chun and Phạm Văn Tuấn complement each other extremely well. Despite the language barrier, Peng Shu-Chun has not mastered Vietnamese language; and Tuấn is not fluent in Mandarin Chinese, however Shu-Chun’s desire to absorb Vovinam techniques and knowledge while Tuấn is very willing to impart his knowledge, knowing that he’s indirectly helping the development of Vovinam in Taiwan. Tuấn works in Kaohsiung City; and every Sundays and when his time permits, he takes the train to Tainan, traveled about 1 hour to meet up with Shu-Chun. They practiced Vovinam profusely for hours. Shu-Chun admires the techniques that Tuấn imparts to him and cherish this special relationship, while Tuấn recognized that Shu-Chun is full of devotion and enthusiasm. As Shu-Chun’s skills are being honed, Tuấn noted Shu-Chun is very “studious” and a fast learner. Furthermore, among Shu-Chun’s many strengths, management and networking are certainly his strong suit.
With solid technical skills under his belt, Shu-Chun has started to open new mainstream classes in Tainan. Besides the classes he taught at elementary schools, the first Vovinam class has been operating regularly at Tainan Municipal Xigang Junior High School (臺南市立西港國民中學), which currently has 12 registered students. The Vovinam initiative receives support from many teachers, friends, and parents; but the road is never completely smooth. Some resistance come from people who has not been exposed to Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo discipline, but Shu-Chun would not be discouraged by it. Taking steps to get organized, Shu-Chun officially registered Việt Võ Đạo Taiwan Association and has plan to open many more schools in the future, not only in the local region, but also in Taipei and other areas in Taiwan. Shu-Chun plans a trip to Vietnam next year to visit and learn more Vovinam; and in the future he wishes to travel to visit the international Vovinam friends that he “met” on Facebook.
The story of Vovinam Taiwan is particularly intrigging because Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo apparently possesses a kind of soft power, only through the Internet, it has the ability to win over admiration of a martial arts coach who has plenty experience of mainstream and well-known martial arts of the world. Peng Shu-Chun builds and develops Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo on the island nation where there are already rich traditions of martial arts from China, Japan, and Korea. From the unique relationship between Peng Shu-Chun and Phạm Văn Tuấn, they had sowed the first batch of Việt Võ Đạo seeds and these good seeds started to germinate on the soil of Taiwan.