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BOOK REVIEW: Võ Dân Tộ Martial Arts by Hữu Ngọc & Lady Borton

Vo Dan Toc / Martial Arts (Handbooks of Vietnam Culture)Vo Dan Toc / Martial Arts by Hữu Ngọc
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This book is part of a series that is subtitled “Vietnamese Culture: Frequently Asked Questions,” and that tells one a little about both the content and the format of the book. It’s better described as pamphlet than a book. At about 75 pages, it’s in bilingual format (i.e. one page is in Vietnamese and the adjacent page is the English translation.) So it’s about 38 pages in English that answer 11 questions about Vietnamese martial arts.

The 11 questions addressed by the book are:
1.) How have martial arts developed throughout Vietnamese history?
2.) How were training and examinations for martial arts organized by the court?
3.) What are the schools of Vietnamese martial arts?
4.) What are the main sects of Vietnamese martial arts in France?
5.) How did Liễu Ðôi become a village with a great wrestling tradition?
6.) Who killed a ferocious tiger in 1770 in Sài Gòn’s Tân Kiểng Market?
7.) How did the famous school of Lady Trà-Tân Khánh martial arts begin and develop?
8.) How did President Hổ Chí Minh keep himself fit?
9.) Who played a key role in the success of Thúy Hiển, the world wushu champion?
10.) What do foreigners think of Vietnamese martial arts?
11.) How did the female master Hổ Hoa Huệ impress the Europeans?

The listed questions tell the reader what the book is about. It starts with some general history from centuries past, and then goes on to discuss specific events. I have no idea to what degree propaganda / myth has seeped into the text—maybe not at all or maybe a lot. I purchased the book in Hue, and am not sure if it’s available outside Vietnam. As one can see from the questions, this book won’t give one much insight into the details of Vietnamese martial arts tactics or philosophy. Instead, one gets a bit of history that some readers will find interesting and others will not. There are black and white photos (about 8) that show static instances of Vietnamese martial arts practice, and there is a glossary.

I picked this book up because I was curious about Vietnam’s martial art history—knowing that it must have had an impressive one. There isn’t much English-language information available about Vietnamese martial arts other than Vovinam. Vovinam is a martial art that allegedly developed in the modern era utilizing pieces of other martial arts and arranged to be ideal for the typical Vietnamese body type. However, what one sees of Vovinam on-line is just a poor-man’s version of that signature move of Black Widow from the MCU movies, so I don’t know whether there is any substance there or if it’s just for show.

Considering that it’s only about $0.67 USD in bookstores in Vietnam, I’d say it’s worth picking up this little book if you want to learn something about Vietnam’s martial history.  [If you buy pay alot for a copy on-line, you’ll probably be disappointed.]

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