Cuong Nhu Martial Arts

O Sensei was interviewed in the early 1990s in order to capture and preserve his life experiences and wisdom for future generations. Hours of audio was painstakingly converted into text, allowing us all to appreciate and understand the philosophy and vision that O Sensei had for the Cuong Nhu style.
O: Do you think that today we'll finish?
T: There's a lot more things about CN history that we could talk about.
O: I like to keep going, going.
T: If you get tired of talking about this kind of stuff we could do something else.
O: You too tired or something?
T: Oh no, not at all.
T: Last night I was coming up with all the different topics we should talk about for CN history and I think we've got enough for probably about another 20 sessions, if that's OK. Just covering different time periods. What I was hoping that we could talk about today was things about CN history in Vietnam after you founded the style but before you came to America. So in other words between about 1966-1971. If that's OK I've got some questions together. Let me ask you this, as I understand it, when you first started teaching CN most of your students were college students.
O: Yeah, right.
T: After a while do you start getting people who were not college students that were working out?
O: Several black belts who want to teach the kids, they were people, they were professionals. They were all ages. So that we have two parallels. One is professional, one the other (students). I think technically they are the same. For example, professional they can work 8 hours, but the people not professional, teaching is just (not discernable)
T: Right, the non-professionals just taught for enjoyment. So you had some of your black belts were teaching full time, they taught a lot?
O: No, too small. Because they're students. They don't have time. Some had two kids.
T: Would everybody work out together, the college student and the people who were not college students? Do they all come to the same classes?
O: Yeah, yeah. But the professionals, they make it mostly in the evening. Because they had to get out of work. LOTS OF BACKGROUND NOISE
T: Let me go back to the first question, I guess. When you were teaching in Vietnam did you have a lot of people that were not college students that worked out in CN?
O: That's only less than 10 people. They want to learn. LOTS OF BACKGROUND NOISE O Sensei says sounds like a carpenter) Some professionals in society. Most were university students.
T: Did everybody work out in the same classes back then?
O: Usually the professionals, they have to work out at night. Evening at 6 when they get out of work.
T: Let me ask you a few questions about the classes at that time. Do you remember how often CN classes were taught? Were they every day? Or several days?
O: In Vietnam, we have everyday classes. Because they don't have anything to do, see. Here we have all kind of things, go to movies.
T: So were there classes every day?
O: Yeah, every day. Only maybe once a week, no class.
T: Were the classes mostly in the late afternoon, or the early evening?
O: Evening. Some days might be different if they work or something.
T: What kinds of materials did you have them do in class? For instance, was there a lot of basics?
O: From the beginning, it's everything in writing. Because in Vietnam, we have no tape, just writing notes for themselves.
T: OK so the students would write notes?
O: It's like in school. Teach here and here, and ask questions and jot down something. Like 50 years ago in United States (he laughs). I have two books in Vietnamese about karate. ( O'sensei goes to get his books). I knew you'd have that one. O'Sensei returns with books
O: Very primitive (laughs). I had several, but only left this one. (missing) left the country. Some people, a student bring to, give me this one here. It's very ...see here.
T: Illustrations?
O: Yeah, illustrations.
T: The name of the book is "Karate ..."?
O: Written by me.
T: Supa (?)
O: Supa karate. This is one american student was in what do you call that? American volunteer to go to schools to all of the other world?
T: Peace Corps?
O: Yeah, peace corps.
T: Oh, OK. So he was in Vietnam with the peace corps. Do you remember his name?
O: I've forgotten. Two times. (unintelligible)
T: Right, they get moved around to different places. Do you remember when you wrote this book?
O: I have two more books, but lost somehwere, moved.
T: Two other books on karate?
O: Yeah.
T: Right, "CN Karate". Right there where it says Chung Wong.
T: I was looking to see if maybe it had a copywrite date. But it looks like it doesn't.
O: It's not a business like in United States. So that when they publish this one, happy so that they can get money.
T: I see on the back here they have a list of other books and it lists your name and it looks like a book on karate.
O: Black belt.
T: A book on CN karate and a third book on karate. Wow that's incredible!
O: Very primitive.
T: Did it take a while to write these books?
O: Very fast. Because in Vietnam we had a lot of time. Not like here.
T: You must have been very busy in those days. Between your Family, and your job teaching and teaching CN.
O: People's self defense. I had a few thousand people under me. So that between all of them people. To fight communists.
T: And that was different from the CN classes?
O: Yes.
T: Can you tell me more about that?
O: People's self-defense. I have four thousand people signaling (unintelligible) and training to shoot. We call them people's self-defense. Because if communists in only five hours go to village they can control everybody. Now every house we have rifle and walkie talkie so that 25,000 people all over the country. I am the person that have the brain (for) that one.
T: So it was a civilian defense training? Kind of like the national guard here in the United States?
O: Yeah but not sophisticated. Because we use whatever from second world war all kind of weapons. And another thing. We need to be careful because the communists might have inside weapon.
T: They might infiltrate people's self defense
O: I'm the only one who volunteered to be in charge, with four other people. Most of them have war medals in VN. I'm the only one who volunteered (he laughs). About four thousand people train how to shoot. Not machine gun, just Boom, Boom, Boom. So that it's enough (time)10 to 20 minutes, boom so that the post in the country would know that communists already got to that village.
T: So you would shoot a flare gun?
O: Yeah, shoot a flare. But if close, we just make a kind of, if we have three families here, when communists come two guys would control the door. Eight hundred people. Now you have only short one. They just want to (hold off the communists) long enough so that we can come. They didn't really feel comfortable with more sophisticated weapons. But it can be infiltrated by the communists. But I'm the only civilian volunteered to be in charge of it. It's why I'm the most decorated.
T: Did people's self-defense also involve empty hand fighting? Did you train these people in martial arts techniques?
O: No, no. No time. We had the communists plus no one knew karate.
T: So it was marksmanship, rifles?
O: Only students at university trained how to shoot.
T: Was people's self defense mostly students? Were there people who were not university students involved in people's self-defense?
O: It depends on the areas. This one is urban. This one is the other one. Usually in the past only two VC take over two hundred people. Now we have the (he makes the noise of theflares) and other people would come.
T: So when the flare went up, people from other areas would come to that place.
O: We keep a secret. Boom, or boom boom, here it means that more people will (come).
T: Like a signal?
O: Right, a signal. For example, if VC come to one house, he says OK, he takes lantern to out house. You can take two lamps back and it means something. If low you can not do anything.
T: So it would be like a signal, somebody would go out and put a couple lamps up so everybody else.
O: Yeah, left or high or low or whatever, see.
T: So other neighbors would know the communists.
O: Yeah, neighbors say OK he go to this house here. And it's kept in because he doesn't have anything. No telephones. But in one year and a half they have walkie talkies. Upgrade. All that matters. I am the only one, intellectual. Because I teach at the University. When we go to teach the students, somehow they ask if I can help the students to make good in the way of peace. Fighting the communists. Not only me telling. Also the Vietnamese generals.
T: Boy that sounds like a very desperate time if communists would just come to villages or people's houses anytime and try to take them hostage.
O: That's just some place. Not all, because we did not have enough people to control (everywhere).
T: It sounds like you never knew when the communists might show up somewhere.
O: Yeah, but it worked.
T: I was wondering if you could tell me about what the CN classes were like in Vietnam. What kinds of things were practiced?
O: It was very casual. No gis. Some people have no more money. So that they still can (come). It means like whatever. Not everybody has a way like here. He's too in poverty. They can not do it. Ok. Just do it. Flexible.
T: People would just wear whatever clothes they could.
O: Yeah. But that's the old days. It's later that they pay for that one. Later they have free money. Then they can buy.
T: Was there a lot of practice on basic techniques in the classes?
O: Compared to US it's like go back some time exactly like the Japanese in the old days. They don't have money to do it. They just take the sack of rice. When you finish the rice, outside.
T: They'd make a uniform from a burlap sack?
O: That's right. Because we were very poor. All the good things the communists take over.
T: Was there a lot of practice of kata back in those days?
O: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Kata is every time you come you get out and do kata. Sparring also. But no gloves, just full contact. We have no gloves. You hit not hard, but you have to be tough. There was some contact, but no gloves or anything. Only have a cup. Made out of aluminum. So that it's not too hard.
T: I've had some of your early students here in the US, like Carolyn Frazier and Frank vanEssen people like that have talked about how the workouts here in the early 1970's were very hard, very rigorous. I was wondering if the classes in Vietnam were like that?
O: Yeah, you don't have all things to train. Training equipment. So that you have to go with all things here (your body). Instead of you throw like this one like in judo, like wave machines.
T: So the students workout very hard, lot of push-ups things like that?
O: Yeah, push-ups, finger here.
T: Fingertip push-ups. Oh, reverse fingertips push-ups? Wow, I've never seen that.
O: So you cover all the muscles, different areas.
T: I'll have to try that.
O: We don't have all those things. So we had to improvise.
T: Was there a lot of philosophy as part of the classes?
O: Yeah, Every time I have some stories and I tell them to class, something in book in old days. Keep good attitide, work very hard, and then sit down and talk. But, it's not like I have a schedule, like here. It depends on me, what to do, what I feel like. Because it's kind of going forever, just keep going, keep going. You don't worry about, OK you have to test or something. Kids in the United States say, can you make a test? In Vietnam, everything is much easier, flexible.
T: In the US the students want a test requirement, like a list?
O: Yeah, that's right. Have it announced two or three weeks (ahead). But in Vietnam, I want to test...Boom, Boom, test. I think that if you wait, and someone comes to hit you (you say), OH, Oh wait, wait...! That's different ways.
T: So Vietnam students were tested when they would ask you? They would just say OK I'm ready.
O: Oh no, no. They can not ask. If someone better than the other, like elite, I let them test with five of the others so that both sides benefit. I don't draw the line here. It's like in old days. But when I come to United States and stay with american students you need more structure. Here this one is martial artist all their lives (the instructor). So that you don't get to worry too much. Does that make sense?
T: I think so yes.
O: In Vietnam our sifu teach me this way. No think. I have no right to do anything. Whatever he wants. Not like in United States from 3 to 5 (and) that's it. Go home.
T: So the instructor was the boss. The instructor decided when you'd do things.
O: For example, when they (the students) have to come first and find each other. And whatever. And at half time the instructor would come.
T: So they would work out on their own before class?
O: So that they would have a comraderie. Have each other instead of him.
T: In Vietnam, would you just look at your students and decide that one's ready to test and that one's ready to test and just tell them now is the time to test?
O: Usually test in two or three weeks. Because they had to spar. Here go, here go. Not on paper. This one here, you test, overall.
T: So they wouldn't know ahead of time, you'd just tell them you're testing today?
O: Yeah. The thing is that when you're fighting they just shout at you and you (say) not yet, wait a minute. (He laughs).
T: The guy on the street won't stand there and wait for you to get ready.
O: Right. So that they have to be very aware. (Unintelligible)
T: Did the government support martial arts training in Vietnam at that time?
O: Just because I'm a professor at University. So they have a budget. And why the other's didn't have good students. They're on the right track.
T: So the university gave you a little bit of a budget for the classes.
O: For heavy bag.
T: Was martial arts training considered an important thing in Hue at that time?
O: It's kind of like Family. Because all the parents respect all black belts, teachers. Appreciate all teachers. All teachers are respected. Because number one is teaching. In United States it's medicine,doctors.
T: You told me before that you knew a lot of the other martial arts instructors in Hue. Did you ever have other instructors come to CN classes to be a guest instructor?
O: No, no. Out of respect. So if you come here you want to learn so he has to ask me.
T: So, another instructor might to come to workout but they wouldn't teach at somebody else's school.
O: They can come watch or whatever. It's OK. Bow and sit.
T: What other martial arts were popular in Vietnam at that time?
O: They practice forever. Because they have nothing to do. Here they have basketball, tennis, swimming, whatever. When you're in the orient, it's the largest.
T: I know that CN got to be very popular in Vietnam. It became one of the most practiced martial arts. What other kinds of martial arts were popular in Vietnam Vovinam, Tai Kwon Do, things like that?
O: Vovinam is cooled down because the head is gone. Lap. It is not as good as before. They have a philosophy in Hue, it's like a bible. We don't have.
T: The style wasn't flexible?
O: Yeah.
T: You told me once that CN had become the most popular martial art in Vietnam shortly after you founded the style.
O: The thing is that technically it is very scientific. And another thing is that because I am a teacher, a professor everything is much easier. If you teach in high school or whatever, it's different in Vietnam. I look over all university students. I'm the king there (laughs)
T: Did CN clubs get started at other universities in Vietnam?
O: Yeah.
T: Would you ever travel to these other schools?
O: No, it's kind of like, um, very close to each other. Not too far.
T: Did you have much time for your own training back in those days?
O: No, I teach then. It's all different levels. Wake up, I have more black belt help than before. It's tough but I wanted to do it with the first group. What is the objective in United States? Number one? You teach. No pressure (he laughs). It means let him try to achieve this one here so that he's worried about how to learn then I will give him more chance. So that he has to think in one or two weeks. And then he can do this one at three weeks. I have a three year answer.
T: So students would think for themselves and try to work things out.
O: Yeah! So that they believe in themselves. Rise from within. And that's good in Vietnam. No pressure, like here. Just do it! Do or die! (laughing)
T: Do you think there should be more of that here in the US. Students shouldn't ask so many questions?
O: I think they are very soon to see if I look like (I do it right). They just streak. Do it at least one or two times and then they can ask. If OK I have two days to think I can not do it that's fine.
T: I wonder if American students talk too much and don't go things enough?
T: Back in Vietnam before you came to America did you get much time to work out on your own, would you ever, let's say practice kata at night on your own, something like that?
O: This is the way in Vietnam. With the master they can not ask, they can not suggest anything. Means that the master think it's time to do. This is the way of discipline. Not only discipline but (searching for word)
T: Motivated?
O: I want them to think. At least two or three weeks. So that they can do it and come back. Think. OK How many times you ask me? Four times. It depends what. From that one , he has to develop that one.
T: You wouldn't tell them how everything went and come up with ideas.
O: Yes. Two or three days. A guy already understands.
T: I'm thinking not about the students but about you. Would you go home after teaching classes and work out on your own, something like that?
O: I have two brother. My wife had two guys so that I teach them and they are right and left hand. Teach.
T: Do you have any favorite stories about CN back in Vietnam in the1960's? Memorable things that happened?
O: I have lots of them (laughs). But perhaps the spirit is better away. Because now I'm better. Very hard. Sometime I don't want to think about that. Because, if I think about that I will feel bad, you see. I will feel down. I will be not better. You have to know yourself, so you don't kill yourself. Kick this one here. The other don't' have that one. Only the martial arts have that one. I can break fire balls here. I can break two boards. You train to be on top, the toughest. And now you feel something like " Phew!"
T: You're not as tough as you used to be.
O: Yeah. Not very precise. Jump from the top here down to the very (bottom). You have to understand. Positive at all times. It's like Muhammed Ali, he tried to do it, but he can not do it.
T: He has parkinson's disease.
O: He has problem because he can not attack. I have one accident. Accident, fall down, in our house. I have a ring. My brother and myself fall through the door. So that two person, many pounds?
T: Body weight.
O: Yeah, body weight of both goes through this one here. I still remember about that, see. It's like a trick "ZZZZZZ".
T: Oh, my gosh.
O: And after that my Family is worse to ages. And when I wake up after that one, everybody bend down, fall have a bigger there. Nobody said anything. After that I didn't feel anything. At that time it's like I have people...(gestapo)? "ZZZZZ"
T: The gastapo, you're saying? Electric shock?
O: Yeah, electric shock. After that, zoom. My brother on the top of me, what I feel is like "ZZZZ". When I came out they stand (over me). Everybody eat and say nothing. Now it's 30 years ago.
T: So you were boxing with your brother in a boxing ring and fell against you?
O: Both hit. Both fall down here.
T: So he was on top and your head hit the floor and his weight was on top of you.
O: Yeah. (Demonstrates the actions)
T: Was that back when you were a young man or a teenager?
O: Not young man, maybe 17 or 18.
T: Did you ever go to the hospital or anything for that?
O: Oh, no (laughs). When I woke up and I walked down to the lower...
T: Another floor in the building?
O: Three floors. One, two three. Goes "ZZZZ" here. I don't know, maybe they call the doctors but go door to door. And I keep mouth shut because I didn't want to be something bad. That's what messed up memory now. But I'm old man. Boom.
T: Right. That could have some effect.
O: Yeah, just hit down here. It's like electric shock. One or two hours before I woke up and work out.
T: You were unconscious.
O: What happened? No one has said anything. Maybe the doctor already came and checked for blood.
T: I know I hit my head one time on one of those concrete posts in the basement of the Florida gym. I was sparring with a fella and just ran into one. And hit my head on the right side really hard and I never saw a doctor. And I probably should have. It was swollen up and it bled some. I didn't loose consciousness, so I thought "Well, I guess I'm OK".
O: So far so good.
T: So far so good. I probably should have seen a doctor.
O: Now how many months, how many years?
T: That must have been about 1990, maybe 1991. So, it was probably 5 or 6 years ago.
O: It's OK. If something was serious, you may have symptoms.
T: Let me ask you about this. I was reading over some notes that I have taken in the past and one of the names I ran across was Nguyen Van Tan. I think you studied Aikido with him.
O: Van Tung. Not Aikido. He's judo.
T: Could you tell me more about him?
O: He's typical. But in fighting he's not good. He's not soft.
T: Did he practice CN?
O: No, a lot of people in Vietnam want martial arts, but not two. Because they don't have time, or they feel awkward. Two things different, different fields. Not like me.
T: Where did he train or where did you work out with him?
O: They had two clubs. One club is Vietnamese martial arts. One judo, no aikido.
T: Did Don Kal also work out?
O: He's only karate. He's very stiff. He's the guy who work. He's not...
T: He wasn't educated really.
O: Yeah, yeah. But he's very strong because he does all kind of things with steel. Bam, bam, bam.
T: You told me that you fixed bicycles and he was a mechanic.
O: He had more money. He was a tall guy. That was unusual for Vietnamese.
T: You told me that you were taller than a lot of them. You were mentioning that this man here on the cover of the book is an American who was with the Peace Corp. Did you have very many American students in Vietnam?
O: About three or four. Not too long. Usually one year is the most and they have to move somewhere.
T: Did you have any other students from other countries?
O: Indonesia.
T: Did you have very many students from Indonesia, or just a couple?
O: Just only a couple. It's kind of like, the Oriental they don't like martial arts because they are peaceful. Here a lot of fighting and bad people here. But in Vietnam, just for fun.
T: Did Vietnamese students like martial arts for self-discipline and for character development?
O: I might say that 80% of young people. Vietnamese, they are not sporty. They watch not football, but soccer. They walk and they are not physical. Very few people are afraid of, they are not provocation. Sometime they go out and they break something (by accident) and they stop. It's not my way. Don't know why something violent.
T: In Vietnam, when college students would study CN or study other martial arts would a lot of them keep practicing as they got older or was it something that young people did but then they usually stopped doing?
O: I think that the percentage is kind of like the United States. Very high, very high.
T: The percentage that kept doing it or the percentage that stopped?
O: Maybe 50% stay there because they don't have any soccer or sometimes martial arts is much easier.
T: The reason that I ask is that I had read somewhere that in Japan martial arts is considered something for young people and a lot of kids who practice martial arts in high school or college usually stop once they got into a job and started a Family. I just wondered if in Vietnam it was the same way.
O: No.
T: That's good that people keep at it.
O: I might say that families in the United States are the most sophisticated. Compared to all the other area. I would say that I am biased because my country is the best in the world. They defeat Monguls, French, America. All the best in the world. They can defeat.
T: A lot of fighting spirit.
O: We were very proud of that. Chinese is largest in the world and next to my country. All of the time it's no match. Like 10 times better or more people. Many times...
T: They would invade and be driven out. We should probably stop for the day. I have to take my parents to the airport. They're going on a trip.
O: Do you think that it's interesting to publish or something?
T: Yeah. Absolutely. This is just great. I'm really excited about this because I'm learning so much about CN history and about your life. I think it will definitely make for a real interesting book. It'll take a while.
O: Everything takes time to publish good things.
T: I was going to write down the name of this book and the other books you mention on the back of this one.
O: Do you...a student of writing.
T: I'm not sure what you mean. Journalism school?
O: Yeah.
T: You mean am I doing that?
O: Yeah.
T: I ended up going to law school. I'm practicing law now. I'm a criminal defense lawyer.
O: Take care of the bad guys.
T: Yeah, I take care of the bad guys. That's exactly what I do.
O: You take care of the bad guy. Do they let you get a pistol or something?
T: Well, if I wanted to I could go buy one. But for my job they don't have us get guns or anything. Sometimes I think they should.
O: But another day they come back.
T: I think about that.
O: You are the enemy. Sometime they attack you.
T: That's how some of them look at it. That I'm their enemy. That it's my fault their lives are so messed up. But I still do a lot of writing. I really love doing that.
O: You feel free.
T: I get a sense of accomplishment. I want to give something back to CN. So one of the things I can do is to write things.
O: So how many articles you wrote about CN? Three or four or something?
T: I've had two that got published in magazines. The two that you and I worked on. I've written a bunch of book reviews and a couple of other things that got published in Dragon Nhus, the CN newsletter. I wrote that manual on formatted kata that you and I worked on. I've written a bunch of essays about crime prevention, street awareness, you know being able to spot the bad guy. I've probably done about 6 or 8 of those. That we'll just give out to people. So I guess all together I've written 12 or 15.
O: What is your job? The boss of fighting all the bad guys.
T: You mean why do I write all the essays about crime prevention?
O: You work with who?
T: I work defending the bad guys and then in my free time I write articles about how to stay away from the bad guys. It's kind of weird. It's sort of in opposition. Sometimes I think I should work for the state attorney's office prosecuting the bad guys and probably send them to jail and not trying to get them out of jail.
O: The good guy for the bad guy.
T: Exactly. I'm the good guy for the bad guy. That's exactly what I do. I' don't know how much longer I'm going to keep doing that job because it is. I feel bad about it sometimes.
O: What is the name of your job.
T: I am an assistant public defender. I defend people who can't afford their own lawyer.
O: No money.
T: Most criminal defendants are in that situation. Probably 80 or 90% can't hire a lawyer so the public defender has to represent all of those people. I was wondering what these titles mean in English.
O: Judo fighting.
T: This next one here. Karate ki?
O: Black belt karate.
T: So this one.
O: Karate techniques for black belt. That's outdated. It's kind of like a pseudonym.
T: Can you tell me what the other two mean.
O: Martial arts, like fighting.
T: So it means something like fighting.
O: Techniques for black belt.
T: So this one says "Techniques in Cuong Nhu Karate"?
O: Yeah. They are put in the archives of my life. It's kind of like history.
T: I'm going to write a book about what we've been talking about. I'll save the tapes and everything and I'll put those in the archives. But when the book is finished then everybody can read about your story.
O: You write a book and it goes to all over the world.
T: You said that this title is "Super Karate"?
O: It means top level. That's for non-karate.
T: This is for people who don't study?
O: For not top.
T: So this is a book for beginners?
O: Yeah. They put a higher level because of the money. Because when he sells that one he can put anything on that. Title so that they can get more money.
T: This is great. I'm holding a piece of history. It's got techniques with the bo and tambo, knife self-defense, joint locks, kicking techniques. Lots of things.
O: Not fancy yet.
T: I'd better get going. Thank you very much.
O: You're welcome.
T: What I thought maybe we could talk about today is what was going on just before you left Vietnam and came to the U.S. And then what happened when you got to the U.S in 1971.
O: I pick University of Florida because this precious…of the orange. We didn’t have to make it it’s just cut it and eat it.
T: In Vietnam you ate oranges?
O: Yeah, only for the high class and they can squeeze them. Usually they cut them four times here. So that share with people. People… one is too much. You had to import so that it’s only for the people worth, dying or very weak or something. Vitamin C.
T: So they didn’t grow oranges in Vietnam?
O: Yeah, even rice or whatever because the fighting with the Viet Cong. I might say that production is less than 40%.
T: For all kinds of crops production was way down?
O: I don’t know about…my Family was high style. So that no problem with this one here. I didn’t feel anything different because I get it, a few. But definitely very few people can get orange.
T: And so that was one of the main reasons you came to University of Florida?
O: The thing is that here in United States you have packaging and everything go everywhere. And then, I have a Family for example, they have two at most, there is three or four trees and then production is very few and if we have orange. I talk about orange but it say to any kind of fruit. Apple parts.
T: So were you sending oranges back to Vietnam when you were here in the US?
O: No, no. A lot of problems because we had to go to try to make sure that not bad insects get that one. And that’s only for the high class.
T: I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about Hue. What it was like. What the people were like.
O: Hue is the most (prison?). When all the normal kids was kicked out. So that’s a mess with the fighting with the powers, military take over.
T: So Hue is a modern city. It was built recently?
O: No, that’s oldest.
T: Did you like Hue compared to Saigon and the other places you lived?
O: It has it’s roots things. In Saigon it’s kind of like more European. European theater, live dancing. Hue is still keeping all the traditions.
T: Did the university students have a lot of affect on the way life was in Hue. Were there a lot of young people there?
O: We have about 8 universities in very south. Hue was in middle and the sides, all kinds. They tried to develop. Less than 10 universities in all the country.
T: I guess was what I was thinking of is here in Gainesville because there’s a big university here there are a lot of young people and that sort of affects the way that life is in this town.
O: I think it’s exactly like in Vietnam also. We have 6 universities. That’s all. Hue, Saigon. Eight big universities.
T: So was life in Hue affected by the university students?
O: Oh, sure. I might say we’re number 3 in the country about larger. Saigon is over 20,000 student. Hue maybe 9,000 or something.
T: About how many people lived in Hue at that time?
O: Maybe, I might say, compared with all the other universities, Hue is maybe number 3.
T: I was just wondering in the whole city about how many people were there? Not just students, but everybody.
O: They buy out the other places to get the university a place to study.
T: What were the people like in Hue?
O: They were very traditional. Because all of the history. Hue is like 20 very, very, very I don’t know 20, 30, 40, to kings. For a hundred years. And only the communists when they boom. Anything later and the king is out.
T: Right the old way is (gone). Did the war in Vietnam affect things in Hue more than it did in other cities?
O: Touch everything, everywhere. Because that’s big war, a long time. So that not chance just use it, use it. Losing about, because of economics. Because that’s only for education. But not good to all kinds of things so that can spare now. Like when you buy the house and you didn’t plan that OK now I will develop 10 years from now, here,here. In Vietnam, we don’t have that kind of luxury. Wisdom is like when you don’t have enough money and you are tied up. You can not develop anything. (not understandable)
T: It sounds like people weren’t able to plan for the future too well.
O: Say it again.
T: It sounds like people couldn’t plan for the future because you didn’t know.
O: Because it’s unstable.
T: You just didn’t know what would happen.
O: Military and curfew. What you call it?
T: Yeah, curfew.
O: Terminal…
T: Terminal germ?
O: No, no forget. It means that they can not product (produce) anything, poor, poor.
T: The economy broke down.
O: The people in Hue is mostly about two university and Saigon have 4 and Da Lap has two.
T: I was wondering, what you did for recreation back at that time. I know that you were very busy with teaching and CN and with your Family. But were there other things you did just for entertainment?
O: Play tennis. Because I am alternate otherwise I would burden myself. Karate, karate,karate.
T: I didn’t know that you played tennis. Were there other things that you did?
O: Tennis. I quit when karate is blooming. I have no time for myself.
T: Did you ever do things like go to the movies?
O: Rarely. I have friends call you and say OK we go today. I don’t initiate this. When I have time so that I can be (liked?). I teach at the university and karate and everything.
T: You just didn’t have much free time.
O: First is karate. So that you have 18 years old or something. But the good thing is that they didn’t have any recreation. So that we have a very big class of karate.
T: I was going over some old notes and I read that at the time when you came to the United States there were about 3,000 CN students in Vietnam. Does that sound about right?
O: 3,000 yeah. Because very easy to get student. Because they don’t have any sports or whatever (laughs). Volleyball, volleyball too expensive. You have everything, the net, the shoes and whatever.
T: Right, the posts, and the volleyball, that costs money.
O: Yeah. Only for the nonstudent and student. There’s a nonstudent in me that the people even have a (unknown). So that the kids didn’t have money so that the outsider that can’t take a sport.
T: So martial arts is something that they can do without a lot of money.
O: Help poor people and help their families. Try to do something good.
T: I think you had told me that by the time that you came to the United States CN was one of the biggest martial arts in Vietnam. Was it the biggest or one of the biggest? I was wondering was CN the number one biggest martial art in Vietnam?
O: Yeah. Number one in martial arts. The first one. In university of Hue I’m teaching there and I teach CN also so that’s it’s a lot of everything. Everytime that they have soccer or something and they ask CN to do demonstration. Later it’s like here. Like in stadium. It’s largest. I think largest in America also. They have over here several professionals in United States. They make room not for professional but CN is nonprofit. Nonprofit and free in Vietnam and in United States.
T: That’s been one of your goals I guess, to make CN accessable to everybody. At the time when you came to the United States was CN being taught all throughout Vietnam?
O: Yeah. It’s easy because they have no sports so that every time we have something, parade and then be all the longest line. Exactly like in Vietnam like in United States. All like boom, boom. In a straight line.
T: Right, like the homecoming parade here with the dragon.
O: In Vietnam same thing.
T: Right lots and lots of CN students in the parade.
O: CN is the largest martial arts in Vietnam.
T: When you had the parades did you have dragons like we do here in Gainesville?
O: Yeah. Dragon head is very large and we had to ask the professional (to) make it. Every year they have professional who had big event.
T: So professional people would build the dragon’s head?
O: Yeah. In Vietnam we glue boards because it’s too expensive for break.
T: For breaking?
O: Three breaks, four breaks, move. But fortunately breaks is not too (hard), because they don’t have money to buy the good one. We bought number two.
T: So they weren’t real strong.
O: Not strong. Not the best one. Number two or something. Sometime we could not get number two, we get number three. For the high rank they have to do bam, bam, bam…three bricks just do it instead of like here you get this one. In Vietnam you have to do it yourself. No body could help you.
T: No holders, wow.
O: Everything put in block.
T: Concrete blocks? And they would set the bricks on the concrete blocks.
O: All of them, when they reach black belt and they train a lot of breaking. Because if wood it would be much more expensive. Brick, that’s tough. That’s what they have to do, punch to black belt. Some…little….
T: Makiwara?
O: Makiwara. Yeah. Makiwara and we don’t use lower and do it to straw. The thing is that we won’t have money to break because it’s too expensive. So we do fast to brick.
T: Speed break?
O: Yeah, speed break, speed break. So you don’t have like here you spend time with everybody. Faster, see. You have to buy …From there we tell them you have to break two bricks or three bricks. It depend on black belt or green belt or whatever. Another thing in Vietnam, the board not, the bricks. The brick is priority number one. The brick to make the house. So that everything brick.
T: Everything was built of bricks so that it was easy to find bricks.
O: Yeah.
T: You said that to condition the knuckles the black belts would hit the makiwara before they broke. Were there other things that people broke for demonstrations or for tests. Like concrete blocks or roofing tiles?
O: Yeah. But we never…roofing tiles very expensive. Bricks.
T: You don’t want to break things that are really expensive. Had a lot of your students from Hue moved to other cities in Vietnam and started teaching CN by the time that you came to the United States?
O: Usually, in Vietnam, when you stay there it’s forever until you die. We have no choice if you have city here it means everything tied up like this one. It means have no choice you finish this one here and have to go this one in local. Can not the way…have to recruit the bestest teacher. No choice.
T: So people would grow up in one city and get a job there and raise a Family there.
O: If we have saying that if you keep moving to different housing you will be very poor. Because you make off all the money, so that money is very few. So that they have to think for months or years in order to buy something.
T: I guess it might be hard to get started in a new place where you don’t know people.
O: Yeah. That’s another thing.
T: By the time you came to the United States in 1971 was CN being taught in other cities besides Hue?
O: Say it again.
T: In 1971 when you came to the United States was CN being taught in a lot of different places in Vietnam besides Hue?
O: Yeah. Yeah. It’s very easy for Vietnamese to join because it’s like they don’t have a luxury like football. So that’s easy.
T: How did CN spread in Vietnam? Would people come and visit you and train with you and then go to somewhere else?
O: That’s from university. I teach at university. So that I don’t know maybe unique to open the thing because I’m wide open. When I change or whatever. If, for example, I learn some Vietnamese style and I come to talk with them like a friend or something. So we have a friendship. But I’m more educated than them so that I have good respect from them also. Make it easy.
T: So some of the students that you taught at the university, they would go back to the place they were from?
O: Yeah. Get the chart from other cities and spread out.
T: Then they would teach CN.
O: Yeah. And that’s very easy because they don’t have movies or all kinds of entertainment. That’s good to work out. Feel good about themselves.
T: Did CN change much between 1965 when you founded it and 1971 when you came to the United States?
O: Yeah, definitely. It’s evolution. So that we had to… all kind of techniques will be changed whenever something coming up. For example, they ask when come to United States, big buy. I’m afraid of guy 250 lbs. How you deal. I know that you break a board, but does it work. I said it works all the time. So don’t worry about it. You just train. And maybe 10 more years you will be myself now. Just try. Don’t ask questions. In Vietnam, no question. Because we said OK I can teach you. I want you to learn instead of, I give all the things to you. So, that’s no good for you. You have to work more and talk less. That’s what wrong. American student they always want to (question) because it’s new. They want to ask. I say you have to do at least 20 times or something and then you learn something more and then you get more things, knowledge instead of ask. When you research to you. You rely on yourself until 3 months and you stop, quit you see and then I will (not?) help you. It means I don’t want to have spoon feeding. They have to do. They have to sweat. They have to work very hard.
T: And find out for themselves.
O: That’s the first problem when we came to United States. They say “Sensei” ask some question. You will have to think one week, and come back to ask me. I don’t have a spoon to feed you. You have to feed yourself (laughs). Have cigarette, go over here, ask question (joking).
T: I guess what I was wondering about was in Vietnam before you came to the United States had CN changed much since 1965 up until the time that you left to come here to the U.S.?
O: Oh, sure. Because the Vietnamese student they respect me so that they didn’t want to change. I had to develop new things so that they get used to evolution. They are very educated. Because here you have a lot of things, movies, girlfriend, boyfriend, and parties. In Vietnam, no such thing. They have no money, no luxuries. Much easier. Everything.
T: Can you think of some ways how you changed CN in Vietnam between 1965 and when you left?
O: Sit on the couch. The teacher never left. If they come to me and go I don’t know. I don’t understand this one. I say one week, come back. And then, how many time you hit. Is it 30? I say 30 isn’t enough. You have to do number. Every time I push them to do more. If they quit, I don’t care. I don’t need you. But usually some guy quit and then they come back. Because they said OK you quit and I will kick you out. Hot and more and to make that kick they have to be serious. Not take for granted. We have to do it yourself.
T: Right, push yourself. When you came to the United States in 1971 did you leave somebody in charge of CN in Vietnam?
O: Yeah.
T: Who was that?
O: Several, several. Five very good so that we have a good foundation.
T: Can you think of the names of any of those people?
O: Bah , BA
T: BA?
O: Another one, the oldest and number one is Tho. He’s engineer here.
T: How do you spell his name?
O: T-h-o. And this one here.
T: Oh, a mark on top of the O.
O: Yeah. T-h-o. It’s pronunciation. He’s engineer in the United States.
T: And he was the most senior student?
O: Yeah, he’s number one. But he has a lot of kids. And no time for.
T: Oh, he can’t work out anymore.
O: But I remember two, Tho is number and Ba is number three.
T: Number three student? Do you remember who the number two student was?
O: I have forgotten.
T: That’s alright.
O: In the United States, since all the American student, they very well organized. Whenever they come to ask me what is more professional. I didn’t have…I was reflects. Take is easy. Not business. The student ask what are we to do. Here everything you have to make a schedule. In Vietnam it’s up to the teacher. So that we have to do this one. Before it’s just unusual. It’s not relaxed. Laid back.
T: When you came to the United States did you give any special instructions to your students in Vietnam. I’m leaving, here’s what you need to do.
O: Oh yeah. My two brothers of my wife. But she died a long time. Two brothers, really it’s like my sons because I taught them. Taught them. One younger went to United States. Getting degrees. The other one he’s like blind. He left another in charge of CN. My wife she died. Two of them in charge of karate when I was in United States.
T: Her brothers were in charge. What are their names?
O: Ving Hun (sp.?) He’s still in United States. He has restaurant here in Gainesville. You can ask Thu. What is the name of restaurant, vietnamese restaurant. Very close here.
T: I know that you know people who run a Hong Kong restaurant.
O: That’s Hong Kong.
T: Is that it? Yeah, 34th street by the university. So, Ving Hun?
O: He’s youngest. He works very hard. He had to, he’s manager for that Hong Kong. Maybe you can come interview him. You can come to make it easy. Like you planned help. You can ask him what time few people (in the restaurant).
T: I’d like to speak with him.
O: He’s English teacher so you don’t worry about. Track 2
T: What’s the name of your other brother-in-law?
O: (Writing out the names).
T: And what’s the name of your other brother-in-law besides him?
O: The same. I forgot. Because when we taught we’re very close. I taught them karate.
T: So they were close in age. They’re about the same age?
O: Between two of them is maybe two years.
T: So they have a close relationship?
O: Yeah. But the second one he’s kind of like he’s eager now. He just left and he’s student to teach.
T: And the brother that’s in Vietnam now. You said that he’s blind?
O: Almost blind. No more techniques to do.
T: How did you decide to come to the US? Did it take a while to make that decision?
O: You talking about me? I guess things said “Florida” it’s very famous when you’re talking about orange. Everybody love orange. We eat. Have to go to a place… orange city. Another thing I know is weather. Weather is very similar to hot of Vietnam. Going to go through orange, important.
T: I know you told me that you wanted to get a PhD. And there wasn’t a program in Vietnam for that and so you would have to go to some other country. Did you ever think about going to somewhere other than the United States? Some other country?
O: I decided on Florida because of orange. All the years, hundred years, or whatever. You’re going to have enough oranges for everybody. It’s expensive.
T: Did it take a long time to set things up for you to come here?
O: No, because I am the best candidate. English is better. I have higher degrees over all the people teaching there. Not all the Vietnamese professors like I was, and they never come back. They stay there. I love my country. I have medals. I’m a hero. Because I can stay home and go to self-defense, I can get shot, killed anytime. All the generals respect me. Once in a while all the medals. They respect me a lot because…even student and professors. Nobody touch them because they say that’s for the future. If the future now they bring to the fighting. The future is perhaps (fighting/gone).
T: And you always planned to come back from the United States?
O: Definitely. But why several of my friends they bring student out of the whole Family, they never come back. And that’s what I try to track. Because I love my country. I want to do the top of something. And that’s what I did.
T: I know you’d been involved in some kind of program, with an organization…
O: People’s self-defense?
T: No, it was some kind of international organization that helped you come here to the US? We had talked about this a long time ago.
O: It means foundation or something?
T: Right, and they helped you.
O: I forgot. They had the coup, the money. I went to the United States from education in Vietnam. I didn’t get any that one, no.
T: I think that they kind of helped you get the paper work done and things like that.
O: They have not official. Something foundation.
T: I think I have the name in my old notes. So things got set up for you to be a graduate student here at the University of Florida and then eventually you took an airplane I guess and came here.
O: When I got officially in a couple of weeks and pack up and everything and come back to Vietnam. About 200 students showed up to welcome to come back home.
T: That’s good. When you came here to the US was it hard to leave your Family?
O: That’s the purpose. Like never have the Family. Because if Family (goes) might never come back.
T: So the government didn’t want your Family coming?
O: Yeah. But they can still go around here and here. But purposely I know I can do exactly like they did. I don’t want to make trap. If wife go there and she want to stay and this one to come back. So I decided to make the decision.
T: You decided to just come here by yourself.
O: I was a hero, for self-defense. And now I don’t want my people to say now he wants to stay in United States. Get out from the war. I’m the most decoration with medals in Vietnam.
T: The most decorated civilian in the country. Had you ever left Vietnam before you came to the United States? Had you ever visited some other country?
O: I was sent to United States (unknown). That’s it. When I come I come, it means in top of anything. Everybody respect me. Because as a professor and when I came back I will become very popular so that I had a new (position).
T: Right, at Da Nang.
O: Right, Da Nang. For maybe two months I was stuck there.
T: You were appointed the president of the university when you got back. When you left to come the United States were you worried about your Family, if they would be OK without you?
O: I think so. My wife, she died several years ago.
T: I remember. We were working on some other projects when that happened. That was terrible. When you came to the United States back in 1971 with the war going on in Vietnam were you concerned about if your Family would be OK without you.
O: I think so. I’m in the United States and I have a lot of dollars. So for example if you want to buy a house, it will take you many, many, many years. But when I go to United States I pay the dollars. So it’s like 10 times that one. I bring the dollars and now I have cash.
T: The exchange rate was good.
O: I don’t want to get out of the country because that’s against my patriotism. Why all my colleagues brought all the Family so they didn’t have to come back. Try and move, I didn’t want to be trapped that way so that I come back. That’s funny, when I cam back from the United States, the second I touched down on the Vietnam soil…
T: So you came back on the same date that you left?
O: Exactly same.
T: Do you remember what the date was?
O: No.
T: Do you remember what time of year it was, summer or fall?
O: If you take year, homecoming, like that one.
T: I know that you came back to the US in November, I think it was homecoming day in 1977 that you and your Family arrived. So that was the same date that you had gone back to Vietnam after you got your PhD?
O: Yeah. I means that I had got the PhD in only two or three weeks. Exactly. That’s very strange.
T: Was there some kind of celebration for you when you left Vietnam in 1971 to come here. Did your students come with you to the airport?
O: Yeah, to teach in Vietnam is better than any other (profession) people respect. Number two, number one is medical doctor because you save a life. Academic and teacher make the student to be a better person. So the best people who share and develop the student to be a good student. A lot of them respect the teacher, not (like) here now. That’s in Vietnam. Number one is doctor because you save a life. Student is number one because we need good people to help people and to be respected all his life.
T: Can you remember anything about the, any kind of celebration that happened for you before you came to the United States?
O: Come back?
T: I was thinking about when you left in 1971, when you left Vietnam to come here. You said that your student came to the airport.
O: What, yeah. Say goodbye. That’s very traditional. Phone ringing. Hear O’Sensei talking on phone.
O: Teach the big….what you call…
T: A road, a pipe? A twist a turn, trail?
O: Animal, it’s a big…
T: A kind of animal?
O: You go in the bushes and aahhh you go the hospital. A serpent.
T: A snake?
O: Snake, yeah.
T: So, di sak (?)
O: Is big serpent. I taught to Bao. Sometime he testing to higher rank. Quynh is too easy so that I didn’t have time to teach him. He’s too easy.
T: I know he had to take some years to get his career really going. But I know that you’re working with him now a lot. So Bao is working on one of the snake forms of CN?
O: The big one.
T: The big snake form. I haven’t learned those yet, the snake forms. I have to do that. I guess that’s about all the questions that I wanted to ask you about today. When we talk next time I thought I could ask you about what happened when you got the US in 1971, about your studies here, and about people you met and about teaching CN. So we’ll get into that.
O: See the difference? I think the American way is more efficient in the way to do overall things. In Vietnam, it’s not too serious. It’s serious. It’s more about the heart. It’s about how much we grow. But not the medals you get. That’s how you respect the people, they respect you and have a good time. You touch…I don’t know how many years left. Because, now I have a feeling, sometimes blank. Maybe all the time boxing, boom, boom, like Ali. It’s kind of alarming. I don’t know that take a long time. Sixty years or something.
T: But you still remember a lot of things. I know it’s frustrating when your mind is blank about something, but you still remember a lot. So anyway the students in Vietnam it sounds like they were more concerned about accomplishment inside and in America a lot of time students are more concerned about external accomplishment, rank and winning tournaments and things.
O: Rank or glory. That’s typical of American. But like you said, this one’s number one here because that’s forever. Physically you can win but then you can lose. But this one here when you’re in heart here. That’s it.
T: Once you win over yourself, you’ve won. And that’s what really counts in martial arts.
O: Because you can not be forever. You left behind something. If you have something, it’s forever. If you spotted champion new you’re up. But with this one here it’s all the time in the heart of the people. I know I’ve done my best.
T: The legacy that you leave to your students, that’s going to live on. That’s one of the reasons that I’m excited about working on this book and doing everything that I’ve done with you because that’s something that both of us will leave for the next generation and generations after that.
O: We have to push fast before I’m (losing) more memory.
T: I agree. I hope that you keep doing as well as you are for a long time but I think it’s important that we do this fast because nobody knows.
O: Better than later, ahead of everything.
T: I’m going to pretty much ask you as much as I can, all about CN history and about your wife and about martial arts and philosophy, and everything. Just get in there and get all the knowledge out of your brain.
O: It seems like CN has a philosophy at least when you spend several years and they get out at least they know CN and they respect and know how to make a better person. Instead of punching and breaking fire balls and whatever.
T: I think CN philosophy has had a really positive effect on everybody that’s been involved in CN, even a few months.
O: Just lead by example, or talking.
T: What I thought we could talk about is what happened when you came to the US in 1971 and started teaching CN here and your studies at University. If you want to we could just start on that.
O: It's OK. History is better to do fluidly, instead of not one here and one there.
T: I guess maybe a good place to start is just ask you what were things like when you got here, when you came to Florida?
O: I have experience with American people, news, civilian. I have two guys that I got as American, they call for all the young people to go oversea, they have a program. I forgot what?
T: Peace Corps?
O: Yeah, Peace Corps.
T: You had a couple students that were Americans.
O: Right. And then, it's like I have no idea but so far so good. And then, maybe, two or three months and I start for the student in the local university in my apartment but it's too small so then move to that (place) where they play basketball...
T: At the basement of the Florida gym?
O: Yeah, and then larger and larger, so they have to go outdoor.
T: When you first came here to Florida did you know anybody here? Was there somebody to help you sort of get settled in?
O: Before they already give me some information, about the money, about something, all kind. But I can (it) do no problem. I don't two months or three months I start to teach student from the beginning about 20 or something and then we move out and then we have two places because of I don't know 180-200 (students) or something, basement and go another group go upstairs.
T: Upstairs?
O: Up and down.
T: Are you talking about having them run the steps in the stadium?
O: Yeah, step because I know that they are not in good shape. I figure I have (them) go.
T: When you first came here who were the first people that you met?
O: The first one he's a student at the University and then we sit, we meet in the room, roommate. When I teach him, that's what find out that I'm master of karate. So that....move....something you put... on the floor...when all the student three of four here...first I forgot the name of that one.
T: I think you lived in Batey Towers. Is that it? The big tall buildings? In Batey Towers they have this set-ups where they have two or three or four bedrooms and they all share a restroom area.
O: Yeah, I go to the area where the...that's filled up and I have to do two sessions.
T: Oh, were you teaching in the recreation room, something like that?
O: Yeah.
T: Downstairs in Batey Towers?
O: Yeah, in the basement. Maybe about 30 students started that one and after that maybe 100 to go to the room, the gym, it's about 200+ or something.
T: Do you remember the name of the guy that was your roommate?
O: He didn't join because he's old man. That's the first roommate. He's now maybe older than me by the time I'm 36, 37. He's older like 40, something.
T: Did you meet people at the entomology department?
O: Yes.
T: Did you start, I guess you started studying as soon as you got here? Is that right?
O: Frank...
T: Frank Blanchard, Frank VanEssen?
O: Frank VanEssen.
T: He was in the entomology department? I didn't know that.
O: Yeah. And the other one is what?
T: Well, I had mentioned Frank Blanchard but I think he came...
O: Frank Blanchard, yeah, he got to brown belt and then he quit.
T: Yeah, Caroline Frazier used to tell me about him. She said he was really good but he just lost interest. I know Mary Davis was a student of yours really early on.
O: She's a secretary of my department. Paper work or something.
T: I have an old notice from the "Alligator", the newspaper at the campus, and it just announces that you're teaching CN, this is published in April of 1972 and it says to call Mary Davis at Batey Towers and gives a phone number. It mentions somebody else, I can't remember his name right off the top of my head. He was somebody I had never heard of so I guess he probably didn't stick with it.
O: Blanchard.. John Benson. First crop.
T: Sensei Lap he must have started...
O: Who?
T: Hung Thung Lap.
O: Yeah, he's one of the first one.
T: Had he studied with you in Vietnam?
O: No, my wife taught him in high school. So we know each other in Vietnam but by that time he didn't work out yet.
T: Let me think who else was there early? I think the Wax brothers, Eddie and Howie Wax and Melinda Chancy.
O: Yeah.
T: I'll have to go through those old articles. I know there's other people.
O: Blanchard and who else. That's at least 500 hundred or something.
T: So people found out that you were a martial arts master and did people come to you and ask if you would teach?
O: They have flyers.
T: And those would get put up?
O: Yeah, they put inside of the...underneath...
T: Windshield wipers? The basketball goals?
O: Not the basket ball, not base...basement.
T: Oh, they put flyers in the basement.
O: Yeah. And then once in a while they play, training, basketball and then we expand and they let out because 200 from the beginning and then 500 and so that we move, move, and kiai or something and maybe their mind can not concentrate or something. And they quit because kiai! And punch and kick. Oh, OK don't kill me! (laughing)
T: So that's the people playing basketball?
O: Yeah, basketball (laughing).
T: So they were kind of scared.
O: When the test is over...don't kill me...don't kill me...I said I don't kill anybody.
T: The very first people that you taught, were they people from the entomology department, like Frank VanEssen?
O: Yeah, first one. First one maybe 27 and then move.
T: Did they find out that you were a martial arts master and just ask you if you would start teaching them?
O: At my department?
T: Right.
O: Yeah. I say to them, if you want to train I can teach you. They look at me, how much you charge. I say free (laughs). And very fast and we have 40, 80, 200 and then we have to move outdoor because it's too small. The basement (was) only for the basketball gym.
T: Were you planning to teach CN in the United States or did you feel like you needed to...
O: Yeah, I need to know that it affects people because I know I just want to get Phd and go home. In Vietnam, maybe less than 20 have Phd
T: But all along you were planning to teach CN here.
O: Yeah. When I finished everything I signed up to return to Vietnam. And all, several people I know (from) different in New York City have money so that they graduate with Phd and then they stay in the United States. I know of like three friends and they have during the time they're here, they make pregnant so that they have babies (laughs).
O: What year you get your black belt?
T: I got my black belt in 1985. I tested in March and I got probation for my board breaking and then I broke boards at the Campout in May and got promoted then.
O: Campout, last campout?
T: No, 1985. And not too long after that I stopped working out, I stopped until about 1990. I was playing music, I was playing in rock bands.
O: Oh, rock.
T: Doing some other things but I wasn't working out. So then I came back in 1990 and then I got into law school in 1992 and that kept me real busy so I couldn't really work out much during that time and then 1995 when I finished law school I started working out again.
O: I'm wondering...if I have a lot of papers about my karate so that I'm wondering I have several different, who make the story but when move and lost in case you want to have history and all the journal and usually they keep somewhere in the archives or something.
T: Right. And you're saying that you have a lot of papers about CN?
O: Yeah, every semester or something. They have to do report something.
T: Newspapers?
O: Newspaper, yeah.
T: If you've got some I'd love to look through them. I have got a lot of them from the "Alligator". But you might have some that I don't. But that would be something that we could do.
O: Post it some where so that everywhere try to do something so that you have archives. So that 20 more years that's will be there.
T: I've sent copies of all the articles I have out to George Sherman in San Diego and also to Julie Shilling at the Center. And so they have them.
O: Oh, I see. George Sherman, he's history so that he get the paper.
T: Right, he's in charge of the archives project. I should get in touch with him and I should give him the tapes that we're making so that he has copies of them. I'll talk to other people, Frank Van Essen and Mary Davis and if you've got those newspaper articles that would be great I can look through those.
O: I move and I'm not good and organized. I lose quite a bit.
T: With everybody in CN I bet there's a lot of things out there. I bet we can a lot of it together.
O: When we have some meeting or something. Do you know?
T: When's the next black belt meeting? I'm not sure they usually do them about once a month. I'll have to ask Lou Shilling would probably know. He'll probably set one up.
O: So that we have to do something, started. So that they have momentum. Because I know that I'm worse and worse in the memory so that I have to push myself.
T: That's what we'll do. We'll just keep doing as much as we can as fast as we can.
O: If people they donate all their papers or something and then when you get one you have one free. So that OK now I give you this one and 10 more days and come back and (you get another one).
T: I could get things like papers and newspapers articles and just make copies and give them back. That's a good idea. Let me ask you a few other things about this. Had you taken English classes before you came to the US?
O: Yeah, yeah. U.S. they paid money. So that in order to take class to go to America talk and to teach. 6 months.
T: Was that shortly before you came here?
O: I don't really remember.
T: I heard that you took a 6 month English class just before you came here.
O: Yeah.
T: What did you think about Gainesville when you got here?
O: Very neat and it's a city because I like University in Florida because there's a lot of oranges (laughs). I can not make anything. I don't know nothing. Nobody in the middle to tell me what to do.
T: Was the climate here similar to Hue?
O: Better than Hue. Hue is humid. And here it is dry.
T: When you came here it was 1971 and young people in the United States were hippies. You know men with long hair and beards and things like that. What did you think about that?
O: I think they have no direction, good direction. So that they try to do something new, not necessarily that good. They just wanted to (say), OK I did something. They just try to roll with the waves. Some guy do something different here and the other just imitate because they don't have their own identity yet. So that they want to do something to show that I know something, I read something. Instead of develop themselves to be true with yourself and that's's truth. And they can build up.
T: I think that's right. A lot of young people in the United States were rejecting tradition and they were trying to find some sort of identity. One thing that was going on was that of lot of young people were looking to things like eastern religions and of course Asian martial arts. So, that's probably one of the reasons people were interested in CN, because young people were looking to eastern ways. Did you notice anything like that?
O: I think they're thirsty or something. And CN at the right time to make them people can build them up themselves to have self-confidence. And that's what time so that it's from the beginning, when I first ask the students. I establish...I have a least two months to see what's going, what classes's completely different the two countries. So that after two or three months I say OK now I need to do exercise. So that OK now it's time for me to recruit. I recruit because I believe in the tao. I do demonstration and filled up that one. They have one large recruit (class), so that when I taught them, I have to stop and let them keep working (on the football field). They can not go smooth, see. We book early but the session is the football players, they train on the field. I told them that when we come close to them, I...(laughing)...said don't kill me...he's two times bigger than me. The thing is that when I come close to that it's like whaahh, whooo (kiai-ing). They don't know what is going on.
T: Yeah, they can see the focus.
O: That is funny. The thing about martial arts, make you a kind of more...double my size. Later I move to another dormitory.
T: Do you know where that other dormitory was?
O: I think they call it Bowl...T.
T: Batey Towers. Right, that's where you lived at first. Did you just move to another room in Batey Towers?
O: No, I'm happy with everything in United States. Everything is clean and organized.
T: I'm sorry. I'm getting a little confused. I know that you lived in Batey Towers when you first came here. Are you saying that later on you lived in a different dormitory?
O: Not move out but not another one.
T: OK. You did go to a different dormitory. How long did you live in Batey Towers?
O: Two months or something, then we move to the field, Towers was too small. So that everybody...(unknown).
T: What I meant is that you were living in Batey Towers. That's where your room was.
O: When I first start. I start where I live. So that one hour after (class) you go up and take a shower and do something.
T: What I mean, during the time that you were studying at the University getting your Phd. Did you ever live somewhere besides Batey Towers? Or did you just live in Batey Towers all those three years?
O: All three years. I don't want to take time to do change.
T: I guess you were trying to get things done fast.
O: In less than three years I got my Phd and I came back to Vietnam and I got stuck there. Why I have all the professors here not in my University in Vietnam. They brought their kids so that they stay there. But I take PhD here and fly back to Vietnam.
T: Let me ask you about something else with the classes here. I've seen some old pictures that look like some of the CN classes were somewhere outside that was not the football field, like some other place outside. Do you remember anything like that, maybe a field?
O: I don't know. I'm no good at signs, so that I drive I got lost. No direction.
T: Was it hard for you to adjust to life without your Family being with you, you know, when you came here?
O: I very appreciate my wife stay there because a lot of people had opportunity to stay there. I know that I had to (work) between the two. Several people said to (unknown). I tell them that they are a chicken. I tell them they have to go back. The professor at the University at the country already make it easier, that they don't have to go to the fighting. I never have respect for these. They are very good here. But when you very kind of loopholes. So that I never respected my colleagues and that's what I said. I want to go back and I want to become...2000 people under me...pow...
T: People's self-defense?
O: Right. That was one thing. It's very scary and you know that, in Vietnam. And no logistic, so we have a talk. And have the pattern introduce me so that I will be in charge of all of the people's self-defense. And that night he told me that we have some information that the communists will try to exploit to make sure that everybody can not come to me, and why we have to fight the communists. And they, the Vietnamese CIA, say ...
T: The Vietnamese CIA came to you, did they have a plan?
O: They say that they have information, they had something to move the group and the captain told me that he will make everybody...
T: A gathering or picking up?
O: It makes means that the communists will make BOOM and kill everybody.
T: Oh, a bomb?
O: Yeah, a bomb. He suggested that you go home and we will do the search. So that I said no, because I called them here to talk with them. And not just because of my life. So that my spirit said OK now, I can not chicken out. That instructor, I told him you have to take care of that one, look around here, it's about 200-300 people and they have torch so that when see that you see the audience. We are in the light and they are in the back. I expect all of them, captain, people to support me.
T: The civilians, the military, the general, the soldiers, the officers?
O: The officers, the major, so that he ask me, "What your opinion?" I can kick out, it means so everybody stop and go home. But I said no because of my love and I lost my home. I told them you do your best to keep, look around here. I may say 90% they can see me, I can not see nothing. After that I talk about why we had to fight the Viet Cong. That's the first one. The second one I can, will talk with you after. So that I said OK I'm waiting that I will die. I know that some way, I feel that I will die. For some reason, some thought or something, I talk about why we have to fight and nothing happens. There was incidence, they caught a spy and they try to kill me, so that please go home so we take care of this one. I said no. I have to keep my order.
T: And some of the other men you knew in Vietnam who came to the US decided they were just going to leave and not come back. Like you said they were chicken, they didn't want to go back to Vietnam.
O: I have ideals because only to love my country so that I can't sacrifice too much. I'm a professor I can stay home, right, go to cinemas or something (laughs). But I have to go to People's self- Defense. So that I was the most decorated in war because all the people respect me. Track 2 3:00 minutes into tape (prior is unintelligible)
T: When you were teaching here in the US, did your students ever talk to you about the situation in Vietnam with the war?
O: Maybe one or two, maybe they are in political...
T: Political Science students?
O: Yeah.
T: What did you tell them?
O: I tell them that the communists, I left the country from the north and go to the south and now I'm in another one. So that everything in my mind, (was ) kill or be killed. You live in a place that they're like puppets, can not do anything. They killed 2000 people in graves. Do you know about that one?
T: I'm not sure.
O: They attack our people and they come back and try to make people...augh...
T: Scared.
O: Every time they say OK here, you, your son is a surgeon, or something...boom, boom, boom. So that everybody who are weak they just desert, instead of go they desert. To me, I can not leave like the other one. All the generals, three stars and two stars, I have all the medals, most great in Vietnam War. Everybody said it's not my responsibility to do. Americans, they have military. I'm not military (laughs).
T: You felt it was your duty, your patriotic duty.
O: In the course we create People's Self-defense. So that I couldn't (count) how many battles.
T: I didn't realize that you'd created People's Self-defense. I knew that you were the leader. So you just decided we need to have something to help the people fight back against the communists?
O: For example, only 2 or 3 Viet Cong can take the whole village that's about 200 or 300 people. So that now to train them. I take them...It's a kind that only torch or candle. So that's what I told them. That if Viet Cong come to the village so that you have to make candle like go and you swing one, two, three, four so that to tell them over there. And then later they make better, have walkie-talkie. From the beginning that's my communication.
T: Let me ask you about this, when you came to the United States, the Vietnam War was very controversial in this country. A lot of young people were against it, a lot of older people felt like our country needed to be involved. What did you think about the way that Americans looked at the Vietnam War?
O: To me, I know that what the task...because I left the country from the north to the south so that I know everything about that one. So if you don't do it(fight) they take over you. So I'm anti-communist.
T: Did you think that young people in the United States were foolish to be against the Vietnam War?
O: I think it's because of ignorant. One is ignorant, or two naive to politics. And another thing is that you want to be a hero not a villan, hero. But what price for the peace. They just want to cover witness. Stupid. Afraid of fighting. I am from North. Whenever they cut through I have to get away from north. North got more communists than South.
T: I think a lot of young people in the United States were just afraid. They didn't want to go to war.
O: They had to jump to this side so that they survive that one.
T: Were you ever asked about your opinions about the war? I know that in the Alligator they had at least one article where you talked about what you thought about the war. In that article what I remember you saying was that you felt that the Vietnamese people had the will to fight the communists and that mostly Vietnam needed things like guns, you know hardware and that the Vietnamese people appreciated the United States helping but they were prepared to fight the war themselves. They just needed the guns.
O: As the Vietnamese so that we know what the Viet Cong is. We know the place. I don't know why the United States...another thing is they want to control Vietnam. That is what is the big deal many relate with all the others, and then corruption and whatever. To tell the Vietnamese people what to do. So the people in between because the military they look at Vietnam is the place to bring up something with mines. They don't care about the people.
T: One thing that was happening in the United States, there's something called the domino theory. I don't know if you'd heard of that. You know how if you stack up dominos and you knock them all down...and the politicians and the generals felt that if Vietnam fell to the communists that Laos and Cambodia and all the other countries in that area would become communist and that the United States should try to stop that. You're probably right. A lot of it was not so much to help the Vietnamese people, it was to help American interest.
O: In the United States, they just see all the things they can take. So you don't have any ideology, anything at all. At least the communists have something real. Only thing that is worst is that they kill their people. You have five, you have five, five here and here it's free. If you can make the other lose job or something and it'll be OK. One thing is that fighting communists you had to have ideology.
T: Did you feel like the United States had much of an ideology? You told me that a lot of young people didn't really have a direction. Did you feel like overall that the country had an ideology?
O: All of the military, they are no good. They know fighting but they don't have politics. They don't have brains so that most of them go that way. So that if you are smart you hear from the University. So that to fight communists, which all of the world of communists they are in...they are stupid.
T: The communists had been trained or brainwashed.
O: Yeah. They gave communists hate individual so that everything they trust this country. When I'm professor at University, communists come and they ask myself...they have no brains.
T: Right, the communists wanted to get the people that weren't real smart. Time to end for the day...