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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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)
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, um...how 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?
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.
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?
T: You mean am I doing that?
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.