• 05/25/2023 5:00 PM
    NC State, Raleigh, North Carolina


Cuong Nhu Martial Arts

A Brief History of Cuong Nhu

O'Sensei Ngo Dong founded Cuong Nhu in 1965 in Hue, Vietnam. To build a strong moral and spiritual foundation for his style, Grandmaster Dong interjected his personal philosophy of self-improvement, community service, and love and respect for others. In Vietnam, Cuong Nhu was more than just another form of martial art. It provided an ideological touchstone for its students, young people who had grown up in a sadly disjointed, war-torn society that was hard-pressed to meet their spiritual needs. Grandmaster Dong taught martial arts techniques to help his students build themselves up physically, mentally, and spiritually so they could lead full, complete lives.

As a child, Ngo Dong learned Vovinam from his brother, Ngo Quoc Phong, one of the top five students of Vovinam's founder, Grandmaster Nguyen Loc. He also learned Wing Chun from his two oldest brothers, who studied with Chinese Master Te Kong. Another brother was an instructor in Aikido. Although their father, Ngo Khanh Thuc, was then attorney general of northern Vietnam, the Ngo brothers tested their fighting skills on the street by engaging hustlers and professional street fighters inhabiting the alleys and back streets of Hanoi. After moving south to Hue, Vietnam in 1956, Ngo Dong began Shotokan Karate training under a former Japanese captain, Choji Suzuki. After years of fanatical training, he earned his fourth degree black belt. He also studied Judo and earned a black belt in that system. His appreciation for multiple styles, and how they completed and strengthened one another, served as a foundation for his new art of Cuong Nhu.

After the devastating 1968 Tet offensive, he organized a civil defense organization, The People's Self-Defense Forces of Hue, to help protect the public from the random violence spawned by the war. His organization engaged some 25,000 people in a program of karate, games and friendly competition to rebuild morale and spirit. He was devoted to the development of Cuong Nhu and the personal growth of thousands of students.

In 1971, he traveled to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in Entomology at the University of Florida. In September 1971, during his post-graduate studies, Grandmaster Dong opened the first Cuong Nhu Karate Club in the United States. Within two years, it grew into the largest intramural organization on campus. In the spring of 1973, the Cuong Nhu Karate Association, now known as the Cuong Nhu Martial Arts Association, was incorporated to ensure continuity and uniformly high standards of instruction. Grandmaster Dong earned his doctorate in three years and returned to Vietnam in 1974.

An outspoken opponent of communism, Grandmaster Dong was placed under house arrest by the communist government of Vietnam in 1975. He and his family later took the tremendous risk of escaping by boat to Indonesia. There he resumed contact with his former students in the U.S., and with their help, he returned to the United States in November 1977, on Homecoming Day. Taking a position in the University of Florida entomology department, he was able to resume teaching Cuong Nhu both on and off campus.

During the subsequent 21 years, he oversaw the evolution and development of a well-organized, comprehensive curriculum for Cuong Nhu, the creation of training manuals, the growth and spread of individual dojos, and the promotion of many hundreds of Cuong Nhu students to black belt and higher rank. He continued traveling throughout the U.S. to teach Cuong Nhu and conduct advanced testing, until illness forced his retirement in the late 1990s.

1998 to the Present

With O'Sensei's retirement immanent, the senior leadership of Cuong Nhu voted to offer the Head of Style position to his son Quynh, who, while still young (in his 30's), showed a special talent and dedication to his father's legacy. Grandmaster Quynh accepted the responsibility of leadership at a time when Cuong Nhu had approximately 75 active dojos in the U.S. and abroad.

Grandmaster Quynh Ngo served as Head of Style for the next twenty-three years, often with his brothers and sister by his side.  He oversaw the standardization of Cuong Nhu's curriculum across its many diverse schools,  and the modernization of instructional resources, bringing much material online. He also continued his father's vision of Cuong Nhu as an open-minded and ever-evolving style, studying deeply and being willing to make changes, while holding to the style's core principles. 

He traveled extensively for seminars and dan rank testing, and maintained the Cuong Nhu tradition of an annual international training camp that felt as much like a family reunion as a rigorous training event. When in-person training was interrupted by the pandemic, he along with many Cuong Nhu instructors adapted to teaching and testing at a distance and online. Tragically, on September 1, 2021, in the prime of his life and until then in peak health, Grandmaster Quynh became a casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He is succeeded as Head of Style by Grandmaster John Burns. As an early student of O'Sensei Dong, a member of the panel of Masters who voted that Grandmaster Quynh should succeed his father, and as assistant and advisor to Grandmaster Quynh for many years, Grandmaster Burns is positioned to carry forward the legacies of both father and son, and ensure that Cuong Nhu will be passed down to the younger generation as a strong and cohesive style.

"Cuong Nhu students should be faithful to the ideals of Cuong Nhu, and attempt to spread and develop these beliefs in the younger generation so they too may be morally and physically fit."