The School of Lady Tra – Tan Khanh Martial Arts


Binh Dinh Province is home to the well-known Tay Son School. It is the native land of the national peasant hero, Nguyen Hue, also known as King Quang Trung (1753-1792), who defeated a Chinese invasion towards the end of the eighteenth century and unified the country. After King Gia Long, backed by French military forces, defeated the Tay Son Dynasty”(1778-1802), many natives of Tay Son migrated southwards to escape the wrath of the new monarch. They established Tan Khanh Village (presently Tan Phuoc Khanh Town, Tan Uyen District, Binh Duong Province). They brought the tradition of their martial art from their home areas, Tay Son and Binh Dinh, to the new settlement and continued to develop it there.

In the mid-nineteenth century, under the reign of King Tu Duc (1848-1883), an event took place that reflects the indomitable spirit of Tan Khanh villagers. They staged an insurrection against corrupt local mandarins. Even today, Tan Khanh villagers are proud of this event. Many old people in the village tell the story of a woman named Tra. Skilled in Tay Son martial arts, she led the uprising for ten years, from 1850 until the French invaded three eastern provinces of southern Vietnam (Cochinchina). Thus, people called the area “the land of Lady Tra.” Later, the official name became Binh Chuan Village (presently in Thuan An District, Binh Duong Province).

After this historic event, people referred to the traditional martial arts school developed in Tan Khanh – Binh Chuan as “the martial arts school of Lady Tra in Tan Khanh.” At the time, it was one of the few traditional Vietnamese schools of martial arts famous in the South. The school still maintains almost all the basic foundations of Tay Son martial arts, which include sets of moves like Ngoc Tran, Lao Mai, and Than Dong and exercises such as Tan Nhut and Tu Mon. However, masters adjusted holds and skills to conform to the new terrain. Improved techniques were faster and more effective. They elaborated on original rhyming instructions for training students in the art of Tay Son and added new ones. Thus, the school of Lady Tra contributed a number of new techniques such as Dong Nhi and Thai Son to the national treasury of traditional martial arts.

Many famous martial artists from the south have come from this school. Among these are two brothers, Hai At and Ba Gia, who were well known in Ba Tra- Tan Khanh for fighting tigers. Other famous masters followed: Sau Truc, Nam Nhi, Bay Phien, and Nam Quy. Each had his own style and a long list of accomplishments. Sau Truc, a student of Hai At, carried on his teacher’s brilliant legacy, training many students. Among these were the two patriots, Nguyen An Ninh, and Phan Van Hum. Nam Nhi made the martial arts school of Lady Tra famous throughout Cochinchina. Meanwhile, Bay Phien and Nam Quy contributed to the school’s development by training students for French martial arts tournaments during the 1930s and 1940s and also for the region’s anti -French resistance movement.

During the 1950s, the Lady Tra School entered a new stage. Master Ho Van Lanh (nicknamed Tu Thien), an outstanding disciple of Bay Phien, left his home village for Sai Gon to participate in the General Union of Vietnamese Martial Arts. There, he helped integrate and popularize the Lady Tra – Tan Khanh School in the martial arts community of the south. During his youth, he won seven martial arts competitions.

binh dinh martial arts

By 1984, Master Ho Van Lanh, who was then seventy, had trained 400 professional martial artists, 100 of whom were women. He had tens of thousands of other disciples. Some, such as Tu Thanh Nghia, Tu Trung Tin, and Tu Y Van, have competed in championships in Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, and China. Others have taken part in national martial arts tournaments, winning many awards. The list includes gold medalists Tu Thanh Nghia and Ho Ngoc Tho; silver medalists Tu Thanh Tong, Tu Duy Tuan, and Ho Thanh Phuong; and bronze medalist Tu Hoang Ut. The Lady Tra -Tan Khanh School continues to assert itself in Vietnamese martial arts, thanks to the dedication of its masters and the increasing number of its disciples inside and outside the country. The school helps keep alive the memory and tradition of a heroic period in Vietnamese history, the time of the Tay Son Dynasty.

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