Meaning of Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam

This article is prepared by Stan Heltzel for the exam of the second green Cap on 24th of April 2007. The subject is his viewpoint on the meaning of Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam by regarding the history of the school, by describing weekly training activities, the fighting techniques that are taught and by explaining the philosophical approach to this martial art.

History of the school

Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam is a traditional Vietnamese Martial Art founded in Saigon, Vietnam on the 20th of January in 1923 by Grandmaster Nguyen Van Tuc and his wife Bach Thi Thu Van. Their successor is Grandmaster Hoàng Trí Dzung who continued teaching Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam in Germany from the 29th of March 1983. Since then the school has spread over various locations, where the trainings are led by Master-students under the supervision of Grandmaster Hoàng Trí Dzung.

The Vietnamese name of our school Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam means the martial art of the people from Vietnam. “Võ” means the physical part, the fighting, the Kung Fu and “Đạo” means the way, the path, the mental part. Thus “Võ-Đạo” means the way of fighting, the martial art. “Việt” are the people and “Nam” is the South or the country South of China (which was considered the centre). “Kung Fu” means besides “Chinese martial art” also “hard work” or “achievement through great effort”. Thus one can practice Kung Fu not only during martial art training but also for example by performing a profession.

In Germany Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam trainings are held in Cologne, Bergisch-Gladbach and Aachen. Since 2001 Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam is also taught in Noordwijk, The Netherlands. Our group is part of the social and sports club organisation of ESTEC, which is the technical research centre of the European Space Agency, situated in Noordwijk. When he came to work at ESTEC our trainer Torsten Bieler initially practised by himself before he decided to found the Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam group. The first training took place on Tuesday the 30th of October 2001.

Training activities

Usually we start with a short meditation. The goal of that is to charge up energy (Ki) during approximately 10 minutes by concentrating only on ones calm breathing and to visualise the flow of Khi into and through the body. After meditation the Ki energy can be distributed through the body by Khi-Công exercises and forms. They comprise very slow and powerful movements in synchronisation with the breathing, which should always be calm and directed into the lower belly, the centre of energy called the Dan Dien. The effect of these exercises can be compared to ones natural stretching of arms and legs when waking up in the morning. An alternative means of distributing Ki energy through the body is Tai Chi. Opposed to the powerful movements of Khi-Công, Tai Chi should be executed with very little or no physical strength and the breathing is different from Khi-Công or Kung Fu. This makes Tai Chi a little counterintuitive in the beginning and it can be difficult to train. But when one becomes more familiar with the forms, the movements are really graceful and very relaxing for mind and body. On warm, sunny days we train outdoors on the grass of the football field, which is a great environment for these concentration exercises. The purpose of the short meditation followed by Khi-Công or Tai Chi exercises is to harmonise mind and body with nature.

After the Khi exercises we start the gymnastic warm-up. Thoroughly all joints and muscles are warmed-up, stretched and trained. The Vo-Dao way of gymnastics can be surprisingly effective. Whereas in the western world people may find it convenient to train muscles in the gym with weights and other equipment, the Asian approach relies more on natural exercises. Physical power of the muscles is just as important as flexibility, endurance and coordination. Besides gymnastics such as sit-ups, push ups, running and stretching we also warm up with typical Kung Fu elements such as punches, kicks and stands.


Võ-Thuật-Việt-Nam is the art of techniques. This is the part most people think of when speaking about Kung Fu. It is very important to first familiarise oneself with the basics. In the first years of training Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam in Noordwijk our group focussed a lot on the basic technique, which is a series of predefined stands, defences, punches, elbow techniques and kicks. Later we continued to learn predefined series of techniques, which are called forms. Such forms are trained without a partner. It is important to carefully train the movements focussing on all the details. Partner techniques are a short series of defences and re-attacks following an attack of the training partner. Partner techniques and forms are often inspired by the movements and styles of animals such as tiger, monkey, panther, eagle, crane bird, fish, snake, praying mantis and even mythical animals such as dragon and phoenix. Training in the main hall provides a lot of space for training forms with one of the 18 traditional weapons such as short and long stick, sword, sabre, lance etc.

One may also distinguish between hard and soft techniques, where one either directly blocks the attack of the opponent or, respectively, uses and redirects the flow of the opponent’s energy. When we became more familiar with partner techniques we elaborated the exercises and started training controlled free fights against one or more opponents. These exercises show how difficult it is to properly apply techniques to defend against a real situation. But nevertheless we feel that we are able to effectively defend direct punches.

Learning a form takes several phases. At first one learns and remembers the movements. In this stage we also apply the techniques of the form in partner techniques, trying to defend an attacking partner by using the techniques of the form. Then it is important to combine all the techniques into one fluent series of movements. The form should be repeated often such that in the end one does not need to think about the movements anymore. The form and the techniques come out naturally and automatically. If a person or a training partner were to attack by surprise the techniques can be automatically applied without thinking about it. In the end the form should be performed with power and speed while maintaining fluent movements and clear distinction between the individual techniques. The style of Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam differs compared to some other martial arts by the fluency of the movements using the opponent’s flow of energy.


Besides Võ-Thuật-Việt-Nam there are two more goals of education: Võ-Học-Việt-Nam and Y-Học-Việt-Nam, which are theoretical, philosophical knowledge and, respectively, knowledge about medicine. The latter comprises acupuncture, acupressure and knowledge on the use of herbs for medical purposes. Medical practice of the Far East is based on the theories of Yin-Yang and the Five Phases, amongst others. Such theories are part of Võ-Học-Việt-Nam. They describe the origin of Khi energy and the balance and interaction of Khi in the world. Beside great philosophical issues such as the origin of life and the behaviour of the universe, these theories also provide useful insights on how to live, how to listen to your body and how to handle daily matters. Eastern theories are the basis of Kung Fu techniques learned in Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam, which proves to be an interesting challenge for the Western approach, in particular in ESTEC’s technical and scientific environment.

With its theories to approach philosophical matters, as well as daily training activities, with its meditation and concentration exercises such as Khi-Công and Tai Chi, with its thorough gymnastics that trains power, flexibility, coordination and endurance and with its fighting techniques and graceful fluent forms Võ-Đạo-Việt-Nam, in my opinion, is more than martial art, it is a way of life if you let it.

(S. Heltzel)