Friday, September 25, 2015



From VIETCHI POST Autumn 2015

The spontaneous writings presented in this collection are first drafts, not edited texts

POST 219  25 September 2015
Could the sword have a soul?
(continued THE MONTEROSSO TRAIL, Post 218)

(continued)The challenging Monterosso Trail seems endless as I was advancing deeper and deeper in its heart. The sun has risen, high above the horizon. The trail is now turning upward, higher and higher. I started feeling a bit tired. I left my hotel very early this morning when it was still dark, and did not have to eat much before hiking. From my hotel to the entrance of the Monterosso Trail, the distance is long enough for my body to consume all the calories of my small breakfast. I now felt hungry. Looking forward, I saw the trail rising slightly, then without notice, disappearing under the trees. Looking backward, I clearly saw the long trail nicely snaking upward to me. However, the long trail did not give me any clue of my current location and the remaining distance to the next town, Vernassa, another magical place nested in this chain of mountains.  I vaguely remember that Vernassa is located about twelve kilometers south of Monterosso, but I now realize that twelve kilometers of hiking on this narrow trail is quite different from what I could have expected.

As I was continuing to advance on the trail, a nice big rock quietly makes its appearance at my left side, while the right side of the trail is the steep slope of the mountain sliding down to the ocean. The nice rock invited me to sit on it. I sat down and closed my eyes, then perform deep breathing. The fresh air revived my body and also my mind. When I opened my eyes, I could not see any beautiful tiên as I could have dreamed in Vietnam.  According to Vietnamese imaginary tales, in high mountains live very wise and beautiful people with magical power; they are immortal.  But, right now, I was not in any mountain in Vietnam: I was hungry on a deserted trail in Italy. Perhaps Italian tiên live in the clouds or on the sea, while bandits often hide themselves in high mountains, and of course I did not wish to meet any of them!

Anyway, what is important at this precise moment to me was what I could feel about the world inside me, but not the outside world. A world of five thousand years I was taught, which became part of my own world and was impregnated in my soul. There were many historical trails of my people, victorious or painful, that I know by heart through school lessons, from parents or mentors, and folk stories. I have personally walked on some others trails, which gave me unforgettable experiences. Again, I closed my eyes and tried to recall legends and stories on the Trang-Si Viet (Vietnamese Swordsmanship of ancient time), which was more similar to the western knighthood of Vietnamese style than the formal Japanese swordsmanship, the Samurai class in the old days of Japan.

When I was an adolescent, I have already started to collect legends of the sword. I was passionate by all of these legends, a secret passion .These include the sword of King Le-Loi, which returned to the Lake of Sword in Hanoi; the sword of King Hung, which killed his daughter; the sword of the terrific King Nguyen-Hue, which dared to tell him that he was wrong. Also, there were many wonderful others such as the shining sword of Princess Bat-Nan, the chanting sword of Commander Ly-Thuong-Kiet,  the crying sword of the young Earl Tran-Quoc-Toan, the unbroken sword of General Hung-Dao, the thunderbolt sword  of  Master Nguyen-Trung-Truc, the invincible sword of Master Hoang-Dinh-Bao, and the mystic sword Van-Thang- Guom. These extraordinary legends, victorious or sad, success or failure, all share a common ground, which is the soul of Vietnamese swordsmanship.

The City of Hanoi, my fatherland, had a mystical name of The Rising Dragon (Thang-Long), a name that sticks in our heart because of its beautiful image and of its nicer sound than the term Hanoi. During centuries, Thang Long has been witnessing so many historical events that there are plenty of special stories on almost every corner of a street. I have deeply known a glorious historic Thang-Long, a theater of innumerous combats of our ancestors rather than Hanoi, a city put in decline when the Nguyen Dynasty rose to power. Legends that I collected in the North when I was in Thang-Long are those that reflect the soul of Vietnamese sword and stick; those that I later collected in the South reflect the spirit of Vietnamese modern martial artists, we call it “Hao-Hon Giang-Ho” (the detached spirit of great-fighters who travel through rivers and lakes). The beauty of legends lays on the combination between facts and myths, reality and imagination. Facts provide the framework and imagination makes the legend attractive. Fiction is also very attractive, but it will not last for long. In contrast, legend is eternal because it is part of the history and part of the folk tales, and therefore a heritage. Through legends and historical records, I learned that, in ancient time, Vietnamese people believed that the sword of a Trang-Si has a soul. There were swords which were crying at night, others looking for serving a real master, other swords taking revenge for the honor of their defeated masters, and some swords refusing a dishonest combat.  Could the sword have a soul? This is a vital question for those of us who practice the Art of Viet Chi-Kiem. (to be continued at the next Post 220)
Following are pictures of the Monterosso Trail, taken 27 November 2008





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