In an elementary school, at closing time.
The dark, grimy little room is at the end of a long, dark corridor. Under the vivacious and yellowish light of the oil lamp, the patient seems even more pitiful and seems to have disappeared in his blankets, which already gave off a strong odor. I ask him :
- Master! No one came to clean?
No answer is heard. To take his pulse, I sit quietly on the bed which is creaking because of old age. His pulsations are darkening and tiny (1). I tell him :
- Rest, Master, while I'm preparing soup and medicine.
The dry branches catch fire quickly, big flames lick the deformed pan. I have always loved fire. The fires of Giao-Thua (2) that bring us together, bind us in a human and comforting warmth around the big pot of rice cakes. And the fire of old, the one who lit the silver cord and established our bond, so dear and so noble! Suddenly, I see the images of fifteen years ago, ...
In 1969 ...
The oil lamp gradually lit up the face of the man in his fifties. With fine features, well drawn, a broad and bald forehead, he had a male and intelligent beauty. His solid torso, broad shoulders overlooking his small size, gave him a formidable air. He had taken his time to sit down and light his pipe. Then, in a thundering voice, he spoke to me:
- I recognize the Way in your heart, because being a known Master (3), you still came to take place behind me. I really appreciate your attitude, already you have won the biggest battle (4). But I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge. In any case, we must cross arms, this is the tradition of Wing Chun School.
After this memorable day, for three years, in rain or good weather, he had always waited for me early in a community park, under a large shrub of white lilacs. One morning in July, while it was pouring rain on the city, he stood there, standing on tiptoe, immersed in meditation. Big drops of water whipped his impassive face, brave and sad as a statue, mute and dark as a severe reproach.
At the coming of a new disciple, Master Lac Ha, secretary general to the magazine Vo Thuat (Martial Arts) and his generous contribution, we brought electricity and renovated the crumbling back of his house to make a training area.
One evening in 1973, after a rough practice, he had personally confided:
- Nam Anh! I taught you what little Wing Chun I know. The time has come to complete your training. Come tonight, I'll introduce you to someone. He is a colleague of a level much more advanced than mine. He could show you the five Animals.
Alas! What a big disappointment! After vain attempts, that person, an old man in his sixties, austere and withdrawn, finally granted us his presence. Coldly refusing gifts, he had already taken his decision :
- The great Te Cong told me: "... among the hundred families in China, no one knows these forms. I give them to you, keep them well for yourself! "(5). Thus, I can not act against his will. I'm sorry, brother!
A warm heat had risen in my face, while my Master always insisted:
- My dear big brother! Suppose you give them to your disciple, it would not be against his will at all, would he?
And with an almost supplicating tone, he continued:
- Master, we are all near the Earth and far from Heaven. Is there something that really belongs to us?
The person had replied with a grin, pointing at the tall yin yang on his sumptuous altar. His words were like a whip:
- Very well, my brother! If it is thus, I would have to ask you a question: in the black, there is white; in the white, there is black. Where is black and where is white? If you are unable to answer, the door is already wide open.
All the way back, my Master had remained pensive.
A second attempt at another famous Wooden Dummy Master had been such a bitter failure. From then on, he had plunged back into his old grimoires, trying desperately to decipher the mysterious parables, which had triggered his fatal destiny.
The whirlpools of life had finally separated us in 1975. We met again in 1980 under sad circumstances. Coming back from the concentration camp for a short time, all my fortune was limited to an old bicycle and some clothes. Moreover, I was in the midst of a marital breakdown. As for him, my old Master was even poorer than before and was suffering from a severe stomach ulcer. When he handed me the sword "Dragon-phoenix" (6), a memory of a transparent love story of his thrilling youth, his voice trembled:
- Nam Anh! look for a buyer.
Then, quickly, he had turned his back to hide his strong emotions. My eyes stung and my throat was dry with bitterness. Outside, the rain was falling heavily, quickly flooding the small cul-de-sac alley. Trash of rubbish floated on the surface of a liquid blackened with dirt. The smell of sewage, nauseating and suffocating, filled the space. I was out early. Three days later, I returned to give him his sword and the money needed for hospital care. He had taken my hand for a long time. Red eyes defied tears, realizing I had lost something of my precious past ...
On the fire, the boiling water is heard and somewhere I can hear a groan. The soup, served spoonful by spoonful, restores a little complexion to his face. In a weak voice, he whispers to me:
- I need another operation, according to the doctor, and it's the third in a short time!
He stops to catch his breath.
- I thought I made discoveries, but unfortunately ...
- Master! I strongly believe that the fusion of the five elements of the Chi Kung of the five animals could relieve you.
- No! it's too late. Nam Anh, my son (7), do you want to fulfill my last wishes?
He looks at me intensely, as if to probe my loyalty.
- I would like to see for once the five Animals and I would like you to ...
I get up and, slowly, movement by movement, I execute the five forms. In the end, I also show him the "six-point half-stick", "the crane's resting walk", as well as "the small and large apricot blossom". In the meantime, he leans against the pillows, looking very attentive. On his emaciated face illuminates an overflowing joy.
In writing these lines, I light the sticks of spiritual incense in memory of a respectable Master, who gave his life to the Way, lowering himself to rise among the great, and who knew, by his love and loyalty, to remain an unforgettable example of courage, perseverance and humanism.
NOTE: Master Ho Hai Long passed away in 1988, in the absence of all his great disciples. His funeral was celebrated in a sad and simple setting, as his life had always been.
Grand Master Nam Anh, 1999
(1) According to the diagnosis of Oriental medicine, these pulsations correspond to a state of very low vital energy. The hope of healing is slim.
(2) Interference time of the old and the new year. The Vietnamese custom is that this long awaited moment is revered by various activities, among which is the famous wait, much desired by children, around a big pot of rice cakes, in front of big hot fires.
(3) At the time, we were young masters, idealistic, courageous and energetic, dreaming of being able to change into "splendid castles, miserable slums" and bearing an imperturbable faith in the younger generation. We had written and published countless books and the Martial Arts magazine, one of a kind in the sixties, to unleash the movement of the revival of traditional martial arts in Vietnam. Most of these Masters have now become Grand Masters around the world, such as Vu Duc Hang Thanh, Ha Quoc Huy, Huynh Son Ninh, etc.
(4) "It is in itself that one finds the greatest enemy and it is against oneself that one delivers the greatest battle. - Grand Master Nguyen Minh
(5) The Vietnamese tradition strongly encourages and values personal success. Thus, towards their children who have acquired a certain position or title in the society, the parents refrain from speaking to them with too much familiarity, as a mark of appreciation and pride.
(6) All the Master's fortune was reduced to some old grimoires, some were his own writings, as well as two precious swords: the "Seven Stars" and the "Phoenix Dragon". The latter was the memory and a witness to an unfinished love melody between the young Ho Hai Long and a beauty of the time that later became "The lady of the young bamboo forests", a renowned nun of high virtue and deep esoteric knowledge. The Dragon and the Phoenix, two legendary animals that have come together since and through four thousand years of Vietnamese culture.
(7) The only moment and the only time during a sixteen-year relationship that he personally addressed me, using this terminology.