Vovinam and Vietnamese American Youth

       Over thirty years living apart from our native country, this also meant thirty summers overseas. The hot and humid atmosphere of Charlotte once again consumes us and brings to us yet the feelings of contempt and sadness. In that year, that day and hour, we followed our parents hastily left our country without saying good-bye. What did our youth think when these lines still resonate to our ears:

“Students are the pillars of society, students build their success upon the sacrifices of others …”

        I dont think many of us think much about these lines any more. The youth today, especially, those arrived from other native lands are struggling with numerous internal & external conflicts while adapting to the New World. For us, Vietnamese, the conflicts between Eastern and Western cultures and values have given us a sense of inadequacy in the new land. What behaviors are acceptable and are not acceptable in American society and in our homes often lead to fractures within each family and effect our youth self-esteem and self-identity.

         Furthermore, interactions in this abundantly free society strangely seem to restrict family discipline. Also because our parents are working long hours, which deplete their physical and mental energy, we often lack the necessary love and guidance which lead to school performance issues. In addition, we have to face with the language barrier, to cope with isolation, racial prejudice, and harassment. Many of us adapt well and achieve markedly into mainstream American society, earning respect from other ethnic groups here long before us. A large part of these achievements must be credited to our parents enormous moral and material supports. Many of our friends earned scholastic excellence awards and graduated top in their classes in high schools. Many of these went on continue their education from top universities in the world. Nevertheless, there are still many other Vietnamese American youth who could not assimilate and perform as well as others. Why is this the case?

         There are many reasons; however, most of us can agree on a few dominant issues facing our youth. In schools, our youth experience linguistic barrier and fall behind in school. We are also being ridiculed and prejudiced against by others because of our different appearance, hence being isolated from the mainstream student body. At home, some of us feel abandoned or forgotten at times because our parents are also experiencing similar pressures and economic hardship that often cannot pay enough attention to us even though they love us very much. Many parents are dogmatic and trenchant with the traditional disciplinary system of Vietnam. They think that they can trust the teachers completely to produce productive citizens. The reality is that most schools dont have Good Citizen Education course but only focus on academic courses, avoiding morality and ethics studies. At times, good teachers are being replaced because they are not popular among students and parents, although they are excellent educators who want to guide their students in the tradition of first learn ethics then learn text books to minimize somewhat the excessive freedom kids have; which can lead them to improper behaviors.

         Some of our friends, who are lacking directions and failing at schools, have lost hope and let go of themselves. However, within their souls, each one of them aspires to do something, to be someone and to be recognized by others in society. Rejected by others, not being understood, and not being supported by parents at homes, these young friends spend their times escaping realities by watching violent movies to satisfy their painful feelings harbored within them. Other films and media materials are too pornographic which also feed our young troubled friends mind, leading them further into antisocial and criminal behaviors. The environment around us has made it easy for some of us to forsake our goals and dreams once running into obstacles. Hence, we must develop strong resistance against these negative influences surrounding us. We must possess discipline and receive proper guidance and support from peers so that when we do occasionally fail at schools and in life, we are able to overcome these obstacles and to move toward a healthy adult life and a promising future. Lets remind ourselves with these precious words of Vovinams Founding Master Loc Nguyen:

        “We dont count on luck, or beg for any sympathy,[.] we must patiently wrestle, and fight with our tears and with our everlasting strength against the arduous and challenges of life. We must always receive the constant waves of destruction and failures with utmost pride; we must overcome them forcefully to rejuvenate.”

        Over twenty years of continuous development, the overseas Vietnamese have formed many organizations to care for our youth, for examples: The Catholic Youth, the Families of Buddhism, and the Vietnamese Overseas Boys & Girls Scouts. These groups have many weekly healthy and beneficial activities weekly in order to guide our youth to develop strong ethical base, community service values, and personal responsibilities.

        Speaking of responsibilities, everyone tends to think of parental responsibilities. We need to understand and to appreciate our parents much more. If we have this much pressure, surely, our parents experience similar pressure and more. Beside the survival needs of a family, our parents have to face with other issues that are lurking to break up the family structure, such as, inadequate quality times with each other and children, and different legal and social acceptance of family structure and disciplinary methods. American society has high living expenses that the salary from one parent cannot meet them; hence, both parents have to work as well to supplement household incomes. Some of us are working part-time after school to help our families. Lets use an example to illustrate this point: A typical father goes to work to meet housing cost, food, car, gas, heat, electricity, water, phone, cable and home maintenance … monthly expenses depending on families vary from $2000 to $2500 dollars. A typical mother cooks daily, and is responsible for family clothing, religious holidays and gifts averaging about another $1000 dollars. Other expenses such as school supplies, auto insurance and personal spending cash for ourselves often depend entirely on our own labor. In addition, our parents have to work additional hours or jobs to earn monies to help our relatives back in Vietnam. At times, our parents have to work during day-time and go to schools at night hoping to earn more income for the family through better education.


       The majority of families use the refrigerator as communication center using little sticky notes posting all over it. Some of our parents are like the sun and moon, seeing each other only a couple times a month because of shift work conditions, causing Mom at work Dad at home and vice versa. Therefore, our fathers no longer enjoy the status as “chiefs of the family” as were in Vietnam. Even more sympathetic are our mothers. The Vietnamese mothers in this country, are used to the social norms of caring for husbands and children, now have to shoulder additional burdens at work. As soon as they get home from work, our mothers have to hastily enter into the kitchens to prepare dinner for family members. Has anyone seen our mothers going to bed early? Nevertheless, they get up at five in the morning to prepare breakfast and lunch so that their husband and children can eat at schools and work. If Moms are not working over-time hours during weekends, they are often busy grocery shopping, washing clothes, and doing other house chores. With this kind of hectic schedules, its no wonder that the family discipline has been neglected.

        In today society, there are more and more concerns of criminal activities, public safety, and juvenile delinquency across every part of the United States. They are direct threats to the social fabrics of our society and to our youth. The lack of parental and societal guidance, the abundance of violent and harmful media materials, the un-checked availability of guns in this country, and the lack of funding for education and alternative programs for youth by our public officials are the key correlational factors that lead to kids killing kids across our country. If the parents, the teachers, businesses and the public officials dont get together and find imaginative ways to resolve this problem, our future will be dark and chaotic.

        Confronting with this problem of today society, Vovinam-VietVoDao Discipline is diligent in its effort to work with many organizations across this country and in our community to contribute to the effort to develop healthy and balanced youth for tomorrow society. Vovinam discipline develops youth through the process of PSYCHO-KENETIC REVOLUTION (or SELF-REVOLUTION): One learns how to regulate and to perfect oneself both in terms of physical and psychological fitness; then, applies his/her talents and strengths to better society. The path of development of Vovinam is simple, because success or failure lies within the degree of commitment and effort of each individual. One of the most primary goals of a Vovinam Instructor is to find ways to create a positive environment for youth to spend their time more constructively for themselves and for the community and not feeling empty and lonely when schools are over.

         Our young growing bodies need to expend their energy into positive and beneficial activities that can enhance our intelligence and wisdom to face the obstacles of life. Practicing the martial arts of Vovinam will give us a strong and agile body, a clear and sharp mind, and a kind and compassionate heart; all three elements are crucial in determining our successes in our individual life. Practicing martial arts develops our self-confidence. We can protect ourselves when our lives are threatened and assist to protect others when their lives are threatened. A clear and sharp mind will help us to achieve scholastic excellence as well as help us to perform our jobs better at work. Practicing Vovinam is a much better alternative than staring aimlessly at the TV screen with pointless and unrealistic shows and movies. When we come to practice Vovinam, we will meet and make friends with those who are dependable, trust worthy and compassionate about our dreams and goals because they, too, have similar dreams and goals. We will no longer feel empty and lonely, even though our parents are so busy with their professional lives that at times ignoring our emotional needs.

         This is the critical time for a Vovinam Instructor and/or Master because beside teaching martial arts skills for the youth, he/she must provide proper guidance and equip the participating youth with a strong martial arts code of ethics, so that they can appreciate the rules of a family and ethical behaviors in society. The Instructors/Masters of Vovinam must assist the youth to understand the plight and the hardship that their parents are enduring in order to bring enough food and clothing for our youth.

        In order to meet this historical challenge, Vovinam movement in Charlotte, with many energetic and eager Instructors with the commitment of providing community service and with the goal of helping our youth to develop a promising future at schools and at home, is ready to contribute its resource and capabilities. Vovinam Instructors in Charlotte are ready to show our youth how to appreciate what is good and right, and what is beautiful about the Asian family tradition. The instructors will guide us so that we can learn to appreciate and to respect our grandparents and our parents. Through these teachers, we can learn to exuberate our inborn spirit of humanitarianism and chivalrous practices of Asian cultures in general and Vietnamese culture in specific. Also through Vovinam training and activities, we will have the opportunities to involve with community projects that aim at making our neighborhood and our community a better and a safer place to live and to work in. These values and benefits are transferable across all ethnic boundaries and racial differences because they give our youth a clear and productive directions. This is the mission of Vovinam Discipline yesterday, today and forever.

      What are we waiting for? What prevent us from joining a Vovinam training program so that we can gain a strong body and a sharp mind? Through Green Bamboo Training Center with martial arts schools Green Bamboo I, Green Bamboo II and Green Bamboo III, the instructors are welcoming you. All martial arts classes cost free if donation all this money is going right back to providing safe and fun programs for all of us in the future through our Church, the Park and Recreation Department of Mecklenburg County. Anyone between the ages of 7 to 17 can sign up at any Vovinam schools near your residence. The Instructors are young and experience in the art. The future of Vietnamese Americans and the future of America are awaiting your capable hands and your unwavering commitment to make it better.  

By Master Tâm Trọng Huỳnh