Mysterious Yên Thế Martial Arts With Flute Instrument

In the past Yen The was a dangerous mountainous area northwest of Bac Giang Province, far from the capital city of Thang Long.

In the history books of the Le Dynasty there is a book “Du Dia Chi” in which Nguyen Trai, a world famous cultural celebrity (1428-1527) praised the martial arts land of Yên Thế.

From the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, the Yên Thế insurrection led by farmer-hero Hoàng Hoa Thám took place in this area and it has been recorded into history books.

Two martial arts disciples perform the technique of using an ion flute against a super scimitar.

Two martial arts disciples perform the technique of using an ion flute against a super scimitar.

Also in this area, an esoteric martial arts school of has been established. It is called ‘flute’ martial art.

According to many researchers, the flute martial arts (also called Thiet dich) is a traditional genre known to very few people. It is full of national identities and has existed for hundreds of years.

The flute is a gentle musical instrument but when it was turned into a weapon by theYên Thế insurgents it became very dangerous. During the Yên Thế insurrections (1884-1923) the insurgents used it to kill the enemy. In their hands the iron flutes served as weapons and objects to signal and convey news about the arrival of the enemy.

In 1990 the cultural and sport sector in Bac Giang Province began to collect the traditional flute martial arts practices in Yên Thế.

The survey group went to Rung Phe Hamlet in Tam Tien Commune, Yên Thế District to meet Trieu Quoc Uy, an old Tay ethnic man who is the sole martial arts master using the traditional flute martial art of his forefathers.

He was taught the martial arts by his uncle, Master Chan Doan who was Yên Thế insurgent with outstanding martial arts ability.

Master Uy said that initially, the flute martial arts performance was named “Thiet dich than phong ngoc tieu dien khai” which means “the iron flute is as strong as the divine wind with gentle, melodious sounds”.

Later, it was renamed “Bong trang Phon Xuong” (Phon Xuong moonlight) associated with the well-known resistance area of the Yên Thế insurgents.

In the past, the Yên Thế area was difficult to access. It was the gathering place of many heroes who sacrificed their lives for a great cause under the flag of their leader Hoang Hoa Tham (1846-1923).

Besides guns and explosives, they used other traditional weapons in fighting, such a bows and arrows, lances and scimitars. They used different types of objects as weapons, such as flutes, pens, chess pieces, ion splints, silk bands and brooches. Iron flutes also served as weapons.

The flutes of the Yên Thế insurgents were variations on swords. They were used as scimitars and swords and somewhat like short sticks.

The flute martial art has flexible and unpredictable movements combined with sweet melodies.

The sound of the flute sometimes is as deliberate as the sound of a running stream, sometimes ardent and powerful.

Through its sound people can perceive the internal force and vitality of the flute player. Those who are skilled in the flute martial art can control the iron flute as desired. Their movements and blows can be quick and strong like the wind, or flexible and illusory like moonlight over the lake.

Now in Bac Giang, there is a man who has been taught this esoteric martial arts and has thoroughly mastered it. He is master Trinh Nhu Quan who was instructed by grandmaster Trinh Quoc Uy.

After many years of hard practice, he is excellent in the flute martial arts performances “Thiet dich than phong” and “Phon Xuong Moonlight”.

Master Trinh Nhu Quan is 59 years old. He has developed and enhanced the flute martial arts to a perfect and refined level, both in music and martial arts.

Master Trịnh Như Quân
Master Trịnh Như Quân

image1He said that an ion flute in the time of the Yên Thế insurrection was about 65-70cm long and weighed 0.4kg, like a scimitar. It could be used to strike, parry blows and stab. Normally, it was a musical instrument but in fighting it became a dangerous weapon.


After a period of research, master Trinh Nhu Quan has produced some special iron flutes which are larger in size and weight.

For example, the “Tieu Tuong” flute is 1.6m long and weighs 4kg; the “Coi Thien Thai” flute weighs 3.5kg. The “Rong Giun” (worm dragon) flute which is over 2m long, weighs 5kg and has a standard sound which can be played in a modern orchestra.

The performance “Phon Xuong Moonlight” which master Quan has learned and bequeathed to his disciples, has been presented in many national important events.

In 1993 master Quan began to perform the flute martial art and it was officially written into the “National Martial Arts Handbook”.

In June 2008, the film “Yên Thế Flute Martial Arts” featuring martial arts master Trinh Nhu Quan and his disciples was awarded Second Prize at the 4th Vietnam International Cinema, Television and Sports and Tourism (FICT) Festival.

Having been associated with the flute martial arts for many years Trinh Nhu Quan is loved by many people who call him “Kinh Bac Mysterious Flute”.

With a love for martial arts, especially the mysterious Yen The flute martial arts, master Trinh Nhu Quan has taught it to many past generations of the heroic insurgents on the native land of the farmer-hero, Hoang Hoa Tham.


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