Biography of the Patriarch Master Lê Sáng (1920-2010)


Biography of the patriarch master

Lê Sáng



        • Patriarch from 1964 to 1986 and from 1990 until his death (2010).
        • Disciple of the founding master Nguyễn Lộc in 1940 in Hanoi Vietnam.
        • President of the World Council of Masters (2002-2004).

The birth


Saigon 1988

Master Patriarch Lê Sáng, after 13 years of re-education camps

Master Lê Sáng was born in the fall of 1920 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Son of Mr. Lê Văn Hiển, pseudonym Đức Quang (1887-1959) and of Mrs. Nguyễn Thị Mùi (1887-1993). He has two sisters, Lê Thị Xuất and Lê Thị Dư (Hương), of whom he is the eldest.

He grew up in a family imbued with Confucianism on the paternal side and Catholicism on the maternal side. He chose a celibate life to be able to devote him self fully to the martial art.


In 1939, at the age of 19, following a serious illness, he was partially paralyzed and had difficulty walking. Thanks to the intensive care provided over a year, he managed to slowly regain his strength but still had difficulty walking. To remedy this problem and on the advice of his parents, he decided to seek a master to learn martial arts. Chance led him, with his two friends Đặng Bảy and Đặng Bỉnh, to Vovinam class at the Normal School of Hanoi [[1]], where the founding master Nguyễn Lộc teaches.


Hanoï 1992, la retrouvaille avec ses amis après 38 ans de séparation (1954-1992)

G/D : Phan Dương Bình, Lê Sáng, Nguyễn Mỹ, Trịnh Cự Quí, Đặng Văn Bảy

Having strong physical capacities, combined with intelligence and perseverance, Master Lê Sáng quickly regained his health and made tremendous progress in the practice of Vovinam.

Talented and diligent, he was appointed, five years later, in 1945, by master founder as a teacher alongside his elders Nguyễn Mỹ, Nguyễn Khải and Nguyễn Bích to provide training at the Bac Qua center [[2]], at the Dau Sao house [[3]], and at the Quan Ngua Center[[4]], in Hanoi City. From that moment, he often accompanied the founding master in the many provinces of North Vietnam such as Hai Phong, Thach That (Son Tay), Phu Tho, Che Luu, Dan Ha, Dan Thuong, Me Doi, Phat Diem. In 1948, because of the Franco-Vietnamese war (1946-1954) [[5]] which was raging, he temporarily stopped Vovinam to turn to an economic activity (see Annex 1). However, he was always available whenever the Founding Master needed him.

Migration to the south


Thu Duc, South Viet Nam, 1955

In front of the National School of the Vietnamese Gendarmerie, from left to right

Nguyễn Văn Thông, Trần Đức Hợp, Lê Sáng, Nguyễn Lộc, Bùi Thiện Nghĩa, Nguyễn Cao Hách, Nguyễn Dần 

In July 1954, after the Treaty of Geneva [[6]], the founding master Nguyễn Lộc joined South Vietnam with his faithful disciples. A few months later, he opened the first Vovinam center at 55 Thu Khoa Huan Street in Saigon with the assistance of Master Phan Dương Bình. Master Lê Sáng joined them in August 1954. On his arrival, he contacted Master Nguyễn Lộc and helped him from time to time. Indeed, he replaced Master Phan Dương Bình when the latter had to return to the North in 1955 for family reasons.


In 1957, the founding master Nguyễn Lộc having fallen ill, he authorized his disciples to create new centers and to teach there. For all new rooms, they were to be placed under the direction of masters Lê Sáng and Trần Huy Phong. Master Lê Sáng then decided to stop all economic activities to devote himself solely to Vovinam.


melesang-tnd Saigon 1990.

Master Patriarch Lê Sáng

and master Trần Nguyên Đạo

On April 30, 1960, Founding Master Nguyễn Lộc died in Saigon and was buried in Mac Dinh Chi Cemetery in Saigon. The founding master left neither will nor nominated his successor. Master Lê sáng, being the oldest of the masters, was referred to by his peers as "Elder Master".

The coup d'état of November 11, 1960, against the Ngô Đình Diệm government in South Vietnam, was unsuccessful. Several personalities from the world of martial arts being among the insurgents, the best known are Mr. Phạm Lợi (Judo) and Mr. Tám Kiểng (Traditional martial arts). The sanctions were final: all martial arts in southern Việt Nam are banned.

Master Lê Sáng therefore found him self unable to teach. He decided to go to the province of Quang Duc with Mr. Nguyễn Hải, the young brother of the founding master, to exploit the wood and found a rubber plantation for four years (1961-1964) (see Annex 1).

During this forbidden time, unlike Master Lê Sáng, Master Trần Huy Phong decided to take up the torch. He continued to develop Vovinam in complete secrecy. At the end of 1963, a second coup successfully broke out. Martial arts schools are once again licensed to teach.


The patriarch


After four years in the timber trade, Master Lê Sáng had to face financial difficulties. In April 1964, he then decided to return to Saigon. Having learned of the latter's return, the master rulers of the time invited him to join them. From there, master Lê Sáng again participated in the development of Vovinam alongside master leaders such as Trần Huy Phong, Mạnh Hoàng, Nguyễn Văn Thư, Trần Đức Hợp, Ngô Hữu Liễn, Phan Quỳnh, Trần Bản Quế, Nguyễn Văn Cường, Nguyễn Văn Thông, etc. They established a program to institutionalize vovinam and were developing a large national development project. It was the great time of the rebirth of Vovinam- Việt Võ Đạo (1964-1975). This is also the time when the office of Patriarch was created (see Annex 2), and Master Lê Sáng was elected as Patriarch by the First Council of Masters of Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao (see Annex 3).



The center of Hung Vuong (Tổ Đường).




The side door of the center of Hung Vuong, 1968

          In 1968, master Lê Sáng bought a house located at No. 31 Su Van Hanh Street, 10th district, Saigon and created the Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo Hung Vuong center. The ground floor was reserved for the office and the accommodation, the second floor was used as a training room. It was also the seat of the Vovinam -Việt Võ Đạo Training Federation (see Annex 4) until 1975. The majority of the practitioners of the Vinh Vien center joined this place.


          Renowned masters of Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo come from this center:


Việt Nam: Nguyễn Văn Sen, Nguyễn Anh Dũng, Lưu Thăng, Nguyễn Tôn Khoa, Nguyễn Chánh Tứ, Võ Văn Tuấn, Phạm Thành Nam, Trần Văn Mỹ, Trần Văn Nhiêu, Tô Văn Vượng, Thái Quí Hưng, Nguyễn Hồng Tâm, etc.


United States of America: Dương Viết Hùng, Nguyễn Văn Đỏ.

Germany: Đặng Hữu Hào, Nguyễn Văn Nhàn


Master Lê Sáng In the dark years 1975-1990

          In 1975, the political situation in Vietnam changed dramatically. The Vietnamese communist regime in the North defeated the repulsive regime in the South, subsequently; it banned Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo for 15 years (1975-1990). Master Lê Sáng was imprisoned, like most masters, in re-education camps [[7]] for 13 years (1975-1988), At the beginning he was imprisoned in Chi Hoa prison, Saigon for 3 years [[8]], then he was transferred to various camps, and the last one is K3 camp [[9]].

          In 1986, when Master Lê Sáng was still in the re-education camps, he thought he was too old and had no hope of being released. He then decided to hand over the function of patriarch to Master Trần Huy Phong.

          The act of renunciation and retransmission of the patriarch takes place during the supply visit of the prisoners [[10]] to the K3 camp in Xuan Loc, on May 12, 1986. Master Lê Sáng orally proclaimed his will and hand over the patriarch function to master Trần Huy Phong in front of the witnesses who are the masters: Ngô Kim Tuyền, Vũ Kim Trọng, Nguyễn Văn Sen and Nguyễn Văn Chiếu.

          In 1988, after a few weeks of his release, Master Lê Sáng formalized this act of renunciation with a handwritten letter and informed all the great masters. Six months later in the same year, master Trần Huy Phong was arrested again and sentenced to 2 years in prison [[11]] for having helped the masters and teachers of Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao to escape abroad for regain freedom and developed the Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo.

          When Master Trần Huy Phong is released (August 31, 1990), he notices that Master Lê Sáng is still enthusiastic and does not intend to give up the direction of the School. On September 28, 1990, in a letter of vows, Master Trần Huy Phong decided to hand over the function of Patriarch to Master Lê Sáng and retired to devote himself to research.


Master Lê Sáng assumes the function of President of the World Council of Masters

california2020 melesang California, USA 2002, Extraordinary Meeting of the World Council of Masters

L / R: Nguyễn Văn Cường, Nguyễn Dần, Lê Sáng, Ngô Hữu Liễn,

Lê Trọng Hiệp, Phan Quỳnh

          In 2002, when Master Lê Sáng is visiting California, United States, Grand Master Nguyễn Văn Cường, Secretary General of the World Council of Masters, convened, on February 4, 2002, an extraordinary Council of Masters with the Grand Masters: Nguyễn Dần (younger brother of the founding master), Lê Sáng, Lê Văn Phúc, Ngô Hữu Liễn, Nguyễn Văn Cường, Lê Trọng Hiệp and Phan Quỳnh. The reunion is full of emotions after 27 years of separation (1975-2002), the masters of the former Central Directorate of Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao created in 1964 are together again!

          At this exceptional meeting, once the emotions of the reunion were over, the grand masters decided on several important measures, including the recognition and approval of the resolution to re-establish the Supreme White Belt voted by the 2nd World Congress in 1996 in Paris as well as the installation of master Lê Sáng as President of the World Council of Masters (see Annex 5).



The contributions of Master Lê Sáng

As Patriarch, Master Lê Sáng made his contributions to the enrichment of Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo in the following technical and philosophical fields:


On the technical side

  1. Strategic combat techniques (Chien Luoc) from the 21st to the 30th;
  2. Wrestling techniques (Vat) from 16th to 28th;
  3. The research and study of Quyen such as Long Ho Quyen (the Dragon and the Tiger), Lao Mai Quyen (the Old Plum tree), Ngoc Tran Quyen (the jade cup), Quyen of Saber, of Longstaff and d'Hallebarde.

In terms of philosophy and education


Master Lê Sáng is the person at the origin of the specific books and magazines of Vovinam from 1966 to 1975. The most representative are the ten magazines published and widely distributed in the Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao. The content of these documents includes, essays, theoretical studies, martial philosophy, guidelines, development ideas etc., They are written by renowned masters such as Lê Sáng, Trần Huy Phong, Nguyễn Văn Thư, Lê Văn Phúc, Phan Quỳnh, Ngô Hữu Liễn, Trịnh Ngọc Minh etc., there are also articles on theater, poems, stories and memoirs of practitioners, teachers and supporters.

The personality of Master Lê Sáng

(Extract from the text of Master Nguyễn Hồng Tâm)

“… Beyond the model practitioner of Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo who trained to overcome the baseness of the soul and the weaknesses of the body to build a better life for himself, Master Lê Sáng gave himself the responsibility of helping others and was ready to sacrifice himself to serve Vovinam, society ... 

In addition, thanks to his incessant research work, he had enriched the technical system of Vovinam- Việt Võ Đạo in order to meet the needs of international development which had started with France in 1973...

… Skilled in martial arts, good commercial, excellent leader, Master Lê Sáng was also a great poet. His poems reflected a lot of emotion and chivalrous spirit. Some of his poems were turned into songs. In life, he was a simple, genuine man, helpful to those around him, tolerant and patient with his disciples, available when his parents needed him...


Hung Vuong Center, Saigon, 2007

Master Trần Nguyên Đạo, presents the book "History of Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao, Volume I, from 1912-1975" to master patriarch Lê Sáng

… After a period of illness, Master Lê Sáng left this world at 3 am (Vietnam time) on September 27, 2010, corresponding to August 20 of the year of the Tiger (Canh Dan), at 91 years (Vietnamese age). The disappearance of Master Lê Sáng is a great loss for the world of martial arts and for all the practitioners of Vovinam-Việt Võ Đạo in the world… ”.




To Duong, Saìgon 1990.

Reception of the 1st foreign delegation to go to the VN after 1975.

Nguyễn Văn Sen (1), Nguyễn Văn Chiếu (2), Ngô Kim Tuyền (3), Mai Văn Hiệp (4),

Trần Bản Quế (5), Lê Sáng (6), Phan Dương Bình (7), Trần Nguyên Đạo (8),

Nguyễn Phi Long (9), Nguyễn Thế Trường (10)




Annex 1: Master Lê Sáng suspends the activities of Vovinam


          For six years, from 1948 to 1954, Master Lê Sáng interrupted his activities for the first time. This period is between the departure of Master Nguyễn Lộc from Bui Chu-Phat Diem to return to Hanoi, until his arrival in South Vietnam. During these six years, master Lê Sáng resumed his old trade as a shoemaker. After two years as an employee (1948-1949), he had enough savings to collaborate with his friend Đặng Bảy to open a shoe store called "Phi Diep", located 14-18 Pho Hang Quat, Hanoi (1949 -1953 ), then a printing press with Mr. Đặng Bỉnh from 1953 to 1954 (6 months). 

          While he had just moved to the South, he interrupted his activities a second time, for two years, from 1956 to 1957 for economic reasons. This time, to trade in firecrackers, in Xom Moi, Go Vap, and to create a book rental store in Cho Lon. 

melesang-retrouvailles avec m. nguyn hi2002

The reunion with Mr. Nguyễn Hải,

New-Orleans, Usa, 2002.

Left / Right: Nguyễn Dần, Ngô Hữu Liễn, Lê Văn Phúc, Nguyễn Hải, Lê Sáng

          His third interruption lasts four years, from 1961 to 1964. He leaves for Quang Duc to trade in timber, and to create a rubber plantation with Mr. Nguyễn Hải (19xx-2020), the younger brother of Master Nguyễn Lộc, a period where the activities of Vovinam are prohibited by the government of Ngô Đình Diệm.


          Finally, the fourth interruption was the longest, for thirteen years, from 1975 to 1988. He was forced to suspend his activities when he was interned in a re-education camp. At the same time, Vovinam was banned by the Vietnamese communist regime (1975-1990).


Source: "Memoirs of Patriarch Lê Sáng", Copyrico edition, 2001, page 32 to 39 (Hồi ký, Chưởng môn Vovinam Lê Sáng, 2001).


Source : "Mémoires de patriarche Lê Sáng", édition Copyrico, 2001, page 32 à 39 (Hồi ký, Chưởng môn Vovinam Lê Sáng, 2001). 


Annex 2: The function of patriarch 

During the period when master Nguyễn Lộc created and directed the Vovinam (1938-1960) and that when master Trần Huy Phong took up the torch and developed the School underground (1960-1964), the function and the title of patriarch do not yet exist. Master Nguyễn Lộc, always presented himself as the founding master.

 The function of patriarch appears when the legalization of Vovinam in 1964 and the 1st Council of Masters (Central Directorate), elected Master Lê Sáng to this function.


Annex 3: the 1st Council of Masters (Central Directorate) 

The Central Directorate (the Council of Masters) is a collegial management body. Defined by the 1964 statutes, its role is to command, manage and administer Vovinam activities, unlike the post of patriarch which is more of a symbolic function.

 For the first time in 26 years of existence (1938-1964), the Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao has a collective management body, responding to the principles: collegial, democratic, impartial, with a modern mode of operation such as: elections, collective decision, statutes, internal regulations, etc. 

Below is the list of the first members of the Central Management.





Lê Sáng

Assistant to the Patriarch, Technical Director

Trần Huy Phong

President of the Commission for External Relations

Mạnh Hoàng

President of the Legal Committee

Ngô Hữu Liễn

President of the Control Committee

Nguyễn Văn Thư

President of the commission of organization of ceremonies

Trần Bản Quế


Nguyễn Văn Cường


Phan Quỳnh

President of the Finance Committee

Nguyễn Văn Thông

Technical Commission

Président : Trần Huy Phong. Membres : Nguyễn Văn Thư, Trần Thế Phượng, Trịnh Ngọc Minh, Trần Đức Hợp, Nguyễn Văn Thông           


Nguyễn Hữu Nhạc




The 1st Council of Masters in 1964, in front of Hung Vuong center

Left/Right : Ngô Hữu Liễn, Phan Quỳnh, Nguyễn Văn Thư, Lê Sáng, Trần Huy Phong, Nguyễn Văn Thông and Trần Bản Quế


Annex 4: The organization of Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao from 1967-1975. 

During this period, the need to develop the School becomes more and more important and complex; the organizational system is then revised according to a principle of decentralization in order to meet the new requirements of the situation: the former Central Directorate (or the 1st Council of Masters) becomes the Directorate of the School, the master patriarch is President. 

Depending on this direction, there are three institutions: the Federation of Youth, the Federation of Formation and the General Association of Vovinam. Each institution has its own management and its own legal personality. 

1. The Federation of Vovinam-VVD Training (Tổng Cục Huấn Luyện) is responsible for the formation and development of Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao throughout the territory of Vietnam. It was directed by Master Patriarch Lê Sáng from 1967 to 1973, then by Master Trần Huy Phong from 1973 to 1975. 

2. The Viet Vo Dao Youth Federation (Tổng Đoàn Thanh Niên Việt Võ Đạo) is responsible for the training of the School's executives, the organization of social and humanitarian activities as well as cultural activities (see Paragraph III.2 , chapter 4: the Federation of Youth). It was directed by Master Trần Huy Phong from 1967 to 1973, then by Master Nguyễn Văn Thông [[12]] from 1973 to 1975. 

3. The General Association of Vovinam (Tổng Hội Vovinam) aims to bring together all former practitioners, supporters, counselors and personalities of Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao. It is a friendly to promote Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao. It is directed by Master Nguyễn Văn Thông from 1967 to 1975


Annex 5: Master Lê Sáng assumes the function of President of the World Council of Masters 

Following the extraordinary meeting of the World Council of Masters, convened by Grandmaster Nguyễn Văn Cường, Secretary General of the World Council of Masters, on February 04, 2002, in California, USA. A communication was published to formalize the following 3 points: 

  1. Master Lê Sáng is officially installed and assumes the function of President of the World Council of Masters.
  2. The recognition of international institutions, therefore the World Council of Masters and the World Federation of Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao.
  3. The recognition of the decisions taken by the last 3 congresses (1996, 1998 and 2000). Including the rank system (with the Supreme White Belt) and the International Conventions.
communique conseilmaitres2002




The Bureau of the World Council of Masters of Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao informs: 

Given the spirit of the World Congresses of Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao, including the 2nd Congress (08/1996 in Paris), the 3rd Congress (05/1998 in Houston), the 4th Congress (08/2000 in Santa Ana). We have the honor to inform you: 

1-    Master Patriarch Lê Sáng is officially installed and assumes the function of President of the World Council of Masters.

2-    Master Phan Quỳnh, assumes the function of Vice-President of the World Council of Masters (replaces Master Trần Huy Phong, deceased).

3-    From the date of this communication, the members of the World Council of Masters are now complete.


In the USA on February 04, 2002.

Secretary General of the World Council of Masters

Signed - Master Nguyễn Văn Cường

Notice - Approved - Signed, Master Lê Sáng


Copy: - Tổ Đường, World Federation of Vovinam-Viet Vo Dao, national federations. " To spread".



Dallas, Texas, Usa, 2002

L / R: Nguyễn Văn Lương, Lê Huy Chương, Lê Sáng, Ngô Hữu Liễn

[1] :Currently Phan Dinh Phung School, located 67 b, Cua Bac Street, Ba Dinh district, Hanoi.

[2] :Currently Bac Qua market, Hanoi.

[3] :Currently the Vietnam-Russian Cultural Palace, Hanoi.

[4] :Currently Phan Dinh Phung School, located 67 b, Cua Bac Street, Ba Dinh district, Hanoi.

[5]: Also called the "Indochina War", it was an armed conflict that took place from 1946 to 1954, between France and Viêt Minh. The conflict ends after the defeat of the French army at Dien Bien Phu, and leads to the Geneva agreements. France (George Bidaut, Minister of Foreign Affairs) signed the Geneva Agreements (July 20, 1954) with Vietnam (Tạ Quang Bửu) and the Foreign Ministers: John Foster Dulles (United States), Molotov (Soviet Union ), Anthony Eden (United Kingdom) and Chu En-lai (Popular China). These agreements divide Vietnam into two rival states, bordering on the 17th parallel. The North is ruled by Hồ Chí Minh who establishes the communist regime; the South is ruled by Bảo Đại under the monarchical Republican regime. France renounces its colonialist intentions and withdraws from Indochina. The Indochina war claimed more than 500,000 victims.

[6] :See note 5.

[7] :Communist regime re-education camp or brainwashing center.

[8] :During this period, he is in the same cell with Master Trần Huy Quyền (1945-2001).

[9] :Xuan Loc prison (code K3), Dong Nai Town, South Vietnam.

[10] : Prisoners in Vietnam have very little food; there is only poor quality rice. It is for this reason that with each visit, the family must bring additional food without which the survival of the prisoner is no longer guaranteed.

[11] : Master Trần Huy Phong was imprisoned without reason as Master Lê Sáng for 5 years (1975-1980), once released, he lived in hiding until 1988, when he was captured, but without finding any evidence that authority reproaches him, he was released after 2 years of imprisonment.

[12] : Master Nguyễn Văn Thông (1925-2019), is one of the grandmasters, of the same generation as masters Lê Sáng and Trần Huy Phong. It should not be confused with another master of the same name and first names Nguyễn Văn Thông, younger who currently lives in Australia.


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