Written in 1994 by Master Iain, soon after he had been accepted as Grand Master Tan’s first disciple and appointed head of the UK branch.
A Brief History Of Nam Yang Pugilistic Association.
Tat Moh & The Origins Of Shaolin
The origin of Shaolin Kung Fu is generally credited to an Indian monk named Tat Moh who is sometimes known as Boddhidharma. He began life as a prince in southern India, but became a devoted Buddhist, renouncing his royal heritage to take up the simple life style of a monk. He traveled widely, spreading the teachings of Buddhism. Eventually he rose to become the 28th patriarch of India.
In those days, it was common for Indian monks to travel to China where their Buddhist teachings were eagerly received. In the year 520 A.D. Tat Moh made just such a journey right through India and China, finally settling at a monastery called Shao Lin (Little Forest). He was disappointed however to find the monks very weak and unable to withstand the austere ways of Buddhism – a life which often consisted of long fasts and frugal living.
Tat Moh therefore retired into a cave and meditated in isolation in order to find a solution to the problem. When he emerged after nine years of hard study, he had devised a set of exercises for the monks. These were similar to some Indian exercises such as yoga and were intended to regulate and strengthen the monks’ chi flow. Their intention was to strengthen the monks and increase their health and vitality, and this they did so successfully that Tat Moh’s Chi Kung exercises are still practiced to this day. They form the basis of the Shaolin Arts.
It seems that in China there was more than one temple named ‘Shaolin’. In this history we will discuss only the Shaolin Temple in Fukien Province, since ours is a Fukienese art.
In the history of China there was much lawlessness. Bandits and Villains were widespread. Temples were vulnerable to attack, as were the monks who traveled the country teaching the ways of Buddhism. So as to protect themselves the monks developed a system of fighting based on the exercises taught by the founding master, Tat Moh.
Buddhist monks are very gentle and good natured. Their fighting system was developed only to defend themselves against harm. This system was called the ‘Lohon’ style after the monks (Lohons) in the temple developed it. The Lohon style is a very basic form of Kung Fu which emphasizes low stances and strong body posture. It proved very successful.
The monks of the Shaolin Temple practiced diligently to increase their martial arts skills and were constantly striving to improve their art. A great step forward came with the evolution of the third Shaolin style called the Tai Chor style (Tiger style). This was developed by a Chinese emperor, who had relinquished his royal position to adopt the austere ways of Buddhism. He finally settled at the Shaolin Temple where he studied deeply in martial arts, eventually developing the Tai Chor style. For this reason, Tai Chor is sometimes also known as the emperor’s style. Tai Chor uses the strong but mobile stance which we use in the Tiger-Crane combination, and which we call the ‘walking stance’. It also emphasizes a very strong twisting punch. In fact, the straight punch which ends with a twist of the fist has become a hallmark of Shaolin Kung Fu. The Tai Chor style develops great power and was therefore able to defeat the Lohon style which it superseded.
No Style in unbeatable. Every move has a counter. Inevitably, another style was later developed which could counter the Tiger style. This was the Monkey style, known in Chinese as Tai Sheng. Monkey is a very fast, deceptive style. The monkey tends to close in on opponents, strike and retreat all in one rapid sequence. Hence the powerful Tiger style may be unable to hit his tricky, constantly moving opponent. If the monkey misses with a strike, he will still move away from his opponent so as not to allow them the chance to counter him. The monkey’s strikes are accurate more then powerful and are delivered with fingers or the open palm. Grabbing is also a favourite monkey technique. The monkey likes to crouch and often attacks the lower body. He especially favours targeting the groin. For male opponents this can result in serious loss.
Because the Monkey style consists of much crouching and rolling, it is best suited to people who are short. It is often considered as one of the most entertaining styles to watch.
How can the techniques of the monkey possibly be countered? The answer is by the techniques of the White Crane! The White Crane style was the last and the most technically advanced style to be developed in the Fukien Shaolin Temple. Even to this day, the Crane style is regarded with great respect and is shrouded in secrecy by its masters. Hence it had been one of the last Kung Fu styles which the Chinese have ‘let go’ to Westerners.
What is this devastating secret possessed by the White Crane? The crane sticks. As soon as the crane is attacked it establishes touch contact. If its opponent tries to land the attack, the crane deflects it; if the opponent withdraws, the crane follows; never releasing its touch until it finds a certain opportunity to strike – which it does with no mercy. What use are the tricky techniques of the monkey? As he tries to dart away the crane will follow, sticking to him until the chance presents itself to strike. The White Crane style represents the pinnacle of the Shaolin Martial Arts.
The Burning of the Shaolin Temple
During the mid 17th Century, China was conquered by the Manchurians who established the ‘Ching Dynasty’ of Chinese rule. Not surprisingly, the Chinese strongly resented being ruled by ‘foreigners’ and there was much resistance and rebellion.
In the Fukien Province this resistance was particularly strong. The Fukien Shaolin Temple was famous for producing some of the best fighters in China, so many of the rebels came here to perfect their fighting skills. Over the years the temple became a centre for rebellion against the Manchurian government.
Realizing that the activities within the Shaolin Temple posed a threat to them, the Manchurians sent their army to deal with it. Rather than face the renowned martial artists of the temple, the Manchurians decided to set fire to it and wait outside to kill any survivors as they tried to escape the flames. The temple was destroyed forever in a fiery inferno and almost all of the monks died in the flames or whilst trying to escape. Only five Kung Fu masters managed to survive.
The five masters who survived were more determined than ever to defeat the Manchurians. They decided to split up and travel through China. It was necessary for them to disguise themselves and stay on the move, since the government would have loved to execute them. Wherever the masters traveled they stirred up the people to prepare to fight the Manchurians. In readiness for a rebellion they taught them Kung Fu fighting techniques (of course at this time the Chinese did not have guns, all fighting was hand to hand).
Through their perseverance and dedication, the five masters set up a network of secret societies which was eventually to spread throughout China. These societies trained diligently in the art of Kung Fu and were sworn to free China from the Manchurians. In order to recognize each other they developed many secret signs. The most well known of these is the ‘Shaolin Salute’ with one clenched fist and one open palm. All Kung Fu styles which trace their ancestry to one of the five Shaolin masters begin their patterns with a variant of the salute.
The secret societies set up by the five Shaolin masters were so strong that they lasted even after the Manchurians had left China. They have now spread throughout the world wherever there are Chinese people. We call them the Triads.
The Origins of the Tiger-Crane Combination
Of the Five masters who escaped from the Shaolin Temple, the most famous was Hung Ee Kan. He was a master of the Tiger style and was renowned for the strength of his stance and the power of his punch. He fought many challenges and was never beaten. Many Kung Fu styles trace their origins back to Hung Ee Kan, including the famous Hung Gar style.
After the burning of the temple, Hung Ee Kan sought refuge with a Chinese opera troop. The troop traveled around China in a red painted barge performing their operas. For this reason they were known as ‘The Red Barge’. Hung Ee Kan found them to be an excellent cover. Although he posed as a member of the opera, every time they stopped in a new town, he would gather together opponents of the Manchurians and form new branches of the secret societies. He would instruct them in the secrets of Kung Fu, ready to make war with the Manchu’s. In this way, his teachings became widespread in China.
Later in Hung Ee Kan’s career, after he had left The Red Barge, he came one day upon an old man teaching Kung Fu to his daughter. He did not recognize the style which they practiced, but was fascinated by its soft, subtle movements. Not wishing to disturb the training session, he hid in a tree to watch but the old man saw him and beckoned him to come down and join in. A sparring session followed between Hung Ee Kan and the girl. Hung was amazed to find that his ferocious punches and blocks, with which he had defeated all challenges, were unable to overcome this fragile looking girl. You see, her style was very soft and relied on evading and deflecting his attacks, rather then stopping them, making all their strength useless. She would reply by waiting until she had created a gap in his defense, then exploiting it with a fast, accurate strike to a sensitive point.
The girl was named Tee Eng Chun and the style which she practiced was of course the White Crane style. Hung Ee Kan was fascinated by this style, against which hard force was of no meaning. He stayed with the Tee family to learn more of it and soon found himself falling in love with Tee Eng Chun. They married and together produced a style which combined the best of what each had to offer; the power of the Tiger and the soft, subtle techniques of the Crane.
This is how the Tiger-Crane Combination was formed. It was kept by the Tee family and passed down, generation by generation. The district of Fukien Province where the Tee family lived was called ‘Eng Chun’.
The Story of Tee Ley
It was Tee Ley who brought the Tiger-Crane style to high renown throughout China. He was a master of the Iron Palm technique although he only trained his right hand. It was said that whatever he gripped in this hand he turned to dust.
In the years gone by, it was the custom in China for Kung Fu Masters to challenge each other to fight. Such fights were held on raised platforms called Lei Tais. There were no rules; it was an all out fight. Tee Ley was famous for fighting many Lei Tais, usually killing his opponent. Wherever a Lei Tai was being held, he would travel there. Eventually he had defeated all challenges as the champion of Southern China. Since he was getting older, he retired from fighting and became a shoemaker.
Sometime after Tee Ley had retired, the champion fighter of Northern China challenged him to find which was best; The Northern style of fighting, which uses many high kicks and long range hand techniques, or the Southern style, which uses a strong stance, close range hand techniques and emphasizes blocking. Tee Ley refused the challenge as he had retired from fighting and stopped training. The Northern champion would not give up however, and kept threatening Tee Ley. Eventually, Tee Ley decided that he must act, so he traveled north to take up the challenge. Ha made careful preparations for a quick escape, since he knew that if he beat their champion, the northern Chinese would want to take revenge; he had a boat waiting, ready to take him back to the south.
Tee Ley sought out his opponent and took up the challenge. The two champions fought on a Lei Tai. Tee Ley fought using his Tiger-Crane style and his deadly Iron Palm. The northern champion was no match for him and soon lay dead at his feet. Tee Ley had to escape quickly
through the commotion, but was lucky enough to make it back to his boat. He sailed back to Southern China to a hero’s welcome.
News of what had happened soon spread throughout china. Tee Ley became very famous and so did the style of Kung Fu with which he fought, the Tiger-Crane combination.
This is the story of how the Tiger-Crane combination became famous.
GREAT GRAND MASTER TAN KEW LEONG
师 祖 陈 九 龙
Great Grand Master Tan Kew Leong （陈九 龙 Chen Jiu Long). He was the second Master of Master Ang Lian Huat. Master Ang learnt the Tai Chor “Tai Zu “ (Tiger) system and the famous “Song Jiang” traditional weapons from him. Originally from Taipei, Taiwan which was formerly known as Jin Men. （金门） He was married into a Chiu family whereby his first daughter had to bear the surname of the Chiu. Subsequently he got a son and bears the surname of Tan.
Great Grand Master Tan Kew Leong used to travel between Taipei （台北） and Zhang Zhou (漳州) and established a shop as a bone setter. Zhang Zhou is famous for the Shaolin “Tai Zu” style of martial art and also the “Shaolin Song Jiang weapons” which comes with the “Fighting Green lion”. He also has a family in Zhang Zhou. He has an adopted son Chen Huo Tuan who does bone setting as well.
The legendary General Song Jiang from the Heroes of the Marsh or Water Margin was famous for his war strategies and warfare formations. The formations use different weapons which can be single or double bladed, short or long. The formations are very much based on the eight trigram or “ba gua” which can be very directional. During the Chinese New Year the troupe will travel and perform in different villages together with weapons and lion dancing.
My Master Ang Lian Huat trains with Great Grand Master Tan Kew Leong and learnt from him most of the Shaolin weapons. Apart from all these he also learnt the external Chinese Medicine. The Green Lion was being taught in temples and martial arts schools all over in Zhang Zhou as an anti Ching cause. During the Chinese New Year these troupe would travel out of their county to all the nearby districts to show off their fighting skills.
Extract from a book about martial arts published in Zhang Zhou there was mention about Grand Master: “In the 40’s there was Master Chen Jiu Long who came from Taiwan to Fujian or Min Nan which is short for Fujien where he passed through, finally settling in “Zhang Zhou” Master Chen Jiu Long was a practioner of the “Taizhu” fist and he learnt his skills from “Wu Da Chao” who was renowned for his martial skill. Master Chen was a Chinese doctor and herb seller by profession in Zhang Zhou and was also known by his nickname “Chen Jiu Long Hao Da Dao” (Chen Jiu Long Great Big Knife).”
He once taught a student “Wu Pu”, “Chang Tai Zai Tu Gan” from Chou village. His disciple Ni Hong Fei who was previously from Chang Tai city community Hospital was a retired doctor. Master Chen left Zhang Zhou for Taiwan to visit relatives from which no news of him was ever heard. His wife Huang Xue passed away a year before this book was published.
Great Grand Master was a famous bone setter and medicine peddler. He established a shop in Zhang Zhou at Zheng An South Road No. 284 which still exist today. In 1949 in the midst of the civil war, Great Grand Master returned for Taipei and never set back to Zhang Zhou again. This Shop was famous in the 40’s because of a “big knife” straddle across the frontage of the shop, so much so he was known as Da Dao Tan ( 大 刀 陈 )。
In 1967 during the Cultural Revolution, his shop was targeted, martial arts was banned. The Red Guard tore down, confiscated and destroyed everything in the shop. At the same time our Great Grand Master passed away at the age of 76. He left behind 2 sons in Zhang Zhou and 1 son and 1 daughter in Taiwan. None of them however practiced martial arts。 His son in Zhang Zhou does some bone setting.
In 2006 April 12 – 22 Myself with two of my students Mr. Iain Armstrong and Mr. Dougal Simmons visited China to search for our Grand Masters. We were lucky and with the help of our friends from the “Wu Zu” style were able to locate the old shop. We were also lucky to be given a photo of Our Great Master demonstrating his power by a road side show。This photograph was well hidden in a wardrobe that the red guards had missed after confiscating all other martial arts weapons. This photograph taken on the 17th day of the 7th Month in 1931 at Zhang Zhou Old Bridge Road （旧 桥 头）．Great Grand Master looked so relaxed although he had 680Cattie (411 Kg) of granite boulders on him.
By Master Tan Soh Tin
Additional info on Tan Kew Leong.
Please note that ‘Tan Kew Leong’ represents our Great Grand master’s name rendered from his native Hokkien. In the article above he is also referred to as ‘Chen Jiu Long’ based on the mandarin pronunciation of his name. The article was written by my Master Tan Soh Tin of Singapore. Here are a few additions of my own, some referring to events which occurred after this article was written.
The Wife and the Medicine Shop.
Finding Tan Kew Leong’s medicine shop was nothing short of amazing but imagine our surprise to find that his widow was still living there, now in her late nineties! I suspect that she was equally surprised to see us show up. The Singaporeans probably seemed very foreign to her but Dougal and myself, with our round eyes and pale skin must have looked like aliens. I wonder if she had ever seen a westerner before! There were some paper calligraphies stuck on her doors but someone peeled them off and the original painted calligraphies put there by Tan Kew Liong himself were revealed! The two characters at the top say Kew Leong – 9 Dragons. If anyone can read the rest, please let me know what they say!
We got to take a look inside the old medicine shop. The place had an antiquated feel to it as if it had been locked in a time warp since the Great Grand Master had left. The old lady lived here and obviously didn’t believe in modernising.
She introduced us to her son (by Tan Kew Leong) and his family who invited us to their house. Her son casually produced the now famous photograph of Tan Kew Leong lying with two huge granite basins resting on his chest. Next to him can be seen a number of bare footed labourers whose collective effort had been needed to lift the basins onto Tan Kew Leong. They seem still to be holding poles used for lifting. At 411kg the weight of these basins would have prevented most people from breathing, thus killing them. Tan Kew Leong, however looks rather comfortable! The strength of his chest and abdomen must have been immense. According to the dates that we have he was in fact thirty nine years old when this picture was taken although he looks much younger.
On this trip we were accompanied by David Lee of Singapore, a Ngo Chor (5 ancestors) Master and Qiu Jing Na of Xiamen, China, a Ngo Chor Mistress closely related to David. Many thanks to them for making this trip possible. Quin Na used her wide range of contacts to really help us connect with the remaining network of kung fu Masters in the Min Nam (Southern Fukien) area.
The Story Of The Tiger.
The following year (2007) Master Tan and I travelled to Taiwan at the invitation of Proffessor Guo Ying jie of Dong Hai University, Taichong, Tawan who was organising a big demonstration of traditional kung fu at Nan Kun Shen Wan Shan Tang Temple in Tainan, Tawan. He put us in contact with Tan Kew Leong’s family in Taiwan. His great grand nephew, Qui Kwang Sheng practised kung fu although he had not learned Tan Kew Leong’s art. We also met another of the Great Grand Master’s sons. One of the most interesting things which came to light was that Tan Kew Leong had received a certificate from the governor of Shandong province in recognition of the fact that he had killed a tiger bare handed! As a young martial artist in a culture where there was great competition for recognition and face, no doubt he was always on the lookout for opportunities to prove his superiority. The story goes that he travelled north to Shandong where he was able to find a tiger. Seemingly there are sensitive pressure points just above a tiger’s eyes and Tan Kew Leong was able to use a two fingered jab (like an eye gouge) to to strike these points an defeat the tiger.
On a personal note I would like to say this regarding fighting tigers. I have never failed to try any of the most dangerous demonstrations that I have been taught including washing my face in broken glass, being hit with an axe and having lumps of wood smashed over my groin. Fortunately I have never been asked to take a tiger on bare handed since I think that I might just have draw the line at this one! If Tan Kew Leong indeed despatched a tiger bare handed then in terms of bravery as well as skill that puts him in a league well above anyone who I have had the privilege to meet over the course of my life time and makes him a far braver man than me!
Master Tan, on hearing this story, was determined to try to track down the certificate! We had only a few days in Taiwan so he decided to return later and, at the same time, visit the Great Grand Master’s final resting place.
Visit To Tan Kew Leong’s Grave.
In October 2013, Master Tan retuned to Taiwan with my kung fu brother Dougal Simons, his son in law and student, Andrew Lee and Gerald Lim, another senior student. They were able to meet with a number of our Great Grand Master’s descendants and visit his final resting place in their family mausoleum in Hua Lien. Visiting the grave of an ancestor, particularly one as important as this, is both important and auspicious in Chinese culture.
Did the certificate come to light? Unfortunately not yet! Master Tan and his group were able to get a copy of a very battered old photograph of Tan Kew Leong clearly taken when he was older than the one with the granite basins. There was a lot of talk of the certificate and also of a claw taken from the tiger which is supposedly still in existence. For the time being, though, we will just have to wait!
Grand Master Ang Lian Huat
Founding Master of the Nam Yang Pugilistic Association
Master Ang was the founder of Nam Yang Pugilistic Association. He was born in Quemoy, an island off the coast of Fukien province, China. Quemoy was heavily fortified – an island fortress guarding the Fukienese coast.
Master Ang took up training in the Tiger-Crane art when only eight years old. His master was Tee Hong Yew, a member of the Tee family, through which the art had been passed down for many generations – ever since its development by Tee Eng Choon and Hung Ee Kan. Tee Hong Yew was known as ‘the secretive old man’ due to his habit of coming and going without a word.
See The Founding of Tiger-Crane Style Kung Fu for more details of the Tee family.
As well as the Tiger-Crane Combination, Master Ang learned several other styles. His second master was Tan Kew Leong. He was the chief of the herbal medicine peddlers in the Chuan Chew district of China. These medicine peddlers were usually highly accomplished martial artists and were often challenged to fights in the towns and villages they visited. For this reason, their Kung Fu had to be good. Tan Kew Leong specialized in the Tai Chor (tiger) style and was also a master of the Shaolin weapons system.
Master Ang’s third master was Mioa Sian Meng, a monk from the Chuan Chew Shaolin Temple. From him Master Ang learned the full Shuang Yang Pei Ho (Sun Frost White Crane) soft art and external Chinese medicine.
Master Ang’s family were quite wealthy – which was why he could afford the very best Kung Fu teachers available. Kung fu was an all consuming interest for him and he did little else. His father was a timber merchant but unfortunately he died whilst Master Ang was still young. His brother took over the business and moved it to Singapore – a place which at the time, was attracting many Chinese immigrants. In 1947, Master Ang emigrated to Singapore to take part in the family business. He was so hot tempered, however, that he quarreled with his uncle to the extent that he was excluded from the business.
Since arriving in Singapore, Master Ang had continued to practise his Kung Fu – at which he was now extremely accomplished. During the second world war and in the years after, Singapore was quite a rough, dangerous place – in total contrast to what it is today. Martial arts experts were highly favored as providers of security and protection and were often greatly feared. So for Master Ang this provided an ideal way to earn a living whilst at the same time devoting his life to the art that he loved.
It was in 1954 that Master Ang founded the Nam Yang Pugilistic Association. Here he taught the Tiger-Crane Combination, Shuang Yang Pei Ho, Tai Chor, Lohon and Monkey and Shaolin weapon arts as well as Chi Kung and Lion Dance.
Master Ang was greatly respected throughout the Singapore martial arts community. He was known as being strong willed, quick tempered and an exceptionally good fighter. He disliked men who set themselves up as Kung Fu masters without really knowing the art and would challenge anyone who he suspected of being such an imposter.
When Mass Oyama, the founder of Kyokushinkai Karate, visited Singapore he came to Nam Yang. Kyokushinkai Karate is famous as one of Karate’s hardest styles spawning many great bare knuckle fighters. Karate styles also practise the Sun Chien form (often called Sanchin in Okinawan styles like Goju Ryu). Oyama was sufficiently impressed to offer him a karate black belt. Master Ang refused, saying that he could only accept a grading from someone he considered his senior.
Master Ang presided over Nam Yang for the rest of his life and trained many students. He was still teaching keenly even in the last few weeks of his life, trying to impart as much of his vast knowledge as he could. He died in 1984 at the age of 60.
Master Ang had a great depth of understanding of Kung Fu. He was a master of the ‘touch’ system and stressed the use of a straight counter for a side attack and a side counter for a straight attack – dash against wave and wave against dash. He maintained that to every move there is a counter and to every counter there is a counter, etc. He emphasised the importance of concentration and awareness, having been beaten in his youth by an opponent who spat in his face then hit him whilst he was distracted.
Despite knowing so many styles and several hundred routines, Master Ang stressed that this was not really important compared to the depth of one’s knowledge and the strength of one’s basics. The key to success is the mastery of the Sum Chien form.
Shaolin Master Tan Soh Tin
Present Master of Nam Yang Pugilistic Association
Master Tan was born in Singapore during the Second World War. In those days much of Singapore was still plantations and swamps. Master Tan lived in a rural area with no amenities. As a boy, one of his tasks was to fetch water from the well. He would hold the buckets out either side of him with straight arms as he climbed the hill to his house. This was a way of building strength in his arms and shoulders.
When he first took up training in the martial arts, Master Tan was eight years old. He learned from his uncle whose name was Teo Choon Bee.
Master Teo was famous as a bone setter. In those days, of course, there would not have been modern hospitals in Singapore. Chinese doctors were often also masters of the martial arts. Master Teo taught the Tiger-Crane Combination. Most Singaporean Chinese are of Fukienese descent, so Fukienese arts such as Tiger-Crane are commonly taught there. Master Teo’s classes usually contained about fifteen students. They would begin by practicing basic moves then split off to be taught their routines individually. The style of Tiger-Crane which Master Teo taught was similar to what we practise now.
Master Tan trained with Master Teo until he was about thirteen years old, but then stopped his Kung Fu training to concentrate on his school work. While he was a teenager he liked to go to parties and ride motorbikes. The scars which you can see on his shins today came from crashing old British bikes while racing them through the plantations and the swamps.
After he had left school, Master Tan again wished to concentrate on Kung Fu training. This time he went to a master named Tan Heng Han. This master was quite old and Master Tan describes him as having a “huge belly”. Master Tan Heng Han had no club house. In fact he used to train his students near a chicken coup, the smell of which was often very strong. He was there all day and students would come and go as it suited them. They paid a monthly training fee but would often also bring their master gifts such as tobacco and pigs trotter cooked in soy sauce – which he particularly enjoyed.
Master Tan Heng Han is said to have been quite rough and uneducated. In his youth he lived as a rebel and a bandit in China. These were the days before guns were common in China. Most men still fought with hand to hand weapons such as swords and spears. For men for whom killing was a way of life, sound knowledge of fighting techniques meant the difference between life and death. This is why our art is so practical and so deadly – because if it was not, the old masters would not have lived long enough to pass it on.
At the time when he taught Master Tan, Master Tan Heng Han was nearing the end of his days. Whilst watching Master Tan do his Sum Chien, he would sit smoking unfiltered ‘roll-ups’ until they crumbled between his fingers. Sometimes he would doze. For all this, though, he was very strict on the training of the basic principles of Kung Fu. The style of the Tiger-Crane Combination which he taught was more rigid than that taught by Master Ang. He taught the rigid ‘thousand pound’ stance and squeezed the body very tight when drawing the arms in. The arms were drawn back very close to the body. For all this though, his style was very relaxed when throwing the arms out – making use of the ‘springy strength’.
Master Tan Heng Han put great emphasis on the training of the basics, as embodied by the Sum Chien form. He was a good teacher and drilled his students very strictly. They practiced mostly the Sum Chien but also some fixed sparring, arm toughening exercises and and few fighting moves.
Master Tan trained every evening of the week and also Sunday mornings. Every session he would do his Sum Chien over and over again – perhaps about twenty times. His master would correct him and gradually improve his Sum Chien to higher and higher levels. He developed the springy strength to a remarkably high degree – not only in his arms and legs but through his whole body. By constantly practicing the breathing of the Sum Chien, he developed the remarkably flexible stomach which is one of his hallmarks today. He was able to hang from a tree whilst people took it in turns to punch his stomach. By retracting the stomach and then throwing it out using his springy strength he was able to send the people punching him flying backwards. To test Master Tan’s development his master used to tell people to wait until he was not expecting it then hit him in the stomach. Even when surprised he would still send them flying. The culminated in an incident when he was climbing a ladder to put something on a high shelf. A close friend of his sent a hard punch into his stomach but was sent flying across the room and hit the wall so hard that he was lucky to escape serious injury. After this, Master Tan’s master never told people to hit him in the stomach again.
For four years, the only routine which Master Tan was taught was the Sum Chien. During this time he practiced so diligently that he achieved a remarkably high level of skill. When his master was finally satisfied that he had mastered the Sum Chien form, he was happy to teach him many more routines; in fact he taught them so fast that Master Tan had a hard job to keep up. In less than two years, Master Tan was taught all the eleven basic routines of the Tiger-Crane art, a long staff routine, a tiger fork routine and a routine with two short iron rods. Eventually his master told him “I have taught you all I can teach, now it is up to you to practise and perfect your art – you do not need to come for lessons anymore”.
Master Tan was not satisfied simply to practise what he had already learned – he still wished to further his study of Kung Fu. He offered to start a club, teaching in his masters name and also looked around to find a master who could teach him even more. The club was quite successful and Master Tan attracted a number of students. At this time, Master Ang Lian Huat was acknowledged by all the masters of the Tiger-Crane art in Singapore as being the highest authority. Master Tan began to study the Shuang Yang Pei Ho (Sun/Frost White Crane soft art) form of Chi Kung with Master Ang.
After some time, Master Tan also began to train in the Tiger-Crane art with Master Ang. He was still running his own club, but Master Tan Heng Han was not very interested in it. Master Tan, wishing to further his knowledge of the Tiger-Crane art and feeling that he was not yet ready to take on the burden of instructing his own club, asked to be taken as a student of Master Ang. He was accepted and he told his students to join Nam Yang Pugilistic Association and follow Master Ang’s teachings. Some of them rose to become instructors of the association.
The style of Tiger-Crane which Master Ang taught is, of course, the style we learn today. Compared to that taught by Master Tan Heng Han, it is more subtle and sophisticated; the stance is more springy and the power is generated more internally. Master Ang was an expert at the ‘touch system’ – sticky hands etc.
Master Ang was renowned for his wide knowledge of Kung Fu – he knew many styles and literally hundreds of routines. He still emphasised the importance of the basics and of the Sum Chien, however. He would not teach his students the higher routines until he was satisfied with their Sum Chien. Even Master Tan, who had already been recognised as a master, had to go back to practicing the Sum Chien for four years before Master Ang would teach him further. Having also spent four years learning the Sum Chien with his previous master, this meant that Master Tan did a total of eight years training just on the Sum Chien. This explains his remarkable standard and why, in his teaching, he puts so much emphasis on the basics.
Once Master Ang was happy with Master Tan’s Sum Chien, he taught him the whole of the Tiger-Crane style as well as the Shuang Yang style and many of the Shaolin weapons. In all, Master Tan learned about fifty routines. When training him, Master Ang would make him repeat them one after another, including the weapons. This is an exhausting form of training! Master Tan was famous for his lethal kicks. He is unbelievably flexible which enables him to kick very high, although he always recommends not to use high kicks when fighting – they are too risky.
When he was thirty-three years old, Master Tan entered the Singaporean Kung Fu Championships. He had no competition experience and was unsure what to expect. He found himself fighting with a head/face guard which blocked his view against an experienced competition fighter who did not get close to him but kept picking off points. He often tells the tale of how he was waiting to land one good shot. Near the end of the fight, the chance presented itself and he applied one of his famous kicks to his opponents tan tien. Master Tan was disqualified for injuring his opponent – who had to be carried off the mat and rushed to hospital. The moral of this story is that the real winner of a fight is not necessarily the one who wins a medal but the one who goes home unscathed.
Master Tan performed in many demonstrations and became a very well respected martial artist in Singapore. In time, he became accepted as Master Ang’s senior student. He was (and still is) the secretary of Nam Yang Pugilistic Association and during Master Ang’s lifetime turned down instructorship so that he could concentrate on the administration of the club.
What is the History of the Nam Yang Martial Arts Association
(An article written about 2005)
Nam Yang Martial Arts Association was founded in the Geylang district of Singapore in 1954 by legendary Shaolin Master Ang Lian Huat who left China as the Communist army approached. The Communists suppressed traditional Chinese practices such as Shaolin Kung Fu, Chi Kung, Feng Shui, Buddhism and Taoism and Master Ang left in order that the teachings be preserved.
Master Ang was born on the island of Quemoy off the coast of Fukien Province, China. He had learned several of the Fukienese (Hokien) martial arts including:
- the Fukienese White Crane Martial Art (‘Eng Chun Pei Ho’)
- the Tiger Art (‘Tai Chor’)
- the Monkey Art
- the Shaolin weapons systems
- the Sun and Frost White Crane Soft Art (‘Shuang Yang Pei Ho Rou Roen Chien’)
He also learned Chi Kung (Qigong) and external medicine.
Master Ang continued to practice the arts which he had learned in China until his passing in 1984. It was these arts which he passed to his students after founding the association. He most favoured the White Crane Art, teaching a form which was combined with the strength of the Tiger Art, to which he referred to as the ‘Tiger-Crane Combination’.
Nam Yang Martial Arts is now led by Master Tan Soh Tin of Singapore, disciple, student and heir of the Shaolin Martial Arts lineage held by Master Ang. Nam Yang Martial Arts teaches only the original, time-tested martial arts skills. Nam Yang Martial Arts teaches all people equally, black, white, female, male irrespective of religion. When you join Nam Yang Martial Arts you become part of an international martial arts family who respect and look after each other.
Master Tan has devoted his life to studying the Chinese Martial Arts, but has also received a formal education and traveled widely. It was he who first opened the association’s doors to non-Chinese students, recognizing that interest in Chinese martial arts was growing throughout the world and also that there was a lack of qualified masters.
Master Tan now devotes all of his time to furthering the association and regularly travels abroad to allow others to benefit from his great experience and depth of knowledge in the Chinese Martial Arts.
Since the late 1970’s the association has been teaching in the UK. On the 8th August 1994, a meeting of the association’s full committee recognized the U.K. branch as the association’s first official overseas branch. The draught constitution by Master Tan, was accepted.
Master Iain Armstrong, senior student of Master Tan, leads the UK branch which is dedicated to continuing the traditions, teachings, philosophy and spirit of the association. For these purposes it regularly hosts seminars, workshops and organises trips to Singapore to enable its members to train at the association’s headquarters.
Master Iain Armstrong is one of Europe’s foremost authorities on Chinese martial arts. He has trained constantly for over 20 years and is a personal student of the Shaolin lineage Master, Master Tan Soh Tin of Singapore. He is a columnist for Combat magazine and appears regularly in international demonstrations in Europe and Asia. The 1993 and 2004 World Champion also possesses a host of other qualifications from an international judges license to the more practical distinction of having survived as a doorman on the London nightclub scene without ever sustaining an injury!
Master Iain Armstrong is also Britain’s foremost instructor in the Shaolin art of Iron Shirt Chi Kung under the tutelage of Master Tan Eng Hock. The ability to harness ‘chi’ energy in order to reinforce and protect the body is what allows Master Iain Armstrong to perform the feats which he is most famous for such as washing his face in broken glass, rubbing red hot chains and bending spears with his neck.
In April 1995 Master Tan and Ivan Lee visited the U.K. for five weeks, delivered seminars and set up the U.K. Lion Dance troupe. Two golden lions and a set of instruments were donated from Singapore and the eyes of the lions were dotted at Banstead with most of the U.K. members present.
1998 saw the opening of the club’s UK headquarters in Alexandra Park, Epsom. The buildings open onto the park which provides an idyllic location to practice and promote the many benefits of Traditional Martial Arts.
The Nam Yang Martial Arts Association expects students to train hard and to a high standard, and also to prove their character before they are authorised to teach. This policy ensures that the martial arts are passed down in their full and traditional form without dilution or the loss of their true spirit. It is a credit to the diligence and attitude of our students that we have now grown to have branches around the South of England with very many active members – a major contributor to Chinese Martial Arts in the UK today.
The UK branch is proud to state that we are recognised by the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts (BCCMA). Instructors and students regularly attend BCCMA events.
We are currently a major force in Traditional Shaolin Forms competition in the UK, and field an increasingly impressive Chinese Boxing team. In addition our Lion and Dragon dance teams provide auspicious dances not only around the country, but also internationally, so sought after is the calibre of our performance. We compete nationally and internationally and dance annually in London’s Chinatown to usher in the Chinese New Year.
Nam Yang Pugilistic Association continues to go from strength to strength. We hope you’ll join us and be part of our bright future!