Club History

The Founder

Grandmaster Ang

Grandmaster Ang Lian Huat founded Nam Yang Pugilistic Association in 1954.  He was born in Quemoy (now Kinmen), an island off the coast of Fujian province, China.  Quemoy was heavily fortified – an island fortress guarding the Fujianese coast. 

Grandmaster Ang took up training in the Tiger-Crane art when he was 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. 

As well as the Tiger-Crane Combination, Grandmaster Ang learned several other styles. His second master was Grandmaster 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. 

Grandmaster Ang’s third master was Miao Sian Meng, a monk from the Chuan Chew Shaolin Temple. From him Grandmaster Ang learned the full Shuang Yang Pei Ho (Sun/Frost White Crane) soft art and external Chinese medicine. 

Grandmaster 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 Grandmaster 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, Grandmaster 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, Grandmaster Ang had continued to practise his Kung Fu – at which he was now extremely accomplished. He took a job as a ‘bouncer’ at a gambling den. 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 doormen and were often greatly feared. 

It was in 1954 that Grandmaster 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. 

Grandmaster 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 impostor. 

When Mass Oyama, the founder of the Kyokushinkai Karate, visited Singapore he came to Nam Yang. Karate styles also practise the Sum Chien form. Oyama was sufficiently impressed to offer him a karate black belt. Grandmaster Ang refused, saying that he could only accept a grading from someone he considered his senior. 

Grandmaster 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. He had suffered for some time with diabetes. 

Grandmaster 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 patterns, Grandmaster 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 Sam Chien form. His most senior disciple was Master Tan Soh Tin, who took over the running of the Nam Yang Pugilistic Association. 

The Disciple

Master Tan

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 coop, 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 live 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 Grandmaster 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 Sam 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 Sam Chienover 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,  Grandmaster 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  Grandmaster Ang. 

After some time, Master Tan also began to train in the Tiger-Crane art with Grandmaster 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 Grandmaster Ang. He was accepted and he told his students to join Nam Yang Pugilistic Association and follow Grandmaster Ang’s teachings. Some of them rose to become instructors of the association. 

The style of Tiger-Crane which Grandmaster 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. Grandmaster Ang was an expert at the ‘touch system’ – sticky hands etc. 

Grandmaster Ang was renowned for his wide knowledge of Kung Fu – he know 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 Sam 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 Grandmaster 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 Grandmaster 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, Grandmaster 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 Grandmaster Ang’s senior student. He was the secretary of Nam Yang Pugilistic Association and during Grandmaster Ang’s lifetime turned down instructorship so that he could concentrate on the administration of the club, leading the club’s Lion Dance and Martial Arts Troupe to perform both locally around Singapore, as the Master traditionally did. 

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