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Immortal Master

Wan Kean Chew (center with garland) with Wan Taiji Club members, Han Chiang Indoor Stadium 1986,

after winning the Heavyweight National Taiji Push-Hand Championship. On his right with garland is his

student Choong Guan Lee who won the Lightweight Title.

A Tribute to Taijiquan grandmaster Wan Kean Chew born 6 May 1939 and passed away on Friday morning 8 April 2011

One of the best martial artist the world have seen

[Author’s note: the article first appeared in Penang Club magazine in 2003]

The master never grows old              

The master’s power is like this
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old

– Lao Zi
Dao De Jing

In 1986, thirteen years after winning the Kuching open pugilistic tournament, Master Wan achieved another milestone in his personal quest of the ‘Dao’ and created a record in the annals of present-day martial arts.

At the age of 47 when most modern-day athletes, boxers and martial-arts fighters had retired from active competition Wan beat the cutthroat world of Penang martial-arts tournaments and won the National heavyweight Taijiquan Push Hand championship.

Those who know master Wan were not surprised for Wan lives and breathes Taiji – the essence of taijiquan fills his being.

An American baseball legend says baseball is 90 percent mental. Golf sensation Tiger Wood says he visualized his shots in his mind before each hit. Master Wan says in taijiquan, it is 100 percent in the mind.

“At 47 I did it because I want to find out for myself that when you are old can taijiquan protect you?

“Is it still useful? Do you still have the qi and intrinsic (explosive) power?” enthused  master Wan.

“Is it hearsay, belief or legend in Chinese story books that the old masters are good?”

Master Wan explained, “I’m coming up with a youngster who can break granite bare handed, take punches and have already been crowned champions many times.

“On top of that he has speed, agility, reflexes and stamina. Can taijiquan prevail?”

The local betting syndicates (book makers) were offering odds at 10-3 that master Wan would lose. The stake in the underground betting controlled by the ‘Triads’ was more than 5 million ringgit, the master  said.

Two weeks before  the showdown, there were phone calls everyday threatening to shoot him if he won, Wan said solemnly.

“During the bout whenever I won a point the whole Han Chiang indoor stadium erupted in uproar against me because of the high stake involved. the announcer had to plead to the spectators for silence to continue,” recalled the master.

The opponent in the final was the nephew of the chief instructor of well-known Penang Shaolin training centre. the uncle was also member of the organising committee and a referee of the tournament.

Master Wan sensed the air thickening with conspiracy and plots against him. On day one during the preliminary elimination rounds he was drawn to fight with the top-seeded opponents.

The most obviously outrageous was that he was made to fight four bouts a day. Two bouts which were already very exhaustive, were the maximum for other contestants, Wan said unbelievingly.

“They wanted to ensure that i would be knocked-out or injured,” added Wan.

“For the final showdown, they purposely held it one month later so that they can study my actions and maneuvers from video tapes and planned their counter moves.”

Unfortunately for them, having sensed their intentions and motives master Wan changed tactics. “I attacked vigorously leading my opponent into emptiness, and applied intrinsic (nei-gong) explosive power to the opponent’s body and injured him internally,” explained the master.

“This proved taijiquan is flexible, blending the two opposites (active and passive forces)into balance and harmony.”

The Dragon Syndicate

But master Wan admitted he almost gave up when daily phone calls came, especially in the middle of the night; threatening to shoot him. The shadowy world of triads secret societies running the betting syndicates and trying to muscle in, to control the tournaments was intimidating, said Wan

It sounded like Martin Booth’s sensational book –  ‘The Dragon Syndicates – The Global Phenomenon of the Triads’

[The only difference is that this is first hand as opposed to Booth’s third-hand reports and the high esteem and awe he seemed to have of the triads.]

Master Wan prevailed and the triads back off

“I got cold feet initially and wanted to give up! But I persevered, to seek the truth. How good is taijiquan when you are at an advanced age,” concluded master Wan with a smile.

On a more cheerful note master Wan also said there were good people including a police detective friend who assured him they would stand by him come knives or guns.

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Taiji Master

Immortal Master, Wan Kean Chew – martial arts exponent extraordinary
By Kim Gooi


The late  Grandmaster Wan Kean Chew: 6 May 1939 – 8 Apr 2011

In August 1973, one of the biggest martial arts tournament in the region was held in Kuching, Sarawak to celebrate the state’s 10 year independence from Britain [Sarawak broke off the colonial yoke by joining the federation of Malaysia in 1963].

It was to be an open contest, full contact, any styles, only boxing gloves were worn.

Taiji Master Wan Kean Chew, 34, represented Singapore. “I was known in Singapore for my Taiji, so they asked me to fight for them since Penang did not send a team,” recalled Master Wan 30 years later. Other teams came from all over the region including Taiwan and Hong Kong.

In the seventies Karate, Bruce Lee, Gongfu, breaking bricks and boards with power kicks and punches were the rage. The time also saw Karate and Gongfu exponents taking on Thai kick-boxers albeit with disastrous results.

Taijiquan! – soft and pliable – to challenge the might of Karate and Gongfu was almost unheard off. Thus when master Wan knocked out the top Karate exponent from Hong Kong in the final heavy weight division and won the championship, it caused an unbelievable shock-wave.

The upset was the more sensational as the reputation and prowess of the Hong Kong Karate ‘star’ was hyped to formidable heights prior and during the tournament.

“There were three brothers (taking part in 3 divisions), all famous martial arts exponents from Hong Kong,” added Wan. “Their grandfather was the chief martial arts instructor of the imperial army of China.” And they had also won many tournaments. Such were the reputation and awe they sowed.

“The opponent I knocked out in the final even challenged Mohammad Ali during those days,” said Wan. When he entered the arena, punching and kicking, his muscles rippling through his sleeveless upper torso, it was an intimidating sight sending fears through the opponents, Wan said. So much so that ‘Mr Hong Kong’ received a walkover each time he entered the ring, right up to the semi-final round.

But master Wan knew better. “When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield.” – Dao De Jing

“The gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world. That which has no substance enters where there is no space.”

Within seconds it was all over. He didn’t know what hit him. It was an explosion of intrinsic force that penetrated his inner space and injured his internal organs. He threw in the towel.

Master Wan explained: “Relaxed, rooted, and rounded; calmed, still and ‘listening’ I waited. The moment he made a move, I was there.”

“He came with a power-packed side-kick at my head, instantaneously I moved in, deflected, punched with my waist swinging and sinking, all at one time in unison – ‘ quan shen yi dong’ (whole body moving as one).”

“This is what we mean by intrinsic energy, the whole body moving with the mind as well, it not only penetrates where there is no space, but the mind can move mountains” explained Master Wan.

Having moved mountains, Master Wan had to make a hasty retreat. He left immediately for the airport and flew back to Penang, leaving the Singapore officials to collect the championship trophy.

The sensational win had upset the rough and tumble world of the martial arts tournament. Millions of dollars in bets were at stake with odds in the opponent’s favour. Prior to the final Master Wan had received threats from shadowy figures as well as officials. “That’s why I didn’t bother to stay back to receive the championship trophy, the threats to my life was real and serious,” Master Wan reminisces with a chuckle, three decades later.

Before his hasty flight Master Wan also won the taiji push hand and nei-gong (where contestants had to withstand blows through breath and body control) championships.

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