Great Grand Master Tan Kew Leong

GREAT GRANDMASTER TAN KEW LEONG

师 祖 陈 九 龙

1892 -1967

Old Picture of Tan kew Leong
The rather battered picture of Tan Kew Leong given to Grand Master Tan in 2013.

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 Fujian where he passed through, finally settling in “Zhang Zhou” Master Chen Jiu Long was a practitioner 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 bonesetter 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 were 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 roadside 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 Grand Master Tan Soh Tin

This article was written by Master Tan Soh Tin, head of Nam Yang Pugilistic Association, I believe in 2012.  I have left it in the original Singapore style English since it reads just how Grand Master Tan speaks and will immediately trigger fond memories from all those who know him.  Here are a few additions of my own, some referring to events which occurred after this article was written.


Which Martial Arts Did Tan Kew Leong practise?

As was, and still is, very popular in Zhang Zhao, Tan Kew Leong practised the Tai Chor (Tai Zu) art in conjunction with the Song Jiang Shaolin Weapons, the Hokkien Green Lion, bone setting and external Chinese medicine.  Based on his being the head of the herbal medicine peddlers in Zhang Zhou and on the picture of him demonstrating in the market, he also practised Iron Shirt Qigong.

Tai Chor / Tai Zu

This art is known both as ‘Grand Emperor’s Fist’ and ‘Tiger Style’.  Legend has it that one of the Sung dynasty emperors in his old age retired to the Shaolin Temple.  Having spent his life leading armies he had a great knowledge of martial arts and taught this to the monks.  Hence the Tiger art was born from the older Lohon art. Tai Chor as practised now appears very similar to the white crane art and other Min Nan (southern Fukien) arts.  It is very popular in and around Zhang Zhou, one of the big cities of Min Nan which lies to the East of Xia Men (Amoy) as well as in Taiwan.

Song Jiang Weapons

This is a very interesting art indeed and one which is usually practised in conjunction with and in the same geographical areas as Tai Chor.  It involves formations of, typically, 108, 72 or 36 martial artists armed with a variety of the Shaolin weapons running in tactical formations so as to surround, outflank or similarly disadvantage opponents.  Apparently similar tactics are used by modern-day riot police!

Iron Shirt Qigong

The art of using Qi (Chi) to strengthen the body so as to become invulnerable and resist blows, cutting, piercing, burning etc.  This was a speciality of herbal medicine peddlers who often performed displays in the marketplace so as to establish their fitness and draw attention to their medicine sales.  Hence we can see Tan Kew Leong with two huge granite basins piled on his body and looking absolutely untroubled! Great publicity! 😊


Tan Kew Leong's Widow
Tan Kew Leong’s widow, still living in the old medicine shop.

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. The full couplet reads something like:

The elixir alchemy has been developed finally in countless attempts

The dragon’s cry roars with the Spring in Tangerine Well

For a detailed discussion of their translation, please see “Post Script” at the end of the blog!

Medicine Shop
The inside of the medicine shop where the old lady slept.

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 barefooted 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.

Tan Kew Leong Iron Shirt Qigong
The now famous picture of Tan Kew Leong with 411kg of granite piled on top of him.

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 Professor 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 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 a bowl of 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 drawn 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 lifetime 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.

Mrs Tan Kew Leong
The Mrs Tan Kew Leong poses with us in front of her home.

The Death Of Tan Kew Leong

Tan Kew Leong was famous for his skill with the ‘Da Dao’ or big knife.  So much so that he was often referred to as Da Dao Tan! Da dao can refer to the weapons we usually call a ‘Kwan Dao’ and ‘horse cutting knife’ – literally very ‘big knives’!  His famous Da Dao hung above the door of his shop in Zhang Zhao. In 1967, during China’s cultural revolution when all elements of Chinese culture were being suppressed and particularly martial arts – which had always been associated with the Chinese nationalists, enemies of the communists, the Red Guard raided Tan Kew Leong’s shop and tore down and stole all weapons and anything associated with martial arts.  Although now living in Taiwan and safe from the communists, the news of this happening broke Tan Kew Leong’s heart. He never recovered and died soon after.

Grandmaster Tan Kew Leong's Mausoleum
Grand Master Tan Soh Tin, Master Dougal Simmons and Andrew Lee with members of Tan Kew Leong’s family at his mausoleum in 2013.

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!


PostScript

Spelling

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.  

Similarly. Tai Chor follows the Hokkien pronunciation, Tai Zu Mandarin.

The characters on the door as revealed by tearing off the red paper which had been stuck over the top!

The Characters on Tan Kew Leong’s Door

Chinese Characters
The characters on the door as revealed by tearing off the red paper which had been stuck over the top!

There are 14 characters, old characters pre – 1920, not modern at all.  For anyone interested in a detailed translation, here goes:

Here they are:

   1. Lung (Dragon)
   2. Ling (Top of the mountain)
   3. Too (Orange = colour and fruit)
   4. Jing (Lunar Mansion)
   5. Sheeow (Shout Loudly)
   6. tchooin (season of Spring)
   7. Fung (Wind)
   8. Djo (9) as in 9 times = 9 turns.
   9. djooan (Turns)
   10. Dan (Pill singular as in medicine pill)
   11. tchung (complete)
   12. Chang = (Long)
   13. Shung (Alive forever eternally)
   14. Yow (Medicine)

The couplet on the door of our great grandmaster cannot be translated
word for word to English.’

First, the two words on the top read from right to left as in the old
Chinese writing jiu long (Kew Leong) which means ‘nine dragon’ which is the name of our great grandaster. Then the words down from the right side says that for the herbs in traditional medicine it takes nine processes to
complete it into pills.

The nine processes like washing, drying cutting and grinding and
making it to fine powder form and then mixed with honey and in the end
rolled up by hand into small or large pills.

The next line on the left which starts with “long” which is “dragon” and
the sentence down reads like “after taking the pills the patient will
feel like a dragon blowing the spring wind from the well”.  to an
extent describing how good the pills are.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Great Grandmaster was a bonesetter so that the couplet goes well for his trade.

To make herbal pills there are nine painstaking processes to go through to completion.

Once the patient consumes the pills, he gets well and feels energetic like the dragon blowing spring wind from the well.

The elixir alchemy has been developed finally in countless attempts

The dragon’s cry roars with the Spring in Tangerine Well

Shaolin Kung Fu Masters
From Left: Iain Armstrong, Tan Soh Tin, Dougal Simmons outside Tan Kew Leong’s medicine
shop in April 2006.

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