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A Tribute to

Taijiquan Grandmaster
Wan Kean Chew
Born 6 May 1939,
And passed on in the
morning of 8 April 2011.

“Taijiquan is one of the best of all

Chinese Arts and Culture,
being more than 4,000 years old”

Taiji is one of the best of all Chinese Arts and Culture, being more than 4,000 years old.

The great Chinese sages, Lao Zi and Confucius, talked about Taiji as the Dao Of Heaven.

Heaven has created Man as a part of nature. Taiji serves to remind Man of this, and that Man has to
blend in and harmonize with nature’s forces.

In Man’s efforts to dominate and conquer nature, Man destroys Himself.

When Man becomes aware of and blends with the cosmic forces and the wonders of nature, His spirit
is nourished; His mind is at ease and His body becomes fit and healthy.

It is at this point of balance that Man is not disturbed or distracted by anything. Man, then, is capable
of superior actions. Physical strength is limited, compared to the spirit of Man.

Wan Taijiquan seeks the awakening of the spiritual spark (divinity) in YOU.

“ Do YOU feel calm and at peace?

Do YOU feel the sudden spark, the unseen hand, the power that directs YOU?

Do YOU feel younger, feel free, feel wiser, not bounded by the material world and propaganda?

When YOU are non-judgmental, forgiving, able to take insults and criticism, then YOU have inner
With spiritual awareness of what YOU are born of, live life to the fullest and blend with nature, blend
with the universe!

YOU will feel the calm and peace and the power that directs YOU.

This is the essence of TAIJIQUAN.

Nothing in the world

Is as soft and yielding as water.

Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,

Nothing can surpass it.”

- Master Wan Kean Chew


Courtesy of Mr. Kim Gooi -

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.

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

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

“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
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 if he won.

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.

Profile of Master Wan Kean Chew, PJK, PKT

1973 Heavyweight Champion of Pugilistic Open Sparing

1986 Heavyweight National Champion of Taiji

Push Hand Competition

Advisor and Chief Instructor, Penang Wan Taijiquan Association

Chief Instructor, Penang Old Frees Association Taiji Club

Chief Instructor, Penang Taiji Association

1984 Chief Judge and Advisor, Yang School Taiji Academy, Hobart, Australia

1994/95 Taiji Push Hand and Actual Application Coach, Johor Wushu Association


A more elaborated story from Kim Gooi is presented for further reading:

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

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

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.
Pugilistic Invitational Championships held over a week, commencing on July 30, 1973 in
Kuching, in connection with the State’s 10th Malaysian Anniversary celebrations

Triple-Crown Pugilisticc Heavyweight Champion

• Heavyweight Champion of the Pugilistic Invitational Championships

• Winner of the Taiji Push
Push-Hand technique bout in this Championship
• Awarded for displaying his power and strength derived from Taiji to withstand punches
• and blows
Press Release:

The Straits Echo

Tuesday, August 7, 1973:

Penang’s “tai chi” instructor wins Heavyweight title

Master Wan proved that“taiji – the gentle art of self-defense – is as good as any other
Withstanding cudgel blows and kicks. Neigong demonstration in Kuching, Sarawak in 1973
Sin Pin Daily, August 23, 1973 reports…

Penang Taiji Association extended a dinner party to welcome Master Yap Siew Teng from
Thailand who congratulated Master Wan for his glorious achievements of becoming Triple-
Crown Pugilistic Heavyweight Champion

Yap Siew Teng was sent by Professor Cheng Man Ching to promote Taijiquan in Malaysia,
Singapore and Thailand in the fifties and sixties.
Master Wan’s Best Student wins the Lightweight International Pugilistic Free-Sparring
Champion - Chin Woo Stadium, Kuala Lumpur 1980.

Penang Taiji Association extended a dinner party to welcome Master Yap Siew Teng from
Thailand who congratulated Master Wan for his glorious achievements of becoming Triple-
Crown Pugilistic Heavyweight Champion

Yap Siew Teng was sent by Professor Cheng Man Ching to promote Taijiquan in Malaysia,
Singapore and Thailand in the fifties and sixties.
2003 Annual Dinner with Friends and Students at the Old Frees Association, Penang
Paul Wong and Peter Wong with Master Wan at the 2003 Annual Dinner Function in Old Frees
Association in Penang.
Obituary column in Chinese Newspaper