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Master Tim Chan See Meng

陳 思 明
I was born in Singapore and ever since I was 13 years old, my life was centered on Chinese martial arts. Ardent in my pursuit, my inspiration came from stories told over the radio (Rediffusion) by the late and famous Lee “Tai-sor” in Singapore during the late fifties and early sixties. Great stories of legendary Chinese heroes and sages, though told countless times, never failed to capture my imagination and rekindle the burning desire to know more than what the storeyteller had cared to share. I revere the great masters of the past and can still recall stories of great heroes that greatly influenced me. Their benevolent and righteous deeds captivated me and at the same time I enjoyed reading their lighter moments. Such was their deep and pervasive influence on my life as a young boy then and still is now. Stories of great masters like Yang Lu Chan (楊露禪,1880s, founder of the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan) are deeply engrained in my memory. How I wish I could travel back in time to study from these masters. A CHRONOLOGY OF MY LIFE 1956 - THE EARLY YEARS My father died just before I was born during the Japanese occupation in Singapore. When I was 9 years old, my paternal grandmother returned to Kuala Lumpur with me to live with my guardians. When I turned 13, I had my first lesson in old Yang style Tai Chi Chuan taught by uncle Mr Leung Weng Kai. In less than 2 months, I was able to perform the entire set of 128 movements well. My life as a Tai Chi student took a turn for the better when the great master Tung Ying Chieh ( 董英杰  formerly from Shanghai/Hong Kong), disciple of Yang Cheng Fu (grandson of the famous master Yang Lu Chan), visited Kuala Lumpur in 1956 and started teaching Tai Chi. A private demonstration was once held at the roof garden of the Chin Woo Auditorium, Kuala Lumpur. I joined the adults to watch and meet master Tung. During the demonstration, the resident instructor Mr. Lim Pak Yen (who was also Master Tung’s internal student and later retired to Singapore at Cantonment Road) was thrown into the air like a “bouncing ball". He fell four stories over the Chin Woo roof garden retaining wall and could have died if not for the 20 or so spectators/students who held on to him! That incident left me with no doubts about the effectiveness of Chinese kung-fu and inspired me to learn diligently. I was introduced and fortunate enough to be under the tutelage of Master Tung. I also studied from his son, Tung Fu Lin ( 董虎岭 ), who came to Kuala Lumpur a few months after Mr Tung senior returned to Hong Kong. At the same time, I also studied under Mr. Lim Pak Yen, who excelled in the Praying Mantis Art of Self Defense. Mr Lim was one of the 7 foremost disciples of Master Loh Kong Yuk, Shanghai, who was a great master in the Praying Mantis Style. Mr. Lim was a Shanghai champion boxer before he resided in Kuala Lumpur and became a Chinese school teacher. After about two years of serious study in Tai Chi with these masters, they left Kuala Lumpur. I started to look for other teachers with the hope of learning more. I remember I was so young, naive and silly as to target especially any 'old' man dressed in traditional Chinese attire at Madras Lane. I am sure any fellow Kuala Lumpians of my generation or earlier will remember this lane! 1957 to 1960 - TURNING POINT  When I was 15 years old Mr Lin Yee Tai, a hardware salesman, brought me to visit a gentleman called Mr Yap who was residing at Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur. When Mr Yap saw I was merely a kid, he invited to 'attack' him. It was not my intention to test Mr Yap’s prowess. I was told Mr Yap had already studied from as many as 5 to 6 other teachers of various forms of martial art. In particular, he had studied Wu Zhu (Ngor Chor) from the very well known Mr Sim Yang Der ( 沈陽德 ),a former famous champion boxer from Xia- men, China. Mr Sim was from the famous Cai Yuk Ming ( 蔡玉明 )school in Singapore. There was a story related to me of an attempted assassination made on Mr Sim. In the ensuing fight, he killed some of his adversaries. In order to avoid the authorities, he left for Singapore. Anyhow, I was too naive and lacking in experience but I was only too happy to oblige. At the same time I was full of self-confidence and eager for the experience. I used the Praying Mantis 3-prong (cai san- shou) attack and hit Mr Yap straight on his right forehead, leaving behind 3 red fingerprint marks. Seeing Mr Yap caught by surprise and seething, I defused the matter immediately by asking Mr Yap to teach me his Wu Zhu art. Mr Yap at that time was a very open-minded person whom I admired very much. Subsequently, I studied for more than a year with Mr Yap before he graciously brought me to Kuala Dungun , Terengganu, to meet a mysterious master. The master was none other than Master Chee Kim Thong ( 徐金棟 ), former legendary three Provincial Champion of China. He was then living in Kuala Dungun, incognito. Although Master Chee was living a life of obscurity and seclusion at the remote east coast of Peninsular Malaya, but in the Martial Art world he was already a very well known personality. On that same evening when I first met Master Chee, he asked me to demonstrate what I knew of Ngor Chor. After my demonstration of San Chien, he commented my strength was not even brought up to my shoulders despite all the hard work that I have put into my training. He then went on to demonstrate to prove his point, which had me totally mesmerized. Perhaps he saw something in me for on that same day he agreed to teach me. From that day onwards, I stayed on and continued learning from Master Chee. 1961 – INNER DISCIPLESHIP In May 1960, Mr Yap (age 37) and another young boy named Kwok Ching Pang (age 12) were the first batch of students to be initiated as Master Chee’s internal disciples. It seemed Mr Yap had been visiting and trying to befriend Master Chee for the previous 6 years, before Master Chee finally accepted him as a disciple. The following year in April 1961, Master Chee initiated a second batch of 3 inner disciples and I was one of them. So there were 5 inner disciples in total and I was the youngest. I was ranked the 5th and last disciple according to tradition and the initiation rite that I had to go through. And so for record sake, the five internal disciples who went through the initiation rite are: No 1 –  Yap Cheng Hai (37 years old then) No 2 –  Kwok Ching Pang(12 years old then) No 3 –  Tan Boon Pin (53 years old then) No 4 –  Teoh Cheng Her (36 years old then) No 5 –  Chan See Meng (17 years old then) THE INITIATION CEREMONY Master Chee is one who adhered closely to martial art traditions, one of which is the ceremonial rite of accepting an ‘inner’ disciple. Some may term it as ‘inner chamber’, ‘internal’, or ‘closed door’ disciple. It was a common practice during that era and I suspect is still practised in some schools today. The rite that my Sifu conducted then is a spiritual ritual. Once it’s completed, Master Chee would then impart a special technique to the disciple. In addition, a ‘baptismal’ name is given to the disciple. Anyone who claims to be an ‘inner’ disciple of Master Chee would have gone through this rite and been given a name.  Otherwise the student is considered an “adopted” student. As far as I know, only 5 (including me) individuals went through this spiritual rite with Master Chee. THE MOVE TO KUALA LUMPUR Led by Mr Yap, the five newly initiated disciples convinced Master Chee to come down to Kuala Lumpur in 1961 to impart his knowledge to many eager would be students. Master Chee agreed and went on to set up his medical hall in Kuala Lumpur and taught Wu Shu. It was in 1968 that the Chee Kim Thong Pugilistic and Health Society was formally established. It was also as an officially registered body to enable a team to be sent to Singapore to compete in the 1st Southeast Asia Pugilistic Open Invitation Tournament in 1969. In this tournament I won the gold medal in the middleweight division. More information and pictures are available in a separate article on this website. There was another training centre set up at Ipoh in 1966. I trained the students at Ipoh while Mr Yap did the same at Kuala Lumpur. Occasionally, we would organize friendly competition between the two groups. The way I trained my students was obviously quite different from the others for it was always the Ipoh group that emerged the winner in such competition. Till this day, some former classmates are still very ‘jealous’ of me because Sifu chose to spend more time and energy on teaching me than others. However, they would not dare to complain to Sifu. Instead, they would grumble and mutter words of displeasure under their breath, and pretend to be cordial to me. They did so because Sifu appointed me as an instructor and they needed me to teach them. In reality, they would give me the “the eye-of-venom” treatment behind my back. Due to work and family commitments, I left Malaysia in early 1979 to continue my banking career in Treasury in Hong Kong. Thereafter in 1996, I was seconded to Singapore by a leading British bank. Presently, I am residing in Singapore. To prevent myself from falling into a sedentary lifestyle, I have never stopped training and it was also due to my love for the Art. Though teaching martial arts is not my livelihood, I have a few students from various parts of the world. In addition, I had the pleasure of training the police security force for a period of time. When I was residing in Hong Kong I still kept in touch with my Sifu, right to his very last day. In fact, Sifu would visit me every one to two months and trained me personally. I can’t say enough of the care and love he shown me in our teacher to disciple relationship.  I can still remember quite vividly on one occasion I was very ill but western doctor was unable to determine what was wrong with me. When I sought Sifu’s help, he flew down to Hong Kong immediately and personally prepared some Chinese medicine for me. He stayed with me until I fully recovered. During the period 1970-1973, I had the opportunity to meet great masters of various martial arts, including Bersilat (Malay martial art) and Kalari (Indian martial art). I would study, for the sake of authenticating the art, with these masters. I believe it is the best way to gain direct knowledge and better understanding. For instance, I learned to appreciate and respect Japanese culture and the mental discipline it puts on martial art training. I witnessed in awe the rigorous training in Japanese swordsmanship over the Chinese counterparts. These experiences have also taught me to appreciate, amongst other things, the difference between external or brute physical training techniques and that of the internal or soft styles. In addition, I had the good fortune when I was living in Hong Kong of meeting and learning from two great masters, Master Chan Yit Yan (renowned for 六合八法) and Master Han Xing Yuan (renowned for 意拳). Life as a student was never a dull moment when I was learning from these two great masters. Ancient Chinese martial arts are greatly influenced by religion, culture and local customs such that it is not surprising to find them often described and personified in mythical and poetic eloquence in Chinese texts. I am not a scholar in this regard and it was through my wide and extensive travels around the world that enabled me to seek the learned ones and discover a more scientific and methodical approach to unraveling the intricacies of Chinese martial arts, including Japanese and some others.
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