Grand Master Tan Soh Tin is the head of Nam Yang Pugilistic Association. He trained with Grand Master An who founded the Club back in 1954 and it all started in Geylang District in Singapore. There is a mystical vibe to Grand Master Tan’s presence, even though his health is debilitated, you can feel that vibration in his voice and you can see it in his eyes, especially the way they shine when he talks about Kung Fu and shares about this art. Grand Master Tan trained Master Iain Armstrong and Master Dougal Simmons. It was an honor for me to have the chance to interview Grand Master Tan when I visited Singapore.
1 – Can you tell us a little bit about your path? What has drawn you into Kung Fu? What makes you love Kung Fu?
I was very young, I was 7 or 8. My uncle – my father’s sister husband – he practiced Kung Fu. So he always taught a few students. And I was always sneeking a peak, me and then my cousins (his sons) as well. And then we started to copy what they were doing, although we didn’t really know what it was. And then one day my uncle got the three of us and said “Com’on: join us!” and that’s how it started! Of course, we were really young then, but that’s how it started.
Then some friend introduced me to my second Master. When my Master passed away, the others started to ask me to teach. And I did! Kung Fu is very time consuming, it takes a lot of pressure on you, you start and then it’s something that you can enjoy. It’s a very long process. But the most important thing is that it keeps you healthy and that’s where the Qigong comes from, which in turn comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine and that’s where everything begins. It all begins in your Qi, in the flow in your body and to be healthy, to be alive, that flow must always be there. And that’s the reason why it has to be done everyday, continuously, as long as you live. That’s the only way to benefit from Qigong.
2 – What makes Sum Chien the most important routine in Kung Fu?
In Kung Fu we don’t teach to fight, we condition! You have to build the body, we have to build strength, not only the body, especially the mind! And that’s why it’s not an easy thing. In the beginning, especially if you train with us: what is Sum Chien? Sum Chien is the easiest form. Why is this so important? Sum Chien is the way you build your body. You develop further from Sum Chien. Through the practice of Sum Chien we are developing ourselves, we are conditioning ourselves, we are developing our senses, all of them!
3 – Can you talk a little bit about women in Kung Fu?
Women and men are only distinguished by the sex and during the Qigong the hands position and rotation is different. Other than that it’s all the same. When we grip this part, the sexual organs are obviously different and this area is called a gate according to Chinese Medicine. If we grip this very much it becomes so tight that we know of a female Kung Fu Master who had to do a C section. But if it is properly developed, all that Kegel power, it can be contracted and relaxed and then the muscles will not only be tight, they will also be flexible and that’s why Qigong and Meditation are very important. We should contract and then relax. We shouldn’t just grip. We have to do both.
(I’ve noticed that as the training goes further a lot of Female Martial Artists develop larger shoulders. Is it possible to train avoiding or minimizing that development?)
If women don’t wish to have very large shoulders, they don’t need to grip very hard during the Sum Chien routine, especially if they do it every day. Because, like I said, Kung Fu is conditioning, so the Sum Chien helps us strength the body and that goes to arms and shoulders as well. It is possible to do the routine without insisting so much in that area and avoid building such a large upper body in a woman’s case.
4 – How can people cultivate more balance, harmony and peace in the world these days?
Anything to come before that should be looking inside. My belief is everybody has to look into thyself to see what really is the self. If you don’t look into yourself, you don’t really know anyone. So know thyself, understand thyself and then you go from there. You have to find yourself.
5 – How can a person find itself?
6 – What form of Meditation do you recommend?
This can’t be a fixed thing, a fixed course. Each person has to find out what works for them. Our mind has to be free! In this world everybody is one! People are selfish, they always think of themselves, they put themselves first. The main thing is to put this self away. Think of others and then yourself. And then you’ll find life easier!
7 – If you wouldn’t have been a Kung Fu Master how would you see yourself?
It would be the same has what I’ve done. I would teach. I would teach what I know, what I’ve been through.