Profile of GM Kwan Mun Keng (aka Kwan Man Keng)

April 29 2017 at 8:11 AM
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Response to Kwan Mun Keng, Choy Li Fut’s Grandmaster from Singapore


Born and educated in Guangdong China, the late Grandmaster Kwan Mun Keng started his martial arts training at a very young age. His first teacher was one of China’s prime pugilist, Master Tham Lup of the gongfu Choy Lee Fut School. Grandmaster Kwan furthered his training under another renowned Choy Lee Fut master, Choy Yat Kew. It was also from the latter that he acquired a vast knowledge in the field of Chinese herbal medicine and osteopathy.

Twelve years later, Grandmaster Kwan traveled to Shanghai where he met a leading boxer from the Shantung Northern Praying Mantis School, Master Hong Tak Mo. Master Hong taught him all that he knew in this northern art. When war broke out in China, Grandmaster Kwan was forced to leave for Penang where he practiced the Chou style of martial arts with Sifu Lee Kwun.

In the year 1936, Grandmaster Kwan arrived in Singapore and took up journalism with the now defunct Kwong Wah Daily News. He was a versatile man with varied interests ranging from martial arts to Chinese brush painting, Cantonese opera, calligraphy to poetry writing. His knowledge of martial arts was soon put to good use at an encounter with a gang of thugs. The dozen odd members of the gang, many of whom were armed, were given a good thrashing and some were badly wounded. They had underestimated this scholarly looking journalist. News of this incident spread like wild fire and soon Grandmaster Kwan was a much sought after man by many guilds and associations to impart gongfu to their clansmen.

In 1965 many of his supporters and students encouraged him to start a martial arts school. The Singapore Hong Sheng Koon Chinese Koontow and Lion Dance Society was thus formed in that year and officially registered in 1966. (The word “koontow” is a colloquial for gongfu and had been adopted because the former was more widely used in the early 1960s.) In the early days, Grandmaster Kwan did receive a number of uninvited guests at the Hong Sheng Koon premises as some martial arts exponents who were skeptical about the effectiveness of Choy Lee Fut fighting system came explicitly for a few rounds of “friendly exchange of skill”. They inevitably left convinced and many became friends of the late grandmaster, although a few of them had to be carried out after the “friendly exchange”. Hong Sheng Koon continued to grow in status and fame.

Besides teaching Choy Lee Fut pugilism and lion dancing at the Hong Sheng Koon, Grandmaster Kwan also put into practice his knowledge of herbal medicine and osteopathy. (He was a certified Chinese physician) A benevolent man, he often gave the needy free medical treatment while those who could afford were charged a nominal fee. Many of the rich who came to him as a last resort were astonished at what this Chinese sensei could do to their ailments where their costly consultations at modern clinics and hospitals had failed.

In 1968 Grandmaster Kwan led a delegation from the National Pugilistic Federation of Singapore to Taiwan and Hong Kong. While in Hong Kong he encouraged the martial arts schools there to likewise form a unifying body for the promotion of Chinese martial arts.

Grandmaster Kwan also played a pivotal role in spearheading the call to settle a long-standing feud between 2 major martial arts schools in Hong Kong – the Choy Lee Fut and the White Crane School. The reconciliation brought much joy to both schools It was at the First Southeast Asia Pugilistic Meet in 1969 that the “chup kuen” or the leopard punch – hallmark of the Choy Lee Fut pugilism made its’ official debut. It was to many locals at that time, an eye-opening experience and many of the uninitiated called it the “leper’s punch” for when clenched, the leopard punch resembles the deformed hand of a leper. And not a few participants at that pugilistic meet realised soon that like the leper’s hand, the Choy Lee Fut’s devastating leopard punch was to be avoided at all cost.

Grandmaster Kwan was a very progressive-minded teacher who did not believe in withholding his knowledge of martial arts to his students. His philosophy was that “Only when the students excel the teacher can there be progress”. However, he did caution that it takes time to attain a high level of skill in martial arts. And even in attaining the skill is only half the success. “Without good morals a skilled martial arts exponent is like a tree with decaying roots, it cannot flourish for long.”

It was unfortunate that the grandmaster’s generosity in imparting his knowledge was not always reciprocated with kindness or even gratitude. In 1971, two brothers who had been his trusted lay-students for about five years, broke away to form their own martial arts school, teaching a potpourri of martial arts with Choy Lee Fut pugilism. They had the audacity to further break the cardinal rule of martial arts practitioner is not acknowledging the grandmaster, but declared in public that they had acquired their gongfu knowledge from their father, when it was known to all who knew their family that their father who operated a factory manufacturing carton boxes was a non-practitioner of martial arts.

If at all there was any consolation in this unfortunate case, it was that both brothers only managed to acquire some very superficial skill from the grandmaster in their relatively short period with him. However, by such act of the otherwise colourful and brilliant tapestry of Singapore Hong Sheng Koon’s history. This had been a painful experience to our late grandmaster who still recounted it during his last days and had requested his disciples to place this on records that future generation may have knowledge of it.

Grandmaster Kwan had written memoirs on Chinese herbal medicines & osteopathy, the Chinese martial arts and the Origin and Art of Lion Dancing. The Origin and Art of Lion Dancing was serialized and broadcasted on the Singapore Rediffusion network in the early 1970s. His frequent contributions to the Chinese press on these subjects played a great part in educating the public on the historical and cultural aspect of this art and had in no small way elevated the status of Chinese martial arts.

The grandmaster passed away on May 16, 1976. He was survived by his wife, three sons and four daughters. His children were taught in Choy Lee Fut pugilism since young. In accordance to the late grandmaster’s will, the mantle of Singapore Hong Sheng Koon was passed on to his most senior disciple, Sifu Chia Yan Soon who is the current master-in-charge (Jeong Moon Yan) of Singapore Hong Sheng Koon.

(Source: Choy Lee Fut Masters of Singapore Hong Sheng Koon)

 Respond to this message   

  • Great info, thanks! NT - Samson on Apr 29, 2017, 10:03 AM
  • Another rare anecdote of Lee and Choy Li Fut. Thanks nt. - DK on Apr 29, 2017, 3:34 PM
  • Re; Profile of GM Kwan Mun Keng (aka Kwan Man Keng) - jkdragon on Apr 29, 2017, 5:35 PM
  • Photo Album of GM Kwan Mun Keng - CLFkid on Jan 26, 2018, 7:05 PM
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