In person, Tiger Tan Bing Kuong certainly lives up to his name. He has a no-nonsense demeanour, especially when training his students.

When we met, I felt my hand almost break from the force of his firm handshake. This is one man you’d not want to pick a fight with.

Tan, 48, is a Push Hands champion. He learnt the Chinese martial art from his father, a famous martial arts master from Sitiawan, Perak.

The moniker Tiger was given to him many years ago. “During that time, I was a fierce fighter, knocking out many opponents and ending competitions swiftly,” recalled Tan with a laugh.

After school, Tan moved from his hometown for a career in Kuala Lumpur, leaving his father somewhat disappointed that he had abandoned martial arts.

But destiny had new plans for him. In KL, Tan bumped into his father’s close disciple (or his “kung fu brother”), Ling Eng Chan, at the end of 2005. That meeting gradually changed his career path again.

Push Hands (or Tuishou in Mandarin) refers to two-person training routines of internal Chinese martial arts such as Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan. Push Hands has its roots in Taijiquan martial arts, where its practices are crucial in a combat situation.

“I had not been practising martial arts for 15 years, and then I bumped into Ling,” explained Tan. He was coaxed into making a comeback in martial arts by Ling who had just opened a gym in Petaling Jaya.

With hard work and determination, Tan honed his skills and became a force to be reckoned with. He also proved that his early martial arts training did not go to waste. His father, Tan Check Lian, 74, who has since retired, taught him when he was a teenager.

Today, Tan is a Push Hands martial arts master in his own right.

In the early days, Tan “felt different hands and forces” when he sparred with his father’s students, or disciples as they are called in Chinese.

“It was a good experience which allowed me to develop my own defence system (from knowing their strengths and weaknesses),” he enthused in an interview with Star2.

Tan (right) demonstrating combat techniques with one of his students.

How It Began

At 12, Tan learnt Tai Chi or Taijiquan – an ancient Chinese system of health, martial arts and mental conditioning – from his father. He was taught the famous Cheng Man Ching’s 37 steps. The late Cheng was a fourth generation exponent of yang-style Taijiquan from Yongjia in Zhejiang, China.

Tan’s father was a student of renowned Push Hands fighter Lu Tong Bao. Lu, in turn, learnt from Yue Shue Ting, a direct student of grandmaster Cheng Man Ching.

After completing Form Six at SM Nan Hwa, Sitiawan, Tan went to KL to study accountancy at a private college for two years. But he gave up his studies when he was recruited to be an insurance agent. After three years, he was promoted to to be a district manager.

When Tan was in KL, he was totally out of touch with martial arts until his meeting with Ling.

In 2006, three months after their meeting, Tan was surprised that Ling enrolled himself for a Push Hands Tournament in Singapore.

He competed in the tournament and clinched a bronze. Hoping to perform better, he trained harder.

Alternate Combat Sport

In 2010, Tan began promoting Push Hands as an alternate combat sport to the more popular Mixed Martial Arts.

“Push Hands does not involve punching and kicking. It is a combat sport that people can take up as it affords minimal injuries,” said Tan.

Between 2006 and 2013, Tan established himself as the undefeated champion of Push Hands in Malaysia. In 2011, he won a gold medal at the Hong Kong International Push Hands Competition.

In 2013, he began teaching Push Hands and three years later, he accepted his first batch of disciples. To date, he has more than 1,000 students.

His disciples have entered various competitions and emerged victorious in their respective weight categories. Tan also coaches people from the private sector.

Currently, Tan is one of the committee and exco members in the KL Wushu Federation. At national level, he is the Push Hands development committee chairman in the Wushu Federation of Malaysia.

Tan continues to promote Push Hands throughout Malaysia and has a strong network among Wushu clubs and federations in the Klang Valley, Perak, Penang and Johor. Earlier this month, he was invited to be the chief referee in a Push Hands competition in Penang.

Tan conducts short courses and seminars on competitive and cardio Push Hands. He participates in exchange programmes with Push Hands groups in Singapore and Taiwan, where coaches from other countries are invited to share their techniques.

He also plans to introduce a Push Hands workout – which emphasises cardio – in gyms and fitness centres.

Realising that many Taijiquan schools in Malaysia confine their Push Hands training within their premises, Tan wants to break this “barrier”. He aims to promote openness among all Taijiquan and Chinese martial arts schools.

Last December, he spearheaded the setting up of Persatuan Malaysia Wushu Push Hand Alliance in KL. He was appointed its president.

“It is a platform for all martial arts clubs and associations to exchange knowledge and solidify the status of this martial art,” said Tan.

Tan’s ultimate goal for Push Hands? “For this sport to be introduced and popularised in schools like taekwando and karate.”

Tan wants to promote Push Hands as an alternate combat sport. To date, he has more than 1,000 students. — Photos: ART CHEN/The Star