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All you need to know: NUS Nam Wah Pai

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

Not sure which clubs to join in the upcoming semester? In this series, we put together comprehensive masterposts for all you need to know about NUS's martial arts clubs. Stay tuned for more!

Note: As part of the Interest Development Series, NUS Muay Thai will be holding workshops on 1st Feb! If interested, please refer to their Instagram page here.

NUS Nam Wah Pai

Wow, is it already time for article #5? This week, I got to visit NUS Nam Wah Pai, which is a kind of Chinese Kung Fu!

Nam Wah Pai

Something interesting about Nam Wah Pai is that it’s a SINGAPORE martial art.

Generally, Chinese martial arts are classified into “internal” and “external”. Internal martial arts train your internal strength; while external martial arts train your muscles. Nam Wah Pai teaches both Shaolin kung fu (external training) and Taichi (internal training).

Nam Wah Pai trains your body holistically for health and teach self-defence. Hence, the training I attended was a good workout and we learnt some self-defence moves but we also did some body conditioning like hitting the sandbag to build up our bodies.

NUS Nam Wah Pai

While training is normally at MPSH2, today’s was conducted at their HQ building (Level 5, 9 Geylang Lorong 29).

We did our basic techniques for the warm-up: front kicks, roundhouse kicks, spinning back kicks, spinning hook kicks, etc.

After this, we did body conditioning. It’s not PT but toughening exercises for our bones and skin so we can deliver and block stronger blows. We used a small bag filled with beans. One partner would hold the bag and the other would practise punches, knife-hand strikes, fingertip strikes or kicks. Later, the holding partner would also use the bag to hit the limbs of the other partner (shins or thighs). It sounds scary, but the bag isn’t that heavy or hard so it’s only as hard as you decide to make it so you can progress at your own pace. Also, the instructor handed out this lotion to rub on your limbs to help toughen them faster.

Not wasting any time, we continued to learn some self-defence. The instructor would show a drill then the class would practise it in pairs for a few minutes.

This one, which is using one hand to block and the other to punch, I found particularly interesting because you can apply it very simply while evading your opponent’s punches to attack him from an angle he’s unprepared for.

This way of blocking kicks is quite fast and easy to apply.

We also practised various punch-kick combinations like this one:

Next, we did some PT: sit-ups; static holds and leg raises.

After this, the class did 3-4 rounds of light sparring.

It’s light-to-no contact (understandable since they aren’t wearing protective equipment like headgear, gloves or shin pads) and the focus is on getting the distance and timing right. Here’s a few clips of them fighting it out!

The last part of training was forms training, or taolu. It’s like taekwondo poomsae and karate kata.

The taolu trains many moves that you might choose to apply where appropriate. This is grabbing your opponent’s arm and breaking it with a downward strike using your other hand.

Other than empty-handed techniques, there are also forms for weapons!

Weapons training complements your empty-handed training by strengthening your grip and other muscles. Also, in a self-defence scenario, you could pick up a broom or pole and use it more effectively.

Today, I got to observe some students practising with wooden clubs and swords.

Q & A

1) What’s the timing like?

Trainings are normally on MPSH2 on Saturdays, at 2-4.30.

2) Is there a steep learning curve?

I don’t think so. The training I attended today featured mostly easy-to-learn techniques. The movements should be fairly manageable for a beginner, and the external kung fu conditioning is simple if you work hard at it.

3) How much money am I going to spend on it?

Membership fees are $75 per semester.

4) Is Nam Wah Pai very tough?

External kung fu conditioning has a reputation for being brutal and tough, but I think it’s a lot more manageable than kung fu movies would have you believe. It’s not at all like breaking bricks with your head or breaking walnuts with your fingers like Jackie Chan (although, you might be able to do that one day if you wanted to) since it’s scientific and gradual.

Sparring is quite light so it shouldn’t scare you off either.

It’s also a fairly good workout, but not crazy enough that you’ll need ages to recover from it. Hence, i think Nam Wah Pai is manageable!

5) How much of my training is conditioning? How much time do I actually get to “play”?

We didn’t spend too much time doing sit-ups and other exercises so the training wasn’t bogged down by that at all. Even the conditioning was quite fun since we got to hit the sandbag to practise our techniques. The session was mostly spent on actually learning and practising techniques, which I appreciated.

6) Is Nam Wah Pai useful for self-defence?

Yes. The techniques taught today were quite practical since they’re effective and easily applied in a fight. Within 10 minutes of the instructor teaching it, the class could at least roughly execute a block and punch or the arm-lock. If you master a few of these techniques, you’d be pretty strong.

While the beginners sparring looked a bit awkward, the seniors sparring looked very competent and confident when fighting.

Also, I like toughening up your limbs to deliver stronger techniques. Too often people forget that they’ll actually be fighting with their bare fists. Conditioning your weapons is essential to being prepared!

7) Is Nam Wah Pai safe?

Sure! The whole of Nam Wah Pai is to build your body up so safety is very important. You won’t be forced to do anything you clearly can’t handle. The only “dangerous” thing I can think of is the sparring, which is done at a very low, safe intensity.

8) Are my Nam Wah Pai going to be over once I graduate?

I noticed that NUS Nam Wah Pai is the only group that is actually regularly practising the Nam Wah Pai martial art. Hence, other than the NUS club, it might be hard to continue your journey in Nam Wah Pai unless you join the same association.

9) Can I take part in tournaments? Will I be able to get any fortune and glory even if I’m a newbie?

There aren’t tournaments, but there are performances and demonstrations.

10) What’s the social life of the club like?

NUS Nam Wah Pai is a small but cosy club! In larger clubs, there might be a loner hanging in a corner but I didn’t observe that in NUS Nam Wah Pai.


Wei Hong

1. How long have you been doing NWP?

I'm a beginner and I've been in NWP for a total of five months. Prior to this, I've had no experience in any form of martial arts.

I first participated in this Self-Defence Course programme for newcomers back in February 2019, after a friend of mine happened to chance upon its online poster on Facebook. Both of us were exploring interest groups at that time and decided to give it a shot. Turns out it was quite interesting and eye-opening, and thus we decided to learn more through their weekly sessions.

Our coach and everyone I've met so far in NWP are all friendly and helpful. Each weekly session is structured and there are always plenty of new skills and techniques to learn, not just from our coach but also from our seniors.

There were several reasons that kept me going since the first session, including the fact that I was starting to learn a new skill I'd previously been unexposed to before, how everyone was able to learn at their own pace, and also how I could attend it together with friends that made it fun.

2. What do you like about NUS NWP?

NUS NWP adopts a structured training approach. For each training, there consists of subdivided sections that each aim to achieve improvements in different parts of the mind and body. Hardening, building of strength / flexibility and self-defence techniques are just some of the many key components and many of the exercises pair up a senior with a junior, so everyone is able to learn. I like how there's always this positive culture and learning environment whereby beginners such as I can comfortably approach our coach and seniors about anything we may not understand.

Question: Why NUS vs an external club?

From my experiences so far, I would describe NUS NWP as a really wholesome community where there is this culture of building up one another. There is always something to look forward to and as much as we're encouraged to exceed our limits for gradual improvements, I've never had to feel compelled / pressurised to do beyond what is really uncomfortable for me i.e. everyone can choose to learn at their own pace. Our coach is patient, values safety and will always emphasise for partners to take care of one another. Perhaps another interesting aspect of training that may not be similarly present in all other forms of martial is the element and practice of Qigong, as well its integration with self-defence.

Question: Do you have any fun stories?

Our coach is the one who'll teach us the essentials, techniques, various styles and adaptability based on what we've learnt. But on top of that, he's the one who makes trainings not only tolerable but also often fun and enjoyable. Through demonstrations, explanations and interactions with students, our coach helps us to visualise the movements, intentions and actions that we take - and can possibly take -, usually described in an amusing way that keeps us engaged and intrigued. Beyond that, we have meals our coach and other fellow members as well, usually after training or on an impromptu basis. We'll play games, watch movies and be able to talk about topics other than NWP as well, even to our coach! There was a memorable moment during which some of us explained to our coach which movie "Frozen" was by singing the chorus of "Let It Go" (and his reaction to it upon realisation of which movie it is was priceless!)

3. Would you recommend NWP to an incoming freshman / other student?

Yes, I would certainly advise him / her to consider it as an interest group. :^)

I really like how chill it is, and yet there are many skills one can take away from NWP. Besides the potential improvements in physical characteristics such as flexibility, strength and reaction time in different circumstances, one can surely expect to make friends here regardless of background. While we do show respect to our seniors during training, there're no lines of separation drawn between members of different belts when it comes to social interactions and getting to know one another, as everyone is learning together and there's always room for improvement. In addition, we learn about the many health benefits of NWP too, even in simple stretching and breathing techniques - which could serve as great stress relief to balance out the academic side of school life!

If you’re anyone who’s open to new experiences, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to acquire many fun and insightful experiences in NWP. If you’re someone with martial arts background, you’ll possibly be able to appreciate the fundamentals taught. If you’re anyone who’s interested in the art of self-defence, NWP will be an eye-opener. If you’re someone who’s seeking to explore a new skill and make new friends, NWP is a great place to start as there are no strict barriers to entry and there’s a great training culture here. If you’re a beginner, there’s no need worry here in NWP as you’ll be taught everything from scratch. If you’re someone who likes to learn some cool martial arts moves or learn some techniques to protect yourself, there will certainly be many moves you’ll learn in NWP that are not just fancy-looking but practical when done right. Anyone can join NWP. There’s no need to be flexible, knowledgeable or strong at the start for a humble heart to learn is all that’s needed.

Question: Do I have to be strong to do NWP? Is it dangerous because I’ll have to do sparring and breaking bricks?

No, there is no requirement to be strong to join NWP. The different levels of grading (on an opt-in basis each semester) ensure that members at each level are ready to perform the training activities associated with their respective levels of gradings. NWP is much more than sparring and breaking bricks, and a beginner would not be required to do either of it at all. In fact, activities requiring actions such as the breaking of bricks will not be a concern for a number of grading and sub-grading levels (it will likely be a long while before you’ll have to worry about that!). Even for those who are eligible to break bricks, mastery of techniques that will be practised such as Qigong will be involved, and strength will not be everything.

Question: What kind of people would not like NWP?

You may want to reconsider joining NWP, and would likely be advised against joining it, if you have a health condition or serious injury that prevents you from doing so. Otherwise, NWP trainings are usually very safe. Seniors train juniors at a tolerance level that is acceptable for them, and the strength and even speed can be agreed upon amongst partners. Some exercises may have alternatives, such that newcomers who may not be as familiar with the exercises can be eased into getting used to them. At no point will you be forced to participate in any activity that you’re unable to proceed with. So if you don’t absolutely hate martial arts and / or the idea of self-defence, NWP could be something you can truly consider!

4. What advice would you give someone who just joined NUS NWP or is thinking about joining?

Although NWP does not have any entry requirements, I believe having some flexibility especially in the legs would certainly allow execution of kicks to be much easier. That being said, not everyone in NWP is highly flexible so there is no need to worry even if you’re not, as flexibility can be trained! In fact, for myself, I’m a beginner who’s possibly one of the least flexible in NWP. Surely, the height which I may be able to kick at may be much lower, but it’s not prevented me from learning and understanding how the kicks work. Our coach has encouraged on slowly improving flexibility and I’ve never had to overstrain myself to the point of great discomfort or injury during NWP. As for basic techniques and form, there’re many that I’m still working on myself too, and I’ve no doubt that our coach as well as seniors will certainly guide us step-by-step along the way!

Jia Hui & Chen Xi

1. How long have you been doing NWP?

Jia Hui: 1 year-ish. Since the start of year 1 sem 1, was asked by a friend to join her for welcome tea so I just tagged along. I like how diverse it is: there’s basic martial arts, self defence and also qi gong, so it’s a very holistic CCA. It doesn’t focus on just fighting but also health. I stuck with it because the club members are friendly so there is no tension among us - it’s really fun and enjoyable to participate in the CCA with such people!

Chen Xi: I started in my first semester of my first year. I wanted to join a club to keep active and stay healthy. I also wanted to try something new and interesting, so I decided on Nam Wah Pai Self-Defence.

Chen Xi: I stuck with it because I really like the club environment so it’s great training with everyone each week. It also helps that NWPSD is recreational rather than competition-focused. You can learn at your own pace, and you can always ask coach for a break if you’re too tired during training. Another reason I stay in NWPSD is because I believe it helps a lot with my studies and well-being. I have a tendency to procrastinate on my studies, but making a commitment to go for training each week makes the remaining time more valuable, and so training often acts as an incentive to finish my work for the week to ‘clear out time for training’. I feel that I procrastinate a lot more on weeks where I plan not to go for training. I like NWPSD because I feel better and more alert after exercising, and usually sleep well after training. I get to see my friends during training, and we talk about lots of stuff before and after training. It’s some of the best stress relief you can have, especially when schoolwork is weighing on you and you feel like you need a break.

2. What do you like about NUS NWP?

Jia Hui: I think we are pretty chill. It’s just once a week and there aren’t any strict rules on attendance. As we aren’t a varsity team, trainings are usually less intensive than other martial arts clubs.

Chen Xi: Yeah, training is chill and the coach takes care to take things slowly, especially for beginners. No worries if you can’t do certain techniques at first, you’ll get the hang of it with practice.

Question: Why NUS vs an external club?

Chen Xi: Training is heavily subsidised at NUS. Also, we can ask the seniors for school tips!

Jia Hui: I’m gonna sound lazy but convenience is a big point. It is definitely easier in terms of travel and accessibility and there isn’t a need for me to source for an external club. Additionally, more NUS students are in NUS clubs so it’s good to know more about fellow schoolmates.

Question: Do you have any fun stories?

Chen Xi: During our Anniversary performance, we had a lot of fun goofing around backstage during the performance. We acted out memes and made lots of jokes.

(Here are some photos from that day:

We sometimes have club dinners after CCA and potluck during CNY and Mid-Autumn Festival. Once a year, we might have a bonding camp during the summer or winter holidays if everyone is available. We play games like charades and monopoly deal, as well as some NWP-themed games that make use of the techniques we learn.

(Check out their Instagram!:

3. Would you recommend NWP to an incoming freshman / other student?

Jia Hui: Of course! Yes, of course. It’s really all in one, kind of like 3-in-1 coffee. From the perspective of someone unfamiliar to martial arts, NWP is a chill introduction to the kata, basic techniques and self-defence. More meta-speaking, it helps with concentration and physical health. Personally, I feel it’s a good break from academics without the pressure of doing well and competitions so it’s nice to take a break from school work.

We’re open to anyone! I mean it: there is no gatekeeping here so if anyone is interested, we are right here. HMU and I’ll text you the info hahaha.

Chen Xi: I would recommend NWP to people who are new to martial arts, those who like traditional Chinese martial arts like Qigong and Shaolin, people who want to keep active and healthy or learn some basic self-defence or even those who just want to make new friends!

Question: Do I have to be strong to do NWP? Is it dangerous because I’ll have to do sparring and breaking bricks?

Jia Hui: Not all actually, we really welcome people with no experience in martial arts. Everything takes practice so all the difficult things (sparring and breaking bricks) mostly come later when there is a foundation.

Chen Xi: Coach’s motto is “we train hard but we train safe” so there’s no pressure to start breaking bricks and sticks immediately. Sparring is quite safe because it’s only semi-contact i.e. we do not hit each other full force. You’re also only allowed to do those things upon reaching certain belt levels, so you would be experienced and skilled enough to do so with minimal risk.

Question: What kind of people would not like NWP?

Jia Hui: I guess if they are competitive and want to do something intensive from the start but with NWP’s lack of public knowledge I don’t think anyone knows enough about it to not like it from the get-go.

Chen Xi: Well, I think NWP isn’t very suitable if you don’t like getting sweaty, training barefoot or eating at Saizeriya! (The last one’s a joke.)

(SP: For context, Saizeriya is NUS NWP's go-to for club dinners!)

4. What advice would you give someone who just joined NUS NWP or is thinking about joining?

Chen Xi: It takes a while to understand, but move your body as a unit. If you were to do a punch, for example, move your awareness to your whole body instead of just your arm. Your attacks and blocks will be better once you use the rest of your body. Remember to exhale or exhale when you carry out your attacks or blocks!

Jia Hui: Don’t worry about the pace, be patient with the basic techniques such as the movement of qi in the body. It may not make a lot of sense at first but over time it will be easier and makes more sense later.

Final Thoughts

I had a lot of fun training with NUS Nam Wah Pai. It’s a bit old school, but that’s part of the fun! If you like a chill training environment that’s still challenging, or if you’ve any interest in local or Chinese martial arts, you might want to give them a try.

(To Editor: Nunchaku - because… Bruce Lee is related to Kung Fu?)

Next, I’ll be going to NUS Karate so keep an eye out for that article!

Interested to give Nam Wah Pai a shot? Sign up for their upcoming Interest Development Series workshop on 1 Feb! Refer to their Instagram page here.

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