Secret societies in Malaysia have been entrenched for at least a hundred years, brought over by gang members migrating to Malaya. They can trace their origins back to the anti-Manchu secret society called the Hung Meng Hooi.
By and large many triad members were patriotic Chinese, involved in the many upheavals in China. Most Chinese in the early years of Malaysia heavily identified themselves with Mainland China. Triads form one of the secret pillars backing the Kuomintang in China. In fact many high-ranking Kuomintang warlords and generals were triad members.
This link between Malayan triads and their mainland counterparts, under the umbrella of the Hung Meng Hooi and Hua Jie secret societies were severed after the Communist victory. Many triads fled to other countries with Malaya being one of the top destinations.
One of them happened to be one of the five Tiger Generals of Hung Meng Hooi in China. While fleeing the fighting between Kuomintang and Communist troops, all he carried with him was a large painting of Guan Gong. He later attributed his safe journey to Malaya to this painting, emerging unscathed by bullets even though he was caught in the middle of a battle. Today this painting still adorns his grandson's home.
On arrival to Malaya, he settled in Muar, Johor where he was taken in by the Malayan Hung Meng Hooi and made a honorary senior leader. Soon, many people would know him to be one of the main leaders of Hung Meng Hooi in Johor. Every gang leader under the secret society paid heed to his words.
He founded a Chinese martial arts school known as Persatuan Seni Bela Diri Kong Chang, which means the empty palm, akin to the Japanese martial art Karate-Do, which meant empty fist. His famous kung fu was known as the Iron Sand Palm, where he trained his fingers and palm to be as hard as iron by striking a pail filled with sand.
One day, his eldest son caused much disrespect to him. In a fit of anger, he slapped his son very hard. A short while later his son died from head injuries. Ever since then, he vowed not to hit his own flesh and blood again and didn't pass down to his other sons the mantle of the secret society.
It is also rumored, that the Tiger General saved the old Sultan of Johor (father of the current Sultan) from drowning in Muar River. The Sultan was now indebted to the secret society boss. The august ruler wanted to grant him a honorific title but was dissuaded by his advisors as the Tiger General was already a well known underworld figure. However, he placed the Tiger General under the direct protection of the Johor royalty which practically made him untouchable.
And this ties in to the earlier story on the current Sultan of Johor, who as you may remember, murdered a Chinese smuggler who was in fact a triad close to the Tiger General. As a compromise, the Sultan stripped his son of the title as Crown Prince and heir to the throne.
To end this tale of a Tiger General, it was said that before he died, he started to scratch and slap the house wall until he was bleeding all over, mourning over the death of his eldest son.