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Methods and Mechanics of Kuntao Matjan
Principles, Theory and Training

The Indonesian-Chinese Synthesis

Figure 1
According to PaatjeRichard, Pak Carel Faulhaber stressed to his students that his perguruan combined Chinese techniques 'modified to suit an Indonesian body structure' with an 'Indonesian methodology' and techniques drawn from silat and, more particularly, pukulan. The training and techniques in the Faulhaber system of Kuntao show a comprehensive fusion of Chinese and Indonesian elements in the principles used and in repertoire. The system makes extensive use of typically Hokkien Chinese short-fist techniques for its upright fighting (figure 1), but is just as likely to switch into silat-style throws, takedowns and grappling techniques (such as the wrap-around headlock in figure 2).
Figure 2

The system also relies on harimau- and pamacan-reminiscent ground fightings skills, as shown in the 's-h step' technique below (figure 3-5). Ground techniques are particularly important when defending against weapons, especially long weapons like poles (figure 6).

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

The system curriculum is based on:

All of this is coupled with a wide range of self-defence techniques (pembela diri) and countering skills (pecahan) to neutralise various specific attacks, grabs, holds and locks. The forms and applications are supplemented with a wide range of sensitivity exercises, and forms of both slow and fast sparring. Beyond this, students train in the traditional weapons of the system.

Essential Principles

There are perhaps four absolutely central dynamic principles which underly the specific techniques of the system, puturan, or simply 'turning', jongkok or 'squatting', gosok, or 'rubbing', and serapan, or 'absorption'.


The notion of generating power by rotating the body is very widespread in the martial arts. For most systems, however, the tendency is to rotate the torso as a unit, with the shoulders relatively fixed relative to the hips. In Kuntao Matjan body rotation, the rotation starts from the legs but then becomes a sort of spiraling action through the spine. Hence the hips and shoulder rotate a split second out of phase, with the legs moving first, driving the hips which then drive the horizontal movement of the shoulder. The horizontal rotation of the shoulders over the hips is also coupled to a vertical rotation or arc in which the active shoulder in a strike or block drops behind the movement in the absorption or penyarapan movement discussed below.

The 'squatting' principle has two very different aspects two it. On the one hand, there is a sinking and rooting method which is generally comparable to the Tai Chi concept of 'sinking'. This drops the mass of the practioner in behind movements to give them power, either through a subtle pressure or an abrupt drop. On the other hand, jongkok is also used to give power from a low crouch upwards using a springing action of the legs to add force to rising punches or kicks. It can also be used to drop underneath and avoid incoming attacks (see figure 7).
Figure 7
Gosok is a drawing or scraping action which most strikes and defences in the system employ. Movements can be visualised as either travelling along a spiral leading from the circumference of one's arm's reach in towards the central, vertical axis of the body, the 'outside to inside parameter', or from the central, vertical axis out to the circumference, the 'inside to outside parameter'. As a result, when the Kuntao Macan player parries an incoming attack, the parry scrapes along the offending limb, dispersing the force of the attackk, deflecting the attacker's momentum and also dragging the attacker in and onto the counter-attack. Figure 8 shows Paatje Richard delivering such a parry against an incoming attack. If one looks closely at the mechanics behind Paatje Richard's movement one will also note the curved body action behind the block. This is the essential feature of the third principle, absorption...
Figure 8


Penyarapan or 'Absorption' in Kuntao Macan refers to a dynamic flexing of the spine in support of the movements of the arms and legs. Many, perhaps most, martial arts systems rely on an upright body in which the shoulders traverse in unison with the hips. However, in many internal systems the preference is for a curved spine, with the hips tucked inwards and the sternum slightly sunk. In some Chinese systems, such as Southern Crane, this is called the 'turtle back', and some Western practitioners call it the 'C-back'. In Chinese medicinal theory, this is supposed to facilitate the flow of qi, and aid its circulation to the extremities. In fighting terms, it makes the sternum more flexible and less prone to damage, helps protect the floating ribs, and makes it easier to absorb incoming shots rather than recieving them full force. Some what more subtlely, the 'turtle back' or 'absorption' actually couples the legs, hips, spine and shoulders together very efficiently and maximises the amount of power than can be generated in blocks and strikes. As a result, absorption is not simply a passive, defensive thing, but also used for offensive power generation. The Kuntao version of the 'turtle back' differs from the version commonly seen in systems like Crane or White Eyebrow in two respects: in the first place, the spine constantly straightens and flexes over and over again, straightening between movements and then generating force or avoiding attacks by contracting forcefully and quickly; in the second place only the active side contracts. Most 'C-back' systems curve the spine symmetrically, dropping both shoulders equally. In Kuntao Macan, the inactive or back shoulder and rib-cage stay open and relaxed while only the active side, the side striking or blocking, actually contracts.

figure 9
In this sequence, Paatje Richard shows how absorption is used defensively, to absorb, trap and break an incoming punch (figure 9) and offensively to drive in a straight punch to the opponent's ribs (figure 10).
figure 10

Penyarapan is trained through a wide range of exercises. One of the most distinctive and dramatic is having practitioners throw a log at (not to; at!) one another. The recipient catches the log on their forearms, and drops back into a side kuda while 'turtle-backing' the body to absorb the force of the log. Done properly, the log can by hurled full strength and caught without receiving even the slightest bruise on arm or torso (figures 11-14).

figure 11

figure 12

figure 13

figure 14

This action can also be seen in the students of Edu Thomassouw, who trace their linneage in the system through Ben de Witt to Rob Faulhaber of the original 'Ring of Five'. (fig.15)

Figure 15

Also unlike most 'C-back' systems (but not all), Kuntao Matjan continually flexes and straightens the spine, absorbing only when delivering powser in a strike or receiving power in a block or parry. From the point of view of traditional medicine, it is believed that the absorbed position lines the body and its meridians up correctly to optimise the flow of tenaga dalam, while the expansion and contraction serve to draw the energy in and 'squeeze' it out.

Power In Kuntao Matjan

Power generation in Kuntao Matjan is intimately bound up with the four principles of jongkok, gosok and penyarapan. Like many arts, the main source of power comes from hip-rotation driven by the legs, and therefore depends on a strong command of langkah-langkah to provide that leg strength. Jongkok is employed by sinking the hips as they turn, similar to the 'sinking power' of Tai Chi Chuan. Through penyarapan, flexing the spine and the entire thoracic musculature behind the active side of the body provides still more power. In attacking actions (serangan) such as punches and kicks, the twisting action (puturan), jongkok and penyarapan feed together behind the strike. Some strikes penetrate directly into the target, while others rake into and across the target using gosok to do offensive damage. In defensive actions (sambutkan) such as parrying and blocking puturan, jongkok, penyarapan and gosok combine to provide both intercepting power and deflection, allowing the defender to deliver punishing blocks without meeting attacks force against force. Because of the common principles, offensive and defensive actions are often outwardly similar - or may even be alternative applications of the same movement. The essential difference between the two is that when striking one contracts the penyarapan forcefully during exhalation 'squeezing' the energy out, while the breathing remains soft and relaxed during defensive actions. This subtle difference in power-generation between striking and defending allows the defender to recover from a block or parry into a subsequent move far more quickly than if they used 'hard' power to deliver the block.

There are three kinds of power in Kuntao Matjan. The most basic form is a sharp snapping action referred to as aggressive or keras power. This kind of 'hard' power characterises the basic version of the art or the 'shell' (kulit) system. As students progress, they are taught series of exercises which transform the way in which they generate power both offensively and defensively, and these lead to a 'whipping' power in which the limb stays loose even as the energy is 'squeezed' out by the breathing. This whipping action, compared sometimes to a classical Chinese weapon called the 'meteor hammer', leads to a radical change in the way the student performs and understands the art. This new approach to the art is referred to the 'kernel' (biji) system of the art, and leads in due course to a coupling of whipping power to internal strength (tenaga dalam, effectively what is called chi in the Chinese tradition) referred to as 'iron palm power', although it is used for leg as well as arm strikes.