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WHAT IS KUNTAO MATJAN?


The term 'Kuntao' is a generic term used in much of Southeast Asia to designate martial arts of Chinese origin, the term deriving from the Fujian Chinese (Hokkienese) words for 'fist' (kun) and way or method (tao), although the term is often mistranslated. Kuntao is one of a number of martial arts styles found in Indonesia and Malaysia, coastal Thailand and the Western Philippines, including pukulan, silat, and pencak (these latter two generally being treated together as 'Pencak-Silat in contemporary parlance).. However, the term Kuntao is not really equivalent to saying 'Kung Fu' or 'Wu Shu' (Chinese terms for martial arts) for in many cases Kuntao arts from Southeast Asia have diverged from their Chinese origins far enough to be considered distinct arts in their own rights. The relationship between Kuntao and the indigenous Indo-Malay martial arts found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the western Philippines is far from clear. One scholar, Bruce A. Haines asserted of Kuntao, Silat and Pukulan that the terms 'refer to variations of the same Indonesian style that have developed in different geographical areas of the Indonesian archipelago'1 while Donn F. Draeger stressed the distinction between Kuntao and Silat, remarking vaguely that 'Kun-tao [sic] may have influenced pencak-silat and bersilat ... [p]erhaps the reverse is also true....'2. Draeger has also noted the existence of Kuntao systems which, with an eye towards integration into Indonesian society, redesignated themselves as forms of Silat.3 Indeed, there is even an assortment of primarily Indonesian and Malay silat arts which carry the designation 'kuntao' indicating a combination of indigenous and Chinese traits, such as Kuntao Jawa, Kuntao Melaka, and the Bugis forms of 'Silat Kuntao'. The degree of overlap between Silat and various Kuntao systems varies from system to system, and the Kuntao taught at the Flying Dragon Institute is an art in which a core derived from Kung-Fu has been seamlessly fused with techniques and methods drawn from pukulan Jawa and silat Jawa tengah (central Javanese silat) to produce a unique art in its own right.

According to the oral history of the Kuntao system taught by the Flying Dragon InsituteFaulhaber studied under two different gurus. One was a one-eyed peranakan Chinese master of Kuntao Macan (Javanese, pron. 'matjan'; lit. 'tiger-style Kuntao') in Semarang, North-Central Java. The peranakan Chinese are an ethnic subgroup who, although ethnically Chinese, have become integrated into Indonesian life and culture, often having Malay or Javanese as a first language, and taking Indonesian names (as opposed to totok Chinese who are more traditional). They are also often referred to as Babah Chinese. Paatje Faulhaber studied with his Indonesian-Chinese teacher every day after school, reportedly even playing truant occasionally to put in extra time with his teacher and fellow Kuntao students. He also studied pukulan under a dukun, or traditional spiritualist and healer. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz describes a dukun variously as 'curer, sorcerer and ceremonial specialist'4, a practitioner of the animist magical tradition known guna-guna (in Malay parlance bomoh-bomoh). The old Babah master made him promise never to teach the art publicly for money, a vow Faulhaber kept until his death in 1974. Likewise, the Dukun also swore him to secrecy. However, in the late 1950s he recreated the traditional Indonesian outdoor or gelanggang training environment in the forest of Renkum and began to teach his select group of five students

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Paatje Kudding training in Holland, near Bennekom with Max Bax, Overvecht with Theo Verschuur and in Zevenaar with Lammerts van Buren.
 

Paatje Faulhaber's Kuntao Macan system is characterised by a smooth, almost seemless integration of Chinese and Indonesian martial arts elements. To his students, Faulhaber stressed that his Kuntao had been modified chiefly on two grounds: firstly, it had been adapted to the typical Indonesian body-structure, and secondly the information within the art had been sorted and organised according to what might be best described as Indonesian methodology. For example, while the system employs low, strong stances from Kung-Fu, the actual footwork employed has the sinuous, springing quality of Silat. Similarly, the hand techniques are close-range, infighting methods typical of the Southern Chinese forms of Kung-Fu, although the actual fighting techniques are organised and interpreted in terms of generic, flowing permainan (playing movements) which look like (and in some cases are drawn from) certain kinds of traditional Indonesian dance. Power is generated through a loose-limbed whipping action, and the system slips readily from aggressive infighting to evasive circular actions and back again.

Paatje Kudding performing a series of movements which display both Indonesian and Chinese influences, respectively an 's-h' or 's-step' typical of Javanese and Sundanese tiger or pamacan systems, an arm-wrapping headlock frequently seen in Javanese, Sundanese and peninsular Malay systems, and a scissors-hands or gunting action reminiscent of Hokkienese kung-fu.

Pemain Kuntao (Kuntao players) begin their training learning stances (kuda-kuda - lit. 'horses') and footwork (langkah-langkah), playing movements (permainan tangan), and roles and breakfalls. From here students procede to learn the system's short, basic forms or jurus and then learn to apply the basic blocks, punches and kicks derived from and combined with the three basic skills. Techniques are taught in specific combinations as solutions against various types of attacks one might have to deal with, and in choreographed series of self-defence exercises (bela diri) as well as grappling and counter-grappling techniques. From here training expands to include short forms which can be performed either solo or with a partner, similar to the buah pukulan of Silat or to the one and three step sparring of Karate, called Jalan Perkakas (lit. 'walking tools'). With a strong grounding in the langkahs, permainan and applications which drive Kuntao, students then proceed to learn the advanced, long choreographed forms called kembang or bunga (lit. 'flower). These are similar the Kata of Karate or Kung-Fu forms, but they are taught much later in the regimen. Also, where more forms in Karate or Kung-Fu have specific modes of execution, be it fast, or slow, or with a particular attitude, each Kuntao bunga has many different ways of being executed depending on whether it is being practiced with an eye to application, to exercising basic movements, or to develop internal power or batin. Students then proceed to sensitivity exercises, similar to the pushing hands of Tai Chi Chuan and the 'sticky legs' of Wing Chun Kung Fu, and thence to slow-sparring, and finally to full-speed sparring of a number of different types. Finally complicated advanced langkah and permainan combinations are taught to control distance and movement relative to one's opponent(s).

More information about Kuntao techniques and principles

kuda-kuda and self-defence against a knife:

Kuntao is a highly comprehensive system, bringing together an extensive range of hand techniques with kicks, sweeps, throws and grappling skills. The art also goes beyond unarmed self-defence, to include defences against various weapons, such as knife, baton, pole and firearms, as well as instruction in the use of traditional weapons, including knife, golok (an indigenous heavy-bladed machete), a short-bladed sword or pedang, short-stick (tongkat), mid-length stick similar to the Aikido Jo stick (tombak pendek or tongkat kayu, literally a yardstick), the cabang and siku-siku (weapons similar to the Karate Sai), the staff (toya) and a short stick slightly longer than the hand called a 'girl stick' (tongkat perempuan). This is taught not only for the sake of teaching weapons use and preserving the traditional knowledge of these weapons, but to teach the student to think as a weapon-user, giving them a direct insight into the techniques and thinking of someone who would use a weapon against them.

Movements from the Kembang Golok, Dr. Philip Davies demonstrating at the Singapore Silat Federation championships (1998), and Dan Sam performing in Calgary (1987).

More information about Kuntao weapons...

Throughout the applied, combat and self-defence oriented regimen, Pemain Kuntao also pursue the development of internal strength through various breathing exercises and meditation, and traditional massage. The Pemain Kuntao is taught in the peceh not only to know their way around the physical machinery of the subject's body, but to feel in themselves a shadow or reflection of the other's discomfort which will guide them in applying the massage, for as the shadow or reflection alleviates so will the massage recipient's discomfort. At the most advanced levels of the art, internal and external breathing exercises (latihan pernafasan) is combined with spiritual training (kebatinan) in a series of animal mimicry exercises (main binatang) which combine a derivative of the Chinese Taoist 'five animals play' (wu chin so) with Indonesian psychological and spiritual techniques. However, such advanced exercises carry deep, psychological risks. What Clifford Geertz wrote of traditional Malay spiritualist healers or dukun is also true of Pemain Kuntao at this final level, that 'the extraordinary power with which he traffics can destroy him if he is not spiritually strong.'5 As a result, these aspects of the art are only taught to a very few, hand-picked students and after many years of training the rest of the system.

Paatje Richard Kudding performing a jurus movement typical of Javanese pukulan, and an 'opening' guard designed to draw an attacker into a trap and counter.

1 Bruce A. Haines Karate's History and Traditions (Rutland VT: Charles Tuttle, 1968) p.50
2 Donn F. Draeger Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts (New York: Kodansha, 1987) p.184
3 Donn F. Draeger Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia 2nd edition (Rutland VT: Charles Tuttle, 1993) p.206; Kebudaian Ilmu Silat Indonesia of Lie Tjien Tjan is the system in question.
4 Clifford Geertz Religion of Java (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976) p.86
5 Geertz Religion of Java p.87

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Copyright 1998 Philip H.J. Davies
With acknowledgements to Shihan Drs. Harry de Spa for historical information provided concerning the Faulhaber family and the art of Kuntao.