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Parangal Dance Co. performing Langka Kuntao at 14th AF-AFC 2.JPG
Written Chinese 拳道
Bopomofo: ㄑㄩㄢㄉㄠ
Pinyin Quándào
Pe̍h-ōe-jī Kûn-thâu
Indonesian Kuntao
Malay Kuntau
Filipino Kuntaw
native to

Kuntao or kuntau (, Pe̍h-ōe-jī: kûn-thâu, Tagalog: kuntaw) is a Hokkien term for the martial arts of the Chinese community of Southeast Asia, specifically the Malay Archipelago. It is most commonly practiced in and associated with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

In some communities such as Bali, no distinction is made between kuntao and silat. Both have influenced each other to the point where any differentiation between the two can sometimes be blurred. The Malaysian art of Buah Pukul is commonly classed as silat despite its Yunnan origin, while Javanese Kuntao Harimau retains its kuntao status despite being influenced by the folk religion and indigenous culture of Java. Some traditional styles include both words in their name, such as Kedah's 500-year-old Silat Kuntau Tekpi which is categorized as silat.


The most common hanzi reading of kuntao is "way of the fist", from kun 拳 meaning fist and tao 道 meaning way. In Fujian and other southern areas, this term was originally used for Chinese martial arts in general and was synonymous with quanfa (拳法, Pe̍h-ōe-jī: kûn-hoat). The word is recorded in Classical Malay and Indonesian, making it the oldest known term for Chinese martial arts in those languages, before the modern adoption of the term kungfu. In English, and even in its modern Chinese usage, kuntao usually refers specifically to styles brought to Southeast Asia and often does not include other Chinese fighting systems.


The presence of Chinese martial arts in the Malay Archipelago traces back to ancient contact between China and Southeast Asia. Donn F. Draeger goes so far as to call them the oldest major organised system of fighting in Indonesia, pre-dating structured teaching of silat.[1] The Toraja, Batak, and Dayak cultures all show Chinese influence, and Chinese weapons are often depicted in ancient Sumatran art. Some pre-colonial Chinese temples in Indonesia display combative images characteristic of southern Chinese forms, and many techniques and weapons of silat are of Chinese origin.[1] Many Peranakan families can still trace their clan history in the region as far back as the voyages of Admiral Zheng He,[2] but most Southeast Asian Chinese were brought to the Malay Archipelago as working-class immigrants during the colonial era.[3][4] In Indonesia in particular, every Chinese community had some form of kuntao, but were traditionally shrouded in secrecy.[1] As recently as the 1970s, kuntao was often practiced secretly to avoid its techniques from being revealed to outsiders, both Chinese and non-Chinese.[1] It was not openly displayed, and public demonstrations would hide the true forms.[1] This changed during the latter of the 20th century, and kuntao is now taught commonly taught without secrecy. Presently, kuntao is most widespread in Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Borneo and the Philippines. Kuntao was introduced to the US by Willem Reeders and Willem de Thouars in the 1960s.


Both northern and southern Chinese martial arts are represented in kuntao, but the majority of systems originate from the same southern states as the Southeast Asian Chinese communities who practice them. Fujian, Shandong, Kongfu and Guangdong styles dominate. Some systems were directly imported from China and underwent little or no changes, such as Pakua (baguazhang or eight-trigram palm) and Peh-ho (baihequan or white crane fist). Among the most common of these are Saolim (Shaolinquan), Ngochokun (wuzuquan or Five Ancestors fist), and Thaikek (taiji). Other styles may be a conglomeration of several different schools[5] resulting from the supposition that they had to adapt to the Southeast Asian weapons and environment.[6] The sanchian form is a common fundamental to all major styles of kuntao.

Kuntao in Jakarta is predominantly of Fujian extraction, characterized by their frontal and right stances (right foot advanced). All Fujian stances are based on observations of not just animals but also humans, such as a newborn baby or a drunken man. Unlike the low stances of other systems, Fujian forms primarily switch between the ting and pa stance, both of which are designed to feel natural with normally-spaced placement of the feet and legs. Shandong styles - practiced across Java and Madura - are Saolim derivatives, identified by their positioning of the thumb atop the clenched fist, as well as their left stances. Their techniques include high kicks, rolling, leaping, and both short and long arm movements. Styles of Kongfu origin (not to be confused with the misunderstood term kungfu) are known for their rigidity and static postures. Guangdong styles are fast and energetic, employing flailing arm motions, subtle hand movements, and semiclenched formations for parrying and blocking.

In Malaysia, the word kuntao is currently most common in Sarawak but the art itself is widely practiced throughout the country. Both the internal and external systems are well-represented. Most are of Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, or Yunnan origin (the latter known in Malay as Lian Yunan). Among the oldest are southern Saolim and the three major internal schools (neijia), all of which strongly influenced local silat. Luohanquan (Arhat fist) and Yang-style Thaikek dominate. The Chu-ga Siulam (Chu family Shaolin or phoenix-eye fist) school of Penang is the lineage-holder of the discipline and traces directly back to the art's founders. Wengchun (Wing Chun) has become increasingly popular since the early 20th century. Five Ancestors Fist is practiced mainly in the south and is known locally as Gochoh. It is the most pervasive style of kuntao in Singapore and the Philippines, though thaikek is also commonly practiced.

In the Philippines, A modern eclectic form of kuntao was developed in the Philippines by Great Grandmaster Carlito A. Lanada, Sr. Known simply as Kuntaw (the Filipino spelling of kuntao), it incorporates 43 forms, 86 basics, and arnis sticks as its primary weapon.[7]


The vast array of weaponry found in China is naturally reflected in kuntao, the most famous examples being the sword, sabre, staff, spear and butterfly knives. Listed below are some of the weapons used in traditional styles of kuntao. Pronunciation and spelling vary according to dialect and transliteration system used. The Mandarin word-forms are given in parentheses.

  • Kiam (jian): straight double-edge sword
  • Tou (dao): any single-edge blade, usually referring to the sabre
  • Toya (gun): pole, usually of either wood or iron
  • Chio (qiang): spear, often with horsehair attached near the blade to prevent blood from dripping to the shaft
  • Taichiu: short-handled trident
  • Kwan-tou (Guan dao): single-edge halberd named after Guan Yu of Romance of the Three Kingdoms fame
  • Hongkiam-kek (ji): crescent-moon spear
  • Hwa-kek: a polearm resembling the ji but with two crescent blades, one on each side of the spear-head
  • Sangkau (shuanggou): hook swords
  • Sanh-chat (sanjie-gun): staff divided into three sections of equal length and joined together by chain
  • Liang-chat (liangjie-gun): chained stick divided into two sections, either one long and one short or a diminutive version in which both are of the same length
  • Kwai (guai): crutch-like truncheon, usually paired
  • Suk piao (sheng biao): rope with a metal dart attached to one end

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Donn F. Draeger (1992). Weapons and fighting arts of Indonesia. Rutland, Vt. : Charles E. Tuttle Co. ISBN 978-0-8048-1716-5. 
  2. ^ Wang, Ma Rosey; "Chinese Muslims in Malaysia, History and Development"; 2000, seen on 16. June 2013
  3. ^ Hirschman, Charles (1986). "The making of race in colonial Malaya: Political economy and racial ideology". Sociological Forum. 1: 330–361. doi:10.1007/BF01115742. 
  4. ^ Bonacich, Edna; "A theory of middleman minorities"; 1978 JSTOR 2094409
  5. ^ Wiley, Mark V. & Co, Alexander L.; "Kuntao in Southeast Asia"; 1997, http://www.bengkiam.com/bengkiam/archive/Kuntao%20in%20Southeast%20Asia%20-%20Mark%20Wiley%20and%20Alex%20Co.pdf seen on 16. June 2013
  6. ^ Pulanco, Carlos; "Geschichte der philippinischen Kampfkünste - Teil 1"; 2003, http://www.bagongkatipunan.de/historie_fma1.htm seen on 16. June 2013
  7. ^ GGM Carlito A. Lanada, Kuntaw, the ancient Pilipino martial arts, Paperback – 1995 ISBN 978-1881116622

External links

  • IKF World Kuntaw Federation
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