The Rich History and Origin of Kuntaw


Bring up the topic of Kuntao or Kuntaw to a discussion and you will get various responses. The history and origin of Kuntaw varies depending on which style of Kuntaw you are talking about. This is because it has a very diverse story in the sense that as a style or system, it developed and travelled through interactions not only between two or three people or groups but between cultures. In time, it was passed down from person-to-person, sometimes just within families as in the case of the Philippines. But what is Kuntao? Is it Kuntao or Kuntaw? For one to properly understand what it actually is, tracing its roots is essential. While it is believed that Kuntao is something that developed by the Indo-Chinese in Indonesia by combining various martial arts into one system, there is more to the story than just that.

True enough, KunTao is a composite of various Chinese combat arts that come from the Shao Lin boxing arts. As a term, KunTao may mean "fighting art/skill" or "way of the fist". The name in Mandarin language is Chuan Do or "a way of kung fu". It is translated as Kuen Taw in Hokkien and Kun Tao in Cantonese dialect while it is Koon Touw for Fuekchin Chinese.

For the purpose of this article, we shed light on KunTao in Indonesia and KunTao in the Philippines and their relationship to each other.

KunTao in Indonesia

When the Chinese moved as groups or tribes to various parts of South East Asia, they brought along their martial arts with them. Most of them migrated for good. During the struggling eras, the settlers from China and other parts of South East Asia were able to be very successful and flourishing. Through years of hard labor, they excelled in businesses involving stores, factories and banking systems. This caused the Indonesian natives to discriminate and be jealous of the Indo-Chinese. Some ended up resorting into violence, intrusion and crime, which caused the Indo-Chinese and Chinese merchants to use KunTao to defend not only themselves but also their propery and goods. A number old ShaoLin boxers improved their styles and forms so that it would be able to adapt at a practical level to their environement in Indonesia.

KunTaw in the Philippines

KunTao is referred to as Kuntaw in the Philippines and currently has two different origin stories or, if some might say, theories. The first theory is related to the previous account of the style. Since Indonesia and China also traded with nearby such as the Philippines, they brought martial arts styles with them. This includes KunTao, which was first taught to the Muslims of Mindanao. KunTao was changed to KunTaw in order to conform with the local dialect. The Muslims adopted the style and had it only taught to the Maharlika or nobles of their tribes who used it along with another combat system named Kali. It was kept secret from others and passed down from family to family. It is said that the combat systems practiced by the Muslims were the ones they used against the first foreign invaders. The use of these styles in the Philippines was first recorded when Magellan arrived in Cebu island where he eventually came into conflict with the tribes. This eventually resulted to a battle where Magellan along with many of his men died at the hands of the natives and their leader Lapu-Lapu. What's interesting about this is that the natives, armed only with inferior weapons as compared to those of the Spaniards, were able to put up a good fight and in fact, be victorious through the use of their combat skills and instincts.

However, due to several turns of events, the Spanish eventually colonized the Philippines and reigned for 400 years. They banned the practice of the natives' original martial arts and prohibited the carrying of bladed weapons. The Filipinos then adapted by secretly training. They disguised their training as a form of entertainment and replaced their weapons with wooden sticks. KunTao continued to evolve and develop during this time.

The second theory is that KunTaw, although adapted from the martial arts of the Chinese, is derived from two different words namely "Kunsagrado" meaning "sacred" and "Hataw" meaning "strike". Together, they mean "Sacred Strike". It is named such because it was only taught to the Maharlikas of the Muslim community in Southern Philippines. This doesn't stray far from the first theory.

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