Kuntao Brunei: A Sino-Malay Martial Form

Kuntao Asli (pronounce ‘koon-tah-how ah-slee’), is a very energetic form of traditional martial art found in Brunei Darussalam.

In its competitive form – i.e. light contact – the exchanges can get a little nasty. When the blood is up, and tempers flare, contact is bound to happen.

The practice of Kuntao, in traditional application, is made up of the following elements:

  • Pacah Ampat (pronounced ‘pah-chah am-paat‘): A signature opening ‘bunga’ (form) kuntao that is executed in a manner that addresses the four cardinal points.
  • Pacah Satu (pronounced ‘pah-cah sah-too): A bunga (form) kuntao that is executed in a straight line; a preliminary form executed after the Pacah Ampat. And,
  • Rangkaian Tiga Kuntao (pronounced ‘rang-khai-yan tea-gaa koon-tah-how ‘): The three formal attacking techniques that the attacker uses, or the defender responds to.

The three formal attacking techniques are:

  • Tumbuk Kanan – Right Punch,
  • Tumbuk Kiri – Left Punch, and
  • Tumbuk Dua / Berpasang – Double / Paired Punches.

Characteristics of Kuntao

Stances in Kuntao – when used in combat – is high up with feet shoulder width. This facilitates quick movement in punching and kicking. The kicks are almost always waist level and is limited to the front snapping kick. There is little in the way of side or crescent-type kicks. Punching is of the standard type, no exotic applications here either.

Kuntao, however, in its ceremonial and traditional form varies from the above. The stances can be slightly longer, and there are more examples of different types of strikes/kicks. You will see these differences in the signature ‘Pacah Ampat’ representative of the various schools/styles.

It is interesting to note that in the presentation of Kuntao everything is flowery and ‘extended’. But in the application – combative or sparring – everything (technique and stances) gets abbreviated and ‘shortened’. Most people who have used Kuntao in altercations will attest to its efficacy. The elders of my family in Kuala Belait all fall back on Kuntao when in a tight corner. Kuntao Brunei has even held it’s own when taken across the waters and ‘tested’ in Singapore and Malaysia.

I never use to enjoy sparring or competing in martial arts; until now. I find that sparring – point, light or full – is instructive. It helps keep the practitioner ‘honest’.  It can be all too easy to get carried away with our creativity. Impressed with ourselves, we use our imaginations to build up techniques in response to attacks. Then we practice these techniques diligently – in isolation – without the feedback of a resisting opponent.

The likely result? Responses to attacks that may or may not hold up in the midst of an altercation.

When the heat is on, fine motor skills deteriorate in direct proportion to time, fatigue, fear, anxiety and environment.

Practical Training Considerations

The punching bag is a martial artist’s best friend.

If you are thinking of getting yourself one, consider getting one that has some substantial weight to it. Not so light that the punching bag will just fly-off when landing a light-medium punch or kick. Neither so heavy that, when practising regularly, would put a strain on your fist, wrist and arm.

Try applying the techniques from your art as the punching bag swings around unpredictably. Chase the bag. Retreat. Pace yourself. Vary the rhythm of your attacks and defence. Sometimes aggressive, and other times passive. You’ll be surprised at the feedback.

Too much ‘patty-caking’ (parries and arm traps) before a punch or kick and the incoming punching bag will slam into you. Get in too close, and your techniques become cramped and ineffective. Too far and you are overextended; your techniques are muted and lack any real authority. As you continue to work with the punching bag, you will find that the timing of your strikes and blocks will improve. You will get better at gauging distance.

Influences That Have Shaped Bruneian Kuntao

Kuntao in Brunei Darussalam – based on my research – seems mostly influenced by the Southern forms of Chinese Kung Fu; a lot of short arm techniques and low kicks. Very reminiscent of Ngo Cho Kuen, Hung Gar, White Crane and Southern Praying Mantis.

Kuntao can be practised in two ways:

  • Fast and fluid. Transitioning between each position quickly and effortlessly. Or,
  • Slow and plodding. The purpose here is to emphasise muscle tension and breathing (very much like the ‘Three Battles’ form of Karate and White Crane Kung Fu). Focusing on form and structure.

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