29 December 2007

Kuntau in the Malaysian mind

The word Kuntau means many things to many different people in many different areas. This has been expanded and discussed in many forums and articles as it pertains to the Chinese origins of the word and art, which later spread to Indonesia. In this article, I won't pretend to even understand that aspect.

However, what I can do is tell you what the word means to many Malaysians. As far as my surveys go, the word Kuntau in Malaysia can refer to one of three core ideas:

A) a purely or mostly Chinese-originated style
B) a syncretic Chinese-Melayu style or
C) a purely Melayu style with mostly hard aspects.

Chinese-originated style
The first core idea refers to any Chinese style now popularly known as Kung Fu. Before the word was popularised in Malaysia, Kuntau or Koontow was the norm. Because of the relative hardness (to silat) of the styles that came to the country via immigration, all Chinese art became known by the blanket term Kuntau.

Syncretic Chinese-Melayu style
The second core idea refers to any Chinese style absorbed into a Melayu silat style. One example is Silat Sendeng Malaysia. According to guru Jamaludin Shahadan, President of Pertubuhan Seni Silat Sendeng Malaysia, the present day Sendeng style promoted by the organisation is a marriage of many different hard styles by its founder, the late Haji Abdul Hamid Hamzah.

Of Bugis descent, the founder's own family were inheritors of a version of Kuntau, a Chinese art modified by the Bugis long ago (and its seems, many other cultures within Nusantara as well) into an accepted silat style. He studied and reclaimed Sendeng, a traditional Bugis silat style which fights with a lead shoulder. It was a natural complement to his Kuntau studies, which fights with no lead.

However, Silat Sendeng Malaysia, to this day, is known by only its Melayu name, since the Kuntau aspect is only taught as the beginner phase while Sendeng is meant to be the final objective of the studies.

(It's interesting to note that there are many Sendeng styles today that pride itself on being 'authentic' in that they still only fight off the vertical rather than the horizontal, and Silat Sendeng Malaysia was regarded many years ago as being unauthentic).

Other interesting examples are Silat Gerak Kuntau from Kelantan (http://silatkuntau.cjb.net/) and Silat Gayong Kuntau Jawa & Tomoi, which absorbs Kuntau through a Sundanese strain.

Melayu style
The third core idea is related to the Melayu's idea of the hardness of kuntau. Thus, any silat style that bears very little softness as the Melayu are used to seeing, is labelled Kuntau, even though the art itself was not born of Chinese elements.

One example is Silat Kuntau Tekpi (SKT), which shares some technical and historical background with Silat Cekak (of Ustaz Hanafi fame) and Silat Kalimah. The word 'Kuntau ' in SKT, according to present Pak Guru, cikgu Sani Zainol Abidin refers to the hardness of the techniques and not its origin.

This was a decision made in the 1970s, when he was forced to register the art as such, because another art was already using the moniker 'Silat Tekpi'. Otherwise, the original intention was to call it Silat Tekpi too.

The original Silat Kalimah syllabus and the present Silat Cekak syllabus both contain buah which have the word Kuntau in it. When Ustaz Hanafi was asked as to why this was and whether the art absorbed Chinese influences, he replied that all it meant was that these techniques contain hard forms. The word implied this.

Original Article by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab


amirulhusnitekpi said...


Brother Nadzrin, wasn't the decision made by Pak Guru Sani was in the 1970s? PSSKTM itself was registered on the 8th of December 1977.


Mohd Nadzrin Wahab said...


Thanks for the save Amirul. That's twice I owe you! Correction made!