This blog is a collection of thoughts, descriptions of training and strange typing of a Teacher/ Practitioner in the Indonesian and Chinese martial art of Kuntao Silat de Thouars as learned from Bapak Willem de Thouars, or as I and his other inner circle students affectionately refer to him, "Uncle Bill."
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Kuntao Silat de Thouars Seminar Video Part 4 of 4
Kuntao Silat de Thouars Seminar Video Part 3
Kuntao Silat de Thouars Seminar Video Part 2
Kuntao Silat de Thouars Seminar Video Part 1
Monday, October 12, 2009
The Magus of Denver
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Kuntao Monyet or Monkey Kuntao from Bapak
The below passage was posted by Colby Bock, currently a student of Uncle's and formerly a student of Roger Brockman who was also a long time student of Uncle's. I simply wished to share it due to the excellent points brought up.
THE MONKEY BOXlNG OF WILLEM DE THOUARS
By Roger Brockman
In the Hindu epic of the Ramanyan, the character of Hanuman is the King of the monkey forest. He is half-man, half-monkey and represents the best aspects of both. He rescues the princess Sinta from the evil clutches of Ravan and burns down his city. He is both clown and mystical hero. Throughout the islands of Indonesia, but particularly in Java and Bali, Hanuman is the most-revered character in this story, which is told over and over again in shadow puppet plays and dance. Hanuman is a link between the gods and men, and though he is also an erratic troublemaker, he is the sentinel for the forces of good, and the torturer of evil. It is impossible to understate the importance of this archetype in the Indonesian mindset. With monkeys all around them, the rural Indonesians are constantly reminded to respect nature by their brother primates. It was into this culture that Willem de Thouars was born, a jungle landscape with a people rooted in nature. Willem is one of those rare members of a disappearing generation of old-world practitioners who were raised from birth in a culture of martial arts. Or as he prefers to put it, fighting arts. Willem's experience with monkeys comes from living among them on plantations in central Java. For five years he passed through a colony of gray monkeys every day to go to school and do work. "My fortune was that I learned from monkeys," he states. "I touched hands with them and learned their energy. They took acceptance of me and I became one of them."Though Willem teaches 12 varieties of pencak silat and eight styles of Chinese kun tao, it is the monkey "flavor" to his arts that fascinates his Western students the most. Willem can take a technique from any of his systems and "monkey-ize" it. And his ability, perfected over 57 years of practice, to snap in and out of the monkey mind, is shocking. Willem's monkey practices fall into three categories: Monkey Drills: Solo practice of monkey antics Monkey Technique: Which stresses animal reactions of the mind Monkey Boxing: The final evolution of his style of "no mind" sparring
Monkey drills frequently begin with leaping from a crouched position and landing in a silow, then kicking from this position, rolling forward, back and every which way, with low sweeps and high kicks, and a variety of strikes, elbow strikes and monkey-style djurus (hand combinations). Monkey drills have also been known to include climbing trees and leaping about on rocks. These drills start with an order but ultimately the student leaves behind the prearranged set and practices spontaneously. When Willem was a young man, his training reached the point where he was beginning to feel very full of himself. It was then that his teacher ordered him to beat up a 55-pound macaque that was kept as a pet on a chain. When Willem attempted to grab the monkey, he was thrown. When he tried to strike him, the monkey leapt onto his head, striking Willem's eyes and viciously biting his head. Infuriated, Willem went after it with a broom. The monkey disarmed him and chased him away with it. "I really came to understand that I didn't know anything," Willem recalls. "That was the biggest lesson I ever had. And now I have come to understand what I have been doing right and wrong all these five decades of martial arts training." The principle Willem applies in monkey techniques is an accordion-like exchange of energy between the dan tian and sacrum. He uses the contraction between these points to collapse the structure of his opponent, and then expands it to drive his various forms of takedown. He uses this energy to spin like a top, using his spine as a "polar axis." The balance and animal-like reaction to produce this movement is the object of both the monkey drills and the monkey boxing. Willem's strikes, or "punishments," take the form of open-handed slaps, backfists and powerful fingertip grabs of flesh, and subtle leg maneuvers (langkas) that prevent the opponent from responding. Willem's "monkey-flavored" techniques vary widely, depending on the style of pencak silat or kun tao he applies to each situation, but they all share common characteristics. The techniques are all close-range, whether from the outside or inside the opponent. This leads some to believe that Willem is a southern Chinese stylist. But he is much more. As he enters his opponent's strike, he raises his blocking arm in such a way that his elbow precisely hits his opponent's inner elbow at a painful point where the tendons and nerves converge, or sometimes higher at the separation of the bicep and tricep. Done at speed, this technique renders the arm useless for days. He also instantly hits with an open hand to the face from this opening. It has been said that "there is no blocking in Indonesian martial arts," and Willem's use of entrances make the point. Everything he does is "a hitter." Technically speaking, this gives so much pain and distraction that the opponent cannot react in any way except to struggle to free himself from further attack. From the Ground Up Another common characteristic of Willem's monkey techniques is his use of the ground. In the spiritual tradition of pencak silat, a player's power comes from the ground and this is where the job is finished. Willem will frequently grab an opponent's punching arm with alarming speed and fall with him right to the floor. The harder the punch comes the worse it gets for the opponent. Additionally, Willem sometimes drops to one knee while tying the opponent's punching arm to whichever leg is forward, taking him off balance instantly, then "levering" him down. Once down, Willem leaps high and stomps the floor with both feet. In application, his feet would land on his opponent's head. Monkey boxing is perhaps the most exotic form of free sparring seen in the martial arts. The goal is not to dominate or beat an opponent, but to engage in a continuous set of free-flowing actions and reactions. In the way of the monkey, this is done from crouched or seated positions and low stances. Internally, the objective is to train the student to free himself of his rational, defensive human mind and act on instinct. This is more difficult than it sounds, because most people raised in the West are conditioned to not trust their instincts. Technically, monkey boxing evolves from a sparring process called "main main" (pronounced mine mine), which means "to play." Willem notes, "Everything is play. When you train, you play; when you spar, you play. Fighting is play. You cannot be too serious." The student begins by learning monkey-flavored movements from the drills. The one-step techniques are followed by the inclusion of counters. Then the counter-counter and so forth. In both the pencak silat systems and in kun tao, the result very quickly becomes groundfighting. Each student explores the possibilities of response until the pair reaches a point where one is "check-mated" in a pin. With Willem's senior students, this "play" can go on for quite some time. In speeding up the response action of monkey boxing, the student learns how to maintain a margin of safety. In this style of sparring, safety is important for two reasons. First, if the student or his opponent is hurt, the play stops and the exploration is over. Secondly, when the monkey is applied with force or in a real-world self-defense application, the student simply removes his safety margin and the brutal nature of the monkey comes out. It should be said that when they are attacking, monkeys do not seem to care about pain. The training to reach the animal mind accomplishes this same attitude in the human. In a confrontation, the monkey fighter may well be injured or even seriously wounded, bur he will not notice it until after his opponent has stopped moving.
Monkey boxing is the ultimate expression of pencak silat. The word pencak means "the dance-like expression of fighting movements," and silat is a term used in Indonesian generically to describe unarmed combat. So the control required for safe monkey boxing gives it the expressive quality of pencak, but the applications found in the reaction from animal instinct also throws it into the realm of pukulan, or the practice of "pummeling." Monkey boxing cannot be practiced without a long period of drills and counters to give both a vocabulary of movements and applications practiced with control to provide a level of safety. Monkey boxing should not be attempted without the careful guidance of a competent pencak silat or kun tao instructor present to provide instruction and to physically pull the two monkeys apart should they get carried away. Monkey boxing should only be practiced by martial artists who are friends, for two reasons: First, friends are less likely to lose their temper with one another and go berserk, and secondly, when they do lose control, a friend will provide an ice pack or a ride to the emergency room. In the example of monkey boxing shown in the accompanying photos, two of Willem's senior practitioners approach each other in a low crouch position. This opening position is similar to a horse stance, but provides greater mobility. At the instant one touches, the other monkey responds. Attempts to lock the joints and throw one another are usually the first movements. Thus, a sometimes-ungraceful ground fighting ensues, the object of which is to pin the opponent so that he cannot move but can be struck while pinned. The monkey boxers begin this sparring with no idea of what they will do. As they attempt a technique and it is countered, it naturally flows into the next technique and so forth, until one monkey is pinned or both monkeys become exhausted. Willem draws a distinction between imitating a monkey and becoming a monkey. Willem is impressed with the acrobatics of monkey stylists of competitive martial arts. But they are repeating sequential movements that he sees as the impression of a monkey, like a two-dimensional photograph. "When I do monkey, I become a monkey, not just portraying a monkey, but”having the mentality of a monkey." To become a monkey requires years of training to free oneself of human reaction and revert to ancient animal instincts.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
2009 Gathering Pics of Uncle
Here are some pics of Uncle that didn't come out as well as I'd hoped due to the lighting and distance. But you can still see him and one of his students as Uncle was demonstrating.
Guru Brian (a good friend and excellent martial artist while also being a Cigar Dalem Practitioner of Uncle's as myself) is beginning to assist.
In the background you can see Sigung Conrade Bui and Guro Ben Fajardo, all excellent martial artists and very good people.
2009 Gathering Pics
The Gathering in Denver this year was outstanding by any measure. Above you'll see the dragon and lion dance pics which I took in the park. The gamelan players were fantastic as well as the dragon and lion dancers who worked very hard.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Timing is the Essence
From Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, latest edition--
- Main Entry: timing
- Function: noun
- Date: circa 1659
1 a : placement or occurrence in time
2 : observation and recording (as by a stopwatch) of the elapsed time of an act, action, or process
His hands move in a blur, fingertips slapping the torso pointedly and palms grazing the face and neck to show targeting without harm while his feet and legs slide and drop into position in an instant. "See," he says eyes opening wider for emphasis, "Speed is bullshit! Timing is the essence." As is typical, a simple statement carrying a tremendous weight of principles and ideas with implications that reach into every aspect of the art we practice. And every bit true in every sense that can be considered. Such is the way of Uncle.
I recall the first time I heard that and smiled while thinking, 'Easy to say when you're that fast,' while wishing I was that fast as I watched his hands explode into pattern of movement as the opponent attempted to close or shift. While speed certainly helps, that's not what Uncle was teaching; quite the opposite. Proper timing overcomes speed every time-- every time. The crux of course, is proper timing.
You'll hear some teachers tell you to, "Time your opponent and find the rhythm." This approach will allow the person to enter and strike or attack during the dead moments, or in between the beats of time that the opponent has created. Some of the more experienced instructors state, "Time yourself so that you'll know exactly when you'll be where you need to be should you choose." Sound advice, but only a piece of the puzzle. Proper timing requires the practitioner to understand timing of the opponent, of the self, and at various ranges, skeletal structures and terrain because as Einstein revealed, "Time is relative." Indeed, timing is different dependent upon a myriad of factors.
Moreover, combative timing involves both of the definitions provided at the beginning of this article. The "ability to select a time" and "the amount of time that has elapsed" are both important to proper timing. In fact, during self defense they are dependent upon each other for success.
Timing is especially important with respect to weapons work since the speeds are very quick, often quicker than the eye can see, and weapons are unforgiving to error while maximizing effect; that is the nature of weapons. It isn't the fastest that wins the match, but the fencer that has the best sense of timing. If you can time the strike and your response relative to the surroundings and resources at hand, you decide what to do with the strike far more than the striker even if you're slower. If you're quick and have range, destroy it on the way in; if you're slower than the attacker, simply shift to evade and/or deflect during you're own counter, or even allow the strike to hit while diminishing the damage through body movement and counterattack on the retraction. You'll do far more damage and be in a better position with each type of response due to timing. There are a host of possibilities.
Timing of internal movements are also necessary for maximum force generation.
Of course, you can't time what you aren't aware of, and that's another lesson.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
There Is No Silat Without the Knife
I've been told by Uncle that "There is no silat without the knife." At first, I thought it was an interesting and quite good mnemonic device to keep in mind that silat was created in a culture that heavily utilizes the knife. While true, it goes far deeper than that. After practicing countless hours, year after year, I'm beginning to comprehend the depth of that statement. Kuntao Silat de Thouars always considers that the opponent and the practitioner have available, and is actually using, a bladed weapon. Every step, technique, hand wave, body shift, turn of the head and breath accounts for knives being applied, defended against and preparing to be presented. Our grappling is also performed with knives. Yes, it can be done successfully. Yes, you will get cut. However, continued practice and adherence to principles will lead the student down a path where the cuts become fewer and less severe as time goes on while the student learns to implement the knife(s) more competently in an encounter.
Indonesia is an iron poor area relative to the rest of the world, therefore, the metal obtained was highly prized. Often the bladed weapons used were far smaller than in other cultures due to the relative lack of resources. Even the neighboring Philippine Islands had access to more ferrous metals in many instances, and due to that connection to the Spanish, yielded larger bladed weapons in most of the areas with resulting concepts, principles and techniques that made use of those larger blades as opposed to using predominately small blades. This lack of exchange in Indonesia created heavy reliance on small blades, or knives, scattered throughout the archipelago in some very isolated communities. From this culture a unique perspective on bladed combat can be observed as opposed to the excellent bladed arts of escrima, eskrima, arnis and kali of the Filipinos. As an example, look at the Indonesian kris (or keris) and the Filipino kris. Despite many opinions to the contrary, the Indonesian kris was indeed intended to be used as a cutting and stabbing implement while sometimes fulfilling the role of a ceremonial piece. Surely, since the other bladed cultures are nearby there is a great deal of overlap and trade, but there is also a distinguishing difference that can be observed in the way silat systems handle the knife as opposed to cultures outside Indonesia, Malaysia and the southern Philippines that don't specifically train in silat. (Silat is also practiced in Malaysia and the southern Philippines, but my perspective is predominately Indonesian as learned). This difference pervades the very thought process of the practitioner regardless of range or primary intent. Moreover, while there certainly are large blades used in silat such as the golok or machete, and many small blades trained in other systems (and very well practiced) the general trends are apparent.
Ideas of accessing the knife quickly, presenting the knife while being attacked from ambush, using it while being pressured from the ground, or the trees, by opponents and being stabbed and/or restrained at the same time; all with the goal of being able to walk away and live another day with everyone having their own blade(s). How does a person with a small knife (e.g., karambit) defend against and overcome a man with a stick and knife? Women in Indonesia had to find out and make it work. Entire systems have been devoted to finding a way for the small blade to prevail against what would normally be considered a superior weapon. Their lack of resources left no choice. Even when empty-handed, the knife is being trained when performing djurus, langkahs, moving on the pantjar, or any other fundamental and advanced movement-- or anything at all. It is up to the guru (instructor) to show how and why that is so, and guide the murid (silat student) down the path of proficiency.
I generally don't demonstrate how the blade is being taught within kuntao silat until I get to know the person and understand their morals; after that, if still present, general and specific knife work is practiced continually. It is far too easy to abuse knowledge gained in the arena of the knife.
Silat does not train "for" the knife; silat does not train "with" the knife; silat is knife training.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Always the Ground
The ground is always there, and is always waiting. Personally, that is a profound and terrifically simple martial concept that guides many principles of movement taking maximum advantage of tactics and strategy. From issuing power to grappling and evasion using weapons, and everything in between; regardless of what anyone does, the ground is always there. Advanced practitioners have become intimate with the ground; they and the ground are more than old friends. They know each other well and are comfortable in their relationship with each other. In the past the ground has not been kind. Frequently, the ground was downright hostile as a new student was slammed around by the guru and fellow classmates. Often, the ground seemed to rise up of its own accord to trip or hamper a movement much to the detriment of the martial student.
Emotionless, the ground remains for those who trod, jump, roll and fall upon it seeking knowledge. A vast eternal resource, the ground is instinctively used by animals silently crouched, muscles relaxed but appearing bunched underneath fur and skin. An explosion of claws and teeth signal the impossibly sudden movement of a tiger throwing his weight fully committed with absolute focus of intention while springing off the ground launching into his prey. Momentum amplified by quickness and the abrupt introduction of the ground, the prey collapses under the force of the tiger's attack, pinned to the ground with well placed forepaws, rear legs, and jaws.
Remorseless, the ground is unmoved when used as an anvil re-shaping bodies as they are dropped or accelerated earthward. It does not hear cries of pain or grow weary of the play. Hammering the novice into a seasoned practitioner if the student endures, or damaging the opponent in defense, the ground makes no judgments. Often scuffed, beaten down, slippery, hard, uneven or treacherous, the ground is immune to blame and neither celebrates nor commiserates the result. While the surface may dictate tactics, the principles remain the same. The successful practitioner accepts the ground as an ever present companion or even part of the body. Understanding its limitations and potential while continuously rising to stand again is a crucial part of the path to proficiency.
Kuntao Silat de Thouars quickly guides the student down the path of ground familiarity. Striking, grappling, stepping, leaping, throwing, weapons use, and groundfighting, all practitioners are introduced to the ground and begin that special relationship required for competency and skill. Regardless of the langkah or djuru practiced to understand the guiding principles, the ground will help show the way.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Internal and Martial Art Movement, a Short Essay
Even the Chinese argue about "internal" and "external" designations to their own martial movements among themselves, so someone shouldn't feel alone in this regard. One of the more theoretical answers from a well known Chinese teacher of the Chinese martial arts states that "internal" is merely a label for those martial systems that originated within the Chinese borders (e.g., Emei and Wu Dang based arts), while the "external" systems are those that came from outside Chinese culture such as Indian based systems. Interesting.
However, I've noticed a thread, or essence, of commonality through all arts that claim internal based movements. Of course, I had to simplify and conceptualize principles, but these principles hold true in every instance. Four principles adhered to in every internal art I've witnessed and trained in are as follows:
- Total Body Awareness
- Physical and Mental Relaxation
- Weight Center Utilization
- Gravity/ Ground Exploitation
Total Body Awareness includes many things in the context of martial arts, but with regard to internal it is the practitioner's recognition and immediate comprehension of the relationship of his body in many dimensions at once (e.g., space, time, distance and angles from obstacles and opponents or friends, structural alignment, limitations of musculoskeletal ability, gravity relationship, injuries, weaknesses, etc.) by mere feeling alone all at once. The internal martial artist must intimately understand and be their body in every sense.
Physical and Mental Relaxation is exactly that. Many people attach many meanings to the words in the previous sentence. A proper internal movement requires mental and physical relaxation at every level in the proper way in order to be able to utilize the proper resources for power and force generation. Too much physical relaxation and no movement can occur, but there should only be enough physical tension to accomplish the movement as desired and no more. Too much mental relaxation and no motivation exists to defend the body or initiate the movement until too late. The mind requires relaxation in order to avoid too much physical tension which will destroy the necessary use of the other three principles as the most common error.
Weight Center Utilization is defined as using the center of the body to effect movement. Former karate practitiners call it hara, the Chinese call it the dan tian, some call it the center of the body, but the weight center of the body is what we're looking for here. For most people it is about two inches (five centimeters) below the navel. I use the term "weight center" because without gravity there is no weight, but there is still mass, and without gravity it simply doesn't matter as internal movement is rendered moot in a martial context. Internal stylists use the center of their weight to accomplish all movement regardless of how small or great. As one's abilities increase the requirement of obvious signs of movement in that area can't be as easily observed, but the weight center is very active; however, much move efficiently. Uncle is an excellent example of exquisite use of the center through many, many years of practice and training.
Gravity/ Ground Exploitation is how all internal movement power is initiated. Some people report "No, it is the center," but with more observation it can be seen that the center is more like the primary transformer and not the generator. Without gravity and resistance of the ground there is nothing for the center to transform; no internal movement can intiate at all. Moreover, without proper structural alignment the internal movment stops wherever the structure is off and that latent power remains wasted from the weight center and ground. There are some different methods of exploiting the ground or resistance caused by our bodies against the effects of gravity; for example, Taijiquan stylists typically root deeply while apparently using their center to absorb or release force, while Baguazhang stylists usually develop a "traveling root" that uses their constantly changing contact with the ground and alignment of their center with momentum and vertices of gravity to evade and deliver force. But make no mistake, an advanced practitioner of each art understands completely their body's relationship with gravity on an intimate level despite the fact that some people say Taijiquan people appear too soft and have terrible footwork (!) while others claim Baguazhang stylists float and have no root or power (!). A statement such as those in the preceding sentence only demonstrate the ignorance of the observer making the statement.
After fully incorporating the four principles outlined above, experience and training further refines internal movement principles into the primary methods of the particular art is doubtless cause of much discussion since there are a myriad of ways to obtain a goal when only principles of movement are necessary instead of the dictate of specific techniques. For example, there are principles of flight which both the prop-turbo airplane and the helicopter use to fly, but each in different ways. There is no denying that both are very successful at flying in their own way; therefore, they must use flight principles well indeed.
And it's been said by some Chinese martial artists that external stylists eventually end up being internal practitioners, or that there are internal forms at the advanced level. It is my belief that while more difficult, and certainly more subtle, that internal movement is much more efficient and even external based practitioners eventually come to this realization through practice and experience. I've observed that it is usually better to have access to both depending upon who is being taught, or what is being done, and for what reason.
Friday, June 19, 2009
A Very Brief Summary of Kuntao Silat de Thouars in Uncle's Own Words
I would like to summarize some of the elements that comprises the fundamental basics of my system - Kun Tao Silat de Thouars (Kun Lun Pai).
My system that I have created, and is now known throughout the world as Wu Kung Kun Tao (meaning "warrior arts in combat"), Kun Lun Pai (an arsenal of techniques, or tools) combines several systems into one art. The meaning of the Kun Lun Pai, historically speaking draws its source from the Kun Lun Mountains in Southern China. Two of my teachers Buk Chin and Willem Chang has lived and trained Gung Fu in the mountains of Kun Lun.
I tribute the name to them who taught me a tradition. Kun Tao Silat explains itself. Kun Tao stand for Chinese fists arts, and Silat came from a Hokkien dialectic expression for skills. It is pronounced as Si La and Te. Si La Te became in the last hundred years an Indonesian expression for fighting skills (Silat).
Kun Tao Silat means simply the Skills of Chinese fists arts, combined with the uniqueness of Indonesian Pencak fighting techniques.
Pencak was in its origin also a Hokkien dialectic expression. Pencak stands for Peng (to block), Tja (to punch) and Te (to kick). Peng Tja Te, ever since the Indonesian bahasa (language) was formulated as a language influenced by Spanish, Dutch and Portugese, became an Indonesian expression for understanding accomplishing basic training martially. Pencak Silat actually means an enhancement of the skills of bodily movements. There are 400 spoken dialects used over the 14000 islands inhabiting the Indonesian archipelago. The Dutch aided to formulate a basic language that all of the one hundred and ninety million Indonesians could speak, write and understand.
My Kung Fu system was greatly influenced by the following Shao Lin arts: Fut Ga (upright position), Hung Ga (deep rooted low postures), Toy Ga (Medium centers), and the T'ung Lung T'ai. (Chinese teachers). Native Indonesian influence includes Ci Mande, Ci Campek, Bondowoso and Harimau. Boxing and fencing, and other Western arts also have influenced me. Actual Macaque monkeys taught me the reality of fighting.
Willem de Thouars, Founder Kun Tao Silat de Thouars
First, my apologies for taking so long to update. While training has been progressing, other priorities of life have intruded and prevented me from paying proper attention to this blog. This is a long overdue pic of a visit I made to Uncle at his home with the Denver practitioners of his system. Thank you all for training with me. Uncle was very generous with his knowledge and I studied and practiced his internal movements quite a bit with their applications as taught by Uncle.
I'll be attending the 15th Annual Family Gathering this August hosted by the Kun Lun Pai Academy owned by Guru Keith Moffet , a senior practitioner of Uncle's. I'm greatly looking forward to seeing old friends and training.