KUNTAW – Origin and history as stated by 4th generation GrandMaster Lanada in his book ‘Kuntaw – The Ancient Filipino Martial Arts‘ states, “Many people from other countries made the Philippines their home bringing with them many new fighting styles, contributing to the culture and martial way of fighting with both steel and rattan weapons (Kali) and hand and foot fighting (Kuntaw). No one can be sure exactly how Kuntaw and Kali originated, but it has proven to be an effective fighting art.”
There are two theories passed down from his father and Grandfather.
One – Kuntaw is derived from two words – kunsagrado, meaning ‘sacred’, and hataw, meaning ‘strike’, thus Kuntaw – meaning ‘sacred strike’. Taught to Muslim royalties ‘Maharlika’ along with Kali and developed in antiquity by an unknown person or persons.
Two – that Kuntaw came from Kuntao, the ‘o’ being changed to ‘w’ to better conform to the local dialect of the region. Kuntao traces its roots back 1500 years to ancient China.
Legend tells of a Taoist Priest named Lama Darmon who left the Shaolin Temple during the Mongols Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and migrated to Indonesia.
He was a master of Shaolin Chuan-fa ‘Fist Fighting’, Tai Chi Chuan, and Pa Kwa Zen (Pa Kua Chang) ‘Eight Diagram Heaven’. With the heavy concentration of Muslims and the change in language his art became know as Koon-Tao ‘Fist Way’ or Chinese Kun-Tao.
Trading ships between the Philippines and Indonesia are presumed to have introduced Chinese Kun-Tao. The Muslims adopted it and made Kuntaw a secretive art taught to the Maharlika and thus Kuntaw concentrated in Mindanao and the southern Philippines, which is predominantly Muslim.
The Maharlika trained in it alongside Kali. Here another transformation occurred and the fist was dropped almost entirely, emphasis was kept to open hand striking, soft defensive techniques, kicking, and groundfighting making Kuntaw a distinctly Filipino art.
There are few if any written records of this time period in the Philippines left, training and history is passed down through family trees, thus the secrecy. First written records came in 1521 when Magellan arrived at Cebu island.
Magellan involved himself in tribal disputes, him and many of his men died at the hands of Datu (Chief) Lapu-Lapu of Mactan island, who were trained in the Kali/Kuntawan way.
The Natives were armed only with bamboo spears, blow-pipes, and fire hardened sticks (kampilan). They made a good showing of their skills against Magellan and his men armed with muskets, swords, and wearing battle armor. To this day Lapu-Lapu is regarded as the first Hero of the Philippines.
The Spaniards eventually returned and with superior weapons and tactics, such as converting tribes to Christianity and using them to conquer neighboring tribes, they started their 400 year reign, 1565-1889.
The Muslims were never quite defeated and kept their faith intact and their skills secret. Soncuya, a Spanish historian of this time period mentions Filipino schools called ‘Bothoan’ that taught Kali and Kuntaw from the 13th century to the start of the Spanish occupation.
During the Spanish occupation many laws were imposed under the Royal Decree of King Philip II in 1583. All forms of martial arts were outlawed as well as the carrying of bladed weapons.
Spanish was being taught in schools and Spanish surnames were directed to be used by all native Filipinos. The arts as seen were named Arnis de Mano ‘Harness of Hand’, Espada y Daga ‘Sword and Dagger” and Escrima ‘Fencing’.
The outlawing of training brought another major change in the arts. The Filipinos devised the Moro-Moro plays depicting the conquering and Christianization of the native Filipinos.
Using sticks and wooden swords they were able to disguise training as play acting. Sticks were widely available and were used in the rice fields or jungles to search out snakes. Sticks replaced swords and the stick fighting arts became predominant and evolved to the present forms.
Through the Moro-Moro plays Kuntaws’ present advanced forms were born, such as Singkilan, Maya, Sagayan and the Sayawans’ (dancing). With stickfighting arts evolving the hand and foot fighting arts became separate entities again.
The Kuntawan way predominated, but other arts such as Sikaran (foot fighting similar to Savate), Gumol/ Buno (native wrestling) appeared and ironically both are next to completely extinct.
The Spanish occupation came to an end when Admiral Dewey sailed into Manila bay and sunk the Spanish fleet during the Spanish/American war in 1898.
During this change the Filipinos revolted and were finally subdued in 1901 with the capture of their leader Aguinaldo. Thus started the American occupation, but with the goal of giving independence once the government and people were trained to sustain themselves.
This set the stage for the coming of present day Kuntaw. In 1901 following the ceasing of hostilities with America an adventurer from the Tausog tribe of Mindanao – Yuyong Huenyo Lanyada came north to Luzon island to seek his fortune.
He settled in Ogbon, Nabua, Cam Sur, which is close to Naga city and the Mayon volcano, in Albay province, Bicol region. This was an exceptionally fertile area close to the Abaca river and lakes Buhi and Bato. He changed the spelling of his name to better conform to the local dialect to – Yuyong Henyo Lanada.
In 1905 Yong Iban Lanada was born and in 1936 the present day GrandMaster – Carlito A. Lanada was born. The art of Kuntaw was passed from father to son as tradition dictated. In 1942 World War II was in progress and the Japanese occupied the Philippines.
Yong Iban by then was well known for his Kuntawan way and was nicknamed ‘Pilato’, after Ponce Pilot, and became a commander in the Filipino guerilla fighters movement.
Training his men in the Kuntawan way and trading sticks for bolos brought out the deadly Kali side of Arnis. Carlito then 6-9 years of age was used as a messenger carrying messages in coconuts to guerilla leaders. To this day he still remembers those nightly runs and the effectiveness of his families Kuntaw.
The conclusion of the occupation and war in 1945, started the real training for Carlito. His Lolo (Grandfather) Yuyong passed away in 1946 and his father became his mentor in the Kuntawan way.
Carlito traveled with him when he went to local betting matches. Usually bets were in sacks of rice and rules/types of weapons if any were formalized before each match, many of which were death matches.
He watched as his father won countless matches and his fame continued. Thus came his drive for training and knowledge in the martial way. Once of age he took the spirit of his Lolo and journeyed north in 1957 to find his fortune.
He settled in Olongapo city outside the U.S. Naval base, Subic Bay. By now other arts were arriving, Karate styles from Okinawa and Japan, Moo Du Kwon and Tae Kwan Do from Korea, and various Chinese Kung-Fu styles.
To date his Kuntaw had been characterized by the use of the open hand and feet in combination with holding and locking techniques, it was a complete and effective guerrilla fighting style used in connection with Kali.
Viewing, studying, and applying the various techniques available he saw the use of the fist and the formalizing of an art to proliferate it. With this in mind he formed the Philippine Karate/Kung-fu (Kuntaw) Association in 1957.
Being innovative and wanting an eclectic art he kept the soft catlike moves of his forefathers legacy and incorporated the best techniques he could find and developed hard style, thus comes the closing of the circle and the return of the fist art.
Kuntaw is a hard/soft style with 43 distinctive forms, 86 basics, Arnis as its weapon, 7 lower belt levels, 5 black belt levels, 3 Master levels, 1 GrandMaster, and 1 Great-GrandMaster (retirement level).
This hard/soft combination gives rise to numerous avenues of response to any kind of attack. Locks, throws, joint manipulations, sweeps, and punishing blows used in conjunction or simultaneously with a myriad of blocks characterizes Kuntaw today.
To date his father had introduced the predecessor forms H-form 1, 2, and 4 and Sayawan forms 1, 2, and 4. The advanced forms Singkilan, Sampaguita, Mayon and Ibon-Limbas (Aguila) Eagle form were kept for the higher levels and specifically for family.
Carrying this further he organized and perfected the forms X-A/B 1-5 (performed left then right side), added H-form 3, 5 and Sayawan 3, 5 and Maya for the beginners to study and perfect techniques. Advanced forms added were Kuntaw 1-3, Sagayan 1-3, Silangan, and Naga (Narra).
Blows are directed to vital points, this art is called Sapol. Out of the 108 recognized points on the body. Kuntaw stresses 36 major points that can be easily struck, grabbed or twisted for the greatest effect.
These are further defined into one of the following categories: Vital – cause grave damage or death, Secondary – cause serious injury such as internal hemorrhaging, breathing difficulties or break bones, and temporary – cause pain, numbness, or loss of breath.
Power is what will make your blows effective. Kuntaw recognizes two types of power, external force and inner power (Kusog pang lo-ob), which is called Chi for Chinese arts and Ki for Japanese arts.
External force is that power developed from constant practice of technique with the proper use of the hip (balakang) and body (katawan).
This is the bodies physical strength derived from weight training and dynamic tension. Proper use of weights is taught and dynamic tension, which is part of the advanced forms.
Inner power (Kusog pang lo-ob) is that power developed from practice of forms (anyo), breathing techniques (langhap), and meditation (pagnilay-nilay).
The combination of these in conjunction with proper body mechanics and technique lead to this amazing power. This is why it takes many years to master and is taught at the advanced belt levels. Mastering external force is a good lead-in to this art.
Kuntaw Arnis (Kali) (formally Bugtungan), sometimes referred to as Kuntaw Lima – Lima (Five – Five), is the weapon art taught to students brown belt and above.
Students are giving time to learn proper body mechanics first before giving a kampilan (stick), this way they can concentrate on the kampilan, which is an extension of the arm.
There are 25 basics consisting of 5 strikes, 5 thrusts, 5 blocks, 5 disarms, and 5 locks, this the reference as Kuntaw Lima – Lima. Five basic forms and two advanced forms are taught. Numerous techniques are derived giving rise to a myriad of responses with any kind of kampilan.
In 1966 GrandMaster Lanada was rewarded by his peers the title of ‘Youngest Filipino Martial Art Founder‘, in 1968 his organization became a founding member of the World Union of Karate-Do Organizations (WUKO), and in 1970 he became one of the founding members of the Philippine Karate Association.
He changed the name of his organization to Maharlika Kuntaw Association, honoring the Filipino Muslim royalties from which Kuntaw came from.
In 1974 he changed the name to Kuntaw ng Pilipinas following his award for work in the Filipino martial arts by then President Ferdinand Marcos, thus completing the formalization of Kuntaw as a completely Filipino national art.
With the closeness to the American base he trained many Americans and other foreigners, as well as many Filipinos who migrated to other countries.
These Kuntawistas went to such countries as America, Saudi Arabia, Japan, England, United Arab Emirates, Canada, and many other countries to establish schools of their own.
Thus in 1979 he held the inauguration of the International Kuntaw Federation (I.K.F.) thereby uniting all members of Kuntaw worldwide.
To date the Kuntaw Temple in Olongapo City is being cared for and run by his eldest son Carlito A. Lanada, Jr., and GrandMaster Lanada has moved to America with most of his family and bases the I.K.F. main headquarters in California.
Within a few years of coming to the U.S. he had garnered the highest award by being a recipient of the Presidential Sports Award as a Martial Arts GrandMaster in 1993.
GrandMaster Lanada has completed his book ‘KUNTAW – The Ancient Filipino Martial Arts’ in January of 1995 and has commenced compilation of an advanced book on Kuntaw. In 1996 he was inducted into the Martial Arts Museum of America and the International Karate Hall of Fame.
Kuntaw has come of age, from obscurity to international renown. In 1997 he founded a new worldwide organization – World Unified Council of Martial Arts, with 5 other GrandMasters.
The future is bright, his students and students-students are performing well and taking top places in any tournament they enter, either forms or sparring.
Next step – to continue his life’s dream as instilled in him from his father and mentor Great-GrandMaster Yong Iban Lanada (deceased 1982) and to pass on the legacy of Kuntaw to his kids, grand-kids, and all his devoted Kuntawistas.