A special edition interview by the Filipino Martial Arts Digest on GGM Presas and the art of Kombatan.
Many people who have only witnessed the speed, mobility, power, and overt ferocity of “Uncle Bill” de Thouars’ martial actions fail to realize how large a component the Internal arts (nei jia in Chinese) play in his background, his development of fighting ability, and his continuing practice. As a forty-year practitioner of martial arts, and thirty in the internal and mixed (internal-external) arts, I have recognized in Willem de Thouars an internal artist of the highest caliber. I would like to present him in this light in this brief illumination.
To begin with, Willem has studied from numerous Chinese masters of the internal arts: Pa Kua from Buk Chin in Indonesia; Hsing Ie from William Chen, also in Java; Tai Chi from Tun Fu-Ling in the United States; among many others. While not a “classical” exponent of these arts, Uncle can effortlessly demonstrate the sharp turns and spiraling palm strokes of Pa Kua, the linear explosive whole-body punches of Hsing Ie, the powerful rooting and feather-soft neutralizations of Tai Chi. I have been practicing Tai Chi since 1970, and can say without reservation that I have learned more about Tai Chi martial applications from Willem than from any other teacher I have met.
In fact, if we examine almost any “typical” Kun Tao Silat de Thouars fighting response from the point of view of Tai Chi principles (or those of the three Internal schools of Kung Fu), we find that Willem in action is a perfect exemplar of these principles;
1. Rooting: A key principle in Tai Chi (and the nei jia in general) is the use of the physical / energetic connection to the ground, to generate power, stability, and natural energy. Many of the seemingly “magical” projections in which Willem de Thouars flicks a wrist or slightly twists a forearm and the opponent or partner goes flying, cannot be duplicated merely by copying Uncle’s body mechanics. It is the unseen use of the ground relationship, the root, which gives these maneuvers their power. The “magic” is the result of years of training in the internal arts and continued practice of the nei kung (internal development) aspect of these arts.
2. Relaxation: A key element in Tai Chi is the relaxation of all unneeded muscles (such as, the biceps while punching out), the release of tension from the body, and the emptying of the mind into a relaxed yet super-aware state. Willem de Thouars utterly exemplifies these processes: his arms dangle loosely until they are employed, his actions have a “throwing-off” of tension quality, rather than a “holding-on” often seen in external arts; and his mental state (or states) for combat are empty of thought but filled with awareness.
3. Use of Dan Tien and Ming Men: The Dan Tien (in lower abdomen) and Ming Men (in lumbar region of back) are two energy-centers used extensively in Tai Chi and the other internal arts for power cultivation and release. Rather than emphasizing the action of the limbs, the internal arts focus on energy condensing to and exploding from these two center-points, producing whole-body power and integration impossible to attain by uncentered physical action. Spend a few hours under Uncle Bill’s tutelage, and you will hear him refer to these two points (with a variety of terminologies!) repeatedly. He will frequently demonstrate the radical increase in power and penetration of, say, a palm push or body-punch when one switches from an external-styles large, waist turning movement to a more condensed torque emanating from the lower back. This is internal kung fu in action!
4. Energy and Intention: Chinese Internal Arts devote a vast amount of effort and practice to the development of internal energy (chi), and focused, willful awareness, or intention (, and focused, willful awareness, or intention (ie). The bodily actions used in combat arise as a result of these two forces (the ie directs the chi, which moves the body), rather than the “ordinary” use of muscular force, or li. Anyone who has seen, or more tellingly, felt Willem de Thouars in action can attest that the energy generated by this relatively small man is unbelievably huge and overwhelming, as is the intensity of his intention to prevail. One day, after working with Uncle Bill seriously for three or four years, I suddenly realized that, though I had taken hundreds of falls from his techniques, and been hit or near-hit (always with perfect control) by thousands of blows, I had never felt his body; only the energy which he threw off. and one final story of Willem’s energy-mastery: in 1994, at the first seminar he gave on the island of Martha’s Vineyard (off the coast of Massachusetts), Uncle took Matt Cohen and I into a back room while the rest of the group was practicing, and said, “Feel this.” He slowly passed his hand in a spear-hand formation through the air, about 4 or 5 inches in front of my chest. I felt something like a warm breeze, or the air rushing out of an overhead air-blower on an airplane, making a line across my body while his fingertips where pointing (but not touching). Amazed, I gestured to Matt, and Uncle repeated the same movement. Matt also felt the energy as clearly as if it were being blown from a hose. At that moment I realized, if this man doesn’t have internal power, nobody does!
5. Chi Kung: Chi Kung is a broad term covering many hundreds of disparate systems of energy-cultivation. Each of the internal styles of Kung Fu has its own methods of chi kung, which are central to the art’s power development, health-enhancement, and spiritual aspects. Shaolin and other “external” arts also have chi kung practices, and it is because of these elements that the “external” arts become “internal” at their higher levels. Every Kun Tao, Kung Fu, and Karate practitioner is familiar at least with the horse-stance training, which is not merely done to develop strong legs and hips, but is a simple chi kung practice that develops internal strength, especially when done with correct breathing and mind-intent (and persistence). Willem de Thouars has been practicing chi kung of many types since his earliest childhood lessons. He gets up most mornings between three and four a.m. to practice his own brand of chi kung, while the rest of us are lolling in dreamland. I have had the great fortune to share some of Uncle’s private chi kung sessions, in snowy Vermont woods and cheap motel rooms, in deserted parking lots and majestic redwood forests, and these have been some of the most enlightening practices sessions imaginable. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that the internal chi kung practice Uncle does is the “secret” of his continuing vitality, power, and abundant energy, for martial arts and life.
There is much more, but there is really not need to “prove” Willem de Thouars’ stature as an internal artist. He exemplifies the Taoist ideals of simplicity, naturalness, and spontaneity. He can manifest a multitude of different energies (jings), and change easily among them. He frequently attains the Taoist/Tai Chi state of wu wei, or “not-doing”, in which accomplishment is effortless, and without thought or ego. And he maintains the playfulness, humility, curiosity, and unselfconsciousness of a child. He asks little for himself, yet gives abundantly to all. I only share these thoughts with others, so that you will not miss or misunderstand this treasure who walks among us. Both external and internal players frequently fail to see the internal basis of Willem’s external abilities. Look a little deeper.
Wishing you strength and peace,
Kun Tao Silat de Thouars is composed of both Chinese Kun Tao and lndonesian Pencak Silat.
KunTao, variously spelled “kuntao” or “kuntaw” has best been described as “old kung fu”. It is that archaic form of Chinese Martial Arts that has largely remained untouched with the passage of time, practiced within the isolated Chinese ethnic enclaves of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The fundamental roots of Kun Tao may be found in the Chinese lnternal Martial Arts of Hsing le, Tai Chi, and Pa Kua.
Pencak Silat, also spelled “Pentjak Silat”, are the styles of indigenous Martial Arts of the lndonesian archipelago. There are literally hundreds of local styles of this highly regionalized art.
Below are listed some of the styles that comprise the study of Willem de Thouars and the influences on Kun Tao / Silat de Thouars. And after that a comprehensive list of the forms and their history that are taught to its exponents.
A combination of Cimande, Sera, and Cikalong. Three forms complete the entire system:
- Djuru Satu
- Djuru Dua
- Langka Tiga
Kuntao Basic Forms
These three forms will give a good basic understand for the Kuntao scholar. There are two southern systems that stress strong stances.
- Poong | Fukien Kuntao
- Pai Tsing | Shantung Kuntao
- Ling Sing Toi | Dragon Tail form
Kuntao Animal Forms
The TEN animal forms represent a broad overview of shaolin based animal forms. In presenting the forms, it is more important to express the animal’s “attitude” than it is to peform the movements correctly.
- Pai Yun | Tiger descending mountain
- Tong Long Tai | Northern Mantis
- Walang Garong | Small Mantis
- Fan Tze | Eagle Claw
- Pok Sai | Dragon
- Langka Monjet | Monkey footwork form
- Fuchien Quyen – From Sigung Tan Tong Liang. A combination of tiger, stork and dragon.
- Fu Jow Quyen | Tiger
- Ooler Quyen | Snake
- Ha Ka Quyen | Combined animal form of the Ha Ka community
Combinations of the three internal systems – Pa Kua, Hsing I, and Tai Chi.
- Ie Shing Po I
- Ie Shing Po II
- Puter Ungon | Turning wind
- Green Dragon Ba Gua
The 12 djurus of Cimande represent the full spectrum of upper body motion in this system of silat. The djurus may appear short but to truly understand the movements can take a lifetime.
- 21 Djurus
- 12 Langkas
Kombatan combines several traditional Filipino styles that have been blended into a single art:
Abaniko Largo / Corto
Doblada / Doblete
Banda y Banda
Espada Y Daga
Daga sa Daga
(T’ai Tsu Gie Quan)
The five major temple boxing schools in China, located themselves with surroundings of panoramic viewing of beautiful mountain slopes in peaceful environments of green forests and riverstreams, teeming with fish in clear cold water. One of the most known temple boxing schools in Southern China was built on the top of the Kun Lun Mountains.
Located in five provinces, the monasteries are best known for their martial contributions to the world in spontaneously training through hard practice, as to be found in the Shao Lin schools of Honan, Shantung, Fuekchin, Hokkien and Kwantung. These martial arts centers have produced together well over 3600 styles of boxing, categorized into the Northern and Southern branches of Wu Shu, the military arts of war.
The Northern styles of Shao Lin are highly distinguished by practitioners of the arts for their far ranging powerful kicks and hand-techniques delivered with heavy blows. Northern Shao Lin uses high leaps, done out of positions from very low and wide horse-stances and with rolls to cover distances. When compared, practitioners of the southern styles rely more on their very low horse-stance positions to counter opponents more swiftly with their far-extended leaps and fast short kicks, and the use of short range blocking techniques.
The great majority of the fighting arts practiced in any of the Shao Lin boxing schools could trace their roots back to the Honan monastery, that has housed once 1500 philosophical and soldier monks who were fully trained to the conduct of warfare. These monks were top experts in armed or unarmed conquest of battle and were also known for their healing arts. In addition they were also taught the 8 Internal exercises of Tai Chi Chuan, or Grand Ultimate Fist. This art had originally started out with first the 8 basic exercises before it became later into several branches of Tai chi with 108 movements and shorter sets.
Much of the Chinese leg-maneuvers and hand-grabbling techniques were developed over a long extended time of 1500 years in the Honan monastery. The art of Fut Ga Shao Lin starts out as an external art of combat and later holds the secrets to the three internal arts of Tai Chi, Pa Qua and Hsing Ie. Considered as the monastery for the internal arts, the Fut Ga Shao Lin has influenced all of the main temple boxing schools with their internal arts. Overwhelmingly noticed for their agility in speed and acrobatics, many of the well-trained Shao Lin boxers have spectacled thousands of spectators around the world with their defined martial skills of combat and their arts of healing.
After nearly three decades of intensive studies behind the monastery walls of Honan in the Fut Ga, was sitting peacefully, a well-versed man in meditation by the riverbank. The river was shackled with frozen ice and could hardly continue its path, sloping off into a lake on the mountain top.
The elderly man was Li Tsu the philosopher, and as a scholar was also fully trained in martial skills of the highest derivation. Through his inner vision he found his enlightenment by observing snow falling on the tree branches in the forest, when the snow became to heavy for the branches to hold from the frozen cold, they shattered like little twigs of the trees. The falling branches sounded like ponderous thunder hitting the surface of the Earth.
In viewing his focus during meditation he also has witnessed a large stand of bamboos, these strong, hollow shoots grew together as strong grasses. The stems like the tree-branches had undergone the same stresses of Mother nature by bending to exerted force with unrestrained yielding without cracking.
Li Tzu lived during a flamboyant era, in which fighting arts were molded into erroneous ancient societies. The monk created two internal – external boxing styles, resilient to the nature of the bamboo stems. Po Qua Zen and Po Hsing Ie complement each other with restoring the circulatory systems for an increasing health.
Li Tzu’s search for the truth was based on the theological meaning of Taoism, in which he carefully followed the principles of Chuang Tzu, who together with Lao Tzu formed a religious movement causing an impact on the beliefs of Confucius toward the end of the Han dynasty ( A.D.). Po Qua Zen is a fighting art of passive resistance in self defense, created by Li Tzu upon the idea to aid in practice the yin stylists by countering an opponents attack while yielding at the same time.
The Po style is distinguished by its sophistication, with its own uniqueness as a fighting art for self-defense. It has a large repertory of tools in a fine method of boxing, combining the principles of Tai chi, Hsing Ie and Pa Qua together by complementing each other in harmony. Nearly all of the other internal fighting arts, based their essence on the “yang” principle in which self defense is emphasized by yielding to an opponent’s attack and then countering the opponent’s center of balance with force.
Self defense for one’s own survival requires strength and fine timing through rotation and displacement of the polar axis. In motion, the internal system reacts by countering an opponent’s attack with a continuous counterattack. As a result, the counterattack of an internal boxing expert is unavoidable. It does internal damage almost effortlessly by applying a mass of energy to an opponent, thus causing damage by puncturing the circulatory system and meridians.
Po Hsing Ie is philosophically structured like a rock; its principles based on projections of the mind. The five elements that descended with the “Yin/Yang” principle balance the instincts of nature as a day and night are balanced. They are, in fact, two harmonizing opposites of positive and negative. The Po system applies a yielding and attacking force at the same time. Like bamboo, it yields to force without cracking.
Chuang Tzu, a scholar of Taoism wrote once that a supple attitude constitutes the following passive achievements: (Copied out of “THE GREAT LUMINANT” as translated by Evan More 1933).
THE SPIRIT ACTION
“A yielding will has a resposeful ease, soft as downy feathers, a quietude, a shrinking from action, an appearance of it express itself in the natural way in which elements of the universe are mutual forces in coexistence with the changing moods of nature. In other words, the principle of Tao is the life force of existence in the universe and operate in “Yin” and “Yang” are the two balances, positive and negative, male and female.”
Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, described Tao in a more proper and fitting way:
“The way which can be expressed in words is not the eternal way; the Name which can be uttered is not the eternal Name. Conceived of as nameless it is the cause of Heaven and Earth. Conceived of as having a name it is the mother of all things. Only the eternally free from passion contemplate its spiritual essence. He who is clogged by desires can see no more than its outer form. These two things, the spiritual (yin) and the material (yang), though we call them different names are one and the same in their origin. This sameness is a mystery of mysteries. It is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.”
Like a flow of a river, the human spirit is an energetic force of the Yang soul or the positive materialization of desires in man that promote productivity without the understanding of negative feelings such as anger, hate and greed. The subconscious or soul enters the brain by impulse to construct human thoughts. Man has always been dominated by the influence of the subconscious mind; what we know as unknown feelings of awareness and considered by Christians to the inability to do. Placidly free from anxiety, one acts at the opportune time; one moves and revolves in the line of creation. One does not move ahead but responds to the fitting influences.
The essence of Taoism is put forth by Lao Tzu,
“Establish nothing in regard to oneself, let things be what they are; move like water, rest like a mirror, respond like an echo, pass quickly like the non-existent, and be quit as purity. Those who gain, lose. Do not precede others; always follow them.”
Emulating the natural, the well trained practitioner of the Po system has a skillful mind and reacts automatically to actual situations in but a fraction of a second.
Chinese Kun Tao was introduced to Indonesia, when streams of South East Asian tribes migrated all over the Indonesian archipelago 4.000 years ago. Many people of Cambodia, Viet Nam, India, China and Thailand have settled during that time primarily in Sumatra, Celebes (Sulawesi) and Java. Many of them brought not only their culture with them, but also their matters of fighting for self-defenses.
Chinese migrants came through Canton, and Hong Kong to settle in Sumatra in the Palembang area and in Java. As streams of them arrived to settle in the archipelago, most of them came from the South of China and were from the Hokkien region.
Chinese Kun Tao as a fighting art consists out of Northern and Southern styles. Kun Tao was also considered as one of the oldest terms for Chinese fist arts, comprised in secrets as family styles. Merchants in particular have studied old shaolin boxing arts as a safe guarding system to protect their businesses against attacks from the native Indonesians.
In the mid 1800’s Chinese Kun Tao became noticed for its formidable fighting arts of self defense. In Palembang by the turn of the century about 7 Kun Tao groups has settled around the city of Palembang. The Chinese were forced to start creating their own secret societies. Some of the Shaolin boxers left China to broaden their future in horizons by immigrating to the archipelago. In the early 1900’s they have settled in West Java, Central Java and in Maccasar.
The Chinese Kun Tao arts I have studied, as it was instructed to me by very strong Shaolin practitioners were mostly Southern, and some Northern Shaolin boxing arts. The origin and its roots go back to the rooting of Fut ga, the agile and fast movements of Tung Lung T’ai and the White Clouds Baqua. The green Dragon Paqua also influenced the upright positions in the system.
Kun Tao as a general term for Chinese fighting arts, as the oldest term used before Wu Su, or kung fu, or gung fu was ever mentioned – was also understood by many Chinese merchants as the term of Kuen Tao, Kuen Dao, and Koon touw. Chuan fa, and Chuan su. Most of the Kun Tao systems practiced in Indonesia are Northern Shan Tung and Southern Hokien.
The Northern styles uses long extended techniques with high kicks, many of the legwork are greatly influenced by the Tan Tui system of Shaolin. Sometimes the Northern styles are referred to as the High Mountains of China. The Southern systems on the other hand are noticed for their quick, fast and short range techniques. Both systems are formidable, graceful and powerful fighting arts.
Kun Tao techniques may also find their influences in Indonesia’s Pencak Silat, and visa versa Pencak Silat may also have influenced Chinese Kun Tao during combat between a Silat exponent and a Kun Tao practitioner. No one knows for sure. As a practitioner of Kun Tao systems, and Indonesian Pencak Silat art, I value the martial practices of each system with much regards. There is always so much to learn about martial arts.
I t should be noted that there are 3600 styles of Chinese temple boxing being practiced in the world, as the interest in martial arts is progressing, and there are for certain more than 400 martial arts of Indonesia.
Uncle Willem de Thouars