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Kuntaw: The Guerilla Fighting System

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Different Styles of Martial Arts

Kuntaw: The Guerilla Fighting System

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KuntawKuntaw is one of the oldest fighting systems in the Philippines (some practitioners claim its origins date back to 1365). The art contains a number of open-hand and foot-striking combinations and includes holds and locks. Experts consider it to be a complete and effective guerrilla fighting system, and it is often used in combination with kali, which is martial arts weapons based. Training syllabuses include a staggering 43 forms. The system was revived during the 1960s and is gaining popularity in the Philippines and in North America. The art may have Chinese origins—its name could be a different spelling of “kuntao,” an ancient Chinese art— and the system has hard and soft elements, and stresses the development of internal and external “qi” or energy. There is a complex system of hitting vital points, similar to those found in acupuncture—these include nerve centers, sensitive bones, easily breakable joints, and vital organs.


kuntaw-vid-1Pangamut is an empty-hand fighting art taught by Dan Inosanto. It contains a number of grappling techniques, as well as hand strikes, kicks, leg sweeps, foot traps, biting, and gouging. Students of Filipino martial arts typically learn how to use weapons before learning empty-hand techniques, whereas most other oriental martial arts generally teach empty-hand techniques up to black-belt level and then introduce weapons training. Sticks, knives, and daggers are the most common weapons encountered during confrontations in the Philippines, so these are the ones that are taught. Many martial artists who learn weapon arts in the Philippines have little or no experience of empty-hand training. Pangamut addresses this need by teaching weapon techniques, but with an empty hand. For example, a classic maneuver comes when an opponent thrusts a knife, stick, or sword toward your face— you parry your opponent with your right hand, making contact with their wrist, then your left hand makes contact with their elbow, pushing forward before your right hand goes for a thrusting stab. This stabbing action can be replaced with a punch or a chop, and the move can be performed in exactly the same way unarmed as it can armed. It is this underlying thought and genius that informs many of the empty-hand Filipino fighting arts.


Gokusa is a hybrid system formed from kuntao and balintawak. It was founded by Jose Millan, also known as “Ju Go,” who was a student of grandmaster Anciong Bacon, a well-known Filipino stick fighter. The system’s emphasis is on shifting the body weight and aligning the spine correctly when delivering the force of the system’s 12 strikes and defenses.

A change of name

Sometimes referred to as “gokosha,” the art was originally known as “tat kon tao” (meaning “the way of the kicking fist” in Mandarin). The name change to gokusa almost certainly reflects the move away from Chinese techniques toward indigenous Filipino techniques, and the increasingly common practice of nationalizing martial arts in the Philippines.

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