Kuntaw Grappling


This Philippine Martial Art of Kuntaw is a flexible, complete fighting system, which can be modified for any style of competition.

Almost no one had heard of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu before the first UFC. A leading multi-sport magazine actually ran am article about the Gracie family, back in 1987. It said that they, and millions of Brazilians, engaged in no-holds barred fighting, which allowed you to choke out your opponent, or hyperextend his joints. When I read the article, I remember thinking Wow! That is cool. Then I set the magazine aside and forgot about it, until I saw Hoyce Gracie win the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Even after he dominated the pro-fighting, it took a long while for the martial arts world to recognize the importance of his family’s art, and even the importance of grappling. Many people still believed at that time that a good side kick could stop a wrestler.

For myself, I have long since changed my opinion and seek to augment my limited grappling skills at every opportunity.

For about six years now I have been traveling through Asia looking for some obscure martial art, which may have been overlooked by the world, but which would be useful in todays world of mixed martial arts and reality combat.

Along those same lines, who had ever heard of Muay Thai before 1992? I always believed that was a spicy dish made from fried noodles.

I traveled to the Philippines, and lived with Master Frank and his family. Master Frank had been the teacher of my Arnis instructor, and was said to be an absolute master of fighting arts. Master Frank was a multiple Black Belt and a staunch advocate for the Philippine open-hand combat system called Kuntaw. My plan was to train with him in preparation for kickboxing and MMA fights in Cambodia and Thailand. When I arrived, he showed me his trophies and photos. I was disappointed when he started talking about point fighting. It just looked like more TMA, Tae Kwan Do, or Karate.

“Kuntaw is flexible.” Said Master Frank. “You can get out of it what you need to succeed. As we only have a short time, I will teach you what you need to know, and leave out the rest.”

“If you want to learn Kuntaw for kickboxing and MMA, I will teach you.”

Although he was nearly sixty years old, Master frank took off his shirt, moved the furniture out of his kitchen, and invited me to grapple on the floor. For an older man, he was very strong and tough. But the thing that impressed me most was how intelligently he fought. Each time he grabbed a muscle, he went right for the pressure point. Each time he grabbed a joint, he went right into a two way submission. He twisted and pulled the joint in two directions at the same time. In general, if he attacked a limb, he used to of his, example, two of his hands against my hand. With a two to one ration he was able to compensate for the greater strength of a larger opponent.

As part of a complete fighting package, when Frank threw a Kuntaw kick, it was with the shin. The art preferred low kicks, to thighs and calves, instead of head kicks.

“When you try to kick to the head, it takes too much time and your opponent can take you out.” Warned Master Frank.

When he punched, Master Frank always used the first two knuckles extended, and aimed for the nerve endings and pressure points.

“Do the maximum damage with the least effort.” He reminded me.

“Don’t limit yourself to shin kicks. Kick the inside of the thigh with the ball of your foot. “Said Master Frank, bringing his foot down on my thigh, in a stomping motion just above my knee.  “Allow the momentum to carry your foot past your opponent. Then, you come back with your heel and smash it into the outside of his thigh, just above the knee. Bring your foot down and smash his big toe.”

Kuntaw was once seen as a rough and ready street fighting art, which was shunned by people engaged in point fighting competitions. Although the techniques are still just as rough and deadly, they would be permitted in either K-1 or MMA type competitions today.

During a break, Master Frank told me. “In Kuntaw we teach ground fighting. When I was watching UFC is saw a karate black belt lose the fight, because he couldn’t grapple. But Karate must have grappling.”

This was another point I had picked up in my travels. Nearly all martial arts seem to have some form of grappling. Nearly all teach some limited joint locks and throws. But somehow, typically striking arts actually only practice the striking part. They often ban the locks and throws from their competitions. If we look at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as an example, it basically developed out of laying on your back and doing Jiu Jitsu. Couldnt you lay on your back and do Hop Kido? Maybe you could lay on your back and do karate. Master Frank taught me that you could definitely lay on your back and do Kuntaw.

“To do the grappling, first distract your opponent.”

Master Frank showed me how to throw an open hand in front of the opponent’s face. This will bring his hands up. You bend at the waist, hook his heel with your hand and pick it up. Brace your forearm behind his leg and hyper extend his knee by pressing it against your chest. Your chest becomes the fulcrum, and your two arms are pulling his heel toward you. This will at least take him to the ground, but in the best case scenario it will destroy his knee.

You can either remain standing and maintain control of his leg, or go down with him, landing on top of him and ending the fighting.

Kuntaw grappling used a lot of heel hooks, where you would simply bend down and grab your opponent’s heel, pick it up, and throw him.

The original title of Bruce Lee’s book was “Jit Kun Do Concepts.” The idea here was that in stead of learning techniques or moves, a good fighter needs to learn concepts. An obvious example, is that if a person, even one with no martial arts training, is being choked, he knows that he needs to remove the hands from around his neck. That is a concept. How he does it is a technique.

By the same reasoning, Master Frank taught concepts. One concept is that when the heel comes up, the opponent will go off balance. You could snatch the heel and follow up by hitting the opponent in the solar plexus with your shoulder. Or you could use your hips to do a judo type throw. You could snatch the heel and hit him with your shoulder in the thigh. Or snatch the heel and sweep his base leg. Or snatch the heel and role, putting all your weight on either the inside or outside of his knee joint.

The concept was heel hook, followed by applying pressure.

He taught that submissions are just concepts. If you support the elbow and pull the arm against the joint, the opponent will submit. You can support his elbow across your chest, your thigh, or with your own forearm. As long as you support the elbow, then pull the arm against the bend of the joint, you can get a submission.

The master taught me some Kuntaw Ground defense. He lay on the ground, as if I had just thrown him. When I come in to deliver a punch, he kicks my hand out of the way. The same leg comes down and hooks my leg. His other leg sweeps my foot and I fall. He rolls slightly and now he has me in a knee bar. Because there are no rules in street fighting, he always attacks the big toe.

“You grab the big toe and jerk the ankle at the same time. Push on the heel and there is nothing the opponent can do.” He tells me.

Here was another concept: Anytime you do a submission, you must support the limb you are attacking. Use your whole body as a fulcrum, and lock the limb in a position so that it cant move.

“The concept for the ankle is always twist it in. The trick for the knee is to hyperextend it.”

“On UFC I see these guys on the ground. The other guy kicks, but they don’t know the defense. The defense is to kick the kicking leg, wrap the knee, hook the foot with the other leg and twist your whole body to break his leg.”

Kuntaw concept: Wrap your legs around your opponent’s leg, so that it is immobilized. Then roll using all your weight and power. His leg will snap or at least hyperextend.

“When the opponent punches, duck under his strike and punch him with your extended knuckle under the arm, under the bicep, or in the arm pit. Or you can hook to the floating ribs. Move in closer while you are striking. Throw the fake to the face duck and hook his heel.”

“When someone grabs your leg, your tendency is to go down. You will bend down and strike or grab, but this will destroy your balance. It will be very easy for him to take you down.”

In Kuntaw, as in many martial arts, the base is everything. But we often need to be reminded of this fact.

“You must take a good stance, so if an opponent kicks you or sweeps, you wont go down. When the sweep comes you turn into it. Your weight should be distributed 70/30 with your front heel off the ground. When you twist to avoid the sweep, you are in a perfect position to throw a perfect punch from the hip, turning your whole body into it. The opponent has no time to escape or move backwards. You can follow up by taking him to the ground.”

He used a trapping technique to break the arm when the opponent punches at him. There was a quick snap when he used his two hands to strike the punching arm under and over, breaking the elbow. The other option was a standing submission. The opponent’s punching hand was trapped in the Master’s hands. Then he dropped into a squat, with the opponents arm across his lap. The Master put pressure on the elbow and executed a submission.

The defense from the standing arm submission was to grab a leg and roll. In that way, you wind up on top of the opponent, in a perfect position for a leg or heal submission.

We also practiced basing out. When an opponent shoots and takes your hips or waist, you push your hips way back and open your legs into a wide stance. This prevents you from going down.

Master brought over a couple of his neighbors who make their money as dock workers. They were extremely strong and heavily muscled. They were good for me to roll with, and it freed up the master to give me advice.

Once again, the Master taught me Kuntaw concepts, rather than techniques.

“The important thing for the striker to learn for MMA competition is just to learn to avoid the take down. It is important to learn how to escape from the line of attack of the grappler, or else he will knock you down and sit on you, and maybe you will be damaged. Burt if you are flexible and quick, maybe you can escape.”

“I fought a grappler once. When he shot, I locked under both his elbows. I used his momentum, dropped, rolled backwards, and wound up on top of him. The master showed me how he used his legs to tie up the downed fighter and rain strikes down on his head.”

Master Frank explained how the spiritual side of Kuntaw contained additional concepts which could help in a real fight.

“You execute your strikes in between your opponent’s strikes. When he makes the motion that he is about to strike, you must get in. This is called anticipation of action by your opponent. In grappling, before he shoots, his head goes down. When you see that motion, you must move and hit him hard enough to put him down. You must use a circular movement. If you move backwards, he will just continue to rush in and grab you. So, you must do a step with one foot, pivot and move out. Pivot on the left leg and twist the right leg away from him.”

“When the shoot comes, throw the knee or move out of the way of the attack without losing distance and position. Now you have opened multiple attacks.”

If you look deeply enough into nearly every martial art, you will find that it is much more complete than people may give it credit for. By learning and practicing ALL of the techniques of your current martial art, you should be able to hand almost any situation you would face in a ring.

Kuntaw was just one more diamond I found, while digging through the mountains of Asia.