Reviving the Iban martial art of kuntau

Frederick says a prayer to ask for blessings so that his students will use their bungai kuntau to do good.

THE Ibans were once known for their kuntau — a martial art passed down by their ancestors and practised from generation and generation.

As kuntau has lost much of its popularity and appeal as a martial art — most of the present generation have not even heard of it — a group of kuntau masters, known as guros among the Ibans, are working hard to revive this early martial art.

The guros have set up their own kuntau arena and are encouraging people to take up the martial art in the hope that the future generations will keep it alive.

According to a kuntau guro in Bintulu, Frederick Tutong, looking for new students really keen to learn and master the martial art is not easy as not only commitment is needed but mental and physical strength as well.

“Another important attribute is discipline and those who want to master this traditional martial art must have a dedicated and ‘clean’ heart.

“They must be able to control their emotions and not abuse the martial art to hurt others or for any negative purposes. Like any other martial arts, kuntau is for self-defence and building self-discipline and self-confidence. But most importantly, it’s a cultural heritage that should be preserved,” he said.

Guro Paul Curtis demonstrates a kuntau technique.

Different techniques

Frederick teaches a technique or bungai called Kuntau Sinding Ujan Panas.

“Each guro has his own bungai. I teach Sinding Ujan Panas and my methods are different from other guros,” he pointed out.

Frederick learned kuntau from his guro at Jongkong Kabupaten, Putussibau in Kapuas Hulu, Indonesia.

He said the martial art was passed down by the Dayak Ahe community in Jongkong and he felt very lucky to have inherited it from the community in their land of origin.

Growing list of students

He admitted it was difficult at first for him to impart the martial art to the younger generation, especially from the Iban community, because most young people nowadays are into other martial arts.

But today, Frederick can be proud of his efforts as his kuntau arena in Bintulu has a growing list of students. In August, 22 of them completed their Kuntau Sinding Ujan Panas class.

Frederick usually sets a period of three weeks to teach his students and for them to master the bungai kuntau.

He said at the end of every programme, a traditional ritual to ask for blessings would be held “so that everything the students learned will bring good to the community and that kuntau will be practised as a healthy way of life”.

“My advice to our youths today is neither be afraid to learn kuntau nor look down on it but instead perpetuate it as a cultural heritage. We should support our own martial art and not lag behind the other communities.”

He also advised kuntau students that after completing their training, they need to have a strong heart, be patient and carry themselves well when interacting with others.

“Don’t ever abuse the martial art to create trouble. Such an irresponsible attitude is highly discouraged. Always remember the teachings and advice of your kuntau guro and only use your kuntau for good.”

Discipline and respect

Fellow kuntau guro Angkah Suring said he always reminds his students not to tarnish the image of their martial art by getting involved in negative activities — like forming gangs.

“First and foremost, you must be disciplined and respect yourself. Through this, you will develop responsible behaviour, avoid causing trouble and earn the respect of others.”

He also expressed his gratitude to the Sarawak Dayak Association (Pedas) Bintulu branch headed by Pete Bujang, for supporting and motivating kuntau guros like himself to teach the martial art to the younger generation, especially from the Iban community.

Pete, who was present at the ‘graduation’, said he felt honoured Pedas members were among the students helping to promote kuntau.

“Pedas fully supports all efforts to preserve the traditions and cultures of the Dayaks so that the customary lifestyle of the community can be inherited by our next generation,” he said.

Frederick’s students will carry on his legacy of preserving kuntau.

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