There are just a handful of "true" accomplished masters left to roam the surface of the world, these men endured the torture in severe physical training of experiencing the martial practice of Kun Tao. This art comprises many different systems all traced back to the Shao Lin derivatives, weather classified as Northern or Southern styles.
In the myriad of fighting arts, Shao Lin is beyond any compare of exceeding in numbers all other combative systems practiced in the world; five of the main temple boxing schools in China has together over 3600 forms of martial arts.
Tai Chi Chuan (Grand Ultimate Fist) is an art with several systems, has the largest following in the world; the system along with Hsing Ie and Pa Qua, these three Internal arts are practiced by millions of people for self defense or health purposes.
During the mid 30's, three Kun Tao experts Baba Bo 'ek, Baba Bo 'et together with Oei Kim Bo'eng settled as taxi drivers and storeowners in the city of Bogor in West Java. The masters studied for many years in the same monastery of Southern China Shao Lin, and were fully trained soldier monks, or assassins, and left China under difficult circumstances as merchants by escaping prosecution of unfair tax collectors. They were often forced to face them in blood shed.
The three masters left in secrecy from Canton through Hong Kong to Java, and finally settled in Bogor where they established together as co-founders the Hokkien Kun Tao family system.
Training under the masters was only permitted to Chinese, and it was not uncommon that outsiders were not allowed to even look through a window to observe any of the classes being taught by the teachers.
My mother, younger brother and I, lived in 1948 in the beautiful city of Bandung, it was during this time that I met first the Kun Tao master in town, who was our landlord and he took a liking to me.
He saw me once practicing some of my Kun Tao forms with a toja stick (staff) by myself, and was surprised to see an outsider doing some of his art forms. Slowly approaching me from behind, he laid his big powerful hand on my right shoulder and with a big smile he asked me in Indonesian: "How are you? My name is Tsung Sam Kwan, where did you study Kun Tao?"
I replied: "Thank you Sir, I am well and very happy to make your acquaintance. I am still a student under Lung, Chin and Chang, and unfinished learning. I wished you would allow me to learn from you, are you our landlord?" With a big grin on his pleasant face, he answered me by saying: "You are right, and I know all your teachers very well. Just keep on practicing." When he took his strong hand off my shoulder, I felt an extreme heat going through my body, I knew then, he was a Kun Tao expert I most likely would like to study under.
A month later after our meeting, Mr. Kwan came back with a strong Chinese man, when he picked up our rent money as he usually did. The house we occupied was on the Jalan Kamuning way in Bandung.
The man accompanying our landlord was very well built and muscled in his appearance. It was for me scary just looking at him with his big hands the size of boxing cloves hanging loosely on his broad shoulders. He said nothing, was just staring and looking at me, made me very un-comfortable at the moment.
When Tsung Sam Kwan and his friend left, I found out later he took along with him to meet me, one of the greatest Hokkien Kun Tao experts in Java, Sifu Baba Bo'ek. To me it was a shocking experience, and after my scary meeting with him, he did send once a week, his driver to pick me up on Wednesdays for my training in his school in Bogor. The distance between Bandung and Bogor was 40 miles.
Experiencing the training in the Hokkien School was merciless and good for only the hard cores. Baba Bo'ek would start the students out with standing on poles, in very low and in extreme wide horse stance postures. In addition they also had to hold buckets filled with water and holding in front of them, while maintaining their low postures on the poles 12ft off the ground. Standing in the same position for 45 minutes felt for most students like their legs were collapsing with a lots of pain. This was absolute a typical Shao Lin drill in horse stance training I am so well accustomed to.
Studying Kun Tao under traditional Chinese masters was in "yester years passings" an era of frustrated growing of maturing in the practice of martial skills. As a non-Chinese, my road in over-coming the severe obstacles of my studies for their martial arts, was a total disaster in accomplishing a task. Looking back at my past experiences, they were harsh, brutal, unpleasant, unpromising and with feelings I had then, was a virtue I dwelled through of treatments like a third class citizen. Unescapingly, with avoidance of the prejudices of Chinese students, I was assigned to their dirty work first, before I could continue a training session with any of the masters in Kun Tao.
The treatments I was receiving under the circumstances made me just more of a stubborn individual in becoming a Kun Tao-er. Despite the odds against accomplishing my task that lied ahead of me, it was also my goal to reach of becoming an accomplished student. Our training began first by pulling bushes of elephant grass out of the ground with two fingers, considered a treat of the Eagle claw training method until fingers becomes hardened.
The Shao Lin teachers would first, nourish us to become internally fit to serve the course of training through Nei, Wei and Chi Gung breathing and physical exercises.
As time moved on, our mental and physical conditions became serene, tranquil and capable of withstanding the torture in the trauma of training, within our boundaries of expanded horizons there was more to be gained in learning.
Forth-coming with the advancement in training our next step was enduring the leg strengthening exercises, in which students had to stand in very low horse-stance positions on 12ft high poles off the ground. Grass pulling and pole standing practices were basically standard drills included as part of our daily training.
Our ground exercises continued with leaping, rolling, fighting out of very low and wide stretched leg positions.
Additionally more of the training was heavily concentrated on punching, kicking, striking, more fighting, grabbling, take downs and rolling off poles and falling on the ground with or without weapons.
Many hours were spend for beginners as well as advance students to train in the art of Peng Tja Te, meaning a separate art of blocking kicks or punches with strike counters and leg traps or artful kicking actions in a correct way of physical practice. This terminology of the art was a Hokkien dialectic expression in which it became in Indonesian Pencak Silat a translation as a skillful art to kill, or briefly Peng Tja stands for Pencak and Te for Silat.
We had originally started the training with 25 students, that particular day, only six of us remained to continue our practice in Hokkien Kun Tao.
There-after phase two of our training began, which was much harder than the start, we had to climb an 18ft high wall, and on the top of the wall was full of broken glass plastered in on the cemented surface. Two of the students had to discontinue their practice because of deep cuts on their wrists and hands inflicted during climbing.
For us who survived the climb, we had to jump and move on the thin surface of the wall, and it was for the four of us to gain a basic understanding of maintaining a good balance while practicing punching, blocking and kicking at the same time. The boxing art of Hokkien Kun Tao in particularly is known for its brutality of fighting in practice and the training was always for a student to able himself to handle his endurance for a prolonged time. This training drill lasted usually up to one hour.
In phase three we had to start our class at 12PM and the session was much harder than the two previous ones. We had to jump over a 12ft wall with a towel out of a low horse-stance position. On the other side of the wall were many obstacles, like trances, holes in the ground and a lots of built up rock formations. After 30 try-outs two of us, a Chinese student and my-self were able to make eleven leaps partially successful. My fellow student broke almost both of his legs, and I had a busted up shoulder.
We managed to survive the 12 O'clock class, and the masters patched us up for two weeks and gave us a little break from training.
The last phase of our training was more of a comfort. There was only two of us allowed to continue our practice, Master Oei Kim Bo'eng took over with his specialty.
Oei Kim Bo'eng's class session was quite a learning experience about Chinese boxing.
We had to learn how to take punches first, and later we were taught how to poke or strike into banana trees, and coordinated with rock breaking. Like usual, the low horse-stances were always brutal and an endeavor of pain. Our low horse-stance position was used for our Twin Dragon techniques of penetrating banana trees and any rough or hard surface with our two fingers.
We had perhaps one of the best training in the Southern art of Kun Tao being taught by the three masters functioning as one body. Each of them had a specialty with the art.
Baba Bo'ek was specialized in leaping and balancing. Baba Bo'ek the expert in blocking and kicking, and Oei Kim Boeng was specialized in penetrating flesh or hard surfaces with his toes or fingers.
Rock breaking was also a training of fist hardening, by leaping high in the air out of a low horse stance position and punching with the right or left fist to the ground on a pile of rocks. The impact of speed, weight and timing breaking all sorts of stones or rocks through a heating process of the bloodstream. Our kicking techniques improved with patience, starting out first with kicking trees continuously with shins and knee butts and finally kicking through a banana tree with our toes.
After the two of us had gone for nearly two years training under the three masters our graduation party was a trip to the open market. We have passed our brutal basic training, and were ready to be considered of being worthy for public combat. Like being thrown to the wolves. Luckily we passed our testing ground, we have not shamed our teachers and we won, in spite of our fear, all 4 matches that the masters staged for us.
In 1951 we returned to East Java and I was back, a much better student than I ever was before. My everlasting friendship and devotion to Baba Bo'ek, Baba Bo'et and Oei Kim Bo'eng for teaching me skills that other masters could not teach. All three of the masters have long been gone in a journey to the spiritual world. The legends as they were will always be remembered in Kun Tao the punishing art.
After several years through passions of hard training, it had occurred to me that my accomplishments in Kun Tao were of that of an infant unable to walk, and full of struggle. Despite the best of training, I became very frustrated with my training in Kun Tao that I called it the art of "kung flu" the meaning-less. Thinking of not progressing I felt like quitting my "useless" time spend of learning nothing.
My teachers in Kun Tao were three "formidable" and legitimate Shao Lin masters, they were Sigungs: Tan Tung Liung, Buk Chin and Willem Chang Fe in East Java. Not even knowing what these three skillful masters were capable of doing; through my frustrations and great lack of understanding of them that I had to experienced the martial path of falling and stumbling into maturity of thinking. For not understanding the customs and traditions of a teacher had quite frequently led into disastrous endeavors of inhabiting the floor space of a master. Evaluating the position I was in, I changed my attitude in a pattern of behavior; instead of learning the art as it was taught to me by the masters, I observed and learned in what they were doing and became a shadow of them.
Finally the sun started to shine within the boundaries of my horizons after I saw Master Tan Tung Liung defended himself against 8 armed attackers without weapons and nearly killed them all. On some occasions when the master was mad he would crushed bamboo with his Eagle claw technique, or rip a cloth of hanging silk into nice cuts of ribbons with his swift kicks. After seeing my master's skills, I firmly understood the crude mistakes I made for not understanding all my masters. I knew then that I had a mission to accomplish in life.
All my Masters, and Uncles have journeyed their passage to heaven and left me behind with a job I am about to accomplish. My fellow brothers in my arts, only three and myself were left to explain our masters from our past experiences. Their love and compassion for us is greatly treasured, something I never knew, until I was standing in the shadows of their shoes they wore. To my fellow brothers Shao Lin in Kun Tao who are now enjoying their practice in the heavenly temples, my love to you forever.