By Roger Brockman

    In the Hindu epic of the Ramanyan, the character of Hanuman is the King of the monkey forest. He is half-man, half-monkey and represents the best aspects of both. He rescues the princess Sinta from the evil clutches of Ravan and burns down his city. He is both clown and mystical hero. Throughout the islands of Indonesia, but particularly in Java and Bali, Hanuman is the most-revered character in this story, which is told over and over again in shadow puppet plays and dance.

    Hanuman is a link between the gods and men, and though he is also an erratic troublemaker, he is the sentinel for the forces of good, and the torturer of evil. It is impossible to understate the importance of this archetype in the Indonesian mindset. With monkeys all around them, the rural Indonesians are constantly reminded to respect nature by their brother primates.

    It was into this culture that Willem de Thouars was born, a jungle landscape with a people rooted in nature. Willem is one of those rare members of a disappearing generation of old-world practitioners who were raised from birth in a culture of martial arts. Or as he prefers to put it, fighting arts.

    Willem's experience with monkeys comes from living among them on plantations in central Java. For five years he passed through a colony of gray monkeys every day to go to school and do work. "My fortune was that I learned from monkeys," he states. "I touched hands with them and learned their energy. They took acceptance of me and I became one of them."Though Willem teaches 12 varieties of pencak silat and eight styles of Chinese kun tao, it is the monkey "flavor" to his arts that fascinates his Western students the most. Willem can take a technique from any of his systems and "monkey-ize" it. And his ability, perfected over 57 years of practice, to snap in and out of the monkey mind, is shocking.

    Willem's monkey practices fall into three categories:
               Monkey Drills: Solo practice of monkey antics
              Monkey Technique: Which stresses animal reactions of the mind
               Monkey Boxing: The final evolution of his style of "no mind" sparring

Exotic Drills
    Monkey drills frequently begin with leaping from a crouched position and landing in a silow, then kicking from this position, rolling forward, back and every which way, with low sweeps and high kicks, and a variety of strikes, elbow strikes and monkey-style djurus (hand combinations). Monkey drills have also been known to include climbing trees and leaping about on rocks. These drills start with an order but ultimately the student leaves behind the prearranged set and practices spontaneously.

    When Willem was a young man, his training reached the point where he was beginning to feel very full of himself. It was then that his teacher ordered him to beat up a 55-pound macaque that was kept as a pet on a chain. When Willem attempted to grab the monkey, he was thrown. When he tried to strike him, the monkey leapt onto his head, striking Willem's eyes and viciously biting his head. Infuriated, Willem went after it with a broom. The monkey disarmed him and chased him away with it.

    "I really came to understand that I didn't know anything," Willem recalls. "That was the biggest lesson I ever had. And now I have come to understand what I have been doing right and wrong all these five decades of martial arts training."

    The principle Willem applies in monkey techniques is an accordion-like exchange of energy between the dan tian and sacrum. He uses the contraction between these points to collapse the structure of his opponent, and then expands it to drive his various forms of takedown. He uses this energy to spin like a top, using his spine as a "polar axis." The balance and animal-like reaction to produce this movement is the object of both the monkey drills and the monkey boxing.

    Willem's strikes, or "punishments," take the form of open-handed slaps, backfists and powerful fingertip grabs of flesh, and subtle leg maneuvers (langkas) that prevent the opponent from responding.

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    Willem's "monkey-flavored" techniques vary widely, depending on the style of pencak silat or kun tao he applies to each situation, but they all share common characteristics. The techniques are all close-range, whether from the outside or inside the opponent. This leads some to believe that Willem is a southern Chinese stylist. But he is much more. As he enters his opponent's strike, he raises his blocking arm in such a way that his elbow precisely hits his opponent's inner elbow at a painful point where the tendons and nerves converge, or sometimes higher ar the separation of the bicep and tricep. Done at speed, this technique renders the arm useless for days. He also instantly hits with an open hand to the face from this opening. It has been said that "there is no blocking in Indonesian martial arts," and Willem's use of entrances make the point. Everything he does is "a hitter." Technically speaking, this gives so much pain and distraction that the opponent cannot react in any way except to struggle to free himself from further attack.

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From the Ground Up
    Another common characteristic of Willem's monkey techniques is his use of the ground. In the spiritual tradition of pencak silat, a player's power comes from the ground and this is where the job is finished. Willem will frequently grab an opponent's punching arm with alarming speed and fall with him right to the floor. The harder the punch comes the worse it gets for the opponent. Additionally, Willem sometimes drops to one knee while tying the opponent's punching arm to whichever leg is forward, taking him off balance instantly, then "levering" him down. Once down, Willem leaps high and stomps the floor with both feet. In application, his feet would land on his opponent's head.

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    Monkey boxing is perhaps the most exotic form of free sparring seen in the martial arts. The goal is not to dominate or beat an opponent, but to engage in a continuous set of free-flowing actions and reactions. In the way of the monkey, this is done from crouched or seated positions and low stances. Internally, the objective is to train the student to free himself of his rational, defensive human mind and act on instinct. This is more difficult than it sounds, because most people raised in the West are conditioned to not trust their instincts.

    Technically, monkey boxing evolves from a sparring process called "main main" (pronounced mine mine), which means "to play." Willem notes, "Everything is play. When you train, you play; when you spar, you play. Fighting is play. You cannot be too serious." The student begins by learning monkey-flavored movements from the drills. The one-step techniques are followed by the inclusion of counters. Then the counter-counter and so forth. In both the pencak silat systems and in kun tao, the result very quickly becomes groundfighting. Each student explores the possibilities of response until the pair reach a point where one is "check-mated" in a pin. With Willem's senior students, this "play" can go on for quite some time.

    In speeding up the response action of monkey boxing, the student learns how to maintain a margin of safety. In this style of sparring, safety is important for two reasons. First, if the student or his opponent is hurt, the play stops and the exploration is over. Secondly, when the monkey is applied with force or in a real-world self-defense application, the student simply removes his safety margin and the brutal nature of the monkey comes out. It should be said that when they are attacking, monkeys do not seem to care about pain. The training to reach the animal mind accomplishes this same attitude in the human. In a confrontation, the monkey fighter may well be injured or even seriously wounded, bur he will not notice it until after his opponent has stopped moving.


Ultimate Expression
    Monkey boxing is the ultimate expression of pencak silat. The word pencak means "the dance-like expression of fighting movements," and silat is a term used in Indonesian generically to describe unarmed combat. So the control required for safe monkey boxing gives it the expressive quality of pencak, but the applications found in the reaction from animal instinct also throws it into the realm of pukulan, or the practice of "pummeling." Monkey boxing cannot be practiced without a long period of drills and counters to give both a vocabulary of movements and applications practiced with control to provide a level of safety. Monkey boxing should not be attempted without the careful guidance of a competent pencak silat or kun tao instructor present to provide instruction and to physically pull the two monkeys apart should they get carried away. Monkey boxing should only be practiced by martial artists who are friends, for two reasons: First, friends are less likely to lose their temper with one another and go berserk, and secondly, when they do lose control, a friend will provide an ice pack or a ride to the emergency room.


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In the example of monkey boxing shown in the accompanying photos, two of Willem's senior practitioners approach each other in a low crouch position. This opening position is similar to a horse stance, but provides greater mobility. At the instant one touches, the other monkey responds. Attempts to lock the joints and throw one another are usually the first movements. Thus, a sometimes-ungraceful groundfighting ensues, the object of which is to pin the opponent so that he cannot move but can be struck while pinned. The monkey boxers begin this sparring with no idea of what they will do. As they attempt a technique and it is countered, it naturally flows into the next technique and so forth, until one monkey is pinned or both monkeys become exhausted.


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    Willem draws a distinction between imitating a monkey and becoming a monkey. Willem is impressed with the acrobatics of monkey stylists of competitive martial arts. But they are repeating sequential movements that he sees as the impression of a monkey, like a two-dimensional photograph. "When I do monkey, I become a monkey, not just portraying a monkey—having the mentality of a monkey."

    But to become a monkey requires years of training to free oneself of human reaction and revert to ancient animal instincts.

    Willem de Thouars teaches at seminars on four continents. He is the founder of the Kun Lun Pai, his martial arts brotherhood headquartered in Westminster, Colo. Inquiries about seminars may be addressed to: Kun Tao/Silat de Thouars, P.O. Box 330113 Northglenn, Colo., 80233.

For information about classes and events, write or call: KunTao Silat Association
@ 1741 Dallas Street • Aurora • CO • 80010 •  Phone 303-364-0403.

KunTao Silat