Shaolin Kempo

The origins of Kempo. More precisely Shaolin Kempo. Unlike Japanese Kempo. One fact in advance: The direct roots of Shaolin Kempo are not in Japan, nor directly in China, neither in India nor in any monasteries, in spite of countless sources which are always copied in the same way. Rather, the Malay archipelago, especially Indonesia, is the home of Shaolin Kempo. But what is Shaolin Kempo, and here our own style Lung Chuan Fa, actually? Before I stumbled into the local sports hall in Kalletal, I didn’t even know this name.

Basically: Kempo is the Japanese term for Chuan Fa, which is the Chinese word for martial arts. Both even have the same characters. So in the style I practice, the Lung Chuan Fa Kempo, one of the two terms, Kempo or Chuan Fa, is actually double. Lung is the Chinese word for dragon. So we train the dragon style of Kempo. Although we don’t really have anything to do with classical Japanese Kempo. But more about that below.

Okinawa and the Ryukyu archipelago in general are historically considered the cradle of the Karate forerunner Kempo. On Okinawa, the development of the forerunner of Karate is attributed to a settlement of Chinese merchants, whose work is actually historically proven (“the 13 families”). They mainly brought with them the KungFu style of the White Crane, which met the native Todé here. Today’s Goju Ryu goes back directly to this style. The classical Shotokan Karate, which is much better known today, is also a martial art from Okinawa and was only discovered by the Japanese in the 20th century and was transformed by them into “their” martial art. Also in Germany, classical Japanese Kempo styles, such as Shorinji Kempo, are taught today.

The problem is that our Shaolin Kempo comes from a completely different corner of the world, but is mixed with Japanese Kempo in a funny way.

Origin Indonesia

Lung Chuan Fa is not based on the traditional Japanese Kempo martial arts, which came via China to Okinawa and from there to Japan. Rather it is a mixture of South Chinese Kung Fu styles and Indonesian Silat. The Chinese high culture also had a considerable influence in the Southeast Asian region. The merchants needed protection, so they were accompanied by trained fighters – mercenaries or regular troops. Kung Fu spread along old trade routes that connected China with Southeast Asia for more than 2000 years. Here, too, the White Crane style is often quoted from southern China. The martial arts did not remain hidden, but were adapted to the environment over time and passed on over many generations in the classical father-son line – the Kuntao came into being.

Kuntao looks elegant, convinces with minimalistic but extremely sophisticated hand techniques and body turns and a rather upright posture. For the Indonesian and Malaysian inhabitants, the masters of the Kuntao were considered almost invincible warriors, who put their enemies out of action with barely visible techniques and avoidance movements. What is certain is that Kuntao is strongly intertwined with the East Indonesian, Malaysian, Bruneian and Southern Philippine cultures, but has retained its Chinese character.

Silat is an origin martial art of Southeast Asia. The Southeast Asian island kingdoms from the Philippines to Malaysia, Indonesia and Borneo are still a melting pot of different inhabitants and levels of civilization. Conflicts were the order of the day. The resulting martial skills are known today under the collective term Silat or Pencak Silat, which includes more than 800 known styles and certainly many unknown family styles. Deep stances, sophisticated leg and floor work and a rich repertoire of kicks, punches and throws characterize these arts. Many styles are still passed on, especially in their families, and the masters enjoy a high reputation. Silat is a cultural heritage of Southeast Asia and much more than “just” sports or fighting.

It came to Europe through the native soldiers of the Dutch-Indonesian colonial troops. In the course of Indonesia’s independence at the beginning of the 1950s, they had to leave their homeland and move to wet and cold Holland.

Paatje Carel Faulhaber

Here the story of “our” Shaolin Kempo begins. And this with the Kuntao Macan of Carel Faulhaber, who comes from Indonesia, more precisely Java. Kuntao Macan is a mixture of the South Chinese Kung Fu styles (Kuntao) described above, and Indonesian-Malayan Silat elements. It is characterized above all by changing stand heights and flowing movements. Kuntao or Kun Tao in Macan (“Tiger”) style was taught by master (“Paatje” means uncle) Carel Faulhaber, himself of Javanese descent. Faulhaber was a member of the Dutch armed forces. Already during his time in Indonesia he was considered a master of martial arts. Initially Faulhaber taught only his family members in the classical manner, but then began to train non relatives in the Netherlands.

The Ring of Five with Sifu Rob Faulhaber, Sifu Richard Kudding, Sifu Jimmy Bax, Sifu Ted Verschuur, Sifu E. Lammerts van Bueren

A word about these “Moluccan” or “black Dutchmen”: Many descendants from the former colonies of Southeast Asia still live in the Netherlands. They come from soldier families of local natives, who did their service for the colonial rulers in the possession of the colonial power Holland and were not very popular with their own population for understandable reasons. Already during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War, but even more so when the Dutch had to leave their colonies in 1953/54, many veterans of this colonial force (KNIL), who had been tried and tested in battle, emigrated with them to the far-off Netherlands. Many of them, by the way, with the false promise that they would only have to go to far, wet and cold Europe for a short transitional period, only to then move to a group of islands independent of the new Indonesia. They brought their martial arts to their new home.

The situation of the emigrated Asians was anything but rosy since the mid-1950s. They felt like strangers in their new “home” and at first they resisted any approach to their surroundings. Actually, they were only passing through. And finally they were proud of their military successes and achievements in the colonial forces and the period of resistance against the Japanese. Integration was therefore not initially intended by either the Indonesians or the Dutch. So they were not given “normal” work permits at first. But the involuntary exile in Holland continued, became longer and longer. What could be more obvious than to make a living from the “old” skills? Faulhaber founded a martial arts school in Renkum in 1960, which was also open to Dutch people. His first students still form the “Ring of Five” today: Robert Faulhaber (the eldest son), Richard Kudding, Max Bax, Eduard Lammerts van Bueren and Theo (Ted) Verschuur. Paatje Faulhaber died of cancer in 1974 at the age of only 50 years.

This dojo was also visited by Gerald Karel Meijers, the second central figure in the development of Shaolin Kempo.

Gerald Meijers

Meijers was also a KNIL veteran. Since about 1953 the martial and life artist has lived in Holland.  There are several, partly amusing stories about Gerald Meijers. Obviously, Dschero Khan, as he also calls himself, has eagerly participated in the creation of legends. Thus, he actually traces his ancestry back to Genghis Khan and sees himself as a prince of Mongolian descent. See also this old Spiegel article. When I read all the mumbo jumbo about Prince Dschero Khan, who even made it into Wikipedia, then my stomach turns as a halfway rational person because of the absurdities and historical falsifications. It gets even crazier that these fairy tales are eagerly spread on countless websites of established Kempo associations (the link is just one example).

Anyway, Gerard Karel Meijers certainly looks back on a varied and adventurous life story. In any case, he was adopted by a Dutch general named Cornelius Meijers, hence both the reference to Holland and his civil name. Meijers, together with several thousand other members of the Indonesian armed forces under Dutch command, came to faraway Holland after the lost War of Independence in the early 1950s.

Meijers was inspired by numerous styles, trained various hard karate styles, but also Chinese and Indonesian martial arts. In Holland Meijers met Kuntao Macan and Paatje Faulhaber. For about three years the two martial artists trained together. Meijers initially proved to be the ideal choice to represent the style to the outside world because of his martial arts experience and especially his communication skills. The two changed the name to Shaolin Kempo. In order to be accepted by the then largest martial arts federation in Holland, they based the style with its names and examination regulations closely on the Japanese system, which was the only recognized system in Holland at the time.

This change of name still gives rise to the persistent legend that Shaolin Kempo has something to do with Shaolin Monastery or Kempo from Okinawa. But this is totally wrong!

After some years the two martial arts pioneers separated in a dispute. Meijers seems to be quite resentful, because he deleted all references to the real father of Shaolin Kempo, Faulhaber, from his biography. Meijers further approximated his style to the rather hard Japanese karate styles, supplemented missing contents (due to the short time of training the Kuntao Macan) with suitable karate elements, founded new dojos and also gave guest performances on this side of the German border, especially in the Lower Rhine and Ruhr area. Here there are still dojos today, which are in direct descent of his work.
Hermann Scholz from Kleve and Hans Stresius from Duisburg-Rheinhausen, today in Kamp-Lintfort, were the first German students who could train with Sifu Meijers in the Netherlands as well as in Germany. Also Rainer Franzolet from Kevelaer ( Kwoon Do ) was a student of Sifu Meijers.

Via Richard Kudding, who emigrated to Canada in the 70s, Kuntao Matjan came to North America.

Development in Lippe

Lippe (North-Rhine Westfalia) noticed two Kempo currents at once. Firstly, Richard Claase, a native Indonesian and soldier in the Dutch armed forces, brought the Shaolin Kempo of Sifu Meijers with him. Claase was a direct student of Meijers in Holland and founded a dojo in Blomberg. The style spread, always with slight changes and new names. Besides Lung Chuan Fa Kempo in the Kalletal there are dojos in Augustdorf, Bösingfeld, Pottenhausen, Schieder, Leopoldshöhe, Lage, Detmold as well as Bad Pyrmont and Steinheim.

The second Kempo branch came via Ted Verschuur, also of Indonesian descent from Holland and part of the “Ring of Five”, to Rinteln and then to Kalletal (see interview with Kempo veteran Herbert Zielinski). This direction is clearly more oriented towards Kuntao and Silat and can also be found in Kalletal at Shaolin Kempo Hsinshih, also in Budo SV Kalletal. No wonder, because Ted Verschuur was already a Silat fighter in Indonesia before he went to the Dojo of Carel Faulhaber.

Lung Chuan Fa comes from the lineage of Shaolin Kempo of Meijers and was taught in its present form by Grandmaster Marc Richards and his disciples Witalli Reingard and Florian Kleemeier in the Kalletal. For me it is exciting to see and feel how, as one becomes more and more involved with Kempo, one can get closer and closer to the silat roots of this unique style without wanting to hide the Japanese and Chinese elements. But many of the elements only make sense if you understand their origin and cultural background.

Training skills

Elements such as kata or Sifat, weapon forms and kumite with partners originate from the traditional areas. Kata are divided into Tai-Tsuku and Sifat, whereby the Tai-Tsuku is a characteristic of Lung Chuan Fa. In other Shaolin Kempo styles these forms do not exist. The higher the student gets in his striving, the more soft elements and thus elements clearly reminiscent of Chinese arts or Indonesian martial dances become visible in the Sifat. Since my apprenticeship with Sifu Olaf Bock we have been developing Shaolin Kempo back to its origins. The six disciple forms, the Sifat, are counted in Indonesian and clearly convey the connection to the Silat origins. The higher forms make the Chinese origins clear and are taught in many Kempo schools in the German Wushu Association in a very similar way.

The classical Bo- (long stick) kata is already learned by the prospective green belt. Later on other weapons can be learned in their mastery. Our weapons are handled completely differently from Japanese and Okinawa styles, and are more akin to Chinese Kung Fu. And our second root, Silat, is inseparable from weaponry anyway. Therefore we are open to a variety of classical weapons, from long stick, tonfa and sai to saber, halberd or chain. The first master form, for example, is actually a weapons kata with butterfly swords, which we also train with them.

Kumite are partner forms, in which fixed attacks are countered with equally fixed counters. This is not only for strengthening, but also internalizes movement sequences, which should later lead to an automatic reaction even in a supposed emergency or in sporting competitions. A distinction is made between the 10 Ippon-Kumite and the 50 classical Kempo-Kumite, whose sequences become more and more complex with increasing knowledge. In the master degrees, really dangerous and above all realistic techniques are introduced.

Self-defence is of great importance. Not only are effective levers and throws, kicks and punches taught here, but special emphasis is also placed on the proportionality of a defence. Lung Chuan Fa Kempo has a wide repertoire of techniques to be able to face almost every situation appropriately. Those who know Kempo do not need any extra self-defence training. Shaolin Kempo is a martial art.

Ground fighting and fall school are elementary components of a martial art. While the former not only trains strength and is fun, but is also excellent for self-defence, the fall school is also very important in everyday life. The fall of an apple tree, ladder, skateboard, bicycle or motorbike can be controlled better if the practiced unrolling is done automatically.