The term Kuntao is in fact a loan-word used in the Austronesian language variants common to Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Eastern Thailand and the Philippines to refer to martial arts, sometimes, but not always, of Chinese origin. It derives from a Hokkienese (Fujianhua) idiom, kun tao () literally translated as 'fist way' but really an idiomatic generic meaning 'martial arts'. One encounters these same words romanised in a variety of different ways, such as koontao, kuntau and kun thau as well as kuntao. It is roughly equivalent to the Mandarin (Guoyeu) Chinese generic terms 'wushu', 'kuoshu' and 'chuan fa'. Because of a common idiomatic meaning, many commentators often inaccurately claim that kuntao is the Hokkien reading of the characters for chuan fa (), pronounced ken fat in Cantonese (Guangdonghua), and pronounced in Japanese variously as kenpo or kempo, although obviously the terminal character Tao (), meaning Way, philosophy or doctrine, is not the same as Fa () meaning rule or method.
Roughly speaking, there are four different referents for the term 'kuntao' in the Indo-Malay and Philippino usage, and distinguishing them depends heavily upon context. Kuntao can mean variously1:
There are, of course, many systems which would fit (3) or (4) but that opt for political or practical reasons to designate themselves as silat arts rather than forms of kuntao.