Grandmaster Robert A. Servidio
There are many in the martial arts community throughout the world yet some of the most accomplished have shied away from the limelight. They have trained in their art quietly and tried to honor their teachers by respectfully passing on the style to those worthy of learning. One such individual from a small town in Pennsylvania has done that without seeking notoriety. Grandmaster Robert A. Servidio is one of those people or as he prefers to be called, Bob. The honor to spend the day talking with Bob, about the history and traditions of the style he has been training for over 50 years,is similar to talking with a noted scholar.
This style he so proudly and honorably trains and teaches is Chinese Kune-Tao. Bob’s interest in the martial arts would start at an early age. As a young boy, Bob saw an article in a magazine about Jiu Jitsu and sent his ten cents away for further information. His interest would only get stronger as the years progressed. His time in the Marine Corp will help further shape the man and martial artist he is today. After World War II when the ban which prohibited martial arts by the Japanese was lifted, General Curtis LeMay, knowing the benefits, enlisted the services of selected Japanese instructors to train military service members in Judo. While still in the Marine Reserve Bob would serve on a Judo team headed by George Han, Sho Dan Kodakan, who had returned form occupational duty in Tokyo, Japan. About the same time Bob would begin his training in Shotokan Karate under the instruction of Sandy Scotch, 2nd Dan (Black) and 4th Dan (Black) belt in Shotokan Karate and Kodakan Judo respectively. Bob would advance to Shodan. There where along with Bob several memorable individuals training in Judo and Karate at that time. Ray Cunningham, the 36th Caucasian to be registered as a Shodan holder by Sudobashi Kodakan Judo, postwar. Jerry Durant, the patriarch of the Goshin Jitsu Kyo Juto System. Art Sykes, a well know “Marco Polo” of the Bill Reeders tradition. Artis Simmons, a traditional Karate fighter ranked in the top 20 in the USA by the USKA. Dick Lopez and Dan Smith both maintain the tradition today. All trained together in Erie, PA. During their training they were given a newspaper article about an interesting individual instructing Judo at the Jamestown, NY YMCA called “Saito’s Judo Club”. They drove up and met this man and established a friendship with him. They invited him to come down and exercise with them in Erie at the local Judo/Karate Club.
Bob knew immediately that there was something different about this man.The true style this man trained was not immediately known to those early practitioners. Willem Reeders, who had come to the United States by way of Holland, would pass on his royal family style to several individuals. Yet, Bob would stand out from the crowd. After the second visit to the Erie school Willem Reeders would begin to reveal the true nature behind his martial arts background. Willem, or Bill as he would become known to them, would tell them of his life in Indonesia and exploits during World War II. He would tell of receiving training from his maternal uncle Lieu Siong in the family art. As a condition of staying with his sister in Indonesia, Lieu Siong would agree to train young Willem. He would train daily with his uncle learning the art reserved for royalty in China. The royal Lieu Siong family art would typically be passed to the eldest son; however, Lieu Siong had no children. As the son would take the name of the father, we cannot surmise what the style would have been called prior to Lieu Siong. The name Kune-Tao would take root in Indonesia and take on various connotations. However, the art passed on to Bob would be Chinese Kune-Tao, not the more well know Kuntao-Silat. Willem’s training would be hard and realistic. Bill would tell those early practitioners that what they did in America was not fighting. He would tell of routinely visiting other practitioners in Indonesia as a youth and fighting as part of his training.Uncle Lieu Siong would continue to stress the importance of training and figuring out what was successful in battle and what was not. Periodically there were large tournaments held in Indonesia where the fiercest fighters would come to display their skills. Willem would participate and conquer all adversaries and receive the coveted gold Titjiu’s. Bob would begin to describe what created the incredible fighter that Bill had become. Bob would reiterate the fact that Bill had the benefit of training from his uncle who had a proven style. Furthermore, he was able to start at such a young age; he had natural ability and was a very intelligent man. The confluence of these traits combined with his real life experiences would allow him to become one of the best martial artists of his time. This would prove essential as he was pressed into service during World War II. Being part Dutch, he would join the fight against the Japanese. He would utilize his incredible skills to strike fear into the hearts of the Japanese soldiers throughout Siam. Bill would come to class one day in 1964 and tell Bob and the others that he was going to be featured in magazine article. They thought nothing of it until the “Rampage of the Red Ant” article published in “Action for Men” would hit the newsstands. This article would further detail his exploits during the war and solidify his place in martial arts history, yet this was not the end of what shaped Willem. Bill would further talk about the Indonesian claim to self-determination after World War II. At that time, if you were a foreigner, your life was in jeopardy from the “real bandits”. Bill was routinely fighting for survival. This would lead to Bill moving from the family plantation, lost to the Indonesian government, to his father’s fatherland of Holland. Bill did not like the confined spaces of Holland in comparison to the openness of Indonesia. Sponsored by a local church, Bill and his family would eventually come to Falconer, New York a township outside of Jamestown, New York.
Bob would explain that it would only take about five minutes time with Bill to know he was not like other martial artists of the time. Training sessions would be quite different from what Bob and the others were accustomed to in the early days. Along with a language barrier, Bill did not have structure, syllabus or ranking to his system. Bill would not detail each move in words and break it down step by step. He would show a move and expect others to imitate it without fail. Bob would state, if one did not have a martial arts background prior to training with Bill, one would most likely not see what he was doing. Bill would spend his time with those whom he felt worthy of instruction. If one did not practice and actively participate in classes he would not get further instruction and eventually leave of his own accord. This method of instruction was difficult for many to grasp, but Bob excelled. Bob possessed many similar skills that made Reeders so exceptional. Bob is a very intelligent and physically capable man. He would spend consistent and longtime training with Reeders. His thirst for knowledge of the art has kept it alive to this day. Bob would thoroughly examine not only Reeders actions, but his words as well. Bob began to compile a written history of the Lieu Siong family art as passed on by Willem Reeders. Bob and some of the early practitioners would begin to formalize the informal teachings of Reeders. They would develop a ranking system, as well as patterns and symbols to represent Bill’s teachings. The symbol, that would become synonymous with Lieu Siong Kune-Tao, would be the golden Titjiu’s inside a red triangle intern inside a shield. Bob would explain that after 1965 Reeders would completely stop teaching the Lieu Siong family Kune Tao. Situations dictated it was time to stop and he would train others after that in another form of martial art. Bob would go on to explain the only true way to describe Bill was he was “for real.” Kune-Tao, as taught by Willem Reeders and passed on to Bob, was a real warrior art, not an exercise. Bob views Kune-Tao as an offensive art while being defensive as well. This dichotomy comes from the fact that being able to perceive an opponent’s intentions prior to their actions is in fact defensive. When asked to differentiate between Kune-Tao and other styles Bob would respectfully decline. He feels doing so would appear as disrespectful to those arts. He saw this same trait in Reeders as he would not denigrate another style either. Throughout the conversation with Bob it would be evident that honor was always part of his character. Respect every style. As the Reeders era of training others in Kune-Tao ended, the Servidio era would begin. While still training with Reeders, Bob was asked by individuals in the Meadville area to open a school. Bob was hesitant at first and rejected the idea. However, as the requests continued, Bob relented. Bob would open the Meadville Karate Club. When asked why he used the term Karate, Bob would explain that Kune-Tao was not a term used outside of the Reeders circle and Kung Fu was still relatively unknown. As time went on and Bruce Lee began to bring the name Kung Fu to America, Bob would eventually change the name to the Meadville School of Kung Fu. This was a better representation of the art while still keeping the term Kune-Tao exclusive. The first classes would be held in a handball court at the local YMCA with 8 -10 people in attendance. One of the early students, who would become Bob’s most senior student, was Master Scott Young or as he is known, Scott. When asked if there is another individual he would see with skills similar to Reeders, without hesitation, Bob would refer to Scott. He would go on to detail the similarities between Scott and Reeders. Scotts many years as both a local city policeman and deputy sheriff helped to hone his impressive skills. Bob would train many students over the years and maintain the uniqueness of the Reeders style of Kune-Tao. He would teach as he was taught. If one was ready to see what Bob was showing their eyes would be opened, if not it would simply appear as another technique. The foundation of the system would be stressed repeatedly and everyone was expected to practice routinely. The classes were structured, but informal. Bob prefers to be called simply by his first name, not Grandmaster, Sifu or any of the other terms typically associated with someone of his high martial arts level. The Meadville School of Kung Fu has been in continuous operation since 1965, quietly carrying on the Royal Lieu Siong Kune-Tao family style from Willem Reeders. Those who have had the honor to train with Bob are blessed that he has chosen to continue the legacy of Willem Reeders.