The art of Kempo, also written as Kenpo, is unique as far as its history goes in two respects; it is considered by many the first eclectic martial art, as well as having its founding roots stretch back to 520 BC The person who was a catalyst of the way of Kempo was a prince and warrior of southern India called Bodhidharma. According to the records of the Lo-Yang temple, Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk under the tutelage of Prajnatara and it is presumed that upon his death bed that Prajnatara requested Bodhidharma to travel to China where he felt the principles of Buddhism where in decline, and that the knowledge of dhyana (Zen koans) should be known.
It is estimated that in 520 BC during the Southern dynasties that Bodhidharma entered China and traveled northward to the kingdom of Wei where the fabled meeting with emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty began. This meeting is recorded do to the intense conversation and discussion of Buddhism and dhyana which took place. The meeting was to no avail, his words to the worldly emperor meant nothing, and thus, sullened by his attempts, Bodhidharma left the palace of the emperor and travelled to the Honan province where we entered the Shaolin temple and began a martial history.
Bodhidharmas depression grew once he reached the famed Shaolin temple for Prajnatra’s telling was true. The monks where in a raged condition physically and mentally diminished do to the excess amount of time the monks spent in meditation and little else. Many of the monks would often fall asleep in meditation while others needed assistance in the basic necessities of life – so feeble was there condition.
For an unknown period of time Bodhidharma meditated in a cave at the outskirts of the temple seeking for a way to renew the feat of Buddha’s light, as well as letting the monks regain control over there lives. Upon his return Bodhidharma instructed the monks into the courtyard, from the strong to the feeble and began to explain and work with them in the art of Shih Pa Lo Han Sho, or the 18 hands of Lo Han. These techniques which are the foundation for almost all martial arts today where never originally intended to be utilized as methods of fighting but where a manner in which the monks could attain enlightenment while preserving there bodies health.
During the Sui period, approximately forty years or so after the death of Bodhidharma it is told that brigands assaulted the Shaolin monetary; one of many attacks that would occur until the early twentieth century. During this first invasion, the monks attempts at defending there temple where futile, there skills where not attuned to fighting techniques and it looked as if the temple would fall. A monk of the temple, with reference only as the “begging monk”, during the last siege of the temple by the brigands attacked several of the outlaws with an array of aggressive hand and foot techniques, killing some and driving the remaining attackers away. The other monks where so inspired by the display of this single priest that they requested tutelage in this martial style as a means of protection. In later scripts this fighting art was recorded as Chuan Fa or Fist Method.
Over several decades the fighting arts of the Shaolin temple grew and where said to prosper over 400 arts in total over the next several centuries. Several decades after the fight of the begging monk, a master of Chuan Fa called Ch’ueh Taun Shang-jen was said to have rediscovered the original Shih Pa Lo Han Sho which had been lost for many years. Ch’ueh over a period of time integrated his art of Chuan Fa with that of Lo Han increasing the total number of techniques from the original eighteen to total of seventy-two. For several years after this period Ch’ueh traveled the country side of China promoting his art in several gruelling fighting matches until he came upon a man named Li in the province of Shensi. Li, a master of Chuan Fa as well as other martial ways (including rumors of Chin Na) traveled and trained with Ch’ueh for some time developing the curriculum of Chuan Fa to form a total of one-hundred and seventy techniques. Furthermore, they categorized these techniques into five distinctive groups distinguished by various animals who instinctive reactions best reflected the movements of this new Chuan Fa. Upon there return to the Shaolin temple of which both Li and Ch’ueh belonged they presented to the other monks wu xing quan, the five animal form and brought to the Shaolin temple a new stage in martial arts evolution.
Over the next several centuries the history of Chuan Fa and its advent to Kempo is ragged in its tales and difficult to gain accurate descriptions. What is known is that the art of Chuan Fa remained and is still practiced in China, but its teaching also found its way to Okinawian Islands and the Ryukyu kingdoms as well as Japan. In both places, the art was referred to as Kempo or Law of the fist. Between the Sui and Ming periods (an 800 year gap) it is considered that many a wandering monk traveled across Japan and Okinawa bringing with them a working knowledge of the art of Kempo which explains its wide-spread distribution. The art of Chuan Fa which translates into Kempo would have been taught as a supplement to the daily spiritual training the monks endured. Many of the monks would often choose disciples or teach at various Buddhist temples bringing forth the word of Buddha, and the power of Chuan Fa. From there the art of Kempo could easily spread among the commoners and nobles alike
Another reason for the founding in Kempo can be seen in the numerous trips the Japanese and Okinawans made to China to learn the fabled art of Chuan Fa. Some people would disappear for many years, presumed dead by there families, only to resurface as a master of Kempo and other martial arts. One such man was named Sakugawa. Sakugawa lived in the village of Shuri on the island of Okinawa and traveled to China during the 18th century to learn the martial secrets of the Chuan Fa masters. For many years Sakugawa had not been seen and many believe he had died in his journeys, but after much time he did return, much to the surprise of his kin. Sakugawa has learned the secrets of Chuan Fa and had become a master of some repute himself. Over many years of refinement the art Sakugawa had learned slowly was renamed to Shuri-te and is considered the predecessor to many forms of modern Karate.
Another member of Shuri, Shionja also traveled to China as Sakugawa did but on his return in 1784 brought with him a Chinese companion named Kushanku. Both men brought with them the art of Chuan Fa which they had studied together in China and began to demonstrate around Okinawa. Its is believed that Kushaku and Shionja had the greatest influence in Okinawian Kempo styles than any other martial artist.
Unfortunately, the evolution of Kempo in Japan is just as abrupt and mysterious although a flurry of attention to the art was brought during the reign of Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s plans of conquering China. It is referred that many a samurai on there return from China whether during or after the war brought with them extensive knowledge of Chuan Fa and throughout the years modified it to include there own arts of Jujutsu and Aikijutsu and it is at this state where the greatest evolution of Kempo takes place since the time of Li and Ch’ueh.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century two families, Kumamoto and Nagasaki brought knowledge of Kempo from China to Kyushu in Japan. This art was modified throughout many years into its current form which is referred to as Kosho ryu Kempo, or Old Pine Tree school and it is from here that most modern forms of Kempo are derived. In 1916 at the age of five, James Mitose was sent to Kyushu from his homeland in Hawai for schooling in his ancestors are of self-defense called Kosho ryu Kempo. For fifteen years he studied this art which was a direct descendent of the original Chuan Fa. After completing his training in Japan, Mitose returned to Hawaii and in 1936 opened the “Official Self-Defense” club in Beretania mission in Honolulu. It was here that the five major Kempo influences; Thomas Young, William Chow, Edmund Howe, Arthur Keawe and Paul Yamaguchi would study and bring Kempo to the world.
In 1934, before Mitose’s return to the United States, the term Kempo-Karate was first used. In an issue of Yoen Jiho Sha newspaper an advertising for the visit of Chogun Miyagi, a famous karateka and founder of Goju ryu karate do, to the island of Hawaii. The use of the two terms is under speculation. Some suspect it was simply an advertising scheme while others believe that Chogun Miyagi’s Goju ryu was actually a pure form of Kempo, and that the term karate was simply more well known.
William Chow is perhaps responsible for the largest leap of Kempo to the general public. William K.S. Chow studied Kempo under Mitose for several years and previously had studied his families art of Kung Fu. Chow united, like many Kempo masters before him the arts of Kosho ryu Kempo and his family Kung fu to form a new art which would eventually be referred to as Kara-ho Kempo. In 1949, Chow had attracted a number of students to his own teachings and opened a dojo of his own at a local YMCA. To make a distinct variation from Mitose’s Kempo, Chow referred to his art as Kenpo Karate. Throughout the next few decades Chow made many innovations to the system including the use of circular techniques of his Kung Fu, as well as various kata or forms based on the primary linear and circular techniques of his art.
One of Chows most flourishing students was a Hawaiian native named Edmund Parker. Ed Parker as he was known was the last highly significant figure in the current tale of modern Kempo unleashing it to the world as well as propelling it into his current form. In 1954 Edmund Parker earned his black belt in kara-ho Kempo and two years later became a household name, teaching his art to the likes of Elvis Presley, and Steve Mcqueen. Ed Parker further refined and defined the techniques of Kara-ho Kempo till he perfected his American Kenpo Karate system. Ed Parker is often referred to as the father of American Karate.
From here, Kempo and its other forms take many twists and turns, constantly evolving into new states of being.
The Direction of Kempo
With all things certain paths are given directing us on various roots to a final goal. Sometimes this goal is reached in a very short period of time, while at other times that goal is never completed by expanded by as new paths cross the original. The direction in which Kempo leads its practioners is similar to that – its goals are represented in a sphere, constantly expanding with the final goal only being the beginning of a new stage.
Kempo is a unique martial art having been founded several centuries ago in the Chinese Shaolin temple, thus bringing with it a certain air of mystery. As a martial art, Kempo is referred to as a Do. The Do is referred to in Buddhist Zen scripts as a path towards enlightenment. Lao Tzu, a priest of Taoism said “Mastering others requires force; Mastering the self requires enlightenment..” This phrases sums of the full circle of what Kempo strives towards. Although on its surface Kempo can be seen as a unique form of self-defense, hidden beneath its physical exterior are levels where characteristic centralization of mind and body form. At this level, Kempo’s practioners up from a simple form of fighting to a higher level of ability – a level of enlightenment. Ying Kuchan, a Shaolin monk and master of Kempo after a lengthy period of meditation in a Zen rock garden spoke of Kempo saying “Kempo is the power of adaptability and yielding; the harmony of all things working together.”
On the surface, Kempo’s uniqueness lies in its comprehensive and diversified means of unarmed defense. Shaolin Kempo Karate proper is both an armed and unarmed system of combat incorporating applications in varying appearances and method. On an external level, Kempo is a no holds barred fighting system of offensive and defensive methods with equal emphasis of striking techniques with the hands and feet; immobilization and controls; projections and takedown; as well as weaponry and various spiritual and healing arts. Shaolin Kempo is a street wise defensive art that does not restrict its students in methodology. Clawing hands evolve into slashing feet. Cunning joint locks turn into devastating hip throws. Evasive blocks turn into breath closing chokes.
The possibilities are endless. The only true fighting systems are those where there are no rules applied. From the books of the Han dynasty we learn “Nothing is impossible to a willing mind.” And it is from this saying that we can derive the upper principles of Shaolin Kempo. What sets Kempo apart from boxing, wrestling, and Sunday night football is an emphasis on centralization of body and mind, a concept understood by very few. Many people are quiet happy with only the surface value of Kempo taking its studies for reasons of physical health, self-defense, or a Monday night hobby. But for what level of imperfection will you settle for in yourself? If there is more to Kempo why not grasp it. Kempo tries to build a persons psychological persona as well as turning the ego self into the egoless self. The true Kempo is not a means of felling an opponent by force of hand or weapon, nor was it originally intended as a means of arms. Kempo calls for a bringing of inner peace to the self, and the universe around us. A master of Kempo is not only a master of self-defense, but a master of himself. In the end, the direction of Kempo was best described by Bruce Lee when he commented on his art of Jeet Kune Do; “To have no way as a way; To have no limitations as a limitation.”
What’s the Difference Between Kempo and Kenpo?
Nothing. Actually, the only difference is in the translation of the Kanji to its English form. The word Kempo and Kenpo are both pronounced the same and both mean “Law of the Fist.” When the Japanese Kanji for Kempo is brought into English, either a “m” or “n” is placed in the word. Its sorta like saying “Qi” or “Chi”, “Gung” or “Kung.” Generally though, the more “traditional” (lightly used) forms of Kempo use the “Kempo” form, while the more non- traditional or contemporary versions use “Kenpo.” William K.S. Chow was the first person to use the term Kenpo to show his break from the Mitose family Kosho ryu kempo.
Styles of Kempo
In no way is this a complete list of Kempo styles. The following is a list of Kempo styles that I have some information, if even vague amounts on. If you have information on forms of Kempo not listed here, please send me some so I can add it to the FAQ. The following list is of “unique” versions of Kempo, thus the 50-thousand versions of American Kenpo, etc, although referred to as different names (although they are the same) are not listed.
KOSHO RYU KEMPO – This style of Kempo was brought by visiting monks to to the Mitose family in the 15th century. Over the centuries this form of Shaolin Chuan Fa was blended and refined with forms of Jujutsu that where common to the area as well as Rinzai Zen philosophy, Kyudo, and other arts. Kosho, the name of the Mitose clan means “Old Pine Tree”, and the Kempo art is referred to as “The Old Pine Tree Style.” The current “grandmaster” of Kosho-ryu Kempo is Bruce Juchnik who uses the term Kosho Shoreiryu Kempo to describe Mitose’s school of Kempo. Mitose’s son Thomas Barrow Mitose also teaches the true for of his fathers art and is considered by some the true grandmaster of the Kosho ryu style.
KARA-HO KENPO – Founded by William K.S. Chow, a student of James Mitose, this Kempo offshoot is a blend of the Kosho ryu Kempo and 5-animal Kung Fu of the Chow Family. Kara-ho Kenpo utilizes many circular as well as linear techniques and requires 500 such techniques to be learnt for black-belt status. Currently, Karaho Kenpo is under the evolution of Sam Kuoha who has added various new techniques as well as 12 kata based on Chow’s original 12 base linear techniques. Karaho Kenpo is currently the fastest growing Kempo organization with currently over 5000 members to its teachings.
SHAOLIN KEMPO – The Shaolin Kempo system was formed by Fred Villari, a student of American and Shorinji kempo systems. Fred Villari’s system tends more towards the Kung-Fu element and utilizes the techniques of the 5 animal Chuan Fa to a large extent. Added to the Kempo system was white tiger Chin na techniques as well as various Aikijutsu projections and immobilizations.
AMERICAN KENPO – An offspring of Kara-ho Kenpo, Ed Parker’s American Kenpo system is the largest and most well organized system in existence. Parker took what C Chow taught him and organized every technique and movement into a format that could be broken down into levels for all students. Parker felt that innovations he added to his Kenpo eventually made up 85% of the system and thus he renamed it American Kenpo Karate. The American Kenpo system can proudly be seen in the moves “The Perfect Weapon”, and “Street Knight” starring 4th dan, Jeff Speakman, one of the heads of the United Kenpo Karate Association and protege of Ed Parker.
NICK CERIO’S KENPO – Nick Cerio’s Kenpo was founded in 1974 and credits both Chow and Parker with the creation of the style. The Cerio Kenpo school believe in the “old method of training”, and teaches most of the Shotokan forms, kung fu and Kajukenbo forms, TKD kicks, Japanese stances, as well as Jujtusu. Weapons of both Chinese and Japanese systems are taught and maintains many traditional forms. Cerio calls Chow his “teacher” and Parker his “coach”
I am acknowledging the following Kempo systems although I have no information about them.
- Nippon Kempo
- Okinawian Kempo
- American Shaolin Kenpo
- White Tiger Kenpo
- Go Kempo
- Ju Kempo
- Sam-Pai Kenpo
- Lima Lama
- Won Hop Kuen Do
What Martial Arts Compose the Curriculum of Kempo?
In general, most systems of Kempo consists of 4 primary arts which can be seen in 95% of Kempo system in both Okinawian and Japanese systems of Kempo, and consist of primarily Chinese influences.
- 18 hands of Lo Han
- 5 Animal Chuan Fa
- White Crane Chin Na
Other arts that can be found in Kempo schools include:
- Aikido or Aikijutsu
- White Crane Kung Fu
- Various weapon arts
- Calligraphy, etc.
Does Kempo Use Other Weapons Other Than Hands and Feet?
In Kempo schools, defenses against knives and clubs are seen from yellow belt and up, and are considered prime weapons in which to defend against. Kempo also teaches its students how to use weapons to increase there understanding of defense. Weapons that are taught are both Chinese and Japanese in variety and vary widely. Some schools of Kempo teach the 8′ staff, while others teach Chain Whip, and sai. Weapon training often begins at the green belt level, although in some schools it is restricted to those of black belt level and higher. In most Kempo schools, the primary weapon skills taught are:
- Half Staff (Jo)
- 6′ Staff
Does Kempo Have Forms?
Many people think that because Kempo is a highly-directed “self-defense” art that it contains no kata or forms. This is very untrue. Kempo has many form with a notable characteristic of having both circular and linear movements as well as hard and soft techniques. Kempo forms are used to teach speed and coordination of strikes as well as movement, projections and immobilizations, and various principles of fighting. Many Kempo systems of Kempo utilized a numbering system for there kata, instead of refering them by name to make them simpler to remember. It is far easier to remember Kata #3 than Naihanci-dai. The American Kenpo system utilizes the terminoly of Long Form # and Short Form # for many of there kata (i.e. Long Form 1). In such systems, often in the advanced levels, the forms take on names, such as Dragon-Tiger Form, Statue of the White Crane,etc. Another interesting thing to note is the use of the Pinan forms in many systems as well as common Okinawian, Chinease, and or Japanese forms.
Books and Videos About Kempo
There are a large amount, and more out every day. These are the ones that are most popular although I have noticed a few new ones coming out.
- What is Self Defense James Mitose
- Infinite Insights of Kenpo Ed Parker
- Martial Arts and Real Life Fred Villari
- The Zen of Kenpo Ed Parker
- Encyclopedia of Kenpo Ed Parker
- Kenpo Karate: Law of the fist Ed Parker
- Secrets of Chinease Kenpo Ed Parker
- Kempo Karate: Art of Self Defense Fred Ward
- When Kenpo Strikes (video) Panther Video
- Nick Ceiros Kenpo (video) Nick Ceiro
- Kyushu Jutsu (book & video) George Dillman
- Black or White Gis
A common conversation is the Gi’s worm by Kempo students. All students beginning in Kempo wear the traditional white gi, but as they progress they are allowed to wear a black gi as a sign of rank. it is common for many high-ranks to wear either black or white gi, and at black belt levels to combine the two such as white top, and black pants. I can find no historical sense in the use of the gis, although I know that Mitose often wore a black gi and his students wore white.
Similarities Between Kempo and Other Arts
Kempo and other martial arts have various similarities in technique and principle, primarily because of the diverse and eclectic background of Kempo.
Tae Kwon Do and Kempo
Many of the aerial and spinning kicks of TKD have been brought to Kempo in the recent times often used primarily in “sparring situations.” Certain jumping and spinning kicks where inherit in the Kempo system such as the Jumping Front, Side, Back and Roundhouse kicks, as well as spinning back, and crescent kicks.
Karate and Kempo
Karate and Kempo share the closet similarities in techniques do to there similar backgrounds. It is believed by many that Karate has its origins as an offshoot of Kempo. 95% of all Karate techniques if not more can be found in the Kempo systems.
Jujutsu and Kempo
Many of Kempo’s immobilization and projection techniques arrived from the Japanese Jujutsu. The various loin throws, shoulder and hip projections, as well as sweeps are a direct inheritance of Jujutsu, although Kempo does not contain as wide an array or extensively developed series of throws as Jujutsu.
Aikijutsu and Kempo
In the last few years, many Aikido and Aikijutsu techniques have found there way into the Kempo art, gracing the study of Chin na with new principles and ideas. The most common techniques are Shiho nage, Irimi nage, as well as en-no-irimi projections.
Kung Fu and Kempo
Although Kempo was originally a “kung” style, it has over the years thrown away many of its Chinese aspects for a more Japanese “hard style” approach. Still, many soft techniques can still be seen in Kempo, primarily the five animal techniques, chin na, and weapon skills.
*NOTE* Part of this list was taken from Inside Kung Fu Novemeber 1993
Ed Parker’s International Kenpo Karate Organization (IKKA)
The IKKA was formed in the 1950s as the Kenpo Karate Association of America, but in the 1960s changed it as many of his students starting teaching around the world. Ed Parker was the president of the IKKA till his death in 1990. His wife Leilani is now president. The goal of the IKKA is to perpetuate the system by having the various “Ed Parker” high black belts teaching the system at various schools and seminars. The family continues to produce the International Karate Championships and has 11 regions including U.S., Canada, and Europe.
Chinease Kara-ho Kempo Schools
In just five years, grandmaster Sam Kuoha has built one of the largest Kempo organizations in the world with over 60 kara-ho schools and 5000+ students. Students of the organization keep in touch with the THUNDERFLASH newsletter which is distributed quarterly. To contact the Chinease Kara-ho kempo organization, 13320 Camino Canada #6, El Cjon, CA 92021; (619) 443-2611
Worldwide Kenpo Karate Association (WKKA)
The WKKA was created in Baltimore on Feb 28, 1991 and has grown to 100 schools in less than two years. President Joe Palanzo is president and created the organization after the death of Ed Parker do to “philosophical” differences with the IKKA. The WKKA can be contacted at 1400 B Riesterstown Road, Pikesville,MD 21203; (301) 484-7122
United Kenpo Karate Assoication (UKKA)
Headed by Jay T. Will, the UKKA was founded in October 1991 with the intent of further the ideas of Ed Parker, without the worry of political aspects. The group wants to keep the parker lineage and has the goal, “to be place to be a part of something.” as well as “Offering a home, to be a part of the Ed Parker family tree.” The UKKA can be contacted through Jay T. Will at Jay T. Will Karate Studio, 11 South Columbus St, Lancaster, OH 43130; (614) 654-6038
National Chinese Kenpo Karate Association (NCKA)
Founded in 1969 by Steave La Bounty, a member of the IKKA, was created to form a “small, intimate group which could interact more with students”, and not as a rivalry. The NCKAs goal is to insure integrity of the art through competent instructions, fidelity to the principle of self-denial, and humility, and to guarantee promotion through endeavor. The NCKA can be contacted at National Chinese Kenpo Karate Organization, 1630 Pat Brooker Rd, Universal City, TX 71848; (512) 658-7437
Nick Cerio’s International Martial Arts Association (NCITMAA)
Founded in 1989 with 70 schools and 4800+ students, the NCITMAA was founded to teach Cerio’s unique art of Kempo which includes Shotokan forms, Kung Fu and Kajukenbo forms, TKD kicks, Japanese stances as well as jujutsu. For more information write Nick Cerio’s Kenpo, P.O. Box 9550, Warwick RI 028889; (401) 941-087
Fred Villari’s Studios of Self Defense
Headed by Grandmaster Villari, this organization is the controlling head of the Villari Kempo System and tries to united all Shaolin Kempo schools. The Ontario branch is headed by Henry Choo Chong.
United Studio’s of Self Defense
An offshoot of the Villari Studios, the United studios which is still run by Villari I believe, teachs Kempo as its main source but also teaches Tae kwon Do and Wing Chung in the same school with the intention of creating a common learning ground for many martial arts.
Masters of Self Defense
A breakoff from Fred Villaris studios and formed by one of Villari’s highest ranked students, Fred Bagely. The organization was formed after certain “politcal” differenec occured and is run by many high ranked black belts. The Masters of Self Defense boasts over 50 schools and teaches the Villari Shaolin Kempo System.
Kempo’s Speed Striking
An often interesting topic is Kempos “speed striking” techniques. The speed striking technique is primarily for building up the hand speed of the Kempo student which will eventually translate into combat effective speed of strikes in a confrontation. A good example of speed striking is seen throughout the move “The Perfect Weapon”, and is a key training and fighting method. A Kempo student tries to build his reaction speed to a point where 10 or more strikes can be applied in a few seconds.
* NOTE * Certain names and times are in conflict and the most commons ones where used in this document.