Kenpo is a style of Karate. It is spelled either Kenpo or Kempo, and the only difference between the spellings is in the translation of the Japanese Kanji to its English form. The words Kenpo and Kempo are both pronounced the same and both mean “Law of the Fist.” More “traditional,” Asian-oriented styles often use the “Kempo” form, while the more modern or contemporary versions tend to use the term “Kenpo.”
Between the late 1950s until his passing in 1990, Senior Grandmaster Edmund K. Parker took the fundamentals of traditional Chinese-based Kempo and developed American Kenpo Karate. Often called “The Art of Science” and “The First Truly American Martial Art,” American Kenpo Karate blends hundreds of years of martial arts knowledge with principles grounded in the modern study of physics, motion, body mechanics, and applied force. This blend of the ancient and the current has resulted in a truly unique and uniquely effective martial art.
Kenpo is a martial art that teaches self-defense and self-control through three primary methods: self-defense techniques, forms, and sparring. However, Kenpo diverges from traditional Karate in several important respects. Students are encouraged to change and adapt the techniques. Kenpo emphasizes vital point attacks using punches, strikes and kicks. Throws are also important in Kenpo.
Kenpo Self-Defense Techniques help students develop their skills by allowing them to practice different threatening situations and experiment with what-if scenarios. Initially, forms and katas help students to develop mental concentration and mental discipline. As they progress, the forms and katas help them to develop self-awareness and self-expression. Kumite (also known as freestyle or sparring) is an exercise in which students test their skills, self-confidence, and self-control in a friendly competition among other classmates. It gives students the opportunity to develop their reflexes and timing in a controlled environment while engaging in a sport activity.
Kenpo also teaches students how to use weapons to increase their understanding of self-defense. In Kenpo, defense against knives and clubs are taught from the yellow belt and up. Weapon training often begins at the green belt level, although some schools restrict it to those of the black belt level and higher. The Kenpo style strives to maintain a balance between “martial” and “art.” The “martial” aspect is expressed by effective efficient self-defense concepts and techniques. The “art” is expressed by creativity, self-expression, and presentation of form.
Modern American Kenpo continues to flourish around the world and to evolve as its creator intended through the efforts of notable teachers like Professor Francisco Vigoroux and Grandmaster Larry Tatum.
If you’re ready to experience what American Kenpo Karate can add to your life, contact us using the form at the right for your free starter package today.
The Origins of Kenpo
Kenpo is considered by many to be the first eclectic martial art. Its origin evolved from Karate which, according to legend, began over a thousand years ago in China.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century two families, Kumamoto and Nagasaki, brought knowledge of Kenpo from China to Kyushu in Japan. Modified throughout many years into its current form, it is referred to as Kosho-Ryu Kenpo, or Old Pine Tree school. It is from here that most modern forms of Kenpo are derived.
According to modern legend, in 1916 at the age of five, James Mitose was sent from his homeland in Hawaii to Kyushu for schooling in his ancestors’ art of self-defense called Kosho-Ryu Kenpo. After completing his training in Japan, Mitose returned to Hawaii. Near the beginning of World War II in 1936, Mitose opened the “Official Self-Defense” club in Honolulu. It was from here that the five major Kenpo influences, Thomas Young, William K. S. Chow, Edmund Howe, Arthur Keawe and Paul Yamaguchi, would study and bring Kenpo to the rest of the world.
William K.S. Chow adapted Mitose’s approach and “Americanized” the art. He is perhaps responsible for the largest leap of Kenpo to the general public. In 1949, Chow opened a school of his own at a local YMCA and referred to his art as Kenpo Karate.
Edmund K. Parker, who is probably the most famous of Chow’s practitioners, began studying Kenpo with Chow at the age of 16. Parker further adapted the methods so that they would prove practical in an actual fight and opened the first commercial Karate studio in 1954. He created a logical organization for the basic Kenpo techniques, dividing them into eight categories, such as stances, blocks, punches and so on. Parker graduated from Brigham Young and moved to California where he opened his second school in 1956 and also founded the International Kenpo Karate Association the same year. Parker taught the martial arts to many actors and celebrities such as Elvis Presley and Steve McQueen. He also appeared in movies and television shows like “I Love Lucy.” Grand Master Edmund Parker is the undisputed “Father” of American Kenpo Karate.
When Mr. Parker died in December of 1990, the International Kenpo Karate Association went through some major restructuring due in part to political differences and other reasons. Many of the senior students went off to create their own associations and promote their own style of the American Kenpo system. Today Kenpo remains very strong in the martial arts industry.