The Origin of Kenpo Karate
(second revision 8/8/99)
Kenpo is a Japanese unarmed fighting art that was brought from China to Japan about 700 years ago by the Yoshida Clan and was quickly adopted by the Komatsu Clan. The word Kenpo means literally, "Fist Law," and also refers to its Chinese origin. The Japanese adaptation of this Chinese style was well suited to defend against the various unarmed Japanese martial arts of the 12th century. Few modifications were required for Kenpo to overcome the new unarmed systems that developed over the next 7 centuries that came to be known as Karate (Japanese of "Empty Hand"). But for the Yoshida and Komatsu Clans who developed their art into a truly Japanese style, the term was simply Kenpo. During this same period the Chinese system from which Kenpo was derived underwent so many changes that, while most of the Kenpo techniques can be found scattered among the hundreds of Chinese fighting systems, there is no single system in China today that resembles Kenpo.
"Chinese Kenpo" is a term coined by Ed Parker in 1960, when he found there was no kung fu style that resembled Kenpo. But adding Chinese forms and Chinese terms did not change the nature or Japanese origin of Kenpo. It has, however, imbued the "Chinese connection" with an "ignorance is bliss" mentality. One of Ed Parkers students at the time was Jerry Meyers who went on to train with Bruce Lee and Danny Inosanto, and combined their style with Kenpo to make it a true Chinese Kenpo style.90 years ago Kenpo was so well known as an effective fighting art in Japan that many Japanese styles that had no connection with Kenpo claimed their art was derived from Kenpo. Some even went so far as to claim their masters had training directly under Chinese Kenpo masters. Similar claims have continued to this day, even though there has never been a Chinese Kenpo master; nor has there been a master of the Chinese style that gave rise to Kenpo in centuries. What's even more ridiculous are the Korean schools that claim to teach Kenpo as part of Tai Kwon Do. This Chinese Kenpo is not to be confused with the styles developed by Kenpo students who went on to train with Bruce Lee and created their own systems of Chinese Kenpo.
Kenpo was brought to Hawaii shortly after the turn of the century by Great Grand Master Kiyoka Komatsu. In 1920 her 3 year old son, James Mitose, was sent to Japan where he was raised by his maternal grandfather, Great Grand Master Sakuhi Yoshida. There he studied Kenpo and became the first Mitose to Master the Komatsu/Yoshida art of Kenpo. His father, Otokichi Mitose, never trained in Kenpo, or any martial art for that matter, and since his son was sent to Japan when he was only 3 years old, Otokichi Mitose had no influence on his training. James Mitose returned to Hawaii after his father's death in 1936, then after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, James Mitose began openly teaching what he called Kempo Ju-Jitsu, though the spelling was later changed to Kenpo Jiu Jitsu. Great Grand Master James Mitose, was the ranking Kenpo master in Hawaii in 1942, and with the exception of his sisters, Great Grand Master Fusae, and Shizue, the other eight Kenpo Grand Masters, and four Masters, did not teach openly. However, Grand Master Sadake Takamori and Grand Master Matsuichi Yamashito did teach exclusively to close members of the Hawaiian Japanese community. Mitose retired in 1953, and his Head Instructor (and first Shodan), Thomas Young, took over his club. This left Shizue and Fusae as the ranking Great Grand Masters of Kenpo, but neither taught openly as their brother had. In 1959, Fusae took on a single non Japanese student, and awarded him the rank of Shodan/Instructor and then Sandan in 1961.
NOTE:"Kenpo", while spelled with an N is pronounced Kempo (with an M); and either kenpo or kempo is acceptable. The general rule for Japanese to English translation is, when N is followed by P, the N is pronounced M. There are some who claim the spelling was changed from Kenpo to Kempo by one master or another. This is true. Some instructors wanted to distinguish their style from Kenpo, and some changed from Kempo to Kenpo when they learned what the more acceptable spelling was. Often, however, Mitose's students spelled Kenpo as Kempo, because that's the way is sounded.One of Mitose's top students was William, "Willy", K. S. Chow, who became Mitose's second Shodan (black belt) and Assistant Instructor; although Chow was actually promoted to Shodan by Thomas Young who was Mitose's first Shodan. After being promoted to the rank of Instructor William K. S. Chow taught with Mitose and Young until mid 1949 (May/June), when he opened his own Kenpo club and called his style, "Kenpo Karate". In doing so, Chow is rightfully credited as being the founder of Kenpo Karate, although the term, Kenpo Karate, had probably been used as early at the 1920 in promoting karate demonstrations.
By adopting Kenpo Karate, Chow distinguished his system from Mitose's Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu. Kenpo Karate and Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu where, however, virtually identical except for forms, or katas. There were no forms in Chow's Kenpo Karate, while Kenpo Ju-Jitsu had four katas, Nihanchi 1 & 2, the Bear Kata and Old Man Kata.
Paul Yamaguchi had originally trained with Henry Okazaki before going to James Mitose, where William Chow was his instructor. When Chow opened his own club in 1949, Yamaguchi went with him and received his Shodan from Chow in 1950. Mitose, however, refused to recognize the rank, and Yamaguchi went back to study with Mitose where he received his Shodan that same year, and two years later, (1952) he received the rank of Head Instructor.
This was a blow to Chow, as Paul Yamaguchi, his student, now had a higher rank (Head Instructor) while he was only an Instructor. But there was more. Not only was Yamaguchi a higher rank than Chow, but Mitose had refused to recognize Chow's Shodan rank. A Shodan could promote Shodan's because Shodan was the only Kenpo black belt rank at the time. However, only Mitose could make a Shodan an Instructor. Chow avoided this instructor problem by taking the title "Professor", which is the title Professor James Mitose had given himself.
Chow then renamed his system, "Go-Shinjutsu", (sometimes spelled Go-Shinjitsu) which he said was the name Daruma had called his original system in 525 A.D. The name is, of course, Japanese, but Go-Shinjutsu is the name Professor Chow used on the 1953 Shodan certificate of his top student, Masaichi Oshiro. Oshiro, however, received his Instructor rank from Mitose, which was granted without the objection Mitose had to Yamaguchi. It should also be noted that James Mitose used the term Go Shinjutsu to mean the Art of self-defense and Mitose only attributes the Kenpo style, and not the name Kenpo to Daruma.
NOTE: Mitose's title was "Professor" Grand Master, Great Grand Master and the like are not titles in Kenpo, but are used as signs of generational respect. Mitose only called himself "Professor" while he was teaching in Hawaii. Once he moved to the Mainland he developed the "Master" ranking.Adriano (Sonny) Emperado was Professor Chow's top student when he and his brother Joe Emperado left Chow in late 1950 to create "Kajukenbo" with Frank Ordonez, P.Y.Y. Choo, Joe Holck and Clarence Changhis. Ed Parker began his Kenpo training with Sonny Emperado where he trained for two weeks before going to learn from Professor Chow in 1952.
Another Mitose Shodan, Edward "Boddy" Lowe had originally trained with Okazaki before going with Mitose. In 1952 he became a devoted student of Mas Oyama, and trained with him in Japan before returning to Hawaii where he opened the first Kyokushin Kai (school) in 1959.
In March 1953 another Young/Mitose Shodan, Paul Pung, was promoted to Head Instructor by Mitose, and moved to San Francisco where he opened the "Paul's Karate" school. This was the first commercial Kenpo school (Mitose style) on the mainland. Paul's Karate had its own building and was open to the public and held classes four nights a week.
NOTE: The first commercial Karate school in the United States was founded by Robert Trias in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1946, and the first karate organization was the United States Karate Association (USJA), founded by Trias in 1948. There was some controversy over who had the first commercial karate school in the United States until the late 1970's. This was mostly fueled by Ed Parker students who were claiming Ed Parker was the first to teach on the Mainland. That argument was put to rest the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, stepped forward and stated that he had begun training with Trias in 1947.That same year, (1953) Paul Yamaguchi opened his own club in Hawaii, and called his system "Shin-Shin Kenpo".
In 1955, Masaichi Oshiro left Professor Chow and opened the "Go-Shin-Kenpo Club", which was a variation of Professor Chow's Go-Shinjutsu Club; and the following year, (1956) he changed the name to the "Te-Ken Jutsu Kai," (hand-fist jutsu school).
Then in 1959, Oshiro went to Japan to train in Goju-Ryu under Gogen Yamaguchi. It was at this time that Chow created the "Go-Shinjutsu Kai", (adding Kai to the name) with Bill Chun, who was his highest ranked black belt student at the time and who had been made Instructor by Mitose.
Ed Parker, was a Judo Shodan by the time he was 18 (1949), and took his first Kenpo lesson at Adriano (Sonny) Emperado's club when he was in the Coast Guard in 1952. Ed Parker trained with Emperado for two weeks before going to train with Professor Chow.
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