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Kempo or Kenpo?

There is no difference between the two spellings, both refer to the same martial art. The Japanese kanji character are the same for both, yet when translated to English, the N can also be an M. Throughout this web page, you will see both spellings used a number of times. Please know that we refer to the same martial art style with each spelling.


Kempo Karate history; about

The history of Kempo can be quite confusing. It depends on who you are asking and which kempo form you are asking about. To keep it simple, our history will describe the origin of kempo at its earliest beginning.

Like many other martial arts, Kempo can trace its origins to the shaolin monks of China. However, Kempo was born in Okinawa. Master "To-De" Sakugawa travelled to China from Okinawa in the 18th century to train with the Chuan Fa masters (Chuan Fa is what Chinese Kung Fu was called at that time). When he returned to Okinawa he developed a fighting style called Shuri Te. Shuri Te eventually became Kepo.

James Mitose travelled to Kyushu in 1916. There, he learned Kosho Ryu Kenpo. He later returned to Hawaii where he taught William Chow, who further developed the art. William Chow called his school Kenpo Karate in order to differentiate his style from Mitose. As a visual break from the traditional Japanese and Okinawan Karate styles, Mitose and Chow introduced the wearing of black Gi’s for higher ranks, to indicate that Kenpo was different and more of a "war art" than the increasingly sports-oriented, white Gi wearing Karate styles.

Founder: Ed Parker

The first commercial karate school was opened by Ed Parker in Provo, Utah 1954. By 1956, Parker had opened a dojo in Pasadena, California. Charles Beeder was his first black belt student. The other black belts in chronological order up to 1962 were: James Ibrao, Rich Montgomery, Rick Flores, Al and Jim Tracy of Tracy Kenpo, Chuck Sullivan, John McSweeney, and Dave Hebler. Parker changed the name of his organization from the Kenpo Karate Association of America to the International Kenpo Karate Asscoiation in 1962, due to John McSweeney (a student of Parker's) opening a Kenpo school in Ireland.

Parker's other accomplishments included training Hollywood stunt men, helping others start and run karate schools, and a brief stint as a film actor. His most notable film was Kill the Golden Goose. He is also known for awarding a black belt to Elvis Presley. But most notably, Ed Parker is known as the father of American Kempo. Kenpo can be considered a mixed martial art in itself as it involves many different types of techniques. Equal emphasis is placed on the use of the hands and feet for striking. The use of elbows and knees is often practiced as well. In addition to striking techniques, Kenpo also incorporates take-downs, throws, joint-locks and other manuevers.

One staple of Kenpo is the use of the black gi (uniform) at higher ranks. This gives kenpo practioners a visual differentation from traditional karate styles that mainly use the white gi. Kenpo also involves the study and practice of Kempo forms or katas (literally: "form") which are detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs.

American Kenpo: A style mainly developed by the considered father Ed Parker. American Kenpo is characterized by rapid successions of techniques that are designed to overwhelm an oppenent. Ed Parker, who studied under William Chow, took the art and formed it in his own personal interpretation. Dropping much of the original language and popularizing it through the opening of schools and tournaments.

Shorinji Kenpo: Is a form of Kenpo that tries to get its practitioners to move through life doing minimal damage whenever possible. Considered a combination of karate, judo, and jiu-jitsu, it is based on the framework of Shaolin Kung Fu. It is differentiated mostly because of it's heavy focus on religous philosphy in combination with martial arts.

Universal Kenpo: Focuses on methods of escape, control, and destroy in self-defense training. Principles of universal Kenpo are to teach self-defense, to improve physical conditioning, to improve self-discipline, moral character, humility, and to develop comradeship among students.

Koshu Ryu Kenpo: Refers to the original Kenpo style brought to Hawaii by James Mitose. Mitose learned the art in Okinawa and spread it to others when he returned to Hawaii. Mitose was a member of the Hawaii Territorial Guard that was in existence following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After the group was disbanded, Mitose opened the "Office Self-Defense Club" and taught his style to members of the public and the American military.

Kenpo Juijitsu:One thing that separates kenpo jujitsu from kenpo karate is that, in kenpo jujitsu practicioners do not kick above the waist, excluding drop kicks. In traditional Kenpo Karate practioners utilize high kicks, including some to the head. A philosphy of Kempo Juijitsu is that if you want to kick someone in the head you should first kick his knees, causing him to bend down and making his head more accessible. And for self-defense purposes it is best to stay with low kicks, incorporating them with vital-point strikes, joint locks, throws and grappling when appropriate.

Benefits of Kempo Karate

  • Excellent form of self-defense
  • Strength conditioning
  • Enhances flexibility and stamina
  • Multi-functional martial art skills
  • Confidence and Discipline
  • Stress reduction and positive attitude

Kempo Karate Videos