The History of Kempo
Two schools of thought exist regarding the origins of Japanese martial arts. One school insists the art of Jujitsu is originally native to Japan, while the other claims Jujitsu was actually developed from an earlier form of Chinese grappling known as Chin-na. Both Jujitsu and Chin-na stress the grappling and joint manipulation aspects of fighting as opposed to the punching and kicking aspects. Regardless of its origins by the 16th century Jujitsu was widely practiced throughout Japan.
Jujitsu was utilized by the Samurai warriors in addition to their armed fighting methods. In addition many Buddhist and Shinto temples throughout Japan advanced the practice of Jujitsu and Shorinji Kempo. Shorinji is the Japanese word for Shaolin, and Kempo the word for Chuan Fa, which means “law of the fist,” or “way of the fist.” Essentially Shorinji Kempo was the form of Shaolin empty hand combat that had spread to Japan.
In the 16th century the modern system of Kempo was first developed. This style was originally known as Kosho-Ryu Kempo. This style is different from the Shorinji Kempo mentioned earlier. Shorinji Kempo was directly evolved from Shaolin systems. Kosho-Ryu Kempo was a hybrid of Japanese Jujitsu and Shaolin. Kosho-Ryu Kempo traces its roots to the Mitose family’s Shinto monastery. One story claims the Mitose family had long practiced Jujitsu. Kosho was a member of the Mitose family who trained with a Shaolin monk and added the Shaolin fighting techniques to the family’s Jujitsu. This story has two variations; according to one, Kosho traveled to China to train with the Shaolin monk, while in the other the Shaolin monk came to Japan.
The other story claims that the Mitose family did not have any history of practicing martial arts and that Kosho was not originally a member of the Mitose family at all. According to this story Kosho was a Shaolin master who learned Japanese Jujitsu and eventually came to the Mitose monastery to became a member of the family. In any event this time period marked a major milestone in the evolution of the martial arts and the birth of modern Kempo. This was the first time the Shaolin fighting arts, consisting primarily of striking and kicking techniques was fused with Jujitsu, which consisted mainly of joint manipulation and grappling technique.
Kempo continued to be the Mitose family art through the early 20th century. In the 1940′s James Mitose relocated to Hawaii. In 1942 he opened his Self Defense Club in Hawaii to teach his family’s Kempo. One of his students was the legendary William Kwai Sun Chow. Chow was one of only six students ever to attain the rank of Black Belt from Mitose. He was the only student to master the style. Chow had also learned Shaolin kung fu from his father, the Buddhist monk Hoon Chow. Chow’s development of Kempo marks another major milestone in the evolution of the art. Today any style of Kempo in the United States can trace its origins back to Professor Chow.
Since Chows death in 1987 his Kara-Ho Kempo system has continued under the direction of Master Sam Kuoha. Master Kuoha was Professor Chow’s direct successor and continues to this day to teach Professor Chow’s system. Chow’s most famous student was the late Ed Parker. Parker had a background in Phillipino martial arts in addition to his Kempo training from Chow. Today Parker’s system forms the backbone of the second of three major branches of Kempo, with Chow’s own system being the first.
Another of Chow’s students was Adriano Emperado. Emperado along with several other martial arts masters created the art of Kajukenbo. This style was centered in Kempo but added techniques from many other styles, including Karate, Judo and Tae Kwon Do. Sonny Gascon was involved with Emperado during and immediately following the creation of Kajukenbo.
This little known master is primarily responsible for the proliferation of the third major branch of Kempo. The lineage of many famous masters such as Professor Nick Cerio can be traced through Sonny Gascon. In fact, Professor Cerio trained with George Pesare who was a student of Sonny Gascon’s in California.