Make your own free website on

What is Kempo?

Unfortunately it is very difficult to define Kempo in the way that one can define Judo, Aikido or Shotokan Karate, for example. Jigoro Kano formulated a precise curriculum and training method for Judo a century ago and that style continues to exist today. Morihei Ueshiba and Gichin Funakoshi did the same for Aikido and Shotokan Karate, respectively. If you say to someone that you practice Judo, anyone with even a minimal martial arts background will know exactly what you practice. The same unfortunately does not hold true for Kempo.

And while every teacher of Judo will have a different teaching style, or may emphasize different aspects of the art, they are all still teaching the same art. One could switch from one Judo school to another and still be learning the same curriculum. In Kempo things are not nearly so homogenous. Different schools of "Kempo" or "Kenpo" may very well be teaching totally different arts.

The word Kempo means "Fist Law," where the word Law has the connotation of a Law of nature, or a Law of God. Kempo is a translation of the Chinese word "Chuan Fa," which means boxing or fighting. Japanese and Okinawans would use the term Kempo to refer to a martial art that came from China, or was heavily influenced by Chinese martial arts.
Historically speaking, Kempo first came into existence in Japan during the Edo period, which started in roughly 1600. Schools of Jujutsu that combined their art with Chinese Chuan Fa would come to call themselves Kempo.

And in Okinawa as early as the 12th to the 13th century native experts in the indigenous Okinawan art simply called "Te," or "Hand," would combine their art with Chinese Chuan Fa. They called the resulting art "Tode," which means "China hand" (the original meaning of Karate, which now means "empty hand,") or Kempo.

Today, however, what we know as "Kempo" bears little resemblance to what the Japanese or Okinawans would call Kempo. In fact, really one should call what we do "Hawaiian Kempo."

James Mitose was the first person to teach anything called "Kempo" in Hawaii. His student, William Chow, also became a famous Kempo teacher. In fact, nearly every art in existence in North America today that calls itself Kempo or Kenpo can trace its lineage directly to these two men.

American Kenpo generally refers to arts that descend from Ed Parker, who was a student of William Chow. Chinese Kempo or just Kempo generally refers to arts that descend from Adriano Emperado, who was also a student of William Chow, and was actually his first Black Belt. Emperado and a group of other martial artists combined Kempo, Kung Fu, Karate and Jujutsu to formulate a new art called "Kajukenbo." The Kempo we teach at The Kempokan descends directly from Hawaiian Kajukenbo.

Without referring to its history, one could generally say that Kempo is a martial art that combines Karate, Kung Fu and Jujutsu, and teaches self defense combinations as well as forms similar in nature to the Kata of Karate.  

by Ken Warner
December, 2003