Kenpo, meaning “first law,” is a Japanese fighting art brought from Japan by the Yoshida Clan. The weaponless fighting technique was adopted by the Komatsu Clan.
The Japanese adaptation of Kenpo was used as a defense against a variety of Japanese martial arts in the 12th century. Few modifications were needed to defend against Karate, which developed from new unarmed systems over the next seven centuries. Karate means “empty hand.” There are no Chinese martial arts that resembles Kenpo anymore.
However, 90 years ago, Kenpo was such a popular Japanese fighting art that other martial art styles claimed they were derived from it or their masters were trained by Kenpo masters in China. There are Korean schools who claim to teach Kenpo with Tai Kwon Do. There are multiple fighting styles that were created by Kenpo students, who went on to train with Bruce Lee. They created their own system of Chinese Kenpo, a name coined by Ed Parker in 1960.
Parker taught small groups of friends in their homes and at Bert Goodrich’s Gym, in August 1956. He made enough money to open his own studio, on Feb. 18, 1957, called Kenpo Karate Self Defense Studio. The studio was in Pasadena, California.
Parker wrote a letter to Professor William K.S. Chow requesting his permission to open the studio but not until May and Chow responded positively in December. Chow trained Parker in Kenpo Karate in 1949. Chow was trained in Kenpo Jiu-jitsu under Great Grand Master James Mitose, who was taught by his grandfather Sakuhi Yoshida.
The primary difference between Kenpo Karate and Kenpo Jui-jitsu is that there are no Katas in Kenpo Karate. Kenpo Jiu-jitsu has four Katas: Nihanchi 1 and 2, the Old Man, and the Bear.
Kenpo Karate has more than 700 “distinct self-defense techniques, in addition to blocks, and 72 kicks.” However, each technique has multiple variations so students are prepared for anything. Ray Ostrander called Kenpo Karate a practical form of self defense.
Students learn many moves over mastering one move at a time. In a year, a student could have the mastery of 1,000 moves. Each student masters the moves that are the easiest for the mind and body, therefore, individuals master different moves, even though they are all taught the same. As skills are mastered, the harder skills will become easier to attain.
By Jeanette Smith
Kenpo Karate: Kenpo Karate
Kenpo Karate: A Brief History
Image Courtesy of PKA Karate’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License