Is it KENPO KARATE or KENPO JUJITSU?
The Okazaki Influence of Modern-Day Kenpo
Anthony P. Janovich
Everywhere you go today, you see martial arts schools using the words "Kenpo Karate". The late Ed Parker opened one of the first commercial Kenpo Karate schools in the continental United States in 1964, and he was probably the foremost exponent on the kenpo system when he died last December.
Parker was originally taught Kenpo by Frank Chow in Hawaii, and later learned from Chow’s brother, William K.S. Chow, who was Parker’s most influential instructor.
For a closer look at William K.S. Chow, take a step back in time to 1943 on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. About 30 students are training under instructor Sig Kufferath at the Kaheka Lane dojo, training hall, in Honolulu. Observing the class is William Chow. Kufferrath, currently the Kodenkan Danzan-Ryu headmaster, was at the time an instructor under Professor Henry S. Okazaki, the founder of Danzan-Ryu Jujitsu.
Chow was a frequent visitor to the Kaheka Lane school, and also observed classes occasionally at Okazaki’s dojo. According to Kufferath, Chow would watch a class and afterwards discuss techniques with him. Chow had studied Chinese martial arts under his father and at the time was studying under Kosho-Ryu kenpo Jujitsu instructor James Mitose. Mitose didn’t refer to his style as Kenpo Karate, believing that Kenpo and karate were two different things. He felt Kenpo Jujitsu described the art far better than Kenpo Karate.
Chow was not your average martial artist. He had calluses on every knuckle and made regular visits to Honolulu Chinatown to challenge the Chinese instructors and test his art.
Chow’s youngest brother, John A. Chow-Hoon, eventually studied Jujitsu under Kufferath and believed that Danzan-Ryu’s joint lock and arm bars were more effective than those of his brother’s Kenpo. Chow-Hoon earned black belts in both styles, and later relocated to the mainland United States, where he taught for many years in Monterey, California, before his death. Chow-Hoon was instrumental along with Wally Jay in forming the Jujitsu America organization. William Chow eventually became one of Mitose’s top instructors in Hawaii until around 1949, when he broke away from Mitose and began calling his art Kenpo Karate.
From this lineage evolved arts such as Kajukenbo, founded by Adriano Emperado, a student of William Chow. Emperado was aided by Jujitsu stylist Joseph Holck, boxer Peter Choo and martial artists George Chang and Frank Ordonez in putting Kajukenbo together. All five were influenced by Okazaki, who blended a number of styles to form a complete system.
Most of the Kenpo schools and practitioners on the Hawaiian islands were members of Okazaki’s American Jujitsu Institute, which Okazaki founded in 1939. This included Mitose’s Official Self-Defense Club. Kufferath also had a good relationship with Mitose, and they exchanged information freely on each other’s styles.
One thing that separates Kenpo Jujitsu from Kenpo Karate is that, in Kenpo Jujitsu, as in Danzan-Ryu Jujitsu, practitioners do not kick above the waist, excluding drop kicks. Kenpo Karate, on the other hand, utilizes high kicks, including some to the head. Kufferath, however, believes 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. For self-defense purposes, Kufferath says, it is best to stay with low kicks, incorporating them with vital-point strikes, joint locks, throws and grappling when appropriate.
According to the Danzan-Ryu Jujitsu Mokuroku, instructors scroll, written by Okazaki, Kenpo was combined with the Jujitsu or Japanese yawara arts around A.D. 1600, when Chinese emigrants brought Kenpo and other techniques to Japan. Once again this demonstrates the combination of Kenpo and Jujitsu, not Kenpo and Karate.
Karate is an Okinawan import, brought to Japan by Gichin Funakoshi in 1922. Okazaki’s dojo was the site of the first karate instruction in the United States, as Thomas Miyashiro taught the art to the Japanese and Hawaiian community, keeping with Okazaki’s tradition of teaching anyone regardless of race, sex, etc. In 1934, Chojun Miyagi, the patriarch of Goju-Ryu karate, visited the islands and taught at Okazaki’s dojo during his stay. Miyagi was not the only notable martial artist to visit Okazaki in Hawaii; others such as Judo founder Jigoro Kano also taught at Okazaki school. Okazaki promoted the teaching of other arts as well, including Kendo and Sumo.
Many notable celebrities came to Okazaki for either Jujitsu training or physical therapy for their ailments. Included among these were President Franklin D. Roosevelt and actors Johnny Weissmuller, George Burns and Charlie Chaplin. Okazaki’s liniments and formulas for special injuries were especially popular with the islands’ martial arts teachers, regardless of their styles. Mitose, Miyagi, Kano and William Chow were all familiar with Okazaki’s restoration therapy.
If instructors want to say they teach Kenpo Karate rather than Kenpo Jujitsu, that is fine. Karate is a more readily recognized word than Jujitsu, and accounts in large part for its use with Kenpo instead of Jujitsu.
But one fact cannot be ignored: the roots of nearly all Kenpo in the United States lead back to Mitose and Kenpo Jujitsu in Hawaii. Mitose pioneered what has today become known as Kenpo Karate, and his students, such as William Chow, further advanced the art-just as instructors like Kufferath and Wally Jay did for Okazaki’s Danzan-Ryu Jujitsu. These men are the true forebearers of modern-day martial arts, and as such, are owed a debt of gratitude by today’s practitioners.
About the author: Anthony P. (Tony) Janovich is an 8th Dan and the Head Instructor at the Kodenkan Jujitsu Institute in Santa Clara, California. Professor Janovich succeeded Master Sig Kufferath as Headmaster of the Kodenkan upon Professor Kufferath’s passing in 1999. You can email questions or comments to Professor Janovich at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.kodenkan.com