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What is Kenpo

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What is Kenpo?

The Bodhisattva Warriors

by Shifu Nagaboshi Tomio

published 1994 by Samuel Weiser, Inc.

page XIX


"The art of Chuan Fa is what the media often, and incorrectly, calls Kung Fu.  Proper Chuan Fa embodies a tradition from which most of the significant schools of Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Thai Boxing and other "martial arts" have developed their technique.  It is also a vision of human potential that is desperately needed in modern times. Chuan Fa teachings have directly influenced and may have, indeed, created the Japanese Art called Jiu Jitsu, from which Judo came, and via this, the art of Aikido."


Fist    Ken      Chuan    



Law     Po     Fa



China     Kara     Tang



Hand     Te     Shou

 


No Matter in which language, English - Japanese or Mandarin Chinese, one pronounces the characters on the left they still convey the same concept.  The martial art that we practice at Georgia Kenpo Studios began in India among the royal Warriors 1000 years before Bodhidharma, a 28th generation Buddha, introduced what was to be later inappropriately named Kung Fu among the Chinese monks in their temples. Kung Fu is only a term that describes one's most skilled abilities, e.g. a lawyer's kung fu is his practice of law, a carpenter's kung fu is working with wood and its related projects, etc. Kung Fu is not a style of martial art. Ask any individual of oriental descent if they study kung fu and they may not understand what you mean. From India to China and then into the islands of Japan and Okinawa and beyond, kenpo is a system of martial arts not a style. A system is an integrated whole whereas a style is only a portion of a system; however, each style may be a micro-system within itself.

Kenpo is a Japanese art of self-defense that was brought from China to Japan about 700 years ago by the Yoshida clan. The word means literally, Fist Law, and one who practices Kenpo literally a boxer of the Boxer Rebellion is a Kenpi. The Chinese style was well suited to defend against the various unarmed Japanese martial arts of the 13th century, and few modifications were required to overcome the new unarmed systems that developed over the next 7 centuries. During this same period the Chinese system from which Kenpo was derived underwent so many changes that, while most of the Kenpo techniques can be found scattered among the hundreds of Chinese fighting systems, there is no single system in China today that resembles Kenpo.

75 years ago Kenpo was so well known as an effective fighting art in Japan that many Japanese styles that had no connection with Kenpo claimed their art was derived from the Yoshida Kenpo. Some even went so far as to claim their masters had been training directly under Chinese kenpo masters. Similar claims have continued to this day, even though there has not been a Chinese kenpo master for centuries.

Kenpo came to Hawaii, shortly after the turn of the century, when a Grand Master of Kenpo, Kiyoka Yoshida, was sent to the Islands by her family, to marry Otokichi Mitose. In 1920 Kiyoka sent her 3 year old son, James Mitose, back to Japan to be raised by her parents. There he studied Kenpo and became the first Mitose to Master his mother's family art of Kenpo. He returned to Hawaii only after his father's death in 1937. After the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, James Mitose began openly teaching what he called Kenpo Jiu Jitsu and continued to teach until his retirement in 1953. One of Mitose's top students was William Chow, who became his second black belt and Assistant Instructor. In the spring of 1949 Professor William K. S. Chow opened his own Kenpo club and coined the term Kenpo Karate to distinguish his system from Mitose's, even though the two systems were virtually identical.

Ed Parker was a student of Professor Chow in Hawaii, and was the pioneer of Kenpo to the Mainland. The system of Original Kenpo he taught in Pasadena, California from 1956 to 1960 was the same as that taught by Mitose and Chow. In 1961 Ed Parker and Chinese Kung Fu Master, James Wing Woo, co-founded Traditional Kenpo, and the master of those two systems was Ed Parker's first black belt, James Ibrao, and it was under Ed Parker and Jimmy Ibrao that the Tracy brothers learned Kenpo.

When karate began its rise to popularity in the mid 1960s, Tracy’s dominated the tournament scene and over the years nearly 80% of the world-class Kenpo fighters had trained under the Tracy system. Because of this, and the practicality of Kenpo in real fights, it has developed such a reputation that many martial artists, including Tae Kwon Do instructors, now claim they teach Kenpo, even though they do not.

So what makes Kenpo so effective? First, Kenpo is not stylized, but incorporates the moves of kung fu, Jiu Jitsu and karate into a systematic system. Second, Kenpo has always recognized the difference between avoidable fights and being attacked, and has based its theories on the aphorisms of the great Chinese General Sun Tzu, that you win the fight when you do not have to fight, and most fights are avoidable. This is expressed in the Code of Yoshida:


I come to you with only open hands.

Other weapons, I have not,

But should Right or Honor require it,

My hands will bear me out.


As the name Jiu Jitsu implies, the techniques of Kenpo were designed for close range. This follows the two observable principles of unavoidable defense against an unarmed attacker:


1.
 80% of all attacks begin with the attacker grabbing you.
2.  Nearly all other attacks begin with the attacker at close quarters.



While it is popular for movies and television to have long, drawn-out fights in which dozens of kicks and punches are delivered, those fights are as phony as the long drawn-out movie fights that preceded the martial arts. They are pure fantasy. The fact remains that most attacks begins with a grab, and Kenpo Jiu Jitsu, has a counter for every imaginable grab. These counters can range from simple escapes to joint locks and breaks, followed by restraints or disabling strikes. Likewise, since most other attacks are punches or strikes, Kenpo employs counters that utilize blocks, or strikes, joint and nerve strikes locks and breaks.

And the important thing to know is that Kenpo, as it was originally taught in this country, is as effective today as it was in 1942, and it is an art which can be learned by nearly everyone.

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