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What is Kenpo?





Kenpo is pure intelligence of thought and motion. Mr. Parker added concepts, theories, principles and innovations, not yet employed by other systems. This is what makes his KENPO system unique, practical, logical, realistic, and applicable. It has often been referred to as the ” University of Martial Arts “. It employs linear as well as circular moves, utilizing intermittent power when and where needed, interspersed with minor and major moves that flow with continuity. It is flexible in thought and action allowing one to blend with confrontations one may encounter.


Kenpo is a style of Karate developed in the west. The only difference between Kenpo and Kempo is in the translation of the Kanji to its English form. The words Kenpo and Kempo are both pronounced the same and both mean “Law of the Fist”. However, the more “traditional” forms of Kempo use the “Kempo” form, while the more non-traditional modern or contemporary versions use the term “Kenpo”.

Kenpo is a martial art that teaches self-defence and self-control through three primary methods: self-defense techniques, forms, and sparring. However, Kenpo diverges from traditional Karate in several important respects. Students are encouraged to change and adapt the techniques. Kenpo emphasises vital point attacks using punches, strikes and kicks. Throws are also important in Kenpo.

Self defence techniques help Kenpo students develop their skills by allowing them to practice with different threatening situations and experiment with what-if scenarios. Initially, forms and katas help students to develop mental concentration and mental discipline. As they progress, the forms and katas help them to develop self-awareness and self-expression. Kumite (also known as freestyle or sparring) is an exercise in which students test their skills, self-confidence, and self-control in a friendly competition among other classmates. It gives the opportunity to develop their reflexes and timing in a controlled environment while engaging in a sport activity.

Kenpo also teaches students how to use weapons to increase their understanding of self-defence. In Kenpo, defence against knives and clubs are taught from the yellow belt and up. Weapon training often begins at the green belt level, although some schools restrict it to those of the black belt level and higher.

The Kenpo style strives to maintain a balance between “martial” and “art”. The “martial” aspect is expressed by effective efficient self-defence concepts and techniques. The “art” is expressed by creativity, self-expression and presentation of form.

The Origins of Kenpo

Kenpo is considered by many to be the first eclectic martial art. Its origin evolved from Karate which; according to legend, began over a thousand years ago in China.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century two families, Kumamoto and Nagasaki brought knowledge of Kenpo from China to Kyushu in Japan. Modified throughout many years into its current form, it is referred to as Kosho-Ryu Kenpo, or Old Pine Tree school. It is from here that most modern forms of Kenpo are derived.


According to modern legend, in 1916 at the age of five, James Mitose was sent from his homeland in Hawaii to Kyushu for schooling in his ancestors’ art of self-defense called Kosho-Ryu Kenpo. After completing his training in Japan, Mitose returned to Hawaii. Near the beginning of World War II in 1936, Mitose opened the “Official Self-Defense” club in Honolulu. It was from here that the five major Kenpo influences; Thomas Young, William K. S. Chow, Edmund Howe, Arthur Keawe and Paul Yamaguchi would study and bring Kenpo to the rest of the world.

William K.S. Chow adapted Mitose’s approach and “Americanized” the art. He is perhaps responsible for the largest leap of Kenpo to the general public. In 1949, Chow opened a school of his own at a local YMCA and referred to his art as Kenpo Karate.

Ed Parker

Edmund K. Parker, who is probably the most famous of Chow’s practitioners, began studying Kenpo with Chow at the age of 16. Parker further adapted the methods so that they would prove practical in an actual fight and opened the first commercial Karate studio in 1954. He created a logical organization for the basic Kenpo techniques, dividing them into eight categories, such as stances, blocks, punches and so on.Parker graduated from Brigham Young and moved to California where he opened his second school in 1956 and also founded the International Kenpo Karate Association the same year. Parker taught the martial arts to many actors and celebrities such as Elvis Presley and Steve McQueen. He also appeared in movies and television shows like “I Love Lucy.” Grand Master Edmund Parker is the undisputed “Father” of American Kenpo Karate.

When Mr. Parker died in December of 1990, the International Kenpo Karate Association went through some major restructuring due in part to political differences, as well as other reasons. Many of the senior students went off to create their own associations and promote their own style of the American Kenpo system. Today Kenpo remains very strong in the martial arts industry.

EDITORS NOTE: [ed:] This page like much of this website is in a constant state of flux – as in it is will be expanded and added to like the Kenpo System itself. Where ever you see [ed:] sections will be added to on a regular basis. Its worth checking back now and then to see if anything new has been added.

Taken from the Movie ‘Perfect Weapon’

Kenpo is a combination of ancient fighting techniques and modern scientific principles. It is an uninterrupted flow of movements, a force that can paralyze any attacker. Each movement provokes a particular reaction to the adversary. Every move takes you to the next. Every fight is a block and every block a fight. Every move inspires the next. This logical and continuous flow constitutes the essence of Kenpo. Kenpo can be the most deadly form of martial arts. In order to control the energy of Kenpo you first need to control yourself. You must train your mind as your body, developing your interior force, balance and harmony during your study. A master in Kenpo is more then a specialist in Karate, he is a master of martial arts and his own master.

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