Maybe you remember that great part in Enter the Dragon where the bad guy asks ‘What’s yer style’ of Bruce Lee? As over the top as that statement appears, it points up the differences of arts, and how confusing such a thing as lineage can be. In no art is this as true as in the art of Kenpo. Check out the video, then I’ll tell you about the real history of Kenpo.
Many martial artists think Ed Parker created Kenpo, but he actually only popularized it. And, to be honest, he added to the confusion of the art. He had something like five different versions, and he drew from Karate and Kung Fu and whatever happened to strike his fancy.
Kenpo began in Japan. There is some confusion as to the correct spelling, some people saying Kenpo, and some saying Kempo. Kenpo usually refers to martial arts stemming from China, and Kempo refers to the more Japanese oriented arts.
There is some confusion on this point as there is not agreement. Further, there is not always common lineage. That said, Kenpo, although believed to mean ‘Fist Law,’ is actually ‘Quanfa,’ which means Kung Fu.
The main branches of the Kenpo in the United States come from Master James Mitose. Mr. Mitose is sometimes a controversial teacher, for he was convicted of murder and extortion. He served his sentence in Folsom Prison.
Mr. Mitose taught Master William Chow, who taught Ed Parker. Mr. Parker, as has been described, popularized the art of Kenpo. Students of Mr. Chow include Adriano Emperado, Ralph Castro, Sam Kuaho, and others.
Names of the arts taught by these people (and others) include Shaolin Kenpo, Kajukenpo, American Kenpo, Kara-Ho Kempo, and so on. There are a legion of secondary students. Kenpo has also continued to grow as an artform, drawing from many other arts for techniques, forms, applications, and so on.
Though Kenpo grew fast, and though the lineage is sometimes in a mix, as is the art itself, there is much value in it. Many people get their start in the convenient ‘Strip Mall Dojos,’ and then branch out. Still, to define the true kenpo, and to list the roots and influences can be a daunting task.
If you want a thorough and scientific analysis of Kenpo, to the tune of 150 techniques broken down and fixed, take a look at How to Create Kenpo Karate.