The Man Who Killed Kenpo Karate Founder James Mitose

A Legendary Martial Artist!

James Mitose was the fellow who brought Kenpo Karate from Japan to Hawaii, and thence to the rest of the world.

And, who, you might ask, could ‘kill’ a fellow who had studied martial arts for decades? Who introduced Kenpo Karate to the world?

The story is right below, and it is a corker, with one of the most bizarre endings you will EVER read.

James Mitose ~ The Founder of Kenpo Karate

James Mitose was born in Hawaii in 1916. At the age of four years old his family returned to Japan that he might receive a good eduction.

One of the important elements of his education was the study of the martial arts.

The martial arts he studied included Okinawan Karate and Japanese Jujitsu. The training was done at the Mt. Akenkai Shaka-In temple.

In 1935, at the age of 21, James returned to Hawaii, and it wasn’t long before he began teaching Martial Arts. He called his art by the traditional names of Shorinji Kempo, and Kempo Jujitsu. Eventually, he settled on the name Kosho Shorei-ryu Kenpo.

Sensei Mitose taught martial arts for over ten years, but eventually stopped teaching and moved to Southern California, and here is where he met the man who would later ‘kill’ him.

Terry Lee (Nimr Hassan) ~ The Man Who Killed James Mitose

In Southern California James Mitose would teach only a few students, and one of these was a young man named Terry Lee. Mr. Lee changed his name to Nimr Hassan.

In the 70s Nimr Hassan was arrested for the murder of a Mr. Namimatsu. Mr. Namimatsu was stabbed multiple times, had a completely collapsed eye, and was strangled.

The evidence was clear cut. Not only was a footprint of Nimr Hassan on the victim’s chest, but he admitted his guilt in court by saying that he had done the stabbing and strangling, but he wasn’t guilty because when he left Mr. Namimatsu was still breathing.

At this point, the story takes a vicious turn: Terry Lee claimed that James Mitose gave him the weapons, which included a rope and an ice pick, and told him how to commit the crime.

James Mitose was arrested and taken to trial, and the result of that trial was a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Japanese translators were used, and even the court would admit, at a later date, that the translations were inadequate.

James denied inciting Terry Lee to murder, but stated that as his martial arts instructor he was responsible for the crime. On that flimsy ‘evidence,’ nothing more than a pointing finger and ‘he said,’ James Mitose was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

And Terry Lee? Nimr Hassan? For turning state evidence, for accusing the man who had taught him martial arts, he spent three years in prison.

After he was released from prison Terry would claim to be the legitimate inheritor of James Mitose’s martial arts system; he claimed to be the Hanshi of the Mitose family martial arts.

James Mitose would die in prison, while the man who effectively killed him would continue teaching martial arts for many years.

The Real History of Kenpo Karate 

If you liked this story, if you want some more real history, then you really need to read…’The Man Who Killed Kenpo.’ 

2 thoughts on “The Man Who Killed Kenpo Karate Founder James Mitose

  1. Luke

    I would urge you to read the trial transcripts. I have, and although it is very long and boring in parts it paints a better picture of what took place and really allows one to cut through the heresy that floats around the Internet.

    I once thought Mitose was innocent as well. One fact that most are not aware of is that when James Mitose and Terry Lee were arrested they were in the process of attempting to destroy evidence. In fact, they were handcuffed and an arrest warrant was ordered by radio – before the police had originally intended – because their stake out witnessed the destruction of evidence and were forced to take action to intervene.

    It is true that Terry Lee claimed that the victim was breathing when he left, which very well could be the case (obviously his wounds were fatal, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t live for another few minutes after receiving them), however never once did Mitose claim direct or indirect responsibility for any of the actions of his student. He strongly denied any responsibility or foreknowledge, in fact.

    The court also paints a picture of a con that Mitose had pulled on the victim and his wife over a period of time in which he was taking tens of thousands of dollars from them in exchange for Chinese medicinal treatments that required supposedly smuggled herbs that were actually acquired locally for pocket change. By searching Honolulu Star archives you can find that around 1953 (coincidentally the time that he relocated to California) there was an article stating that an arrest warrant had been issued for Mitose for allegedly the exact same scheme clear back then. Seems like a huge coincidence for it not to be true.

    Anyway, if you have any trouble finding the transcripts let me know. I think I still have a copy kicking around.

  2. felixmarti

    My God, all of kenpo is under a shadow. Everything I’ve read from Chow to Parker, Mitose and Hassan is absolutely terrible. What I just read is amazing. I hope I can sleep tonight!


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