Tag Archives: japanese jujitsu

Before People Knew What Kenpo Karate Was

Back in the Beginning of Kenpo…

I began studying Kenpo in 1967.
It was so unknown that it was called Kenpo Karate so it could be identified with the art of Karate. Not that that many people knew what karate was.

lop sau rolling fists freestyle drill

Check out How to Create Kenpo by Al Case. Fifty years of martial arts knowledge turned loose!

Kenpo was born in Japan. There are many lineages, but the specific Kenpo that is so widely known these days came from James Mitose, Thunderbolt Chow, Ed Parker, and finally, an instructor near you.

Martial Arts were not studied widely at the time, and usually it was fellows who were tough, who looked forward to the street fight, who studied them.

Kenpo came from Okinawan Karate and Japanese Jujitsu. There were other sourcss, many and varied, but the American style Kenpo you might study was likely based, at least in the beginning, on these arts.

Right from the outset Americans realized that Kenpo could be marketed more easily through tournaments, so we studied our freestyle rabidly, and we looked forward to the weekend trips.

For such a violent art, the participants at these tournaments proved to be a polite bunch. Schools were located a distance apart and there wasn’t much competition. Instructors actually looked forward to seeing each other, to comparing notes, and even learning a ‘secret’ technique or two.

And, outside of school, fights did happen. Proud warriors, Kenpo stylists, all martial artists, were happy to step up to a challenge, take umbrage at a veiled insult, trade fists with a goon.

We were more rabid back then. We didn’t do ten or twenty kicks and think we were done, we would do a couple of hundred and chide ourselves for being lazy. We would do forms by the hour. See if we could do 60 forms in an hour.

In short, we would exhaust ourselves. We would go for a run, do some weightlifting, and then freestyle for a couple of hours in class, and know that we were doing it right.

Mistakes? We made a ton of them. But over time we fixed them; the martial arts tend to be self fixing; the turn of the foot, the line of the wrist, the physics of the universe corrected us and were out teachers.

And now, near fifty years later, all we wish is one thing: to do it all again. To do Karate and Kenpo, to throw and kick and punch to our hearts content.

And we feel sorry for all those people who quit early, or who were born too late, or who were just too lax in their training to really find the truth: You are what you do, that is your measure, and that is your worth.

If you want a REALLY good book on Kenpo, consider ‘How to Create Kenpo’ by Al Case. It has the real history, the one you don’t hear much about, plus a section on how to do forms, plus 150 kenpo techniques, thoroughly analyzed so that you can be the best Kenpoka you can be. That’s How to Create Kenpo, available on Amazon. The hard work is up to you.

Here’s a fascinating bit of history: The Man Who Killed Kenpo.

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.’