Kenpo Karate - A Brief History

Kenpo Karate is a martial art that derives it’s origin from five cultures: Chinese, Japanese, Okinawan, Hawaiian and American. Originally the martial arts in China were referred to as “Ch’uan-fa” meaning “fist law”. The Japanese pronounce these same written characters as “Kenpo” with an “N” to indicate the original Chinese origin. When spelled with an “M” as in Kempo, the “M” indicates it’s incorporation into the Japanese culture.

It was James M. Mitose that studied this martial art, and whose family migrated from Japan to Hawaii, that brought the art to Hawaii before it became a state. He established the spelling of Kenpo with an “N” and taught the skills under the name “Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu”. His 1953 book entitled “What is Self Defense? (Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu)” detailed the techniques and skills taught in modern day classes.

Although the term “Karate” usually denotes a Japanese/Okinawan style, there was no Karate in Japan until 1923 making Japan’s Karate a relatively modern martial art. The Kenpo Karate taught reflects the original Chinese martial arts passed down from one generation to another for hundreds of years-a tradition continued to this day.

It was William S. Chow that added the American flavor to the art. Chow was of Chinese-Hawaiian heritage that studied under both Mitose and Mitose’s father. He saw the art as something that could be brought to America and cultivated into an exceptional martial art.

Ed Parker was introduced to Kenpo Karate at the age of 16. His hunger for self-defense and love of the art allowed him to share the dream of bringing this art to America. After attaining a high rank, and being discharged from the US Coast Guard in Hawaii in 1954, Ed Parker decided to bring the art to America. He settled into the Los Angeles area and began teaching Kenpo Karate to anyone interested. Soon the word spread of this martial art and his student population grew. His students even included many actors and actresses with the most notable being Elvis Presley. Ed Parker opened schools all over the United States and the world.

Enter the Tracy brothers. Both were students of Ed Parker and in the early 1960’s had become proficient in the art enough to open a school of their own in the San Francisco bay area. They perfected the system to the point that it was standardized and well documented enough to teach anyone interested in the art. Techniques and Katas were standardized and all traces of ambiguity were removed from the system. In short, the Kenpo Karate student knew exactly what was required and how to attain any rank in the system. A system that still is in use today.

* This brief history was taken from publications authored by Al Tracy and Ed Parker.

[ The Kenpo Karate Belt System

The Tracy's Kenpo Karate system utilizes a colored belt system similar to many other martial arts. The student begins as a white belt and progresses through the system with the highest ranking being 5th degree black belt.

Along with self-defense techniques, there are basics to be learned in each belt up through green. These basics include kicks, blocks, punches, stances and ground fighting techniques. As you go through the belt levels, it will become more evident that Kenpo Karate is a complete fighting system.

[ Kenpo Karate Definitions

As with any teaching method, Tracy's Kenpo Karate system utilizes many terms that the student must learn in order to understand the system. Some of these are explained below:

Technique – Self-defense techniques are learned as defensive movements designed to render the opponent’s attack useless. These can be performed against a punch, kick, push, shoulder grab, handshake hold, wrist grab, collar grab and many other attacks that an opponent can make.

Form - Otherwise know as a “kata”, this is a series of martial arts techniques performed in a set pattern. The kata reinforces the individual techniques or skills required for a belt or rank promotion. Kata is similar to shadow boxing.

Stance - The set alignment of the body to create a defensive posture against an opponent.

Kick - A leg and foot strike targeted against an opponent.

Punch - A hand and arm strike targeted against an opponent.

For more information about karate lessons, please e-mail Mark Wroblewski at or call us at 440-237-0191
and an instructor will be happy to answer your questions.

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