What Is Kenpo Karate?

Throughout Asian history there have been many forms of martial arts that have developed, one of these arts is known as Kenpo.

What Is Kenpo Karate

Kenpo has been taught in both Chinese and Japanese martial arts for a millenia and in recent years has been associated with Karate

more than any other martial art because of the different styles that have formed in modern times. 

But what exactly is Kenpo? In order to find out you’ll need to read the article below, to get the full picture of exactly what this martial art is and what it can do.

Where Does Kenpo Karate Come From?

Kenpo karate and traditional Kenpo are two different things. Kenpo karate was first developed in America by a man called Ed Parker.

Ed had previously studied Kenpo through tutorials and classes and had decided to refine it, using many techniques from different martial arts into Kenpo Karate.

This was a fusion of different styles of martial arts, while Other styles of Kenpo have some Karate elements in them, they aren’t considered Kenpo Karate.

However, many Kenpo masters really do not consider Ed Parker’s over-stylized American Kenpo as a real form of the martial art that they practice.

This is often because Kenpo karate is a lot more flashy and many of the moves or techniques are not even possible to use in real combat.

Ed Parker combined and mixed so many different forms of martial arts that Kenpo Karate is not recognisable as a form of the original Japanese Kenpo.

The Origins Of Kenpo Karate

In order to understand where Kenpo Karate actually originated from, we will need to look further back, to the origins of Kenpo itself. The earliest types of Kenpo were developed in Japan, with a heavy influence from older, Chinese fighting styles.

The original founders used the Chinese style of unarmed combat and adapted it to be more effective. This style is more practical and has more real world combat applications.

It also is an excellent defensive technique against a lot of other well known styles of martial arts. 

The Different Styles of Kenpo

There are many different styles of Kenpo today, so much so that it is nearly impossible to tell exactly how many exist. However, there are 5 main traditional styles of Kenpo, with each style having its own variations and techniques. The 5 main types of Kenpo are;


Developed by Shigeru Nakamura in the 1960’s, Okinawa Kenpo is a style of Kenpo that combines the ancient Japanese martial art Ti with elements of Kenpo and Karate.

At this time, there were seemingly no schools that taught Okinawa karate and Nakamura did not like the fact that karate was branching out into so many different styles, without a traditional and uniformed school.

So he developed and later taught his form of karate style, so that the different forms of karate could be uniform and under one name – Okinawa Karate. 

A meeting was held in 1961 between all the grand masters from all over the country to unify the martial arts into one school, this was known as the Okinawa Kobudo Kyokai.

This association was not to last long, however, as sadly Nakamura passed away just 8 years later and it fell apart. 

Okinawa Karate continued to develop, and Okinawa-Kenpo lived on as well. Moreover, it evolved even more. Nowadays, the term is used for a specific karate style and has its own different sub-styles.

Kosho-Ryu Kenpo

One of the first ever styles of Kenpo to be taught was Kosho-Ryu Kenpo.Kenpo was also brought to the Island of Hawaii by the Mitose family, who learned Kosho-Ryu Kenpo in the early 15th century – around 600 years ago.

This style has been passed on through generations since. 

This style of Kenpo combines many different forms of martial arts, using the most useful and powerful elements from each. You can see different forms from Jujutsu, Kyudo, and Shaolin Chaun Fa within Kosho-Ryu Kenpo.

There have been many techniques implemented to really perfect Kosho-Ryu throughout the years. 

Shorinji Kempo

This style of Kenpo or Kempo, was developed in the 1940’s by Doshin So. This form of Kenpo combines new elements of combat as well as a steely mental preparation and philosophy.

Japanese Zen Buddhism was added to highlight the philosophical and religious element of the craft. This is why many consider Shorinji Kempo to be a religious form of the Kenpo martial art. 

There is a clear division between the religious side of Shorinji Kempo, and the technical, fighting side of it. They are commonly taught separately and later fused into one another.


William Chao is responsible for bringing this style of fighting to Hawaii in the 50’s. Chao was also a teacher of Adriano Emperado, who founded Kajukenbo afterward.

Though Chao is credited for founding this type of Kenpo, it is actually a product of the work of 5 different martial art masters, who came together to create the art. These 5 were;  Emperado, Peter Choo, Frank Ordonez, Joe Holck, and Clarence Chang.

What Is Kenpo Karate (1)

The term Kajukenbo comes from the five styles themselves: Ka – Karate, Ju – Jiu Jitsu and Judo, Ken – Kenpo, and Bo – Boxing. Each master took some of the crucial techniques from all of these martial arts and incorporated them into this style.

Then, as well as different martial arts, different techniques were combined, like punches, kicks, locks, takedowns, and throws, to make the fighting style more effective in combat.

It is now so effective that many MMA fighters use this form of Kenpo in their professional fights, like former UFC champion Chuck Lidell and other star of the sport, Sage Northcutt. 

American Kenpo Karate

The biggest name in American Kenpo remains, as mentioned earlier, Ed Parker. Ed was formerly a student of William Chow in Hawaii for six years and developed his craft in a new direction. He was also the one to make it as popular as it is to this day in the U.S.

Many Kenpo masters don’t consider his teachings real and authentic Kenpo, because of many controversies surrounding his rank and the effectiveness of the teachings in the first place.

His master, Chow, stated that Parker never even reached the black belt, but Parker still insists this is not the case.

Christopher Anderson
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