KEMPO/KENPO FAQ: Components and Other Systems

version 5.3.1 - June 6, 2020

Maintained & updated by: Mark Urbin

The following FAQ is for the Kempo/Kenpo arts in general and is not specific to one particular Kempo/Kenpo school. Most of the history and information has a focus towards Kempo systems descending from James Mitose's Kosho-Ryu Kempo. There are other Kempo systems mentioned in this document. In most cases, throughout this FAQ, the word "Kempo" is used, though either Kempo or Kenpo could have been used. The reasoning is explained in this FAQ. Remember that this document is a "Frequently Ask Questions" list. It is not intended as in in depth study, just a starting point. Most of the URL's of sites linked in this document can be found near the end of the document. Please send any feedback, questions, complaints, etc. about this FAQ to the maintainer. Please note, that this FAQ, in no way (just in case anyone thinks it is), was not meant to be offensive. Any corrections to any information given, as well as additions, is much appreciated.

What Martial Arts Compose The Curriculum Of Kempo?

In general, most systems of Kempo consists of 4 primary arts which can be seen in 95% of Kempo system, in both Okinawian and Japanese systems of Kempo, and those have a Chinese influences.

  1. 18 hands of Lo Han
  2. 5 Animal Chuan Fa
  3. White Crane Chin Na
  4. Jujitsu

Other arts that can be found in Kempo schools include:

  1. Aikido or Aikijujitsu
  2. White Crane Kung Fu
  3. Various weapon arts
  4. Sumo
  5. Calligraphy, etc.

Does Kempo Use Weapons, Other Than One's Hands And Feet?

In Kempo schools, defenses against knives and clubs are seen from yellow belt and up, they are considered prime weapons in which to defend against. Kempo, also, teaches its students how to use weapons, to increase their understanding of defense. Weapons that are taught are both Chinese and Japanese in variety and vary widely. Some schools of Kempo teach the 8' staff, while others teach Chain Whip and Sai. Commonly seen in Kenpo schools are the twin sticks of Escrima. Weapons training often begins at the green belt level, although, in some schools, it is restricted to those of black belt level and higher. In most Kempo schools, the primary weapons skills taught are:

  1. Knife
  2. Stick(s)
  3. Half Staff (Jo)
  4. 6' Staff
  5. Sword (Typically the Chinese  Broadsword)
  6. Chain
  7. Bo Staff
  8. Nunchucka

Does Kempo Have Forms?

Many people think that because Kempo is a highly-directed "self-defense"art that it contains no kata or forms. This is very untrue. Kempo has many forms with a notable characteristic of having both circular and linear movements, as well as hard and soft techniques. Kempo forms are used to teach speed and coordination of strikes; as well as movement, projections and immobilizations, and various principles of fighting. Many Kempo systems utilize a numbering system for their forms, instead of referring them by name, making them simpler to remember. It is far easier to remember Kata #3 than Naihanci-dai. The American Kenpo and Shaolin Kempo systems use a numbering system for many forms. In American Kenpo, there are numbered Long Forms and Short Forms. Shaolin Kempo has numbered Pinan and Kata forms. The Pinan Pinan forms are clearly Okinawian in origin. Both systems also have "named" forms, such as Statue of the Crane, and Swift Tigers. The more advanced forms, taught after Shodan vary from master to master, but include Sho Ton Kwok, Invincible Wall, Tai Sing Mon, and the Nengli forms.

When James Mitose first taught Kosho-Ryu Kempo in Hawaii, he taught the Naihanchi form.
After Thomas Young took over teaching full time, he added the Pinan forms. This was done with Mr. Mitose's permission.
William Chow's "sets" were expanded into full forms by both Edmund Parker and Sam Kuoha. Other forms were added by the Kajukenbo system. Numerous Chinese Gung Fu forms have also been added to various Kenpo systems.

Kempo's Speed Striking

An often interesting topic is Kempo's "speed striking" techniques. The speed striking technique is primarily for building up the hand speed of the Kempo student, which will eventually translate into combat effective speed of strikes in a confrontation. A good example of speed striking is seen throughout the movie The Perfect Weapon, and it is a key training and fighting method. A Kempo student tries to build his reaction speed to a point, where 10 or more strikes can be applied in a few seconds.

Similarities between Kempo and other arts

Kempo and other martial arts have various similarities in technique and principle, primarily, because of the diverse and eclectic background of Kempo.

Tae Kwon Do and Kempo

Many of the aerial and spinning kicks of TKD have been brought to Kempo in the recent times, often used primarily in "sparring situations." Certain jumping and spinning kicks were all ready in the Kempo system, such as the Jumping Front, Side, Back and Roundhouse kicks; as well as Spinning Back, and Crescent kicks.

Karate and Kempo

Karate and Kempo share the closest similarities in techniques, due to similar backgrounds. It is believed, by many, that Karate has its origins as an offshoot of Kempo. (An early book on Japanese Karate was entitled: Kosho-Ryu Kempo: Karate) 95% of all Karate techniques, if not more, can be found in the Kempo systems.

Jujutsu and Kempo

Many of Kempo's immobilization and projection techniques arrived from the Japanese Jujutsu. The various loin throws, shoulder and hip projections, as well as sweeps are a direct inheritance of Jujutsu. Kempo, though, does not contain as wide an array or extensively developed series of throws as Jujutsu.

Aikijutsu and Kempo

In the last few years, many Aikido and Aikijutsu techniques have found their way into the Kempo art, gracing the study of Chin Na with new principles and ideas. The most common techniques are Shiho nage, Irimi nage, as well as en-no-irimi projections.

Kung Fu and Kempo

Although Kempo was originally a "Kung" style, it has over the years thrown away many of its Chinese aspects for a more Japanese "hard style" approach. Still, many soft techniques can still be seen in Kempo, primarily the five animal techniques, chin na, and weapon skills.

Ninjitsu and Kempo

There is a Kempo system that claims that James Mitose was also a master of Koga-Ryu Ninjitsu. This system is taught exclusively by the Koga Ha Kosho-shorei Ryu Kempo schools, based in Philadelphia. The head of this system is Shihan Nemir Hassan. Mr. Hassan used to go by the name of Terry Lee. That is that name he used when he was the last student James Mitose actively taught.

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All original material in the Kempo/Kenpo FAQ are Copyright © Mark Urbin, 1995.

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