MMA fighting styles

Karate Kenpo – Everything you need to know

Kenpo Karate is one of the most effective offshoots of karate that has been developed. Known for its practicality and adaptability to use in self-defense

Here is everything you need to know about Kenpo karate. Reviewing all forms of Kenpo Karate, their history, formation and rules of Kenpo Karate competitions.

The History of Kenpo Karate

The martial art of Kenpo Karate is the fusion of two different martial arts into one. Japanese martial artists took principles from different Chinese martial arts and merged them to create Kenpo karate.

Kenpo means fist law or fist method. The history of Kenpo Karate begins with an American martial artist named James Mitose. Master Mitose grew up in Japan and spent his childhood learning Yoshida Kenpo.

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After mastering this style of Kenpo, he came to the United States and settled in Hawaii. Once Mitose returned, he would open a martial arts school and call his style Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu.

Mitose would retire and give the school to two of his best students, Thomas Young and William Kwai Sun Chow. Sun Chow is considered by many to be the true founder of Kenpo karate.

He would teach Ed Parker, who would get credit for creating, spreading, and popularizing Kenpo karate.

Ed Parker

Ed Parker was a native Hawaiian who grew up boxing. In college, he served in the Coast Guard and was stationed in Hawaii.

While serving, he was introduced to Chow and began learning Kenpo karate under him for six years. After this period, Parker returned to Brigham Young University in Utah, where he began teaching.

This actually caused controversy because his instructor Chow claims he never awarded Parker his black belt. Parker claims he received his black belt in 1953, but Chow claimed he only achieved purple belt.

Either way, Parker would popularize Kenpo karate and spread it throughout the American continent. He opened his first Kenpo karate school in Provo, Utah in 1954. Shortly thereafter, Parker opened his second school in Pasadena, California in 1956.

He would begin modifying the techniques he had learned during his training with Chow. Originally the movements in Kenpo Karate were faster and more linear, but Parker added more circular movements. Adopt elements of Chinese martial arts and roundhouse kicks.

In addition to popularizing Kenpo karate, Parker would make a name for himself in Hollywood. Become Elvis Pressley’s bodyguard, teach stuntmen and introduce Bruce Lee to the international karate championship.

Other styles of Kenpo

There are different forms of Kenpo that are practiced across the world. To differentiate them from American Kenpo, here are the descriptions of the most practiced Kenpo styles.


Okinawa-Kenpo is a variant that developed shortly after Kenpo Karate. It was developed by Shigeru Nakamura in 1960 and is a mixture of Karate, Kenpo and Ti.

Nakamura wanted to create a style closer to the Okinawan style of karate. He felt that too many styles were deviating from karate and wanted to create a unified school.

Master Shigeru was able to found the Okinawa Kobudo Kyokai before his death, but it dissolved after his death. Okinawa-Kenpo is still practiced today, but the technique has changed and many offshoots have formed.

Kosho-Kyo Kenpo

Koso-Kyo Kenpo is arguably one of the earliest styles of Kenpo that was developed. It is said that this martial art was formed in the 15th century, long before the creation of Karate.

It combines the classic JuJutsu, Kyodu and Shaolin Chaun Fa taught according to the Rinzai Zen philosophy. Many other methods have been added to the style over its 600-year history.

This is the style that James Mitose learned while living in Japan and refined once he returned to karate. If Kosho-Kyo Kenpo had not existed in the first place, there would be no Kenpo Karate.

Shorinji Kempo

Shorinji Kempo was a Kempo style developed by Doshin So in the early 1940s. This style of Kempo added to earlier teaching by adding mental preparation and Japanese Zen Buddhism.

The fighting side of Shorinji Kempo is usually taught separately from the pseudo-religious side and then grouped together.

Today, there are many variations of this taught style, but one thing separates the styles. The styles of Shorinji Kempo that developed in Japan may be called “doing” temples, while elsewhere they are called dojos.


Kajukenbo was created in Hawaii at the exact same time Kenpo Karate was developed and invented. Another student of William Chow named Adriano Emperado would create Kajukenbo.

Emperado would credit the styles of five different martial arts masters who inspired him to create his martial art. Chow, Peter Choo, Frank Ordonez, Joe Holck and Clarence Chang.

Along with techniques, Emperado also took parts of each name to create the name Kajukenbo.

  • Ka: Karate
  • Ju: JuJutsu/Judo
  • Ken: Kenpo
  • Bo: Boxing

One of Kajukenbo’s most famous practitioners is MMA legend Chuck “The Iceman: Liddell”. After his head tattoo, the other tattoo Liddell is known for is the Kempo tattoo on his arm.

Kenpo karate techniques

Ed Parker’s Kenpo karate techniques are very different from what his teacher Chow learned from James Mitose. What Mitose and Chow taught was more karate based on linear movements that karate was founded on.

Ed Parker’s style of Kenpo karate was more popularized. Kenpo karate modified the style. Add more circular movements of different Chinese martial arts and more types of kicks.

Some of the techniques taught in Kenpo Karate include:

  • Kicking
  • Open hand strikes
  • Punches
  • throwing techniques
  • Joint locks
  • finger strokes

Are weapons used in Kenpo karate?

The use of small arms is also practiced within Kenpo Karate. Some of the weapons that are practiced in Kenpo Karate are short sticks, knives and clubs.

A special style of knife practiced in Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate is Kenpo Long Form 7. The techniques developed used a specialized knife that Parker had made for his style.

Kenpo Karate Belt System

Ed Parker’s Kenpo style of karate has 18 different belts that students go through within the system. The eighteen belts are separated into six different belt groups.

  • Yellow belts
  • Orange belts
  • Purple belts
  • Green belt
  • Brown belt
  • Black belt

Is Kenpo a form of karate?

Even though Kenpo karate has karate in its name, many techniques taught in its modern form are not karate. What James Mitose and William Chow taught is more aligned with karate than what Ed Parker later developed.

Mitose called his style Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu but never used the word Karate to describe his style. If Kenpo Karate

Is the origin of Kenpo Chinese or Japanese?

A hotly debated topic about the styles of Kenpo is whether it is a Chinese or Japanese martial art. The truth is that Kenpo styles, like Kenpo Karate, are both Chinese and Japanese martial arts.

These styles of Kenpo took on Chinese and Japanese martial arts styles. Some Kenpo styles are closer to Karate, while others are more like Kung Fu styles.

Kenpo versus Kempo

It is common to see the words Kenpo or Kempo used for different styles of martial arts. Some wonder if there is a difference between Kenpo and Kempo; frankly there is none.

Both words come from the same Kanji word used by many martial arts. The spelling difference is due to attempts at transliteration which resulted in a different spelling.

Is Kenpo Karate an effective martial art?

According to the teachings, it would seem that Kenpo Karate is a rather effective martial art. Within the martial art, striking techniques are taught, as well as grapple and weapon training. Knowing Kenpo karate would be beneficial in a self-defense situation.