From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia

Kenpo or Kempo (拳法 Kenpō; lit. fist law) is written with the characters 拳 and 法. Kempo is a term used to refer to a wide variety of martial arts, and is sometimes used as a blanket term for martial arts in general, especially in East Asia. Kenpo is a Japanese translation of the Chinese word "quánfǎ" (or ch'üan2 fa3), meaning "fist principles", "way of the fist", or "law of the fist form".

Kempo or Kenpo

The Kanji (拳法) can be transliterated into English as either "Kempo" or "Kenpo". The first character "Ken" means "fist", while the second one "po" means "law". Kenpo - Phonetic Pronunciation (Kehn' poh) Japanese derivation. "Fist Method". A modern term describing one of the more innovative martial arts practiced in Hawaii and the Americas. It employs linear as well as circular moves, utilizing intermittant power when and where needed, interspersed with minor and major moves that flow with continuity. Kenpo is flexible in thought and action so as to blend with encounters as they occur.

Referenced from the book - The Dictionary of Martial Arts - by Emil Farkas and John Corcoran ISBN 1-85648-002-x

Ch'uan shu - Chinese derivation. "Art of the Fist". An encompassing term for certain empty-hand Chinese martial arts. Kung Fu, Wushu, Gwo Shu, Gwo Chi, Chung Kuo Ch' uan, Ch' uan Shu can more or less be considered synonymous, although none is specific enough to denote a particular style.

Referenced from the book - The Dictionary of Martial Arts - by Emil Farkas and John Corcoran ISBN 1-85648-002-x

However, a popular system for translating Japanese into English is the Hepburn romanization method for creating Romaji, where the "Ken" would become "Kem" when it precedes an "h" sound, and the "h" takes on a "p" sound. Thus, "Kenho" becomes "Kempo". The common reference to "Kenpo" comes from the book that James Mitose produced in 1953 entitled What is Self-Defense? Kenpo JiuJitsu as a textbook on martial arts and due to a spelling mistake by the printers who printed an N instead of M the spelling of kenpo came about.Template:Fact In English, it is correct to use either term, though their particular usages have become somewhat stylized. The term stayed with his students, and when William Chow and Edmund Parker went to create their own Kempo schools, they took the "Kenpo" name with them.

Both "Kempo" and "Kenpo" are acceptable forms of transliterating the Japanese name however, and regardless of how it is spelt in English, the Japanese form with Kana and pronunciation will not change. An "n" sound coming before a "p" "b" or "h/f" sound and will be pronounced as an "m" because of the glotteral stop. This is a natural transformation, and a similar transformation can also be seen in the distinction between the different pronunciations of "thin" vs "think". When pronouncing "kenpo" vs "kempo" even an English speaker will not actually produce a truly different pronunciation as this transformation is a completely natural habit, and unconscious action to assimilate a nasal sounding "m".

Kempo in the West

In the West, Kempo is mostly known as a mixed style that combines a heritage in Chinese martial arts, especially Shaolin and karate (and sometimes called "Kenpo Karate"), often mixed with elements of other Japanese arts like jujutsu and aikijujutsu. In Japan, Kempo can refer to a large number of different (and mostly unrelated) systems of martial arts, mostly stemming from families in the feudal period—the term Kempo being used as an abbreviation, since the names are long.

There is a faction of Kenpo from Okinawa that has no American influences.Template:Fact This system is known as "Okinawa Kenpo" or "Ryūkyū Hon Kenpo". Hon means "original" and refers to the kenpo from the old Kingdom of Okinawa taught by the Late Grandmaster Seikichi Odo. Master Odo (1926–2002) operated the Shudokan Dojo in Gushikawa, Okinawa. Some of his senior students such as Richard Gonzales, Dennis Branchaud and Larry Gradolf established the art in the U.S. during the 1970s and 80s and continue to teach this old system in its original form. The style is built upon the karate of Shigeru Nakamura, a fellow student of Gichen Funakoshi under Master Ankoh Itosu. It preserves the old kenpo from China with the addition of several kata taught to Odo by Seiki Toma, a student of Choto Kyan. There are influences from the indigenous Okinawan art of Ti and there is also a weapons component comprised of 11 different weapons. Odo's weapons art contains techniques from Shinpo Matayoshi, Seiko Kinjo, Shigeru Nakamura, and Seiki Toma. Okinawa Kenpo is renowned for its unique sparring method called Bogu Kumite. Exponents spar with full contact using body armour that is similar to that worn by Kendo practitioners. The system is a blend of hard and soft (external and internal) arts and includes throws, heavy bag work, and makiwara practice. There is a strong emphasis on character development and maintaining a strict code of conduct.

Some practitioners follow that Kempo uses much of the same path as Chinese martial arts, but in order to shorten the amount of time to train a person, methods from Karate were used as the basis to quickly allow a person to learn the basics, and techniques. Whereas it often takes 10 to 20 years of continuous effort to master one form of kung fu, Kempo practitioners often can be black belted in around three to five years, depending on the instructor and system. Today the "style" of kempo/kenpo has become diverse.

Reference to Ch'uan fa "fist way" can also be read in the book, Modern Bujutsu & Budo Volume 3 - by Donn F. Draeger. ISBN 0-8348-0351-8

Reference to Okinawan History of Martial Arts can be read on the Okinawa Prefectural Government website -

See also