The Art of Japanese Kempo
Japanese Kempo Karate (sometimes spelled Kenpo) is a collection of martial arts self-defense techniques influenced mainly by the Japanese and Chinese cultures. It is a form of defense that uses no weapons. In Japanese, the word karate means “empty hand” and Kempo is the word they use to refer to Chinese-style martial arts. It is very similar to the way Americans use the name Kung Fu to refer to all martial arts from China. The historical events and influences that make Japanese Kempo Karate popular today are complex but they have yielded a highly disciplined form of self-defense that anyone can learn.
Before Kempo, there was Chuan Fa.
Chuan Fa is what the Chinese call this art. It means “fist law” and the Japanese applied its own name, Kempo Karate, which translates to the same meaning. The original roots of Japanese Kempo Karate trace back to the Shaolin Temple which was built in the 4th century in what is today the Chinese Province of Henan. This story begins in 520 BC with an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodidharma. He went on a personal mission to China to save Buddhist traditions from disappearing in that country. Bodidharma made appeals to Emperor Wu (Liang Dynasty) but they fell on deaf ears. Bodidharma then travelled and ended up in the Shaolin Temple were he spent his days in meditation and building his martial arts skills. Bodidharma would eventually teach other monks this martial art which at the time was referred to as Shih Pa Lo Han Sho. He taught the monks that this was not only a fighting skill but a path to enlightenment. This training would someday pay off when the monks would defend the Shaolin Temple from invaders using their newly acquired martial art technique.
The mixture of Chinese and Japanese influences in Kempo evolved because students from both Japan and Okinawa made journeys China to learn the art of Chuan Fa.
One man named Kanga Sakugawa left his home of Okinawa in the 18th century to master the ways of Chuan Fa. He was gone for so many years that his family thought he had died. But when he finally returned he had changed into a master of Chuan Fa. In fact, he was so skilled in his art that he was given a new name of Shur-te and many credit him as the originator of the Karate that we know today.
It is a little more than just self-defense.
Kempo Karate has its foundations in the melding of mind and body in order to apply the techniques quickly yet gracefully. Part of this discipline is built on what are referred to as the nine ways. Disciplining yourself in the nine ways is part of achieving an understanding Kempo. These nine ways are thinking honestly, training, having acquaintance with every art, knowing the ways of all professions, understanding gain and loss, developing intuitive judgment, perceiving the unseen, paying attention to even the trivial details, and doing only useful things.
The history of Japanese Kempo Karate is as complex as the art itself.
Depending on who you talk to, you will find variations on the exact details of how it developed. Today, it has many students and masters who practice it all over the world.