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Kempo

Kempo (or kenpo) is the Japanese translation of the Chinese words “chuan fa,” which means “martial arts method” or “way” in English. It’s a generic Japanese term used to describe Chinese martial arts; it’s similar to the way Westerners use kung fu as an umbrella term for Chinese martial arts.

Okinawan-borne To De Sakugawa (1733-1815) traveled to China to learn chuan fa. Upon returning to Okinawa, he created shuri te, which became the foundation for kempo karate. In 1916, Hawaiian-borne James Mitose learned kosho ryu kempo in Japan. When James Mitose returned to Hawaii, he taught koshu ryu karate to William Chow, who then transformed the art and called it kempo karate. After learning kempo karate from William Chow, Ed Parker modified the art and became the father of American kempo after he opened his first dojo in 1954.

To re-instill a sense of national pride in post-WWII Japan, Doshin So created the self-defense system Shorinji kempo (translation: Shaolin kung fu) in 1947. As the name implies, it’s based on the Shaolin martial arts.

Because the term is so broad, many styles that use the word kempo in their names don’t share the same theoretical or technical background.

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  1. Shorinji Kempo: Shaolin Kung Fu’s Kicking Cousin

    Shorinji Kempo: Shaolin Kung Fu’s Kicking Cousin

    Although movies and magazines have skyrocketed the popularity of numerous arts, shorinji kempo remains a mystery to most people — even martial arts enthusiasts. This in-depth look at the art will change all that.
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  2. The Combat Techniques of Shaolin Kung Fu’s Legendary Animal Styles

    The Combat Techniques of Shaolin Kung Fu’s Legendary Animal Styles

    If you’re on the prowl for new ways to improve your martial arts skills and expand your knowledge base, the five animals of Shaolin kung fu are for you. By studying the fighting methods of the snake, crane, tiger, leopard and dragon, you’ll glimpse kung fu through the eyes of
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  3. Shaolin Empty-Hand Ground Defense

    Shaolin Empty-Hand Ground Defense

    Black Belt Hall of Fame member Steve DeMasco demonstrates an empty-hand ground-defense technique using Shaolin kempo. Steve DeMasco is the author of An American’s Journey to the Shaolin Temple and has released two DVD sets through Black Belt.


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  4. The 5 Kung Fu Animal Styles of the Chinese Martial Arts

    The 5 Kung Fu Animal Styles of the Chinese Martial Arts

    To longtime readers of Black Belt, Steve DeMasco needs no introduction. A student of the martial arts since 1968, he’s been a fixture in the magazine since his debut in the February 1998 issue. Over the ensuing years, he’s espoused his views on the physical and philosophical sides of the
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  5. Rebel Isshin-Ryu Karate: Isshin Kempo’s Controversial Kata Concept

    Rebel Isshin-Ryu Karate: Isshin Kempo’s Controversial Kata Concept

    Black Belt featured the fist of isshin kempo founder William S. Russell on its April 1977 cover, along with a two-part feature on his take on the martial arts. Three decades later, we thought readers would appreciate an update on the evolution of the system through the eyes of its
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