Grand Valley Kenpo Karate

Kenpo Karate History

Originally the martial arts in China were referred to as "Ch'uan-fa" meaning "fist law". The Japanese pronounce these same written characters "KENPO" -- or "KEMPO". In modern usage, "KENPO" spelled with and "N" indicates the original Chinese origin; when spelled with an "M" it indicates its incorporation into the Japanese culture. It was James M. Mitose, whose family moved from Japan to Hawaii, who established the spelling of "KeNpo" with an "N" in the art we teach and call "KENPO". The original art taught by Mitose in Hawaii was called "Kenpo Jiu-jitsu." Mitose (pronounced me-toe-see) wrote several books on the subject of Kenpo Jiu-jitsu.

Kenpo has been described many ways, but the term "Kenpo Karate", using the original Chinese characters, is the most authentic and clear description of our style -- also distinguishing it as completely different from the Japanese and Okinawan written characters (kanji) which define Karate as "empty hand(s)".

The actual word "Karate" is a "homonym": a word with the same pronunciation as another but with a different meaning, origin, and usually spelling. When written in its original form, (the one we use) it means "China Hands" or "T'ang Hands" (pronounced "tong") referring to the "T'ang Dynasty" (618 - 960 A.D.) or -- more literally -- China.

The second meaning -- the one used by the Japanese and Okinawans is "Karate" : "Kara" (empty) "Te" (hand). In 1923 the Okinawan Masters changed the Chinese character from T'ang (China) to the Japanese (Kanji) for "empty" because the martial arts now taught in Okinawa were no longer purely Chinese in nature -- over the years they had been combined with the original "Okinawa Te", or "Bushi No Te" ["warrior's hand(s)"] to form a new style. This became the father of all modern Okinawan and Japanese Karate, reflecting the changes they had made.

Although the term "Karate" usually denotes a Japanese/Okinawan style, there was no Karate in Japan until 1923, so by any standards Japan's KARATE is a relatively modern martial art. The KENPO KARATE we teach, on the other hand, reflects the original Chinese martial arts passed down from one generation to another for hundreds of years -- a tradition our schools continue to this day.