CHUAN FA KENPO
THE ART OF SELF DEFENSE
Ksatreya - Vajramukti – Chuan Fa
Teaching classes in Pensacola since 1971
Chuan Fa is a philosophy based on an ancient art of life and spirit.
Ksatreya or Vajramukti as they were called were responsible for leading soldiers and warriors into battle even if there was no hope of survival. This was not a lightly taken position. To be one of these warriors, the student was required to learn the most difficult of movements for self-defense as well as for spiritual leadership.
Many of these leader warriors were considered teachers or as the Japanese call them Sensei. And many of these leaders were experienced not only in war and battle but in healing their own as well. Hence the art of healing began.
Fighting without weapons was a Ksatreya specialty. They trained lowly monks and peasants in this art as well so the armies had some size and quality. This empty hand fighting was called Vajramukti and described a multiplicity of arts that were taught. Peacetime training was very important in being used to keep the body in strong physical state.
When these empty hand techniques were put together in series of movements they were called “nata’s”. Now they are called forms or dances or “kata”.
The primary teachings of the Ksatreya were held close and were considered highly secret. Little is know of the exact art except from it being handed down over generations. Buddhism influenced India around 500B.C. Buddhist monks began to follow the training of the Vajramukti art as its disciples moved to China. The term “Chuan” (meaning clasped or closed hand) was used from the Tang dynasty in China on to represent the Vajramukti art.
The Vajramukti training continued to use Chuan because of its description of closed hand for battle and open hand used for healing. Fa is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit term dharma. Thus we have the term Chuan Fa for the art of Vajramukti translated as “clasp the hand of the dharma”. This terminology has been used since approximately 200B.C. to describe this art of Vajramukti.
Over several decades the fighting arts of the Shaolin temple grew and were said to prosper. There were over 400 arts in total over the next several centuries. Several decades after the fight of the begging monk, a master of Chuan Fa called Ch'ueh Taun Shang-jen was said to have rediscovered the original Shih Pa Lo Han Sho which had been lost for many years. Ch'ueh over a period of time integrated his art of Chuan Fa with that of Lo Han increasing the total number of techniques from the original eighteen to total of seventy-two. For several years after this period Ch'ueh travelled the country side of China promoting his art in several grueling fighting matches until he came upon a man named Li in the province of Shensi. Li, a master of Chuan Fa as well as other martial ways (including rumors of Chin Na) travelled and trained with Ch'ueh for some time developing the curriculum of Chuan Fa to form a total of one-hundred and seventy techniques. Furthermore, they categorized these techniques into five distinctive groups distinguished by various animals who instinctive reactions best reflected the movements of this new Chuan Fa. Upon their return to the Shaolin temple of which both Li and Ch'ueh belonged they presented to the other monks wu xing quan, the five animal form and brought to the Shaolin temple a new stage in martial arts evolution.
Over the next several centuries the history of Chuan Fa and its advent to Kempo is ragged in its tales and difficult to gain accurate descriptions. What is known is that the art of Chuan Fa remained and is still practiced in China, but its teaching also found its way to Okinawan Islands and the Ryukyu kingdoms as well as Japan. In both places, the art was referred to as Kempo or Law of the fist. Between the Sui and Ming periods (an 800 year gap) it is considered that many a wandering monk travelled across Japan and Okinawa bringing with them a working knowledge of the art of Kempo which explains its wide-spread distribution. The art of Chuan Fa which translates into Kempo would have been taught as a supplement to the daily spiritual training the monks endured. Many of the monks would often choose disciples or teach at various Buddhist temples bringing forth the word of Buddha, and the power of Chuan Fa. From there the art of Kempo could easily spread among the commoners and nobles alike
Another reason for the founding in Kempo can be seen in the numerous trips the Japanese and Okinawan made to China to learn the fabled art of Chuan Fa. Some people would disappear for many years, presumed dead by their families, only to resurface as a master of Kempo and other martial arts. One such man was named Sakugawa. Sakugawa lived in the village of Shuri on the island of Okinawa and travelled to China during the 18th century to learn the martial secrets of the Chuan Fa masters. For many years Sakugawa had not been seen and many believe he had died in his journeys, but after much time he did return, much to the surprise of his kin. Sakugawa has learned the secrets of Chuan Fa and had become a master of some repute himself. Over many years of refinement the art Sakugawa had learned slowly was renamed to Shuri-te and is considered the predecessor to many forms of modern Karate.
Another member of Shuri, Shionja also travelled to China as Sakugawa did but on his return in 1784 brought with him a Chinese companion named Kushanku. Both men brought with them the art of Chuan Fa which they had studied together in China and began to demonstrate around Okinawa. Its is believed that Kushanku and Shionja had the greatest influence in Okinawan Kempo styles than any other martial artist.
Unfortunately, the evolution of Kempo in Japan is just as abrupt and mysterious although a flurry of attention to the art was brought during the reign of Hideyoshi Toyotomi's plans of conquering China. It is referred that many a samurai on their return from China whether during or after the war brought with them extensive knowledge of Chuan Fa and throughout the years modified it to include there own arts of Jujutsu and Aikijutsu and it is at this state where the greatest evolution of Kempo takes place since the time of Li and Ch'ueh.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century two families, Kumamoto and Nagasaki brought knowledge of Kempo from China to Kyushu in Japan. This art was modified throughout many years into its current form which is referred to as Kosho ryu Kempo, or Old Pine Tree school and it is from here that most modern forms of Kempo are derived. In 1916 at the age of five, James Mitose was sent to Kyushu from his homeland in Hawaii for schooling in his ancestors are of self-defense called Kosho ryu Kempo. For fifteen years he studied this art which was a direct descendent of the original Chuan Fa. After completing his training in Japan, Mitose returned to Hawaii and in 1936 opened the "Official Self-Defense" club in Beretania mission in Honolulu. It was here that the five major Kempo influences; Thomas Young, William Chow, Edmund Howe, Arthur Keawe and Paul Yamaguchi would study and bring Kempo to the world.
In 1934, before Mitose's return to the United States, the term Kempo-Karate was first used. In an issue of Yoen Jiho Sha newspaper an advertising for the visit of Chogun Miyagi, a famous karateka and founder of Goju ryu karate do, to the island of Hawaii. The use of the two terms is under speculation. Some suspect it was simply an advertising scheme while others believe that Chogun Miyagi's Goju ryu was actually a pure form of Kempo, and that the term karate was simply better known.
William Chow is perhaps responsible for the largest leap of Kempo to the general public. William K.S. Chow studied Kempo under Mitose for several years and previously had studied his family’s art of Kung Fu. Chow united, like many Kempo masters before him the arts of Kosho ryu Kempo and his family Kung fu to form a new art which would eventually be referred to as Kara-ho Kempo. In 1949, Chow had attracted a number of students to his own teachings and opened a dojo of his own at a local YMCA. To make a distinct variation from Mitose's Kempo, Chow referred to his art as Kenpo Karate. Throughout the next few decades Chow made many innovations to the system including the use of circular techniques of his Kung Fu, as well as various kata or forms based on the primary linear and circular techniques of his art.
One of Chows most flourishing students was a Hawaiian native named Edmund Parker. Ed Parker as he was known was the last highly significant figure in the current tale of modern Kempo unleashing it to the world as well as propelling it into his current form. In 1954 Edmund Parker earned his black belt in kara-ho Kempo and two years later became a household name, teaching his art to the likes of Elvis Presley, and Steve McQueen. Ed Parker further refined and defined the techniques of Kara-ho Kempo till he perfected his American Kenpo Karate system. Ed Parker is often referred to as the father of American Karate.
From here, Kempo and its other forms take many twists and turns, constantly evolving into new states of being.
The Direction Of Kempo
With all things certain paths are given directing us on various roots to a final goal. Sometimes this goal is reached in a very short period of time, while at other times that goal is never completed by expanded by as new paths cross the original. The direction in which Kempo leads its practioners is similar to that - its goals are represented in a sphere, constantly expanding with the final goal only being the beginning of a new stage.
Kempo is a unique martial art having been founded several centuries ago in the Chinese Shaolin temple, thus bringing with it a certain air of mystery. As a martial art, Kempo is referred to as a Do. The Do is referred to in Buddhist Zen scripts as a path towards enlightenment. Lao Tzu, a priest of Taoism said "Mastering others requires force; Mastering the self requires enlightenment.." This phrases sums of the full circle of what Kempo strives towards. Although on its surface Kempo can be seen as a unique form of self-defense, hidden beneath its physical exterior are levels where characteristic centralization of mind and body form. At this level, Kempo's practioners up from a simple form of fighting to a higher level of ability - a level of enlightenment. Ying Kuchan, a Shaolin monk and master of Kempo after a lengthy period of meditation in a Zen rock garden spoke of Kempo saying "Kempo is the power of adaptability and yielding; the harmony of all things working together."
On the surface, Kempo's uniqueness lies in its comprehensive and diversified means of unarmed defense. Shaolin Kempo Karate proper is both an armed and unarmed system of combat incorporating applications in varying appearances and method. On an external level, Kempo is a no holds barred fighting system of offensive and defensive methods with equal emphasis of striking techniques with the hands and feet; immobilization and controls; projections and takedown; as well as weaponry and various spiritual and healing arts. Shaolin Kempo is a street wise defensive art that does not restrict its students in methodology. Clawing hands evolve into slashing feet. Cunning joint locks turn into devastating hip throws. Evasive blocks turn into breath closing chokes.
The possibilities are endless. The only true fighting systems are those where there are no rules applied. From the books of the Han dynasty we learn "Nothing is impossible to a willing mind." And it is from this saying that we can derive the upper principles of Shaolin Kempo. What sets Kempo apart from boxing, wrestling, and Sunday night football is an emphasis on centralization of body and mind, a concept understood by very few. Many people are quiet happy with only the surface value of Kempo taking its studies for reasons of physical health, self-defense, or a Monday night hobby. But for what level of imperfection will you settle for in yourself? If there is more to Kempo why not grasp it. Kempo tries to build a person’s psychological persona as well as turning the ego self into the egoless self. The true Kempo is not a means of felling an opponent by force of hand or weapon, nor was it originally intended as a means of arms. Kempo calls for a bringing of inner peace to the self, and the universe around us. A master of Kempo is not only a master of self-defense, but a master of himself. In the end, the direction of Kempo was best described by Bruce Lee when he commented on his art of Jeet Kune Do; "To have no way as a way; To have no limitations as a limitation."
What’s the difference between Kempo and Kenpo?
Nothing. Actually, the only difference is in the translation of the Kanji to its English form. The word Kempo and Kempo are both pronounced the same and both mean "Law of the Fist." When the Japanese Kanji for Kempo is brought into English, either a "m" or "n" is placed in the word. It’s like saying "Qi" or "Chi", "Gung" or "Kung." Generally though, the more "traditional" (lightly used) forms of Kempo use the "Kempo" form, while the more non- traditional or contemporary versions use "Kenpo." William K.S. Chow was the first person to use the term Kenpo to show his break from the Mitose family Kosho ryu kempo.
What martial arts compose the curriculum of Kempo?
In general, most systems of Kempo consists of 4 primary arts which can be seen in 95% of Kempo system in both Okinawan and Japanese systems of Kempo, and consist of primarily Chinese influences.
( i) 18 hands of Lo Han (ii) 5 Animal Chuan Fa (iii) White Crane Chin Na (iv) Jujutsu Other arts that can be found in Kempo schools include:
( i) Aikido or Aikijutsu (ii) White Crane Kung Fu (iii) Various weapon arts (iv) Sumo( v) Calligraphy, etc
Does Kempo have forms?
Many people think that because Kempo is a highly-directed "self-defense" art that it contains no kata or forms. This is very untrue. Kempo has many forms with a notable characteristic of having both circular and linear movements as well as hard and soft techniques. Kempo forms are used to teach speed and coordination of strikes as well as movement, projections and immobilizations, and various principles of fighting. Many Kempo systems of Kempo utilized a numbering system for there kata, instead of referring them by name to make them simpler to remember. It is far easier to remember Kata #3 than Naihanci-dai. The American Kenpo system utilizes the terminology of Long Form # and Short Form # for many of there kata (i.e. Long Form 1). In such systems, often in the advanced levels, the forms take on names, such as Dragon-Tiger Form, Statue of the White Crane, etc. Another interesting thing to note is the use of the Pinan forms in many systems as well as common Okinawan, Chinese, and or Japanese forms.
But what has this to do with your current training. It is a philosophy about being spiritually strong, which does not mean anything religious. It is about learning to be true to yourself and being strong when all others are weak. It is about standing up when you are scared and when it is dangerous to do so. It is about making decisions that are based on virtue, not opinions. It is about being wise, benevolent and valorous in your decision-making.
contact us at