What's the 411 on Kajukenbo

Kajukenbo is a hybrid martial art that combines karate, tang soo do, judo, jujutsu, kenpo and kung fu. It was founded in 1947 in Oahu, Hawaii, at the Palama Settlements. The original purpose of the art was to deal with local crime and to help the people defend themselves from U.S. Navy sailors who would drink and start fights. The founders were Sijo ("founder") Adriano Emperado, Peter Young Yil Choo, Joe Holck, Frank Ordonez, and Clarence Chang, who called themselves the Black Belt Society.

The Name is derived from the letter of the styles that contributed to the creation of this art. Its kanji also translate to a spiritual meaning.

KA (Kanji-long life) - comes from the word Karate, an art form that places the emphasis on hard and powerful techniques.

JU (Kanji-happiness) - comes from Judo and Jujitsu, art forms that emphasize throwing, locks and sweeps.

KEN (Kanji-fist) - comes from Kenpo, a form of karate that not only stresses the hard and powerful movements, but emphasizes multiple and fluid hand techniques.

BO (Kanji-style) - comes from Chinese boxing (Chuan Fa). Chinese boxing means Kung Fu, which puts emphasis on flexibility and agility, parrying and evasive movements that flow together.

Together they make up the Kajukenbo motto:” Through this fist style one gains long life and happiness.”

Kenpo emerged as the core around which this new art was built.  Although uncreditted by name, other influences included American Boxing (Choo was Hawaiian Welterweight Champion) and Escrima (Emperado also studied Kali and Arnis Escrima).

In the late 1940's, Palama Settlement was a community center in a violent area of Oahu where fist-fights or stabbings were commonplace.  From this environment, the founders of Kajukenbo wanted to develop an art that would be readily usefull on the street.  As they trained and fought in and around Palamas Settlement, the founders of Kajukenbo quickly gained reputations as formidable street-fighters.  In 1950, Adriano Emperado, along with his brother Joe Emperado, began teaching the new art in an open class.  They called the school Kajukenbo Self Defense Institute (K.S.D.I.).

The emphasis during training was on realism - so much so that students routinely broke bones, fainted from exhaustion, or were knocked unconscious.  Nevertheless, the reputation of this tough new art drew more students and Emperado opened a second school at the nearby Kaimuki YMCA.  Soon Emperado had 12 Kajukenbo schools in Hawaii, making it the second largest string of schools at the time.  John Leoning, who earned a black belt from Emperado, brought Kajukenbo to the mainland in 1958.  Since that time, Kajukenbo has continued to flourish and grow.

From its beginnings, Kajukenbo was an ecclectic and adaptive art.  As time has passed, Kajukenbo has continued to change and evolve.  Currently, there are a few distinct, "recognized" branches of Kajukenbo: Kenpo ("Emperado Method" or "Traditional Hard Style"), Tum Pai, Chu'an Fa, Wun Hop Kuen Do, and Gaylord Method.  In addition, there are numerous "unrecognized" branches, including CHA-3 and Kenkabo.  While this may be confusing for an outsider, it is the essence of the art.  Students are not required to mimic the teacher, but are encouraged to develop their own "expression" of the art.