When looking at the various major Martial Arts styles, the origin and history of kenpo is one that’s the least understood, and certainly very confusing. 

Kenpo is known to be a mixture of five different cultures, Chinese is considered to be the first and most important, followed by Japanese, then Okinawan, thereafter Hawaiian, this was prior to Hawaii becoming a state, and lastly American.

The meaning and origin of the name Kenpo is what has confused many people.  Kenpo originated in China, and the art as we know it; was passed down through the family of Mitose, they studied the original art during the 1600’s in China then brought it to Japan.  The Mitsose Family were of course Japanese so they naturally made use of the Japanese language in preference to Chinese to describe their families systems, this they later named “Kosho-ryu” – meaning: Old Pine Tree Style, “Ko” – means old, “Sho” means pine tree and “Ryu” means school/style.

With today’s usage of terms such as ‘Kung-fu” – the Chinese Mandarin dialect, or Gung-Fu in the Chinese Cantonese Dialect, “Wu-shu meaning Military or War art and “Kuo-shu” meaning Natiojnal Art, these terms added to the confusion to describe Chinese martial arts.  Each of these names describes, in general, some arts.

“Gung-fu: or “Kung-Fu” both mean a disciplined techniques, time, meaning a specific type work done in time, skill, strength and/or ability.  This is the generic term used outside mainland China to describe Chinese Martial Arts; this is noticeably evident in the United States.

The proper or proper term is “ch’uan Fa” – meaning fist law or Ch’uan shu, meaning fist art.

In Japanese it would be: Ken (fist) and Po (law).

In Chinese it would be: Ch'uan (fist) and Fa (law).

One of the characteristics that are common to many Oriental languages is the use of the characters written in the same way; however, these written characters are pronounced differently making the spoken language totally different in each country, and/or even different form different parts of a country.  A classic example is China, with two major dialects spoken, Mandarin, which is the official dialect, and Cantonese, plus there are hundreds of local dialects as well. This sort diversification led to the development of many different martial arts styles just within the boarders of China. In China today there are over 300 different styles of martial arts being taught.

In China originally martial arts was referred as “Ch’uan-fa” which means ‘fist law” however in Japanese they pronounce the same written characters as “KENPO” ~ or ‘KEMPO”, today in everyday usage, “KENPO’ which is spelled with an N will indicate the original Chinese culture, but, when it is spelled with an M it will indicate that it was incorporated into the Japanese culture.

When the family of James M. Mitose (pronounced me-toe-see) moved to Hawaii from Japan, he established the spelling of “KeNpo” and the original art that James Mitose taught was called Kenpo Jiu-jitsu” Mr. Mitose wrote several books about Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu.

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