Kempo ( Ch’uan Fa)

While Kempo traces its roots to the Shaolin temple it is an eclectic martial art. Kempo means “fist law” in Japanese. In Chinese it is “Ch’uan Fa”. There are many branches of Kempo today. Kempo practitioners will, and have taken new ideas and techniques from other sources and made them their own. Kempo is a living art that is always developing and adapting to the times.

Virtually all Modern Kempo in the United States and around the world outside of Japan is traced to James Mitose (1916 – 1981), and William K. S. Chow (1914 – 1987) in Hawaii. Kempo evolved from diverse Asian, Polynesian, and American cultures. While each successive generation has added it’s own interpretation and influences from other arts, they all have some common arts at there root. These arts include Shaolin Kung Fu, Kempo, Karate, Jujitsu, Chin Na, and Western boxing.

From Shaolin Kung Fu, Kempo has taken such things as the five animals which are, Dragon, Tiger, Snake, Leopard, and Crane. The Shaolin observed various animals and insects, watching how they fought. They then incorporated these fighting methods, and the spirit of the animals into their martial arts. Each Shaolin system has it’s own principles and concepts.

Kempo‘s own unique contributions include eye training, when to move, where to move (positioning), how to move, and preparatory arts. How your opponent must move, fighting strategies, concepts, and principles. It is the study of the laws of nature (physics) as applied to fighting. Kempo is known for its multiple fast hand strikes, simultaneous high and low attacks.

From Karate many forms were adopted, and or modified. These forms are used as a framework to learn techniques, principles, and concepts. Lower level Kempo forms are very much like Karate forms, some forms are directly taken from various karate systems.

In Kempo the thought is that it is easier and quicker to learn and become proficient with hard style martial arts than it is softer styles. Kempo systems start out with hard, and as you progress, learn, and grow it becomes softer. What starts as linear becomes more circular. At higher levels forms tend to have the characteristic fast hand combinations Kempo is known for.

From Jujitsu which was developed by the samurai to fight against armored, armed warriors empty handed. Neutralizing their opponents attacks by yielding to their use of force and using the opponents force against themselves was key. This was very close in fighting using throws, joint locks, pins, striking, kicking and weapons.

Chin Na techniques of neutralizing an opponents ability to fight. This includes controlling or locking and seizing joints, tendons, and muscles.

From Boxing we get powerful striking, mobility and footwork. You get methods of slipping a punch, bobbing and weaving. This method of movement reduces the need to block, as your block is preferably replaced by moving out of the way of the strike. Evading the strike is considered your block. This allows you to just hit without having to block first. All higher level martial arts use a simultaneous block and strike as it is much more efficient then block then strike. There are also many strategies and methods of fighting that come from boxing such as Boxer/Out-fighter, Boxer/Puncher, Brawler/Slugger, Swarmers/Infighters, Counter Punchers, and combinations of the above approaches.

Shaolin Kempo Forms

Pinion 1 – 5

These are the forms that represent the ‘Karate’ roots. This series of five forms is loosely based on the Okinawan Pinions and / or the Heians of Shotokan Karate. The original Pinions were created by Itosu Ankoh approx. 1905.

1 pinion is a variation of Taikyoku Shodan from karate.

2 pinion created by Nick Cerio is based on the footwork of Taikyuku shodan.

3 pinion is close to the form of the same name created by Itosu Ankoh approx. 1905.

4 pinion is close to the form of the same name created by Itosu Ankoh approx. 1905.

5 pinion is close to the form of the same name created by Itosu Ankoh approx. 1905.

Kata 1 – 7

These are the true back bone of Shaolin Kempo. The first four of these forms were created by Sijo Victor ‘Sonny’ Gascon in his school in Burbank California directly after (or possibly before) his separation from Kajukenbo. Kata 5 and Kata 6 were created by SGM S. George Pesare in Olneyville Rhode Island in the early to mid 1960’s. SGM Pesare also created a Kata 7 which he still teaches, but was adapted by Professor Nick Cerio into ‘Circle of the Panther’, and the further adapted by GM Fred Villari into ‘Swift Tigers’.

Stature of the Crane – was created by SGM S. George Pesare based on Okinawin Karate kata Rohai.

Two Man Fist set (North and South sides) – comes from Ed Parker’s Kempo.

Honsuki – May have originated with GM Chow, but a version of it was practiced by GM Nick Cerio who taught it to GM Fred Villari.

Shaolin Back fist set – Created by either GM Fred Villari or his senior students 1975- 1981.

Sho Tung Kwok – was created by GM Fred Villari in 1974-1975.

Nengli North – Created by either GM Fred Villari or his senior students 1975- 1981.

Nengli South– Created by either GM Fred Villari or his senior students 1975-1981.

Lost Leopard– Created by either GM Fred Villari or his senior students 1975-1981.

Tai Sing Mon – Created by either GM Fred Villari or his senior students 1975- 1981.

1000 Buddha’s – Created by either GM Fred Villari or his senior students 1975-1981.

Wounded Tigers– Created by either GM Fred Villari or his senior students 1975-1981.

Immortal Monkey– Created by either GM Fred Villari or his senior students 1975-1981.

Invincible Wall – Created by either GM Fred Villari or his senior students 1975-1981.

Branches of the falling Pine – Created by either GM Fred Villari or his senior students 1975-1981.

5 Dragons face the 4 winds – Created by either GM Fred Villari or his senior students 1975-1981.

Blocking systems (a.k.a. Stationary Blocking Sets. There are variations to the sets with strikes)

Eight Point Blocking System karate style hard blocks, outward, inward, upward, and downward.

Ten Point Blocking System open handed uses both hands simultaneously.

Plum Tree Blocking System Soft blocks blocks with a Shaolin Kung Fu influence.


The combinations are the canon, of the Karazenpo and Shaolin Kempo arts. The concept of numbered combinations was first developed by William K.S. Chow and Adriano Emperado. This was handed down and added too by Sonny Gascon, George Persare, Nick Cerio, and Fred Villari. Combinations 1-26 were taught by the tree teachers before Fred Villari. Combinations 27 through 108 were then created by GM Fred Villari or his senior students. Each combination is a technique that has principles of the art embedded in it.


James Mitose – was an extremely controversial person in the martial arts community. Though born in Hawaii, Mitose was sent to Japan to be raised by family at age 3 (1920). He returned to Hawaii in 1937. Mitose claimed to have learned Kempo at the Shaka-In temple in Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan. This was home to the Yoshida clan that Mitose claimed to be related too, and where the family arts were taught. Those that have researched this know that it isn’t possible for him to have trained at the temple. All claims he had made of training with known great masters, or being related to them have so far been proven false or extremely unlikely. So what his true training and background was is still a mystery. The only kata Mitose learned was Naihanchi which was the first form taught in Okinawan karate prior to the creation of the pinion series.

Mitose opened his martial arts school in Hawaii in1942 to 1946 called “The Official Self Defense Club”. Mitose awarded the rank of black belt to six people in this time frame. They were Thomas Young, Jiro Nakamura, Arthur Keawe, Paul Yamaguchi, William Chow, and Bobby Lowe. He taught Kempo to civilians throughout WWII to prepare them to defend themselves against Japanese invasion. Mitose used many names for what he taught including Kempo Jujitsu, Kosho Ryu Kempo, Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo In 1953 Mitose stopped teaching Kempo publicly, though he did teach a few students privately until 1974. His last student was Nimr Hassan (formerly Terry Lee).

In 1974 Mitose was arrested and convicted of murder, and sentenced to life. While Mitose himself was not believed to be at the scene of the murder, one of his students was convicted of the actual physical act. Mitose expressed responsibility as his teacher. Interestingly there are people that went to Folsom prison to speak with Mitose, that claim to have been taught and ranked in his system while he was in prison. Of course this is nonsense. Prisoners aren’t allowed to teach or practice martial arts in prison. There would certainly not be any form of contact or demonstrations allowed.

William K. S. Chow – began teaching Kempo Karate in 1944. He was the first to combine Kempo with Karate. Before Chow trained with Mitose he is believed to have trained in boxing wrestling, jujitsu, and karate. It is believed that he learned some Shaolin Kung Fu from his father. He is the first to use the term Shaolin Kempo, though he renamed his art Kara Ho Kempo shortly before his death. William Chow’s black belt certificate was signed by Thomas Young at the direction of James Mitose. It is from Chow that Kempo spread. He taught Ed Parker, Adriano Emperado, Ron Alo, Paul Yamaguchi, Bobby Lowe, Ralph Castro, Sam Kuoha, Bill Chun Sr., John Leone, Billy Marciarelli, Paul Pung, and others. He later taught Nick Cerio. Chow was known for testing his martial arts in the street against US military personnel. He taught few forms. He focused on techniques and conditioning. Chow considered his arts to be war arts.

Adraino Emerado – was born is Hawaii and raise in a poor neighborhood. Fighting was common. His father was a professional Boxer, as was his uncle. He learned basic escrima strikes at 11, and later learned Judo. At age 20 he began learning Kempo under William Chow, and was eventually awarded the rank of Black Belt. In 1947 he came together with Peter Young Yil Choi (Tang Soo Do, Boxing), Joseph Holck (Danzan-ryu Jujitsu), Frank Ordonez (Se Keino-ryu Judo), George Chuen Yoke Chang (Ch’uan Fa Kung Fu), and formed the Black Belt Society. They all trained together to find the weaknesses and strengths of each system in order to form a new system taking those strengths and eliminating the weaknesses. After the other members of the Black Belt Society were drafted for the Korean war, Emperado started his Kajukenbo school. Training was brutal. Emperado believed you needed to experience pain before you were able to give it. Training was said to not be over until there was blood on the floor.

Sonny Gascon – began his training with Judo in 1945 1948 earning shodan. In the 1950’s he began training Kempo with John Leoning in Hawaii. The system of kempo he learned was later called Kajukembo. While in the USAF Victor (Sonny) trained with a Korean martial artist while stationed in Korea. In 1956 after being discharged from the service he renewed his friendship with Ed Parker. The two had grown up as neighbors. They trained together exchanging techniques and ideas. In 1958 John Leoning moved to Pasadena and asked Sonny to instruct in a school he was opening. One day instructors from Hawaii showed up and told them they couldn’t use the Kajukembo name without paying a percentage to the home school in Hawaii. In 1960 Sonny Gascon changed the name of what he taught to Karazenpo Go Shijutsu. He eventually moved home to Hawaii leaving a kempo legacy on the mainland.

George Pesare – Has high rank Black Belts in Karazenpo Go Shijutsu, Judo, Tai Kwon Do, and Aikido. GM Pesare met Sonny Gascon in 1958. He then trained with one of his students Joe Blacquerra. Geaorge Pesare returned home to Rode Island in 1962 opening the first Kempo school in New England. GM Pesare has trained many students including Nick Cerio, Roger Carpenter, Steve Nugent, Joe Shuras, and many others of note.

Nick Cerio – began his training with Judo while in the USAF. Nick Cerio then learned Karazenpo Go Shijutsu under George Pesare. He also developed a friendship with Ed Parker who he had met on the tournament circuit. Ed Parker was a great source of information and an influence in the formation of Nick Cerio’s Kempo. After meeting William Chun Sr., Nick Cerio was given permission to train with William K.S.Chow. He spent two weeks training full time with GM Chow. GM Cerio had Black Belts in Karazenpo Go Shijutsu, Kenpo Karate, and Hakkoryo Jujitsu. GM Cerio later developed his own Kempo based on what he had learned from his teachers and what he took from other systems.

Fred Villari – had early exposure to boxing by his father. In his mid teens he trained in Jujitsu and Wrestling with the LeBlanc brothers. At the age of 18 he went and trained under Nick Cerio who eventually awarded him his Black Belt. Eventually Fred Villari created his own system which he called Shaolin Kempo Karate. There were over 250 schools in Fred Villari’s organization at one time. Fred Villari has been a great influence in spreading Kempo. There are thousands of Black Belts out there with lineage going back to Fred Villari.

Mike Murphy – has Black Belts in Shaolin Kempo Karate, Kempo Karate, Kosho Shorei Ryu Kempo, and Judo as well as extensive training in Juko Ryu Aiki Jujitsu. Mike Murphy is also a practitioner and instructor of many Chinese Martial arts. These systems don’t use belts. You are either a student or a teacher. His forte’ is Tzu Men Chuan, Baguazhang, and Hsiao Chiu Tien Wu Tao. However he also has extensive training in Liu Ho Pa Fa, Hsing-Yi Chuan, and Taijiquan. Mike Murphy’s Kempo draws on the techniques, forms, principles and concepts of all the systems he has trained. This makes his Kempo unique.

  1. March 12, 2013 at 12:13 pm

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  2. rick amdahl
    March 19, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    Hello Mike,

    Hope your well. Great to see your still passionate about the arts. Be great to chat with you again after all the years gone by. Rick

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