Posted by: John W. Zimmer
23 Apr 2009

 Below is my 1999 thesis that was required for my Fifth Degree Black Belt (Godan) test. I am a student of Richard “Dick” Willett’s, American Kenpo Karate (sanctioned by the American Kenpo Karate Association). I was enrolled in my second year of college at the time and had taken an English composition class to brush up on my writing skills. Let me just say my writing skills have improved in the last ten years and leave it at that. :)


I am publishing this document verbatim as it represented my work at that time. Please realize that it is somewhat of a position paper and not really a research paper – meaning that I am biased towards my own martial art.



The Evolution of Kenpo Karate

By John W. Zimmer


     Martial arts are man’s first line of defense to unprovoked attacks. No other need is more self evident in today’s violent societies all around the globe. With martial arts, weapons and permits are not needed to defend one’s life or property. This is the reason that I believe martial arts knowledge will continue to be sought long after all weapons are confiscated. As assailants try new approaches to rob their victims, martial artist continue to evolve their systems of self defense to counter these new attacks.


     We can appreciate the evolution of martial arts if we look at the history, types, and applications of today’s martial arts. Lewis states, “Fighting is as old as man himself. This struggle to overcome another by means of combat, unarmed and armed, is perhaps the legacy handed down to us from out ancestors, the cave-dwellers”(6)


     Martial arts refer to armed and unarmed fighting arts that came from the Orient. The earliest martial arts are said to have come from India. From India, Buddhist monks brought an early version of Kung Fu to China. As Kung Fu changed hands, it was constantly improved by its practitioners. Each new way of fighting that was developed, became a new style of Kung Fu. As people traveled to other countries, they took their martial arts with them. Kung Fu can be divided into hard and soft styles. Hard styles incorporate hard, staccato-like kicks and punches whereas softer styles use more circular movements with rather strange looking stances, patterned after animals.


     Okinawa, part of the Ryukyu islands, formed a natural avenue for martial arts to travel (Mitchell 10,12). The Japanese invaded Okinawa in 1609. After the Japanese disbanded the Okinawan military, they confiscated all weapons. The Okinawans were motivated to learn, because of Japanese domination. Karate evolved from Kung Fu in Okinawa. After their weapons were confiscated, the Okinawans had to use farm implements as weapons to fight the Japanese. One such weapon called the nunchuku, was actually a tool used to beat rice from teh rice stalks. The Okinawans soon had a reputation of being excellent fighters at both armed and unarmed combat. Soon, the Japanese were learning karate from the Okinawans and importing it to Japan.


     The Japanese already had a type of martial art known as Jiu Jitsu, whose origins could be traced to Japan’s feudal beginnings. Each family had its own techniques they became proficient at. Techniques included choking, arm locks, take downs, and weapons. Collectively these techniques became known as Jiu Jitsu. When Karate was introduced to Japan. The Japanese took karate and made it their own. Several new styles were created combining karate with Jiu Jitsu, which in turn helped to create more styles as karate migrated to other lands.


     The Korean karate stylists do not consider themselves part of karate, but an original form developed in Korea. Korean kicks are generally flashier than karate kicks because the Koreans believe that perfect form creates a perfect kick. While there is not an clear way to compare the different categories of martial arts, I will start with the gentler forms and work up to the harder styles.


     Aikido was born out of a need for a gentle martial art for a former Jiu Jitsu instructor weakened by scarlet fever (Lewis 70). Aikido does not use the violent throws of Judo, the chokes of Jiu Jitsu and the kicks and punches of karte, but uses an opponent’s own force against him. Aikido has similarities to religions because of the mind control needed to be successful at this art. The concept is to help an attacker to achieve his goal, for an example, pulling a punch, then moving slightly to let the punch crash into a wall. The Aikido stylist did not stop the punch or hit the attacker, bu merely helped the punch flow through faster, thereby missing the intended target. Aikido is a martial art that combines unique defensive techniques with a guiding philosophy that molds a practitioner’s character and inner harmony. Aikido has the effect of unifying the mind and body to create “KI” (pronounced kee), a force that focuses the spirit and enables the serious practitioner to accomplish seemingly supernatural feats (Lewis 70+).


     One famous story about about the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, involved him giving a demonstration in front of newspaper men. After drawing a chalk circle around his feet, he challenged six of them to attack him. The eighty-five year old master sent all of the assailants flying all around him without moving out of the circle (Lewis 71). On another occasion, Master Ueshiba asked four men to try and lift his one hundred-twenty pound body in front of the television cameras. After trying several holds to lift the old master, they gave up without lifting him (Lewis 73). One could equate the force of KI as a concentration of all bodily functions into one task, thereby seemingly creating super powers.


     An Aikido practitioner takes about eight years to become proficient, longer than any other art, but parts of Akido can be used in self defense and police work. Some of Aikido techniques are taken out of context and used violently both in the movies and by hoodlums, but these practitioners will not achieve true KI, thereby making them not as effective as they otherwise would be.


     Judo also evolved from Jiu Jitsu. Judo was created as the need for fighting diminished (Corcoran 26). Although many of the techniques are the same, Judo is more of a sport, with rules making it ideal for competition. Professor Jigoro Kano developed Judo in 1882 with mostly holds and throws using an opponents weight against him (Lewis 62). According to Corcoran, “The two principles upon wich Kano based his new art were seryoko zenyo (maximum efficiency with minimum effort) and juta kyoei (mutual welfare and benefit)” (26).


     The first principal can be demonstrated when a person is attacked by a stronger opponent. The Judo practitioner pulls his assailant in the direction of his attack, thereby pulling him off balance and making him vulnerable to a counter throw. The second overlying principal is permeated throughout judo, that is, to perfect one’s mental and physical nature to the mutual benefit of both contestants (Corcoran 26). To achieve rank in Judo, one has to defeat another in competition.


     Jiu Jitsu was the basis for most of Japan’s martial arts. Both Aikido and Judo borrowed heavily from Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu techniques were taught to Samurai from an early age to supplement their weapons. Traditionally, Samurai were taught from charts about the various killing techniques fo Jiu Jitsu. These charts were tested on prisoners to ensure accuracy (Corcoran 58). As Japan became more peaceful in the latter sixteenth century, Samurai had to depend more on Jiu Jitsu because of rogue Samurai called Ronin who often ambushed them. The Samurai were disarmed in 1876 and had to depend on their hand to hand techniques exclusively. Jiu Jitsu uses a veriety of skills including; kicking, locking holds, and strangle holds (Lewis 56).


     During World War II the American military used second-generation Japanese Americans to train commandos in Jiu Jitsu techniques for secret work in Japanese territory. Strangulation and Atemi-Waza (silent killing) were taught to OSS agents to help them with their missions (Lewis 61).


     The effectiveness of Jiu Jitsu was demonstrated when various schools engaged in public competitions and duels. While these contests were often fought to the death, many lessons were learned to the benefit of Jiu Jitsu. These matches gave the surviviors a reputation that helped establish Jiu Jitsu as a deadly martial art (Corcoran 42). While most styules of Jiu jitsu used only a couple of techniques, the collective methods were the basis of Much of Japan’s martial arts. A through examination of martial arts demands a colser look at the roots of modern martial arts today, Kung Fu.


     Kung Fu is said to have been brought to China from India by a monk named Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma was a respected monk and warrior who left India to search for truth. Bodhidharma turned up at the Shaolin Monastery in Northern China after crossing the Himalayas on foot. Bodhidharma is also thought to have introduced Zen to the Chinese monks (Lewis 32).


     After a monk completed his training at the Shaolin monastery, he was given a life-or-death test to determine his mastery of kung fu skills. Legend has it, there were two doors to the temple: the main enterance and the side door. The main entrance was used exclusively by masters of kung fu, and the side door opened onto the groungs. The test started in a dangerous tunnel network of mazes that included deadly obstacles and pitfalls. A monk was expected to overcome all of the traps in the tunnels or he would die there. The monks that eventually overcame all of the obstacles in the tunnels, would emerge to find a large, searring-hot, metal urn blocking the main entrance (Lewis 32).


     The urn had to be moved for the monk to gain his freedom. The urn was rigged to open the front gate when moved. One the sides of the urn there were carved dragons. The monk would have to lift the urn with his forearms to move the heavy urn. The hot dragons would brand the monk’s forearms, thereby marking him as a Shaolin priest and a master of kung fu (Lewis 32).


     Kung Fu encompasses over 300 different styles. These styles are divided up into general groups, but the differences start to blur. Firstly, there are northern and southern styles. The northern styles use more kicks, mobile stances and acrobatic skills. The southern styles seem to rely more on rigid stances and more hand strikes. Secondly, there are hard and soft styles. The hard styles incorporate power moves and rigid stances. The soft styles user more circular movements and light parries (blocks). Thirdly, there are the internal and the external schools. The internal schools like Tai Chi Chuan (a slow, exercise set of forms that are dance like) are thought to be very defensive and the external schools like Hung Gar which is aggressive, uses hard, straight line techniquest like karate. I mentioned the types of kung fu only becuase anyone who knows about this is quick to categorize styles and becuase each style is a combination of the master’s previous experience, nothern and southern, hard and soft, internal and external.


     One famous style of kung fu is the Praying Mantis system. This style was created by a frustrated martial artist who was consistently beaten in matches wiht monks. The style was formed by watching a grasshopper and preying matis fight. Strangely, this approach worked and the martial artist started to beat the monks.


     Bruce Lee created his own style called Jeet Kune Do. This style was not a beginner’s martial art because the style taught concepts, rather than specif moves to counter specific attacks.


Tracy’s Karate Studio in El Cajon had its share of masters walking in off the street, claiming, “I have created the best new system.” As head instructor and owner, I usually would spar (sport fight) with them and give them a few pointers and try to sign them up for lessons. One day, a gentleman claiming to be a master came in and wanted to spar one of our brown belts (the belt before black), and was bragging about the great style he created. When I heard about this, I put on a brown belt and sparred with him. I took it easy at first by letting him hit me a few times and then (because he was disrespectful), I hit him with a hard body punch and knocked him out. There are a fiar number of legitimate masters, but they have no reason to challenge other styles other than in tournments.


     Thai Kick Boxing origins are a mystery becuase Thailand’s records were destroyed in past wars. It is said that Thai Boxing was part of their military training and when at peach, prize fights were held regularly (Corcoran 134).


     Thai Boxing has no formal self defense techniques or katas (dance like moves), but does have about thirty types of kicks and punches. Training includes; jogging, swiming, bag-worik, and streaching. Stamina is importaint becasuse this is often the difference between winning and losing a bout. thai boxers also traing to endure pain. One method they use is to kick their shins into a tree trunk to deaden their nerve endings.


     The boxing torunament resembles western boxing rings alogn with the weight divisions. Lewis reports that, “During all fights Thai music is played, with the tempo and volume varying to coincide with the action in the ring. Each bout consists of five 3-minute rounds, with a two minute break between rounds. A boxer may win by a knockout, a technical knockout, or a decision” (132).


     Karate has spread the world over because of its unique way of fighting and the relative ease of learning this popular martial art. The three major groups of karate styles are as follows:

  • Korean Karate
    • Tae Kwon Do
    • Tang Soo Do
    • Hapkido
  • Okinawan Karate
    • Goju Ryu
    • Isshin Ryu
    • Shorei Ryu
    • Uechi Ryu
  • Japanese Karate
    • Goju Ryu
    • Kyokushinkai
    • Shito Ryu
    • Shotokan
    • Wado Ryu (Corcoran 46).


     The ranking system (belts) in most karate styles is close to this: white belt, orange or yellow belt, purple belt, blue belt, green belt, brown belt, and black belt. Some Korean styles substitute red for brown belt and blue for black belt. A typical training session may incude some or all of the following; streatching, breathing exercises, stances, basic kicks and punches, selfl-defense techniquest, katas, and sparring. Self defense techniques are a set way of defending agaist an opponent, for example, if a robber grabbed another from behind, he would step to the left and elbow with his right arm. Katas are the most formal part of most styles as these are dances using karate moves that have not changed ver much since the style was created. Katas are good to practice since the master that created them is usually not around to show students how he moved.


     Free sparing is perhaps the most enjoyable part of karate. Beginning stucends do not attempt this until they are comfortable with karate basics and know how3 to protect their vulnerable spots. Protective gear is required; hand pads, foot pads, a banana cup (groin proteciton), a mouth piece, and possibley shin pads, breast cups (for women), and head gear. The idea her is to teach basic, successful, techniques, to gain confidence and ability. Generally, two students tap gloves and then try to be the first to connect with a blow to a vital area of the body. The strikes are not full force, but hard enought to point out an opening in the student’s defense. If the instructor is good, the student is given a constructive tipebased on the previous sparring session. In brown and black belt levels, a practitioner has only to see an opening and without thinking, the apropriate kick or punch just seems to materialize from thin air without any effort!


     Karate tournaments are held around the world. There are open and closed tournaments. An open tournament will accept all styles and their rules do not favor any one particular style. Closed tournaments are mostly held by some of the more formal styles and are not open to new ideas such as uniforms of any other color than white. Here is an example of a closed tournaments rules; some Korean Karate styles count kicks as two points and punces as one point. This favors any style that mostly kicks and makes it harder for any style that uses mostly punches.


     Kenpo Karate  is one of many modern fighting systems that is evolving as times change. This innovative style of karate has enveloped many different types of fighting, from Jiu Jitsu to Kung Fu. As all styles are, Kenpo is actually a conglomeration of many different styles, using the best techniques from each. This is the reason Kenpo is so versatile, and flexible, it is constaintlyupdated to be effectivbe as antagonists try new methods of attack. Corcoran states, “Historically, Kenpo, as Kenpo Jiu Jitsu, was introductedinto the Hawaiian Islands, by James M. Mitose on December, 7, 1941, at the beginning [for the United States] of World War II” (64).


     Kenpo, taught by Mistose, included all manor of strikes, kicks, pokes, gouges, holds, and throws, simlar to Japanese Atei-Waza (Corcoran 64). Kenpo however, could be used more aggressively, to meet the changing self defense needs. For instance, guns were far more prevalent and harder to defend against unless a practitioner had the ability to catch bullets in his teeth (ha ha). Actually, a practitioner had to move aggressively when the opponent’s attention was not focused or when he was within hand or foot range to be effective against a gun.


     One of Mistose’s students was William Chow. Chow combined Kenpo Jiu Jitsu with Kung Fu to create Chinese Kenpo Karate. One of Chow’s students, Ed Parker is responsibile for bringing Kenpo to the mainland. Parker’s students, Al and Jim Tracy are responsible for creating the world’s largest chain of self defense karate studios. Richard “Dick” Willett advanced to run the national organization along with introducing fighting basics from world heavy weight full-contact karate champion, Joe Lewis. Master Willett is responsible for training many top fighters in the Southern California area for the past twenty-five years.


     Martial arts are continually evolving to meet current challenges. We only have to look at the chronology listed in this paper to see how truly versatile martial arts are. Modern applications include; self defense, police and security owrk, military training and sport karate. Martial arts also help to develop self configence, physical fitness, inner harmony, and respect for life along with the need to preserve it. The type of art does not matter so much as the person’s commitment to their chosen style.


Works Cited

Corcoran, John and Farkas, Emil The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia: Tradition – History – Pioneers. Los Angles: Pro Action Publishing. 1993. 6+

Lewis, Peter. Martial Arts of the Orient. London: Multimedia Books Limited. 1993. 6+

Mitchell, David. Official Karate. London: Stanley Paul & Co. LTD. 1987. 8 – 19.