Adriano Emperado, the founder of the Kajukenbo Self-Defense Institute of Hawaii, was born in Honolulu on June 16th, 1926 in the small community of Kalihi, which was and still is a part of the Kalihi-Palama District of the City and County of Honolulu. Adriano was one of seven children. There were three boys (Larry, Adriano, and Joseph), and four girls (Ella, Dechi, Nancy, and Connie Marcella).
Like a lot of poor neighborhoods around the world, Kalihi and the surrounding area was a violent place to live. Because of this, Adriano started learning how to defend himself at a very young age. His father had been a professional boxer in the Philippines and in Hawaii, fighting under the ring name of Bulldog Panis. Adriano’s uncle had also been a professional boxer. So by the time he was 8 years old he was getting some much needed exposure to western boxing.
Adriano Directo Emperado is one of five martial artists who developed the kajukenbo self-defense system.
Childhood and Young Adulthood: Emperado had a very difficult childhood living in Honolulu. He was born on June 16, 1926. He was born to Filipino-Hawaiian parents in the poverty stricken Palama/Kalihi section of Honolulu.
Like many poor areas, the Palama/Kalihi district settlement was a violent place to live.
Confrontations and fights were a daily occurrence. Because of this Emperado started his self defense training at the age of 8.
His father and uncle were proffesional boxers and at the age of 11 he learned the 12 basic strikes of escrrima. Then at the age of 14 he came back to his old familiar neighborhood in Palama. There he trained in Judo under Sensei Taneo at the Palama Settlement gym.
Then at the age of 20 Emperado undertook serious study of Kenpo at the Catholic youth orgamnization in Honolulu. These classes were taught by the legendary Professor William K.S. Chow. Emperado trained daily with Professor Chow and it soon he attained his first black belt.
Later Life: Then in 1947 Sijo Adriano Emperado (Kenpo and Escrima), Peter Young Yil Choo (Korean Karate [Tang Soo Do] and Boxing), Joseph Holck (Jujutsu [Danzan Ryu]), Frank F. Ordonez (Judo [Se KeinoRyu]), and George “Clarence” Chuen Yoke Chang (Chinese Boxing [Chu’an Fa Kung-Fu]), came together and called themselves the Black Belt Society.
They began training together and exploting and developing the weaknesses of each martial art to create a fighting style that did not suit the ancient warrior but the American citizen to help him or her in their plight against the common criminal.
Professor Emperado is a master of Escrima, Jujitsu, and various Kenpo forms. In addition, he has studied Okinawan Karate, Chinese Kung Fu, Hawaiian Lua, American Boxing and Wrestling, as well as various arts which utilize such weapons as the staff, club and knife. During World War II, Professor Emperado was attached to the First Filipino Infantry Regiment as a Medical Corp Man, during which time he received various awards and citations for military accomplishments.
Professor Emperado received much of his martial arts training from Professor K.S. Chow and Professor James Mitosi. In 1947 he was part of the Black Belt Society that developed the art form currently known as Kajukenbo. The title of Professor was given to Professor Emperado by Professor Lum and Professor Wong of the Chinese Physical Cultural Society of Hawaii and Master Ho Gau of Hong Kong to represent Choi Li Fat Ga. He was elected to the Black Belt Hall of Fame in 1991.
Presently the Professor holds the highest title in Kajukenbo, 10th degree.
Schools: After the other four were drafted off into the Korean War, they left Emperado to start the first Kajukenbo school at the Palama Settlement Gym in 1950. Many of the students who trained there wwere poor, so at the Palama school students could train for $2.00 a month. The workouts that took place there are legendary for their brutality.
Emperado has been quoted as saying that a workout wasn’t over until there was blood on the floor. When a reporter went on to ask hiim about this he went on to say that “you have to experience pain before you can give it. You have to know what your technique can do. “We lost a lot of students in those days, but we also got a lot from other schools, including black belts. These students would look at what we were doing and realize that we had a no nonsense effective system”. So in order to be invinceable on the streets they had reasonable, but severe and brutal training. They fought with full contact and various injuries such as broken limbs were an everyday occurrance.
History of Kajukenbo
In 1947, Adriano D. Emperado and 4 other skilled martial artists: Joe Holck, Peter Young Yil Choo, George “Clarence” Chang, and Frank Ordonez, made a secret pact to combine their arts into a street fighting combination of their arts, which were:
Adriano Directo Emperado – Kenpo (Kosho Ryu) and Escrima
Joseph Holck – Jujutsu (Danzan Ryu)
Peter Young Yil Choo – Karate (Tang Soo Do) and Boxing
George “Clarence” Chuen Yoke Chang – Chinese Boxing (Chu’an Fa Kung-Fu)
Frank F. Ordonez – Judo (Se Keino Ryu)
When the Korean War hit, Joe Holck, Peter Choo, Frank Ordonez, and Clarence Chang were drafted, leaving only Adriano Emperado to carry the system on. Sijo Emperado, along with his brother Joe, introduced Kajukenbo to the public by opening the Palama Settlement School in 1950.
The training there was notoriously brutal. Their goal was to be invincible on the street, so the training had to be realistic, and the students sparred with full contact.
The number of students soon dwindled to only a few. Those who remained developed into tough fighters with a reputation for employing their art in street fights with only a little provocation.
Several students who came out of the school would become very prominent marital artists themselves, such as Sid Asuncion, Aleju Reyes, Joe Halbuna, Charles Gaylord, and Tony Ramos.
The art slowly began to grow in popularity, and soon Emperado had 12 Kajukenbo schools in Hawaii, making it the second largest string of schools at the time. Joe Halbuna, Charles Gaylord, Tony Ramos and Aleju Reyes, who all earned a black belt from Emperado, brought Kajukenbo to the mainland in 1960.
They each opened Kajukenbo schools in California. In 1969, Tony Ramos trained with and exchanged ideas and methods with Bruce Lee. Tony’s version of Kajukenbo became known as the “Ramos Method” and is kept alive by numerous instructors, most notably Emil Bautista of Vallejo, Aleju Reyes died in 1977 and Tony Ramos died in Hawaii in 1999. Charles Gaylord has since continued on with the art and has developed the “Gaylord Method”. He is the President of the Kajukenbo Association of America and has acquired a legacy to continue the art of his Sijo.
(by Ken Relf blackbeltmag.com 3-21-11) “Kenpo is my family’s art.” On December 30, 1916, in the rural North Kona district of Hawaii, a Japanese couple gave birth to a child they named Masayoshi Mitose. In the years that followed, he adopted the given name James and rose to fame as the man who brought kenpo to the West. Through his own words (in italics) and actions, we can trace the steps of this remarkable martial artist.
Born on a coffee plantation, James Mitose remained there until October 22, 1920, when he traveled with his sister to Japan and lived under the care of their grandfather. “I was to take over the family business, including religious activity.” Their destination was a village named Kumamoto-Higashi-Tomochi. “I learned kenpo in a large temple on a mountain named Akenkai.” For two years, he cleaned the temple, swept the floors and served the monks and members. Only then was he allowed to receive an education. “The temple was serving as a school, in which we had some ritual of Indian style.”
Half of each day focused on religious activities, including the study of Sanskrit. The other half focused on kenpo. “There are many grades or classes in the organization, starting from, say, archbishop or bishop [and] down to a monk. It is different from karate, different from black belts [and] brown belts.”
James Mitose had his head shaved in the tradition of Buddhist monks. He learned the Japanese interpretation of Buddhism, as well as Christianity and various religions from India and Tibet. He prayed to his ancestors and the Buddha so that all things would succeed. He studied the Bible and learned Greek philosophy. The philosophical aspect of kosho-ryu kenpo, the art he later founded, was heavily influenced by those studies, especially the edicts to do no harm and to blend in with the environment. “There was a time in the temple [when I] planted a vegetable [and] killed earthworms by mistake, and I was not allowed to eat for three days. In Japan, [it] is known that if you kill anyone, it would for seven generations be suffering with the child. Everybody suffers, so you cannot do such things.”
Japanese stories were told to the youth. Those tales would later define the essence of kosho-ryu kenpo and the way it related its philosophical views to everyday living. The stories eventually found their way into James Mitose’s books, which he wrote to convey his message of peace.
James Mitose’s training at the temple included lessons in human anatomy, escaping patterns, energy collection, Japanese yoga and nutrition, as well as a body-contact art that revolved around pushing and pulling skills. He also learned balance, coordination, timing, and concepts of motion and movement. “When there was a funeral in the village in the winter, I accompanied [the procession] as a pallbearer.”
The temple monks always strived to give back to the community. Because even the closest hospital was too far for the villagers to walk to, the monks often worked as doctors when illnesses arose. James Mitose became a natural-food specialist. He learned about herbs and used his skills to help the villagers. In the surrounding areas, he and his peers often traded manual labor for food and other goods. “I was educated to take care of myself. Unless I work for the day, I should not eat. So rather than go out begging for the foods, I tried to raise foods myself, in group activities with other members of the organization. Except Archbishop, all others were engaged in such physical work, in the planting of rice, in the field, cooking the rice, chopping the firewood.”
A turning point came in James Mitose’s life when his training and dedication helped him transition from monk to minister at age 18. His mind began to wander from the temple, however, and his body soon followed. “I was relieved from the group life and became free.”
For the next two years, he toured the countryside with others from the temple. He worked with local law enforcement and eventually came across a military exercise being conducted on the mountainside to ready citizens for battle. “At the time, even the elementary schools were taught military training in preparation for war with America.” Propaganda spread throughout Japan. Every citizen was ordered to take up arms and, if need be, defend the nation. Violation meant immediate prosecution and likely imprisonment. That, of course, stood in opposition to the monastic way of nonviolence. “In our Law of Fists, we are not supposed to obey the order of even the emperor or the supreme commander of the military forces. My brother and I were against those military operations. Some were arrested. The people around me suggested I return to Hawaii as quickly as possible. Otherwise, I might be jailed [in] a military jail.”
In 1937, James Mitose set sail for Hawaii, where he planned to start a new life in the nation of his birth. He became friends with Robert Trias. Their time together eventually led to martial arts talk, but it was cut short on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, crippling the U.S. fleet. Eighteen ships were destroyed, 300 planes were damaged or destroyed, 2,400 people were killed and 1,100 were injured—all in two short hours.
Wanting to help, James Mitose decided less than 24 hours after the attack to enlist in the Hawaii National Guard. “My position was different from that of most Americans. I had lived happily in America as an American citizen. I loved America and its institutions and felt it was my duty to take up arms for this country whose privileges had been generously extended to me. On the other hand, it was not as simple a decision as it would be for most. I had spent the formative years of my life in Japan and had some relatives still living in Japan, to whom I was bound by ties of blood and experiences shared.”
James Mitose was honorably discharged after three weeks of service. He then volunteered in a labor battalion. Believing he should do more to aid the war effort, he decided to share his family’s martial art. “The purpose was to teach world peace and happiness toward mankind and especially to assist in the struggle against crime.”
James Mitose traveled to numerous martial arts clubs in Hawaii. He adopted the gi and belt system and began teaching kosho-ryu kenpo to the public. At first, he instructed in his backyard, where a couple of students, one of whom was Thomas Young, would assemble. He then encountered the one and only William K.S. Chow. As James Mitose’s student body grew, he needed to acquire larger accommodations. In 1944 he opened the Official Self-Defense Club, first at the Beretania Mission in Honolulu and then at the YMCA. Its purpose was to convey the true meaning of self-defense to students regardless of rank, nationality or religion. The majority of those who signed up were non-Japanese. James Mitose trained them for law enforcement, military service and a variety of personal reasons. He taught them how to use tools such as the makiwara board and “kenpo sticks” to focus energy and destroy the evil from within. He would show them an attack and allow them time to reflect on an effective response to it. He stressed the need to perfect balance and technique, and he augmented physical training with lectures on philosophy, respect, humility and situational awareness. “My religion is such as not to fight. Not to fight and not do anything—the real religion of kenpo karate.”
As the Official Self-Defense Club grew, Mitose saw an opportunity to use the school to help others. The more students he had, the more good deeds he did for the community—which, in turn, brought in more students. Together, they organized self-defense demos throughout Hawaii, raised money for the March of Dimes, contributed food to the National Guard, and donated money to Christian churches and mission schools.
In 1947 he finished work on what many consider to be the first English-language book about kenpo. “I wrote in Japanese and English.”
Titled What Is True Self-Defense?, it sported a cover that depicted two combatants in a clinch. James Mitose re-released it in 1953 with a modified version of his family’s crest on the cover. The modification: A covered fist was placed on top of the crest because the world was at war.
James Mitose wanted to share his philosophies of self-defense, but he felt pressured into filling the book with photographs. He feared that a student looking for a quick defensive move would flip to the technique pages and overlook the real message he wanted to convey. To the typical reader, it would appear to be just another how-to book on fighting. Nevertheless, many copies were donated to local police departments, public libraries and health clinics. Others were sold in conjunction with lessons.
In the ensuing years, his students expressed an interest in learning more of what could be considered kosho-ryu kenpo’s aggressive and fierce side. They appeared to be ignoring the philosophical aspect of the martial art. “My dojo, they know—I’m not to teach other things because it’s religion.” After a student struck and seriously injured another student, James Mitose concluded that his followers were learning too much of the violent side of the art. Rather than understand the true meaning of self-defense, they were concentrating on kicking and punching. After much deliberation, James Mitose quit teaching. “I decided not to teach kenpo and other Oriental philosophy. They wouldn’t understand it, so I gave up.”
In 1955 he entrusted his school to his student, Thomas Young, and began a new life in Los Angeles.
On the mainland, James Mitose became an ordained minister through the Episcopal Church and obtained a doctorate in philosophy. He continued to keep his ties with friends and loved ones he was forced to leave behind in Japan so long ago. For the remainder of his life, he selectively taught kosho-ryu kenpo to a few students. At times, he became frustrated, partly because of the language barrier and the differences between Japanese and mainland American culture. Most of the people who came across James Mitose in this state viewed him as just an angry man. Not having lived his life, they could never understand his disposition.
James Mitose died on March 26, 1981. At the time, he was incarcerated at Folsom State Prison. He’d been found guilty of extortion and murder, but the details of his involvement in the crimes were not fully understood because of faulty translation from Japanese to English. Many contend that the murder was committed by one of James Mitose’s students.
So ended the life of James Mitose, a man whose unselfish act of kindness set in motion the expansion of kenpo into the Western world. His only requirement for acceptance into his school was a desire to live a more harmonious life.
It’s one thing to talk about history and quite another to LIVE HISTORY.
My association with Ed Parker began at BYU in 1954. I was a, ‘green as grass’ freshman; and wanted to attend all the events on campus. During a basketball half time, the winter of 1954 I witnessed a demonstration of Kenpo, put on by Parker and a group of Islanders he had trained.
This was before there were any videos, or TV presentations, and Kung fu movies were as yet un known. I was blown away! The speed power and efficiency of their techniques was phenomenal. I had been trained in fencing at Napa High School, Napa California before leaving to attend college at BYU. Some of the blocks, parries and counters were reminiscent of fencing theory; I had to learn more!
I rushed to the locker room just after the demo and caught Ed just before he entered. I’ll never forget what he said to me when I said I had to learn Kenpo. He scowled at me with what became known as, “The Look,” and said, “Don’t call us, kid, we’ll call you.”
In those days Ed Parker was quite Jingoistic. He only trained Island boys and Asians, with an occasional law enforcement exception. It took a lot of pleading and persistence before he relented and took me under his wing.
I remember as though it were just last week when he began to “reconstruct,” Kenpo. His scientific mind constantly analyzed the fundamentals of the martial arts and streamlined them for increased speed efficiency and power. One afternoon, in the wrestling room, he said, “I want to eliminate the ’AND’ in our techniques.” He then demonstrated what he meant, by first executing a Block & then Counter. He then demonstrated a super- fast curved strike that, in a single move, blocked the incoming fist, punished the attacking arm and struck the attacker’s carotid artery, all in a single move. From that very day I watched and studied the development of what became “American Kenpo.”
Through the decades we became close friends and brothers. He even lived in my home for a month while we collaborated on the publishing of his tribute to Elvis, Presley, “Inside Elvis.”
The day came, shortly before his untimely death, when I got a phone call from my friend, instructor and the brother I never had. He said, “Mills, I have seen the “future of Kenpo. His name is Jeff Speakman.” He then went on to describe his movie career, his skill set and most of all his creativity. He then asked me to befriend Jeff, support him and assist him in any way possible.
The subsequent loss of Ed Parker was tragic; but the legacy he left continues to grow, because of men like Jeff Speakman. When I got that phone call, I knew exactly what he meant. We had discussed it many times in private. Particularly when polishing the development of the International Kenpo Karate Association, (IKKA).
Ed Parker didn’t want to develop super ‘Robots.’ His goal was to create “Thinking Warriors,” capable of building on what he, Ed Parker, had created; and expanding the art in ever widening ripples of creative discovery. That is what he saw in Jeff Speakman; and that is what we continue to witness. Each generation of “thinking warriors” expand the frontiers of the art. We are all privileged not just to be observers; but to be participants in history. Thanks in no small measure to leaders like Jeff Speakman.