Yes, my spell checker is on, and yes, Kajukenbo is a real word. In fact, it’s the name of pretty cool martial art. I came across it while watching my favorite martial arts show Fight Quest. Kajukenbo is a unique martial art from recent history that was designed for surviving violent street encounters, and I appreciate its focus and attitude.
The tropical paradise of Hawaii may not seem like a place from which a seemingly violent martial art would emerge, but that’s just where Kajukenbo was conceived between 1947 and 1949 on Ohau. Five martial artists formed a group they called “The Black Belt Society” with the goal of forging a martial art system that would provide a complete method for self-defense. At that time, this area of Hawaii had frequent outbursts of violence. Fist fights and knife attacks were common place. It was this violent environment that influenced the creation of Kajukenbo with the a focus on practical techniques to survive truly dangerous street encounters.
The five martial artists met in abandoned military bases to create this art in secrecy. Peter Young Yil Choo contributed kicking and striking techniques from Tang Soo Do Karate, Frank Ordonez and Joe Holck contributed throws and grappling techniques from Se Keino Ryu Judo and Kodenkan Danzan Ryu Jujitsu respectively, Adriano Emperado contributed fast linear techniques from Kosho Ryu Kenpo, and Clarence Chang contributed circular techniques from Chu’an Fa Kung-Fu (Chinese Boxing). It is from this blending of arts that Kajukenbo gets its name; “Ka” from Karate, “Ju” from Judo and Jujitsu, “Ken” from Kenpo, and “Bo” from Chinese boxing. Additionally, Filipino Kali and American-style boxing also influenced the art as some of the creators had experience in these systems as well. After two years of grueling work, Kajukenbo was born.
After its creation, Adriano Emperado alone was left to pass the art on since the other four founders became swept up in the Korean War. Emperado in 1950 began teaching locals at a community center how to defend themselves with Kajukenbo against the violent street fighters of the area. The classes were so successful that it was not long before he ran twelve Kajukenbo schools on Hawaii. Since then, as Kajukenbo blackbelts and masters went forth to spread the art, a myriad of Kajukenbo styles have emerged. This is because personal interpretation and variance is encouraged in Kajukenbo.
The episode of Fight Quest that I saw (season 1 – episode 10) followed the hosts to two different Kajukenbo schools in California, and each revealed an art built around an understanding of the brutalities of street violence. Students trained to defend against multiple attackes, to avoid dangerous ground fighting, and to defend against knives and clubs. Unlike more mainstream arts, among other techniques, Kajukenbo students practiced in strikes to the back, limb destruction, face rakes, and other heavy handed techniques. The idea is that if it has to come down to you or the other guy/s, be sure that it’s you who walks away.
So why did I choose to write about Kajukenbo this week? It was something I encountered this week that readily drew up my interest, and I genuinely wanted to share my learning about it with others. The reason I was so intrigued by it was that the training focus of the instructors is exactly what I seek in my training. Kajukenbo is not practiced for flashy tournaments or sport; it’s focus is to prepare for and survive the harsh and brutal realities of real world street violence. That’s what informs all of their training exercises, and I respect that. I feel fortunate to be a student of Shin Ho Kwan Taekwondo that also contains in it a well rounded curriculum that can prepare a student for multiple dimensions of self-defense combative scenarios.
Please understand me here. I find no glamour in fighting or being involved in violence. The thought of possibly having to cause fatal trauma to another human, while they are trying to do the same to me, sickens me: possibly having to cause blunt force trauma to another’s face and brain, seeking elsewhere to affect trauma to vital organs so that they hemorrhage and excessively bleed internally, attacking another’s limbs in a way that could lead to permanent crippling. Violence is truly an evil that has been loosed upon the Earth, and it is a terrible thing for anyone to have to deal with.
To me, that is a big part of what it means to be a martial artist and a warrior. Warriors agree to take the burden of dealing with violence unto themselves. They will train in violence’s horrors and learn to overcome them so that others may hope to live peacefully. The next time you complain about a police officer, just think about all the wicked and violent individuals he or she deals with every day so that we don’t have to. To me, this is a big part of what being a virtuous warrior is all about. That is why I appreciated the training focus displayed in Kajukenbo because its practitioners were preparing themselves for that sort of warriorship.
references for history: