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      Please be aware that there are MANY versions of the history of Karate. You will find other variations and even completely different histories from other sources. The following was worked out of multiple text and internet references, and is as accurate as I can make it. Just don’t be shocked if you hear something different from other Karate practitioners - after all, very few things were written down before this century.

Unfortunately, as in many area of highly specialized training, Karate is not strictly a sea of brotherly love. Some beginning students like to believe that somehow the local martial arts method that they have taken up is "better" than any other style. On television, you may watch expert proponents of divergent styles fight it out for prizes and recognition. You may even hear some karateists theorize that their system is innately superior to all others, and that their way of doing Karate is somehow the only correct method, or that other schools do not practice "true Karate".

In our dojo, Sensei Bill encourages the participation of students and senseis from any and all styles. We have had "guest senseis" with entirely different backgrounds, such as Oleg Taktarov, teach class. If you ask any experienced martial artist what the "best style" is, he or she will tell you that we are all climbing the same mountain, perhaps by different paths, but all towards the identical goal - that of perfecting ourselves. We are all brothers and sisters in this common pursuit, and we really should continually strive to offer all aid and assistance to those students climbing the slopes behind us, no matter what race, sex, creed, religion, national origin, or specific Martial Arts style. If you would like to see additions or changes in these personal notes, please contact me by your earliest opportunity; I welcome any appropriate additions or corrections, but I will not condone any "flaming" (that's an Internet word for making discourteous remarks about) other Karate styles.

A very complete and professional (and although somewhat different from mine, no less accurate) history of Karate can be read on the Internet at the Kenpo FAQ (FAQ = "Frequently Asked Questions") home page. P. C. Wood also has an exceptional discussion of American Kenpo Karate, as taught by the late Mr. Ed Parker. And please take the time to examine the very impassioned discussion of another very well respected Kenpo style which can be found on the Tracy's Kenpo World Wide Headquarters home page.

Now that that has been said and done, let's try to review a little history:

Fighting techniques have been passed from master to student ever since caveman Ugg taught his son Grug how to bonk those pesky Neanderthals on the head with a fist-hammer strike. Some of the most ancient fighting techniques ever recorded were found in Egyptian pyramid hieroglyphics from around 4000 B.C., and seem to resemble modern boxing. Also, depictions of a lost fighting art similar to boxing and wrestling have been found in ruins from Mesopotamia (the area of modern Iraq) dating from around 3000 B.C.

Over 5,000 years ago (still around 3000 B.C.), an Indian prince conducted numerous experiments with live slaves, striking their bodies with needles and finger pokes, in order to discover pressure points and weak areas of the body. Next, he developed a series of hand, arm, and foot techniques, as well as strangle holds, utilizing these same vulnerable areas of the body. This became a crude system of hand-to-hand combat, and really began the evolution of what we now call Karate. With time, Karate picked up traces of the many philosophies and religions through which it passed, undergoing constant refinements.

Between 3000 B.C. and 2000 B.C., the ancient Chinese art of kenpo (or kempo) had developed, and emphasized the use of circular movements in unarmed combat. This was the foundation of the Chinese art of Kung Fu-Wu Su. Although Kung Fu means discipline (physical and mental) while Wu Su is the martial application of that discipline, this art became known as Kung Fu (or Gung Fu). The first recorded use of this new weapon-less fighting technique in battle was by the Yellow Emperor (Huang Ti) in 2674 B.C. During the 10th century (1000-900) B.C., the Greeks developed the pancratium, a fighting system probably similar to modern karate, in which no fouls existed, and every part of the body was used as a weapon. This system was very rough, and often resulted in death. In the fifth century B.C., a fighting champion named Theogenes knocked out 2,102 opponents, killing 1,800 of them. Although abandoned because of its cruelty, the pancratium was later revived by the Romans, and was finally lost with the fall of Rome. Note the very recent development of a form of full contact Karate called “Pancrease”, which uses open palm strikes and kicks.

Around 600 B.C. a philosophical system stating how nature guides all things was written by Lao-tzu, and was called the Tao-te Ching. This Taoism incorporated breathing, meditation, health, medical, and alchemy techniques, and Taoist monks became adept at unarmed combat. The Kung Fu ethic of protecting the weak and punishing evildoers originated from the teachings of these Taoist monks.

Buddha lived in the sixth century B. C. (600-500 B. C.), and ancient Buddhism became inseparable from Karate, as both stressed the end results of Enlightenment and peace with oneself (Nirvana). Despite this desire for inner peace, religious groups were constantly clashing with each other, and various Karate fighting techniques became part of the training in many monasteries. These techniques were jealously guarded and taught in complete secrecy. To thwart spies, many monasteries hid their secret self-defense “tricks” within the movements of Karate training forms, called Kata. It would take many years for the initiate monk to learn the Katas and derive the “hidden movements” within the basic forms. This tradition has continued even to modern times, where advanced Kung Fu students privately discuss with their instructors the hidden movements that they discover within their Katas.

Around 520 B.C., a Chinese Buddhist monk pilgrimaging in India combined existing fighting practices with Yoga breathing methods and brought these techniques back into China. His name was Bodhidharma, also known as Dharuma, and he was the founder of Zen Buddhism. Because this incorporation of physical, mental, and breathing is one of the most important foundations of Karate today, Dharuma is often credited as the founder of ancient-day Karate.

Dharuma, founder of Zen
and of ancient-day Karate:

Around 40 years after Dharuma’s death, a Chinese monastery was attacked by outlaws, which was a very common occurrence in those days. What was unusual was the appearanceof a man only known as the “begging monk”, who used a collection of hand and foot techniques to drive away the attackers. The other monks were very impressed by this display, and requested instruction in this method of self defense. This fighting art became known as Chuan Fa, or the “Fist Method”.

In the 3rd century A.D., a Chinese surgeon developed a new fighting system by combining kempo with older physical conditioning methods and with the movements of the tiger, bear, deer, monkey, and bird. This was later modified to follow the fighting spirits symbolized by the tiger, crane, dragon, leopard, and snake to become the Shaolin fighting arts. As was the case with most martial art styles of the time, these techniques were handed down verbally from master to student, were jealously guarded, and were never written down. Another story is told about a Chinese Buddhist monk named Ta Mo who returned from India around 526 A. D., and began teaching Zen Buddhism in the Shaolin Temple in Northern China. He noticed that his frail student monks tended to fall asleep during his lectures, so he taught them a set of exercises he called the “eighteen hands”, updating the existing Kung Fu fighting movements. These exercises became known as “Eighteen Monk Boxing”, and the Shaolin Temple became a center for Kung Fu study.

Around 700 A.D. a priest named Chueh Yuan revised Ta Mo’s “soft” (“internal”) system into 170 actions, which became the “hard” (“external”) school of Shaolin Kung Fu. Graduation from the Shaolin monastery evolved into passing three tests: first an oral exam, then combat with other monks, and finally passage through a labyrinth of 108 mechanical dummies equipped with knives, spears, and wooden fists. The final exit through the front gate of the temple was blocked by a 500-pound red-hot urn, which when lifted out of his way would brand the student with a dragon on his right arm and a tiger on his left. The man who could pass these tests was then a Shaolin priest, who went out into the world to defend the poor and the weak, and to right the wrongs of Chinese feudal society.

There was no uniform style practiced by the Buddhist monks; instead, over 400 individual styles branched out from the original art. Despite the secrecy shrouding these unarmed fighting methods, Kung Fu fighting techniques eventually leaked out into the general population, and during the Yuan Dynasty and the Ch’ing Dynasty thousands of unarmed Chinese rose up in revolt. Between 1898 and 1900, an ultra-nationalist Chinese movement tried to rid their country of foreigners; utilizing hand-to-hand combat techniques, this revolt became known as the Boxer Rebellion.

Although weaponless fighting methods spread out all over Asia, they reached Japan last due to its geographic isolation. The oldest Japanese combat technique was called tekoi, and later became sumo wrestling. In the thirteenth century, jujitsu separated from sumo and developed strangle holds, strikes, and throws. In the seventeenth century, when Japan conquered the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa) midway between China and Japan, their warriors were exposed to an Okinawan unarmed fighting system called te. In 1882, a Japanese educator and sports enthusiast named Jigaro Kano synthesized the sport of judo from several jujitsu methods. It was not until this century, in 1922, that Gichin Funakoshi brought together several fighting systems including Okinawa-te, jujitsu, Korean chabi, and ancient Chinese kempo, to develop Shotokan Karate, now considered the “classic” form of Japanese karate. And despite its current popularity, Aikido was not developed until 1942, by Morihei Uyeshiba, as a highly stylized form of jujitsu, using body rolls with wrist, elbow, and shoulder twists.

Gichin Funakoshi,
the father of
Shotokan Karate:
Gichin Funakoshi

Our own style branched out at the beginning of the seventeenth century, when two Japanese families (Kumamoto and Nagasaki) brought a version of Chinese Kempo (Chuan Fa, which is mentioned above) to Kyushu in Japan. This style was maintained within their families, and was gradually modified over the next 200 years to become Kosho Ryu Kempo, or “Old Pine Tree School”. In 1916 a five year old boy named James Mitose was sent from his home in Hawaii to Kyushu Japan to learn his ancestor’s art of Kosho Ryu Kempo from this uncle Choki Motobu, a Kempo master. James Mitose returned to Hawaii in 1936 to open the “Official Self-Defense” club in Honolulu, and thus is creditied as the first to bring Kempo to the United States. His first students to be promoted to black belt included Thomas Young (who took over his school), William K. S. Chow, Edmund Howe, Arthur Keawe, Jiro Naramura, and Paul Yamaguchi.

William Chow had four brothers, all trained in Jujitsu. Knowledgable authorities claim that he may have incorporated some of these Jujitsu techniques into Mitose's style of Karate, and did not borrow any circular movements of Kung Fu, to form the style he eventually called Chinese Kara-Ho Kempo Karate. He does seem to have opened his own dojo in 1949 in a local Hawaiian YMCA, and according to some, was the first to use the Kenpo spelling to signify his break from the Mitose style of Kempo. William Chow, also known as Professor Chow, passed his knowledge on to a great many students, before he died in 1987.

One important note - there really is no huge difference between Kenpo and Kempo karate. While some say that William Chow was the first to use the term “Kenpo” Karate, others state that the confusion between the two results from a difference in the translation from the original Kanji to English. Using the rules of the Kanji language, the spelling is Kenpo, while the pronunciation is “Kempo”. Some will argue that Kenpo and Kempo should be pronounced the same, and both mean “The Law of the Fist”.

Students of William Chow included Adriano D. Emperado (founder of Kajukembo), Ed Parker (founder of American Kenpo), and Bill Ryusaki [pronounced “RHEE-you SOCK-ee”], our own Sensei.

Adriano D. Emperado
Adriano D. Emperado
Sensei Bill Ryusaki
Bill Ryusaki

Sensei Bill Ryusaki was born in Kamuela on the big island of Hawaii. Sensei Bill’s father, Torazo Ryusaki, held black belts in both Judo and Shotokan Karate, and required all his seven sons (he also had four daughters) to train in two martial arts. At the age of 8, Bill Ryusaki began training in Judo. While his brothers chose Kendo (Japanese sword fighting) and Aikido, Bill selected Judo and Kenpo Karate, and was taught by William Chow and Sonny Emperado, students of James Mitose. In the late 50’s, Sensei Bill came to southern California, and worked with Ed Parker. In 1962 he opened the original Ryu-Dojo in North Hollywood, but moved his studio to his home in Van Nuys in 1979. Sensei Bill became a frequent “guest Sensei” in the Racquetball World Kenpo Karate class over the last eight years. In July 1994, with his former student Sensei Otto Estuarto Schumann leaving for Guatemala, Sensei Bill took over his well established Kenpo Karate school at Racquetball World. Recently, Sensei Bill decided to leave Racquetball World and start a new Ryu Dojo school in Chatsworth. This school and several others are listed in our Announcement page.

Sigung John Bishop, Kajukenbo instructor, was kind enough to e-mail me with the following information in September, 1999:

Grand Master (GM) Bill Ryusaki is one of the true pioneers of Kenpo in the United States.   Here is some additional information to fill some gaps in GM Bill's bio.   After coming to the mainland in the late 1950's, he started training with Ed Parker in his garage.   He also trained with Ed Tabian, a student of Ed Parker's.   He then trained with John Leoning (a black belt under Adriano D. Emperado), the first Kajukenbo instructor on the mainland, in 1957.   GM Bill Ryusaki received his black belt in Kajukenbo/Kenpo from John Leoning in 1961.   Sensei Bill's first black belt was Dan Guzman.   In 1988 I [Sigung John Bishop] gathered this information from GM Bill Ryusaki, Otto Schumann, Cecil Peoples, Ed Parker,and Dan Guzman.   They all have copies of my thesis "The History and Evolution of Chinese Kenpo Karate".   Although Sijo Emperado told me he never trained GM Ryusaki directly, his student Marino Tiwanak and his instructor William Chow trained GM Ryusaki in Hawaii.   GM Ryusaki also trained with Chow's student Bill Chun while in Hawaii.

Sensei Bill has appeared in numerous films as an actor and stuntman, including work with Bruce Lee on the “Green Hornet”, and in “Hawaii 5-0”, “Wild, Wild West”, and with David Carradine in “Kung Fu” (remember the assassin sent over from China?). Other credits include “Knots Landing”, “China Beach”, “Planet of the Apes”, “Above the Law” with Steven Seagal, “Rambo - First Blood Part II”, “Karate Kid II”, “Showdown in Little Tokyo”, “Robocop II”, “Black Rain”, “Double Impact” (where he shot it out with Jean Claude Van Damme), “Welcome to Paradise”, and “Universal Soldier” (one of the men rapelling down the face of the dam was Sensei Bill!). You may also have recognized our Sensei getting his nose punched in by Bridget Fonda in “Point of No Return” (Sensei Jim is the karate student doing the fist-hammer in the same sequence). Sensei Bill has appeared in "Beverly Hills Ninja" with Chris Farley, and he is the co-star of "The Beginner", a short subject film which also features many of our Sensei instructors.

Sensei Bill has taught his art to thousands of students, including Senseis Otto Schumann, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, and Cecil Peoples. Being the head of our style, Sensei Bill holds a 10th-degree (Ju-dan) blackbelt in Hawaiian Kenpo Karate, and a 7th degree blackbelt in Judo. Our style has been added to the Kenpo School Directory listed on the internet at:


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