The History of Hawaii Kenpo

Hawaiian Kenpo

From India to the Hawaiian Islands

History of Kenpo (Oral Tradition)

From India to China

Martial techniques and practices were found in one of the centers of a country, for Kenpo, it was India. In ancient India, ethnic groups developed their own system of armed combat, unarmed combat, and to include meditation and conditioning. Like other countries, India’s martial art systems influenced neighboring countries such as Thailand, China, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.

In ancient India, the people were organized into a caste or social groups that will maintain order throughout the country of India. One of the castes developed a martial art system called Vajra Mushti. Vajra means “thunderbolt” or “diamond” and Musti means “closed hand” or “fist.” Vajramushti is believed to be the bloodline of the Buddha’s family. This is where Bodhidharma or Daruma lineage came from. Before Vajramushti was taught in China, the martial art system was introduced to the Tibetan people.

In the year 525 A.D., an Indian monk named Bodhidharma or (in Japanese, he is called Daruma and in Chinese, he is called Da Mo); the founder of Dyhana or (in Chinese, Ch’an and in Japanese, Zen), traveled to China during the Liang Dynasty to teach Emperor Wu the true meaning of Buddhism. However, Emperor Wu was known for his stubbornness and did not believe Bodhidharma’s teachings. The Emperor’s stubbornness leads him to defeat and captivity under general Hou Jing. After the fall of Emperor Wu, Bodhidharma traveled to the northern Chinese Kingdom of Wei Dynasty (Henan Providence) where he meditated in a cave near the famous Shaolin Monastery. Bodhidharma taught the monks Dyhana or (in Chinese, Ch’an). But it was not Bodhidharma who was the first to introduce the monks’ martial arts, it was the founder of the Shaolin temple, who is Indian Monk Batuo. Batuo established the Shaolin temple in year 495 A.D. and it is believed that he was the one to teach the Shaolin monks WuGong (martial arts or Kung Fu). One of the first of the system of Kung Fu was Vajramushti. But Batuo mission was not to only teach Kung Fu, he was to educate disciples about Buddhism. The Shaolin monastery translated Indian Buddhist scriptures into native Chinese Languages to educate the people of China. In that time, Buddhism was not known as a religion but an education system.

As Bodhidharma continued to teach the monks Dyhana, he discovered that the monks lacked inner spiritual strength. Bodhidharma than developed a form of movements called, Yi Jin Jing or Muscle-Tendon Changing. These set of movements help develop the monks internal and external strength. It was used to improve health and change their physical bodies from weak to strong. By this form, Bodhidharma established a new concept of Dyhana. The concept was to bring Dyhana and Wu Gong together as one; both internal and external practice. The art of Vajramushti was now both martial and religious practice.

From China to Okinawa

Over the years, the Shaolin martial arts system was later to be known as Chuan Fa or Law of the Fist rather than Vajramushti. The development of Chuan Fa was a foundation of all Shaolin martial art system. The art then influenced the islands of Okinawa. The people of Okinawa called Chuan Fa, Kara-Te, meaning “Empty Hands.” Now known as Karate, the Okinawan families develop their own system of Karate. Examples are Shorin Ryu, Shotokan, Shito Ryu, etc. Before it was called Okinawa, the islands were known as Ryukyu. In the 15th/16th century, the Ryukyu Islands were the center for all Asia trading. The Ryukyu islands was a tributary state of China.

From Okinawa to Japan

In 1609, Japan emperor asked the Ryukyu Kingdom to aid him with the invasion of Korea and eventually into China. But during that time, the Ryukyu Kingdom was under the Ming Dynasty and refused Japan’s request. So Japan invaded the Ryukyu Islands and took control of Anami-Oshima island group. The influence of Karate was then introduced to the Japanese.

From Japan to Hawaii

Many Japanese families or “clans” developed their own system of Karate. The Yoshida Clan established a temple, on mount Akenkai and this is where the art of Kenpo or Kosho Kempo was taught. At the age of four, a Japanese man name Masayoshi who was born in Hawaii was sent back to live with his relatives in Japan and to go to school. Masayoshi attended the Yoshida Clan’s temple to gain an education and learned the Kosho Kempo system. After years of study, Masayoshi moved backed to Oahu, Hawaii and established the first Kempo School in 1942.


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