Kenpo History

The precise origin and lineage of the entire field of martial arts goes back further than any recorded history. But as early as the 2nd century A.D., Chinese legends refer to self-defense activities based upon the movements of animals.

Kenpo, although, a Chinese-based style, has a name is of Japanese origin: ken meaning “fist,” and po meaning “law.”

Fist Law: a strong, no-nonsense name for a strong, no-nonsense art.

Born in Hawaii in 1916, James Mitose spent the years prior to World War II living with relatives in Japan. There he learned a system of martial arts founded by Daruma Daishi (also known as “Tamo”), who had been trained at the revered Shaolin Temple in China.

Having returned to Hawaii just before the War broke out, Mitose opened the Official Self-Defense Club in 1942, training servicemen and civilians of all ethnic descents, to prepare them for a Japanese invasion.

One of James Mitose’s students was William Chow. Chow had also studied under his martial artist father, who had instilled in him Chinese concepts and principles. From Mitose, he learned fundamental Japanese teachings and philosophies.

William Chow’s younger brother, Frank, met sixteen-year-old Hawaiian native Edmund Kealoha Parker in church. Frank Chow was small and thinly built, but Parker had heard of his recent encounter with a large local bully. Frank had easily taken care of his attacker.

After seeing Chow’s moves and techniques, Ed Parker was hooked. He began to study with Frank Chow. Eventually Frank had taught Ed everything he knew, so he introduced Parker to his older brother, William. Thus began Ed Parker’s true journey into Kenpo.

Even as Parker began attending Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah and then left to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard, he remained an intense student of William Chow. Discharged from the military in 1954, Parker returned to Utah to complete his college education. While there, he was asked to perform a Kenpo demonstration during halftime of a BYU basketball game.

“The success of this demonstration,” said Parker, “launched an entirely new dimension in my life…in a matter of a week; I began teaching commercially in downtown Provo.”

Graduation from BYU was another crossroads for Parker. He was torn between furthering his education and expanding the world of Kenpo Karate. In September of 1956, Ed Parker opened his first school in Pasadena, California, changing the heart of American martial arts forever.

We in the Kenpo family are grateful for his decision.