Kajukenbo History

In 1947, with the aid of several other martial artists, Professor Adriano D. Emperado formed "The Secret Black Belt Society." Five Black Belt martial artists skilled in various arts formed this society. They emphasized Kempo, and their prime objective was to develop the "Ultimate System of Self Defense." The five founders met secretly for a two year period from 1947 to 1949. They exchanged information and ideas about defenses and counterattacks. They tested these techniques against each other as well as on the street. They modified and combined techniques to create efficient self-defense combinations utilizing skills from each of the arts. As the system began to develop its own unique style, the name Kajukenbo was proposed by Joe Holck. The four syllables in KAJUKENBO represented the five arts employed in the system.

As the society changed its emphasis from teaching Kajukenbo to a small select group of top Kempo artists, to teaching the general public, its name was changed from "The Secret Black Belt Society" to the "Kajukenbo Self Defense Institute."

The first publicly accessible Kajukenbo school was opened in Kalihi Valley, Honolulu. It was located in the tough Palama Settlement and gained a reputation as a brutal no-nonsense school. At that time there were only two Kempo schools on the Islands -- Thomas Young's and William Chow's; Thomas Young was Professor James Mitose's senior student.

Some of Professor Emperado's first students were his brother Joe Emperado, John Leoning, Sid Ascuncion, Henry Espero, Sammy Choo, Walter Lee, Vernon Chang, Ben Lau, and Marino Tiwonek. Marino Tiwonek was the first Kajukenbo Black Belt promoted by Professor Emperado. Other students included Sonny Gascon, Carlos Bunda, Lucky Luciano, Aleju Reyes, Tony Ramos, and Richard Takamoto. There were many other students including students of Chow and Young.

A second school was opened near the Palama Settlement school at the Kamuki YMCA and another at the Wahiwa YMCA. Professor Emperado taught at the YMCAs while his brother Joe taught at the main school.

In 1959 a major change occurred. Chuan Fa was incorporated into the system. This art, a soft style, placed more emphasis on the "Ken-Bo" segment of the Kajukenbo system and combines the Norther Chinese "Long Range" techniques with the Southern Chinese close-in fighting techniques.

In the late 1950's, Kajukenbo came to the Continental US with John Leoning and Sonny Gascon. In 1960, Tony Ramos moved to Los Angeles with Richard Takamoto. In 1961, Aleju Reyes opened a school in Fairfield, California. In 1962, Joe Halbuna, Al Dacoscos, and Charles Gaylord opened schools in San Francisco, San Leando, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Many military servicemen who were taught Kajukenbo in Hawaii and California also opened schools after returning home after completing their military duty.

Since coming to the Mainland, Kajukenbo has continued to grow and develop. There are now four major systems of Kajukenbo:

  • Kajukenbo Kenpo Karate
  • Kajukenbo Chuan Fa Gung Fu
  • Kajukenbo Tom Pai
  • Kajukenbo One Hop Kwon Do

There are several "Kajukenbo Associations" that have standardized "Black Belt Test Requirements" and provide "Board Certification of Black Belt Exams" and "Registry of Black Belt Promotions." Included are:

  • American Kajukembo Association (AKA)
  • International Kajukenbo Association (IKA)
  • Kajukenbo Self -Defense Institute of Hawaii, Inc (KSDI)
  • Kajukenbo Self-Defense Systems (KSDS)

The "Emperado Method" refers to the techniques, patterns, sets, and forms from the Kenpo Karate and Chuan Fa Gung Fu systems taught by Adriano Emperado. The techniques include the Palama Sets, Tricks, Grab Arts, Club Defenses, Knife Defenses, Two-man Defenses, and Alphabets.