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Topic: Kenpo or Kempo
"From the literature I have read, I believe
the letter n, represents Japanese style and the letter
m represents Chinese style? Please reply if you have
any information on this subject. Thank you."
There is a lot of confusion about the use of kenpo
with an "n" versus kempo with an "m."
First it should be said that from a Japanese linguistical
point of view, kenpo and kempo are entirely interchangeable.
The Japanese don't distinguish between the sounds
"ken" and "kem." It's one and
the same to them, no matter what the character is.
And when you hear it in Japanese, you should hear
kenpo, not kempo, but Japanese speakers seem to say
both. It makes no difference to them because it is
In Japanese there are quite a few kanji (characters)
with this same pronunciation. You may find some dialectical
differences, but ken is ken. "N" is the
only final consonant sound that exists in Japanese,
although the sound is influenced somewhat by the sound
of the following syllable. When the Japanese are speaking
amongst themselves, they are able to make the distinction
either by the context of the conversation, or they
ask, and describe the kanji of the word they are talking
about. It is confusing sometimes, but they are used
to it. You'll often see them writing on their hand
to explain a point when it isn't clear.
How you write it (kenpo or kempo) in the West, however,
depends on which romanization system you use. Both
"Ken" and "Kem" represent the
same hiragana or kanji character in Japanese. It is
similar to how the Japanese sound "sha"
used to be written "shya" by some. Thus,
as noted above, while different groups in America
use the different transliterations to identify their
styles, they are the same thing in the original Japanese.
Some Western martial arts groups, however, do consider
the differences important. Kempo with an "m"
is often used to refer to Chinese and Okinawan branches
of the karate or kung fu, whereas Kenpo, with an "n,"
has come to be accepted by many as referring to Mitose's
Karate (Chow, Parker et al. See below). In fact some
Western groups as well as Okinawans get upset if you
describe what they do as Kenpo (such as Okinawan Kempo
founded by Shigero Nakamura and Ryuku Kempo groups,
which includes several different organizations).
Kempo is also often used as an alternative for Ch'uan
fa, or what is better known today as Kung Fu. Many
Western writers, however, often prefer to use the
term Chinese Kempo. Included are the many styles that
influenced development of karate on Okinawa including
the Shaolin Kung Fu and Fujian Kung Fu styles (White
Crane, Monk Fist, Five Ancestor Fist and many others).
The translators of several early karate books written
by Okinawan masters also chose the spelling "Kempo."
This included Funakoshi's (founder of Shotokan Karate)
1922 book Ryukyu Kempo: Tode (Okinawan Fist Fighting
Karate), the 1926 book by Motobu, Okinawan Kempo Tode-jutsu
Kumite (Karate Techniques for Sparring), and the 1930
book called Kempo Gaisetsu by Hotakada Mizu.
As noted above, the Kenpo transliteration or spelling
(of Japanese Characters) was chosen by some American
groups to identify their style and its derivatives.
"Ken" is translated as fist, and "po"
means the way. Thus Kenpo was used instead of Kempo
when adopted by Kosho-ryu Kenpo (a family art of Ch'uan
Fa said to be based on Shaolin Kung Fu) as brought
to Hawaii from Japan in (1939-1941) and taught by
James Mitose. William K. S. Chow (a student of Mitose
and one of only five who Mitose promoted to black
belt) also started teaching his own Kenpo Karate (Fist
Way) in 1944. He trained many students (beginning
in 1949) including Ed Parker (often referred to as
the Father of American Kenpo) who founded his own
Kenpo Karate organization and Joseph Emperado, a co-founder
of Kajukenbo (a combined art of karate, Judo, jujutsu
and Chinese Boxing).
However, some such as Kuda Yuichi OShinsh, head of
Matsumura Kenpo in Okinawa prefers the term "kenpo,"
although he acknowledges both "Kenpo" and
"Kempo" are interchangeable terms. He prefers
"ken" since it has to do with the meaning
of fist. He also notes, however, that either term
(kenpo or kempo) indicates that the art being described
has its roots in the Chinese arts.
It should also be noted that many Western writers
also use the term kenpo to refer to the " Japanese
sword arts." As to the art of fencing (kenjutsu),
"ken" is often used as a general term meaning
sword. More specifically, however, "ken"
refers to an ancient double edged sword with a center
ridge. "Po" refers to way. Donn Draeger
in his works more narrowly refers to kenpo as a medieval
form of kenjutsu in the tradition of Maniwa Non Ryu.
Other Western authorities, however, don't really
distinguish between the two terms, although one is
usually chosen for consistency. John Sells, for example,
in his book Unante uses Kempo, although he notes it
is just another spelling of Kenpo. For Sells, the
Kempo is used in two ways -- as a Japanese equivalent
for Chinese Ch'uan Fa which in modern days is better
known as Kung Fu (also a general term referring to
Chinese martial arts but most commonly represented
by the Shaolin heritage) -- and to describe the interchangeable
terms referring to the Okinawan arts, such as karate,
te, tode and unante. On the other hand, Mark Bishop
in his book Okinawan Karate uses the "n"
spelling when he refers to the book Kenpo Haku as
an illustrated Chinese Boxing Manual (the Japanese
name for the Bubishi.)
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