Is it Kenpo or Kempo?

For those who have been around Kaizen Karate for a little bit, you understand that our system is comprised of several key components, one of which is our kata, master form, from the International Karate Connections Association (IKCA).  But, I have been asked, is the IKCA system Kenpo (with a ‘n’) or Kempo (with an ‘m’)?  Lets discuss which is correct.

Kempo is the Japanese translation of the word “Chuan Fa” (Cantonese Romanization is typically “Ken Fat” / “Kyun Faat”) denoting self-defense systems with a Chinese origin.  In Chinese, the typical meaning of the word “Chuan Fa” is “boxing” or ‘fighting technique’.  So from a Japanese perspective, it simply means “Chinese Boxing” or “Chinese Fighting Techniques”.

So, what is the deal with regards to spelling it Kenpo vs Kempo?  Some say that if it is spelled with an “n” that it is of Chinese origin.  This is an incorrect statement. It is simply a Romanization “error”.  It is the same characters in Japanese and is pronounced exactly the same.  In “hiragana” (Japanese alphabet) both Kenpo and Kempo would be spelled in the same manner.  The Romanization to Kempo is from the traditional Hepburn Romanization system, which was first used in the 3rd edition of the Japanese – English dictionary in 1887, and named after James Curtis Hepburn.

The original art of Kenpo taught in Hawaii was by Reverend James Mitose, who taught Kosho-Ryu Kenpo Jujutsu at the Official Self-Defense Club in Hawaii during the 1940s.  The primary reason for the variation of spelling to Kempo in Hawaii was because Professor William K.S. Chow, who wanted to separate himself from the earlier spelling of Kenpo as used by Mitose; and also separate his art from the spelling used by some of his students (who chose to call their art Kenpo).

Nowadays you can typically understand the lineage of a system by the way it is spelled. Those spelled with an “m” often have a lineage to the martial art taught by Professor William K.S. Chow or his students in Hawaii; while the alternate spelling, Kenpo, is often used by systems with a lineage to Ed Parker (a student of Professor Chow).

At Kaizen Karate, we study the art as created by Senior Grand Masters Chuck Sullivan and Vic LeRoux, creators of the IKCA system.  Both were students under Ed Parker, and thus we use the term “Kenpo”, with the “n”.  But some might be asking what is the big deal and is it really important?  Ask any good black belt and they will tell you, that it is the small details that can make all the difference in the world! 

-Coach David-