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The History of Kajukenbo

Sijo Adriano D. Emperado
(©Photo property of Sifu Ken Sills)

Kakukenbo was created between 1947 and 1949 at Palama Settlement (the name of a local recreational center) on Oahu, Hawaii. It developed out of a group calling themselves the "Black Belt Society", which consisted of five young black belts from five different martial arts backgrounds who met to train and learn with each other. This was the beginning of an evolutionary, adaptive style designed to combine the most useful aspects of the five different arts and it is from their respective arts that Kajukenbo draws its name.

Art: Karate Judo
Kenpo Chinese Boxing
Style: Tang Soo Do Se Keino Ryu
Kodenkan Danzan Ryu
Kosho Ryu Chu'an Fa Kung-Fu
Contributing Founder: Peter Young
Yil Choo
Frank Ordonez
Joe Holck
Adriano Emperado Clarence Chang
Philosophical Meaning of Kajukenbo: "Through this fist style one gains long life and happiness."

Kenpo emerged as the core around which this new art was built. Although uncredited by name, other influences included American Boxing (Choo was Hawaiian Welterweight Champion) and Escrima (Emperado also studied Kali and Arnis Escrima).

In the late 1940's, the area around Palama Settlement was violent and fist-fights and stabbings were commonplace. From this environment, the founders of Kajukenbo wanted to develop an art that would be readily useful on the street. As they trained and fought in and around Palama Settlement, the co-creators of Kajukenbo quickly gained reputations as formidable street-fighters. In 1950, Adriano Emperado, along with brother Joe Emperado, began teaching the new art in an open class. They called the school Kajukenbo Self Defense Institute (K.S.D.I.), thus, Adriano Emperado is known as Sijo (founder) of Kajukenbo.

The emphasis during Kajukenbo training was on realism - so much so that students routinely broke bones, fainted from exhaustion, or were knocked unconscious. Rumor has it that Sijo used to say “Class isn’t over until blood hits the mats!” Nevertheless, the reputation of this tough new art drew more students and Sijo opened a second school at the nearby Kaimuki YMCA. Soon he had 12 Kajukenbo schools in Hawaii, making it the second largest string of schools at the time. John Leoning, who earned a black belt from Sijo, brought Kajukenbo to the mainland in 1958 and Alan Carter, who earned his black belt from Sid Asuncion, brought Kajukenbo to the Midwest in 1972. Since that time, Kajukenbo has continued to flourish and grow.

From its beginnings, Kajukenbo was an eclectic and adaptive art. As time has passed, Kajukenbo has continued to change and evolve. Currently, there are a few distinct, "recognized" branches of Kajukenbo: Kenpo ("Emperado Method" or "Traditional Hard Style"), Tum Pai, Chu'an Fa, Wun Hop Kuen Do, and Gaylord Method. In addition, there are numerous "unrecognized" branches, including CHA-3 and Kenkabo. While this may be confusing for an outsider, it is the essence of the art. Students are not required to mimic the teacher, but are encouraged to develop their own "expression" of the art.

For more information on Kajukenbo history, visit Kajukenbo.Org

Below is a list of legitimate black belts of Ohana Martial Arts programs, last updated 03/31/2021:

 NameDateCurrent Rank
Robert Blaisdell August 11, 2011 2nd Degree Black Belt
in Ohana Kajukenbo
William Jenkins October 12, 2018 1st Degree Black Belt
in Iron Will Kajukenbo
Gian Pizzo September 6, 2019 1st Degree Black Belt
in Ohana Kajukenbo