While Chinese fighting arts can be traced as far back as 1100 B.C., it wasn't until the 6th century A.D. that Chinese Kenpo or Chuan Fa achieved widespread recognition. The journey this art traveled from China to the United States was fraught with intrigue and peril.
By the 1500s, Chinese boxing had become synonymous with the Shaolin Temples, celebrated Buddhist monasteries located in each of the five Chinese provinces: O-mei Shan, Wu-Tang, Fukien, Kwantung and Honan. Each temple incorporated the same five basic animal forms in their training—tiger, crane, leopard, dragon and snake—a consistency still practiced today. Chuan Fa (Shaolin boxing) was one of the monks' oldest and most respected fighting styles. The practice, which originated in the monastery at Honan province, combines Ch'an philosophy (Buddhism) and martial arts systems for self-defense and physical and mental development.
In the late 1500s, fearing the monks were planning to revolt, the Chinese government banned martial arts, and the Imperial army burned the Shaolin Temples to the ground. Nevertheless, the fighting systems survived by expanding out of China, thanks in part to Kusanku, (also known as Kwang Shang Fu), a Chinese general who had learned Chuan Fa from a Shaolin monk. Around 1756, Kusanku was sent to the Ryukyu Islands in Okinawa, Japan as an ambassador of China's Qing Dynasty. During his stay, Kusanku openly shared his Shaolin fighting style with the local community, including Kanga Sakugawa, a Ryukyuan martial arts master and major contributor to the development of te, the precursor to modern karate. In fact, after Kusanku's death in 1762, Sakugawa developed and named a kata in his teacher's honor.
It was another Okinawan karate master, Choki Motobu (1871-1944), who translated Chuan Fa elements of his fighting style, Okinawan Shorin-Ryu, also called the Shaolin Way, into our current structure. In 1933 during a visit to Hawaii, Motobu shared this style with the Hawaiian martial arts community. James Mitose, master of the Official Self-Defense Club in Hawaii, incorporated what he learned from Motobu into Kosho-Ryu Kenpo, his native fighting style originally developed by the Koshopi Monks of Japan. One of Mitose's students, William K.S. Chow, would later combine Kosho-Ryu Kenpo with traditional five-animals Chuan Fa to create the art of Chinese Kenpo practiced today. Chow's Kenpo was a quick, vicious style that allows a defender to defeat multiple attackers simultaneously. Chow, only 5'2" in height, was nicknamed "Thunderbolt" for his quickness and skill. In addition to his reputation as a deadly combatant, Chow was also a great martial arts innovator.
Descendants of Chow's training include his brothers Frank Chow and John Chow-Hoon; and Adriano Emperado, Joe Emperado, Steve Baldomaro, Manuel Dela Cruz, Arthur Keawe, Ed Parker and Sam Suoha. Chow influenced a host of other contemporary martial artists including Ralph Castro, Nick Cerio, Tino Tuiolosega, Paul Yamaguchi, Bobby Lowe, John Leone, Mesaichi Oshiro, Bill Ryusaki, William G. Marciarella, Paul Pung, Walter Godin, Feliciano Kimo Ferreira, Tomas Connor, Sr., Tomas Connor II, Al, Will, and Jim Tracy, John Patrick Nieto, Bill Packer, Ray Fisher and our own Sifu Gary McGhee.