The History of Shaolin Kempo
What we do know is that today nearly every martial art in the world traces its beginnings to the Shaolin Temple.
Evidence points to the existence of early forms of martial arts in China as early as the third century BC. By the 5th century AD it is clear that various fighting styles had developed throughout Asia. The original Shaolin temple was built in the 4th century AD by order of the Emperor and functioned only as a religious center. The practice of martial arts at the temple did not begin until the 6th century AD with the arrival of the legendary Bodhidarma. Bodhidarma is credited with starting the practice of the martial arts at the Shaolin temple in addition to founding the form of Buddhism known as Chan. Chan contends that while the practice takes place over a long period of time the moment of enlightenment occurs suddenly and spontaneously. Chan also teaches that a healthy body as well as a healthy mind is necessary for enlightenment. This belief helps explain the development and refinement of the martial arts by the Shaolin monks, and over the centuries the Shaolin temple became the foremost martial arts training center in China. The Shaolin warrior monks became famous as many different schools of kung fu developed. These schools taught empty hand fighting as well as weapons combat.
The Shaolin arts also spread across all of Asia. Many warriors and princes from other countries trained with the Shaolin monks, and many monks traveled throughout Asia spreading their fighting styles. In the 18th century the original Shaolin temple was burned down. Legend has it that five monks escaped and went on to establish the Shaolin temple in Fukien Province. The temple at Fukien is the birthplace of the five Shaolin animal styles, based on the movements of the Dragon, Tiger, Crane, Leopard and Snake.
In the 16th century the modern system of Kempo was first developed. This style was originally known as Kosho-Ryu Kempo. A man named Kosho, who trained with a Shaolin monk and added the Shaolin fighting techniques to the family’s Jujitsu. Kosho was a Shaolin master who learned Japanese Jujitsu and eventually came to the Mitose monastery to became a member of the family. In any event this time period marked a major milestone in the evolution of the martial arts and the birth of modern Kempo. This was the first time the Shaolin fighting arts, consisting primarily of striking and kicking techniques was fused with Jujitsu, which consisted mainly of joint manipulation and grappling technique.
Kempo continued to be the Mitose family art through the early 20th century. In 1942 James Mitose opened his Self Defense Club in Hawaii to teach his family’s Kempo. One of his students was the legendary William Kwai Sun Chow, who was one of only six students ever to attain the rank of Black Belt from Mitose and the only student to master the style. Chow had also learned Shaolin kung fu from his father, the Buddhist monk Hoon Chow. Chow’s development of Kempo marks another major milestone in the evolution of the art. Today any style of Kempo in the United States can trace its origins back to Professor Chow.
Since Chows death in 1987 his Kara-Ho Kempo system has continued under the direction of Master Sam Kuoha. Master Kuoha was Professor Chow’s direct successor and continues to this day to teach Professor Chow’s system. Chow’s most famous student was the late Ed Parker, who had a background in Phillipino martial arts in addition to his Kempo training from Chow. Today Parker’s system forms the backbone of the second of three major branches of Kempo, with Chow’s own system being the first.
Another of Chow’s students was Adriano Emperado, who helped create the art of Kajukenbo. This style was centered in Kempo but added techniques from many other styles, including Karate, Judo and Tae Kwon Do. Sonny Gascon was involved with Emperado during and immediately following the creation of Kajukenbo. This little known master is primarily responsible for the proliferation of the third major branch of Kempo. The lineage of many famous masters such as Professor Nick Cerio can be traced through Sonny Gascon. In fact, Professor Cerio trained with George Pesare who was a student of Sonny Gascon’s in California.
A legend of the martial arts. Professor Cerio did more than just continue the lineage — he truly made an indelible mark on it. Throughout his illustrious career he brought the lines of Kempo back together from potential splits that could have damaged the system. It all began in the early 1960’s when Professor Cerio began Kempo training under George Pesare. By the mid-1960’s he had opened his first studio and studied Kenpo under Master Ed Parker. A short time later he began studying under Professor William K.S. Chow, and in 1971 he received his 5th Degree Black Belt from Professor Chow. By the early 1980’s Ed Parker awarded Professor Cerio his 9th Degree Black Belt in American Kenpo Karate and the title of Shihan (Master).
1989 proved to be an important year in the life of Professor Cerio. He was named a professor by Professor Thomas H. Burdine and awarded the “Above Ranking Status” by the world counsel of sokes (founders). This elevatated him to 10th degree black belt. Upon his many visits and training sessions, Grandmaster Cerio awarded the prestigous honor of Hachidan, 8th Degree Black Belt to Headmaster Charles Mattera on November 1, 1990. This was the highest rank certification ever given by the Professor. Professor Nick Cerio passed away on October 7, 1998. His passing marked the end of a monumental life and a fantastic martial artist.