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History of ...



...relative to the American Freedom Form Kenbo-Jitsu Hybrid Mixed Martial Arts System

  • From where did the foundation Martial Arts style/system of Kenpo originate?

To begin to fully understand the history of the American Freedom Form Kenbo-Jitsu Hybrid Mixed Martial Arts System, it becomes necessary, at a minimum, to briefly explore the history of the martial arts in general and then to more closely examine the principal martial arts styles and systems from which our system is primarily based.

Martial Arts (fighting systems), are generally defined as bodies of systematized practices of unarmed and, sometimes, armed combat usually as being without guns or other modern weapons. They are often taught today with the goal of developing both the character of the practitioner and the mindful, appropriate, controlled use of bodily force in ways selected for their empirical effectiveness. This characterization of the Martial Arts is generally considered to be what differentiates these fighting systems from mere unarmed brawling.

The Martial Arts (perhaps due to a half-century of dramatic portrayals in movies and on television) have been inextricably bound in the Western imagination to East Asian cultures and people. Martial Arts are by no means unique to Asia, however. Since the beginning of man on earth, humans on every continent have had to develop ways in which to defend themselves, often without weapons. As a result, there are many martial arts known and practiced around the world today (and many more which have been forgotten and forever lost because they were not successfully passed on through their respective cultures).

Many of the beliefs and practices that Westerners commonly associate with Asian combative systems often find their counterparts in European and North American fighting methods. The kiai (spirit shout) of the Japanese martial artist is similar in purpose and scope to the war cries of many non-Asian peoples such as Africans, American Indians, Celts, Greeks, Romans and Slavs. Even the concept of chi or ki can be found readily in the ancient Greek belief in pneuma (air, breath, spirit), an inner power which burns brightly inside each human, and when properly used can aid them in attaining superior physical results. Ancient Greek (525-500 B.C.) and Roman pugilists frequently broke planks and stones to demonstrate their prowess (long before karate was demonstrated in Japan).

The "original martial art", in fact, is now arguably believed by some historians to have been born in Ancient Greece as far back as 1700 B.C. , continued to develop and was eventually introduced into the 33rd ancient Olympic Games in 648 B.C. This was the martial art known as Pankration, a blend of Hellenic wrestling, boxing, strangulation, kicking and striking techniques, as well as joint locks. Indeed, the only practices not allowed in Olympic Pankration (from "pankrates" meaning "all powers" or "all encompassing", were biting, gouging, or clawing. (Note: biting, gouging and clawing are all included in the American Freedom Form Kenbo-Jitsu System.)

The Romans modified Boxing and Pankration for their own games, and these sports eventually degenerated to little more than bloody spectacles. Even in Greece, the art suffered over time. During the poet Pindar's time (522?-443 B.C.) sparring was emphasized, but by the philosopher Plato's era (427?-347 B.C.) it had descended to nearly-immediate ground fighting, where grappling became all important and there was little to differentiate Pankration from a rougher form of wrestling. For this reason, Plato (himself an Olympic wrestler) thought little of Pankration as military training since it did not teach men to keep on their feet.

Regardless, there is little doubt that Greek soldiers used Pankration as part of their training, and with their invading armies it spread far and wide. When Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 B.C., his infantrymen took Boxing and Pankration with them, practicing these arts and their other athletic endeavors in large collapsible tents.

Some researchers have speculated that this migration of Boxing and Pankration techniques on the sub-continent influenced Indian combative arts such as Vajramusti ("the adamant fist"), laying the framework for the later diffusion of fighting techniques from India into China and Okinawa and Japan. This theory, however, does not take into full account the historical reality of the spontaneous rise of indigenous combative forms in a majority of cultures, as well as the general wandering and expansion of fighting techniques across many centuries and from many nations. Therefore, the concept that Pankration is the absolute linear "ancestor" of Asian combative systems, while arguably a good theory, must still be considered a "theory".


Kenpo (Jap. transl.) or Chuan Fa (Chinese transl.) for "Fist Law" or "Law of the Fist"

*The "Ken" in American Freedom Form Kenbo-Jitsu represents "Kenpo"

Continuing with the albeit arguable theory delineated above (for lack of a better theory), many historians agree that "martial arts" were likely first introduced into Asia during Alexander the Great's conquest of India in 326 B.C.

The most widespread account of the origin of "Kenpo" and other Chinese martial arts is credited to Tamo, the 28th East Indian patriarch of the Buddhist Faith. He was also called Bodhidharma and was known to the Japanese as Daruma Daishi. It is believed that Tamo (Bodhidharma) arrived in China around 515-530 A.D. and made extensive travels throughout this land to attempt to teach the Buddhist Faith and the Zen philosophy (i.e. that one must co-exist with nature and the surrounding environment and that peace comes from within and not from outside factors). Most people rejected Tamo (Bodhidharma) and his philosophies as they did not seem reasonable in their real world of marauding bandits and warring factions. However, Tamo (Bodhidharma) was eventually able to teach in seclusion at the Shaolin Monastery in the Hunan Province. As a result, his Zen doctrine became the foundation of study for Monks within China's religious structure. Tamo (Bodhidharma) introduced exercise (not intended to be a fighting system) to the monks to keep them from falling asleep during meditation and to increase their fitness levels and enlightenment. Tradition holds that 40 years or so after the death of Tamo (Bodhidharma), a monk known only as "the begging monk" virtually single-handedly drove off or killed a group of marauders at the temple. The other monks were so impressed with the fighting skills of this single priest that they sought his tutelage in this martial art. With conscious study and dedicated application, the Shaolin monks became formidable opponents against the marauding bandits who had often preyed upon them. This is believed to be the foundation of Kenpo (originally known by the Chinese as "Chuan Fa" meaning "fist law" and as Shorinji-ryu Kenpo by the Japanese) and other Chinese martial arts (refer to the "Kung Fu" TV series of the 1970's starring David Carradine; which by the way was supposedly the brain child of Bruce Lee who reportedly did not get the acting job because it was felt that America would reject an Oriental actor).

Between 500 A.D. and 1368 A.D. these fighting arts had spread throughout China and had become integral to the Chinese lifestyle because the Chinese people were always in a state of war (1260-1368 A.D.). In 1372 Chinese and Okinawan relations were consolidated and in 1470 Sho-ha-shi became king of Okinawa and attempted to confiscate weapons from the common people.

As a result, some Okinawans emigrated to China to learn what was then called Chinese Kenpo from top masters. As the years passed, many of these Okinawan practitioners improved their martial arts skills considerably. Then, in 1609, the Japanese dominated Okinawa and their Lord Shimazu outlawed and removed all forms of weapons from the public at large. Between 1609 and 1903, great strides were made in the martial arts (common farm implements became weapons, etc.) What had become known as "China hand" had been polished into many powerful, often deadly forms of fighting arts or individual "styles", often named after their respective originators. These fighting arts were very closely guarded by the family members and any other practitioners who were fortunate enough to have any knowledge of their particular style.

In 1923, under much pressure from the Japanese, the Okinawan masters very reluctantly agreed to a change in the way in which "karate" was written in their language. This change in the way the letter or "character" was written changed the meaning of their art from "China hand" to "empty hand" (kara-te). This angered many of the Okinawan masters who did not want to dispense with their association of their art to China. This is one example of how the Japanese purportedly attempted to make many think that the art was theirs and not from China. (The bonsai tree is perhaps another example because it was propagated in China long before it was cultivated in Japan.)

Many Chinese began emigrating to the United States about 1840 and began to work as common laborers on railroad construction and digging gold mines. The Chinese syndicates, also known as Tongs (Tangs), came with otherwise honorable Chinese people seeking a better life in the United States. The Tongs (Tangs), however, had many internal conflicts and began to import top martial arts masters from China to protect them and teach their families how to adequately defend themselves. These lessons were very closely guarded, however, and usually offered only to family and close fellow Chinese. (This tradition of teaching only fellow Asians held for many years. Bruce Lee would encounter problems from his fellow Asians in California in the 1960's when he began to give lessons to non-Asians).

A man named James Mitose introduced what he would later call Kenpo-Jiujitsu to Hawaii in 1936. Mitose was born in Hawaii but moved to Japan when he was three years old to learn his family art of Kyoshu-ryu Kenpo (probably a combination of Chuan Fa brought to the Japanese Yoshida clan in the 17th century and the Yoshida clan's own arts of Jujitsu and Aikijutsu). He eventually moved back to Hawaii and began teaching this Japanese Kenpo (mostly to fellow Asians). When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Mitose was residing in Honoluhu and had to come to grips with the fact that he was Japanese by descent but American by citizenship. He and his students determined that it was their duty to defend America, and Mitose went on to eventually open the "Official Self-Defense Club" where he trained fellow servicemen and civilians from 1942 to 1946.

William "Kwai Sun" Chow was a student of James Mitose's but had apparently received much of his original training in Chinese Kenpo from his father. Chow was a street fighter who learned much about what worked and what did not work on the mean streets of Hawaii. Chow was apparently so effective at using lightning quick strikes at vital targets that he earned the nickname "Thunderbolt" Chow. Chow left Mitose in 1949 and formed his own school and style he called "Chinese Kempo of Kara-ho Karate" which is now known as Professor Chow's Chinese Kara- Ho Kempo Karate (which is known for including more of the Chinese Kenpo influence and circular motion and movement than Mitose's Kenpo-Jiujitsu).

Edmund K. Parker began studying Kenpo with William K.S. Chow around 1947 at the age of 16. (Other students of Chow's at the time were Adriano and Joe Emperado who later founded Kajukenbo.) After graduating from Brigham Young University, Ed Parker moved to California and opened a school on the mainland and formed the International Kenpo Karate Association (IKKA). Mr. Parker began to promote martial arts in the movie industry and, in 1964, he organized the first Longbeach International Karate Championship. It was at that tournament, which is still one of the biggest tournaments in the world, that he introduced Bruce Lee (who revolutionized the martial arts with his Jeet Kune Do system and philosophies) to the American public. Parker opened the door for such famous American martial artists as Chuck Norris, Bill Wallace, Joe Lewis, Benny "The Jet" Urquidez, Don "The Dragon" Wilson and many others. As Parker "Americanized" and further developed the Kenpo system, he developed specific requirements for each rank and introduced a systematized belt ranking system for what has become known as American Kenpo or Parker Kenpo. Mr. Parker, who died in 1990, is known by many as "the undisputed father of American Karate."

Buck Cunningham and his son, Coltin, would gain their initial Kenpo knowledge and Black Belts with a Mr. John Geyston, with whom they would become friends. Buck Cunningham had searched for years to find a traditional martial arts (karate) style to complement the martial capabilities he had acquired as a boxer and to find a karate instructor who both had an appreciation for his boxing experience and did not express undo allegiance to a foreign flag. He would encounter John Geyston at a karate seminar, and he was impressed with his capabilities and his philosophy at that time regarding martial arts. It also became apparent that Mr. Geyston had a great deal of respect for Mr. Cunningham's martial abilities as a boxer. Since that time, Mr. Cunningham has learned much from many different sources and continues to maintain an open mind and a strong desire to learn from and share with martial artists from across the world via any medium available to him today.

Buck and Coltin Cunningham founded the exciting and revolutionary American Freedom Form Kenbo-Jitsu Hybrid Mixed Martial Arts System and opened their own school, Cunningham's UGOTTAWANNA Martial Arts, in March 2004 in Petersburg, IL. (See additional information regarding the "Founder" of the American Freedom Form Kenbo-Jitsu System on other pages.)

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