What is Kajukenbo

Kajukenbo James Martial Arts Academy

Kajukenbo is known for its street effective, brutal, deadly, overkill approach to self-defense. These are only some of the adjectives used to describe this system of martial arts known as Kajukenbo or Kaju. 

Background: In Hawaii, back in the 1940s, Kajukenbo was gaining a reputation for being brutally effective means of defending oneself from the common street criminal. Instead of the ancient way of fighting by carrying a sword or spears, modern criminals armed themselves with guns, knives, or clubs. Because criminals fought without rules and kicked, punched, gouged, and bit. If the unknowing person encountered one of these criminals on the street, you were in for a life or death battle. The art of Kajukenbo was designed to win such a fight. 

Since then, its use of five martial arts and its no-nonsense approach to self-defense has contributed to its rapid growth and strong reputation as a highly effective self-defense system.

The Development of Kajukenbo

Kajukenbo is a prime example of American ingenuity. It is also America's first martial art system, having been founded in 1949 in the U.S. Territory of Hawaii. One of today's foremost instructors in Kajukenbo is Gary Forbach from San Clemente, California. According to him, Kajukenbo's inception came about in 1947 when five Hawaiian martial arts masters calling themselves the "Black Belt Society" started on a project to develop a comprehensive self-defense system.

These five men of vision were Peter Choo, the Hawaii welterweight boxing champion, and a Tang Soo Do black belt. Frank Ordonez, a Sekeino Jujitsu black belt. Joe Holck, a Kodokan Judo black belt. Clarence Chang, a master of Sil-lum Pai Kung Fu. And Adriano D. Emperado, a Kara-Ho Kenpo black belt, and Escrima master. 

Together these men trained for several hours a day, taking advantage of each other's strengths and weaknesses to develop their new art. When Joe Holck and Peter Choo would spar, Holck could see his weaknesses in striking techniques, and Choo would realize his vulnerability once he was on the ground. Emperado was able to show Choo how a Kenpo man could work inside a kicker with rapid-fire hand techniques. Chang, in turn, showed the others how the circular flowing techniques of Sil-lum Pai were used to evade and strike. And Frank Ordonez showed everyone how to go with an attacker's force and then re-direct it against him with painful locks and throws.

After it was decided that Kenpo would be the base to build on, it was a daily three-year process incorporating the Tang Soo do kicks, jujitsu joint locks, Judo throws, and sil-lum pai circular techniques into a complete system. Now all the system needed was a name. Joe Holck suggested that the name should be "Kajukenbo", Ka for Karate, Ju for Judo and Jujitsu, ken for Kenpo, and Bo for Chinese boxing (Kung Fu). 

Today Kajukenbo is practiced all over the world. The principal organization for Kajukenbo is the "Kajukenbo Self Defense Institute of Hawaii, Inc. based in San Diego, California.

Kajukenbo Techniques

Like most karate systems, Kajukenbo has katas or forms. These 14 katas are known as "Palama Sets" 1 through 14. (These katas were formerly known as Pinans. Forbach explains that in February of 1993, Professor Adriano D. Emperado renamed the katas to show their origin, the Palama Settlement of Honolulu, Hawaii.) Like traditional systems, Kajukenbo takes a number of its self-defense techniques from its katas. 

Although the Palama sets provide the Kajukenbo stylist with many good techniques, Kajukenbo's strength lies in its self-defense techniques. These self-defense techniques are arranged and categorized into 15 grab arts, 21 punch counters, 15 knife counters, 13 club counters, 9 two and three-man attack counters, and 26 advanced alphabet techniques. 

By combining techniques from Tang Soo do, Judo, Jujitsu, Kenpo and Kung Fu, the Kajukenbo stylist can defend himself in many ways. He can use soft circular Kung Fu techniques to evade and strike. Or he can use Judo or jujitsu to throw an attacker to the ground or restrain and control him. 

The strength of Kajukenbo is in how these techniques are combined. For example, if the attacker punches, the Kajukenbo stylist may step into the attack at a 45-degree angle while blocking with a soft palm block. He would then counter-attack with several rapid-fire Kenpo hand strikes followed by a judo foot sweep. Once on the ground, the attacker could be struck again or controlled with a jujitsu lock. 

Unlike most traditional systems, Kajukenbo relies heavily on combination techniques. These combination techniques are arranged so that each technique will set up the next by following the reaction of the attacker's body. Although some martial artists may describe this as overkill, the Kajukenbo founders felt that an attacker might not be stopped by one strongly focused blow. 

Therefore the theory behind Kajukenbo is that it is better to counter with a multitude of techniques that can be ended when the threat no longer exists than to rely on one technique and find that it is not enough. 

Kajukenbo Training 

Even the best-designed self-defense system is of little value if the training and instruction are weak. The brutality of the Kajukenbo workouts in the early years was legendary. Broken noses, bruised ribs, and black eyes were an everyday occurrence in the early Kajukenbo schools. Professor Emperado had a motto, "The workout isn't over until I see blood on the floor". He felt strongly that if someone was afraid of pain, they would be defeated the first time they were hit. 

He also felt that his students had to get used to pain and learn how to give it back. This enabled them to find out which techniques worked and which didn't. Because of these realistic workouts, numerous martial artists from other systems undertook Kajukenbo training. Some stayed, and some returned to their systems, but all who had witnessed Kajukenbo were impressed. 

Some of today's Kajukenbo schools have had to alter their training somewhat due to the times. In the early days, very few if any women or children trained. Also, nobody worried about lawsuits or liability insurance. 

In discussing modern-day Kajukenbo training, many schools still conduct full contact training, but the students are eased into it, and it's not an absolute requirement. " we don't want to lose people, but yet, at the same time, I don't want to lose the essence of the art and provide realistic street combat. 

We try to work a little slower than they did in the old days. I don't want anyone getting injured, but I want them to get as close as they can to reality in their training without injuries. Of course, we now use protective gear and contact to the face, and vital areas have been eliminated". 

It true that Kajukenbo has a brutal reputation that has been acquired over the years. Kajukenbo was designed to defend against many types of attacks. We don't teach students to be violent, but we also don't teach them to turn the other cheek. Students have the utmost respect for their fellow man, but they are prepared to protect themselves completely if the need arises. In other words, It's better to know-how, and not have to, than to have to, and not know-how.

Source Black Belt Magazine

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