Difference between Kempo and Kenpo

Japanese Martial arts are popular because they assist the unarmed individuals in self defence and require no attacking techniques as they are mostly based on reactions to an assailant. Novices in Japanese martial arts are often confused whether to pursue Kempo style or Kenpo style martial arts.

Overall, it is important to note that there is no actual difference between these two styles. The major difference is found in the spelling, which is present due to the way people have transliterated the words from the original Kanji word. The difference comes from studying of martial arts in different areas of Japan.

Both the words are derived from two base Japanese words Ken, which translates to fist; and Ho, which translates to law. Hence, the literal meaning of both words is using your fists legally (in self defence). While it can be argued that the martial art technique should then be referred to as Kenho, in actual Japanese pronunciation the sound created is somewhere between Kenpo and Kempo, the reason behind the confusion.


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    Kenpo, often referred to as Kenpo Karate, is a style of karate that originated in Japan and was expanded upon by professionals in Hawaii. It focuses on linear kicks, pressure point manipulation, joint locking and circular movement patterns. It is slightly controversial as Kenpo can also encourage joint breaking, going against the rules of simple self defence and become more aggressive in nature. However, this variation is one that has developed over time and away from the original homeland of Kenpo.

    James Mitose and William Kwai Sun Chow are seen as the fathers of modern day American style Kenpo Karate, as it was originally developed by them. Martial artists, George Pesare and Sonny Gascon, further developed this style of fighting. Their student, Federik J Villari, brought also made major changes in the style and turned it into something significantly more attacking. Combining elements of Shaolin Kung Fu with elements of Kenpo, Federij J Villari developed what is known as Shaolin Kenpo Karate in the world of today. In different studios one of these two styles are adopted.

    Image Courtesy:carlislekarate.com

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    Kempo is the same type of martial arts as Kenpo, the difference lies only in the transliteration of the word from the original Kanji language. Different masters use either Kempo or Kenpo, but neither is deemed more authentic than the other, with wide recognition that the difference comes only due to pronunciation of the word.

    Image Courtesy :potomackempo.com

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