From the Strength of Many:
Kajukenbo's Classic Blend produces a Deadly Street System.
by Nes Fernandez and Marie Sanchez
Kungfu Spring 95
It was 1947. The Second World War was over, and Hawaii was a focal point of soldiers and marines at major bases, as well as native Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and Koreans. This multi-national convergence often created conflicts, especially coming out of war, where fighting was instilled for personal survival; what's more, Hawaii had areas where major settlements of these nationalities were thrown together. One such settlement was the famous Palama Settlement, on the island of Oahu. For the residents there, fighting was a part of growing up and holding their turf, so martial arts became a point of interest among the people. Places like the Palama settlement were better avoided by those unwilling to fight their way out.
The time and place were ideal for five martial artists to form a pact. Two years later a martial art would be created, one that would make them invincible in the most difficult streets of Hawaii. The five men were Peter Choo, a champion boxer, welterweight division, and expert in Korean Tang soo do; Frank Ordonez, a legend in Sekeino jujitsu; Joe Holke, an eighth dan stylist of Kodokan judo; Clarence Chang, a teacher of Chinese boxing and Sil Lum Pai kungfu from the north and south; and the most famous, Adriano D. Emperado.
Emperado was a kenpo man who had received his black belt from William S. Chow and his rank of instructor from James Mitose. Before, that, he had studied escrima on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, and judo with Sensei Taneo. Emperado was Chow's first black belt, his chief instructor and d fifth dan under him. They were close for many years.
Making a Name
These five men created the illustrious Black Belt Society. They trained in secrecy, constantly moving from one now abandoned military barrack to another in Oahu. What they created was called kajukenbo, after Joe Holke's suggestion. The syllable "ka" came from karate, "ju" from judo, "ken" from kenpo and "bo" from Chinese boxing. This is true symbolically as well. The first character, ka, stands for Korean karate. The second symbol, ju, stands for judo and jujitsu. The third character, ken, stands for kempo or kenpo. The final character, bo, stands for Chinese boxing or kung fu. In addition, the symbols ja, ju, ken, bo also translate into "long life," "happiness," "fist" and "style" or "way." Thus, the philosophical meaning of kajukenbo would be, "Through this fist style, one gains long life and happiness."
During these initial sessions, according to Emperado, the five men took advantage of each other's knowledge and expertise. They worked with floor techniques, Korean-style kicks, immobilization techniques, kenpo punches, and the circular techniques of kungfu. They trained together, always looking for and finding weak points in each other's systems. An expert in karate or kung fu must rethink his moves if a judo stylist throws him on the floor and immobilizes him. For this reason, they combined their understanding of self-defense techniques, intending to cover any situation that might arise.
After the Korean war the Black Belt Society disbanded, but Emperado began to teach his art. The genius of the eclectic system soon brought him hundreds of students. In 1950, Emperado organized one of the first chains of martial arts schools in Hawaii. Twelve dojo were opened under the name Kajukenbo Self Defense Institute.
Combining these five styles produced an unprecedented blend of martial arts. As a result, while several components from its origins are present in the system, it has several elements which are uniquely attributable to kajukenbo.
Its trademark, for instance, became the squatting position; all kajukenbo forms begin with the practitioner in this squatting pose. Kajukenbo stylists start in a set stance with feet shoulders width apart, and arms down, the hands clenched into fists. Retaining a strong state of mind, the kajukenbo stylist snaps his head toward the left open hand while simultaneously extending his right leg out into a front thrust kick. Coming down into a front horse stance, he moves his arms upward into a cross, executing a block accompanied with a kiai.
Kajukenbo emphasizes four factors: self-defense, body contact, takedowns and groundwork. Combined, they make kajukenbo a street-related system. Much like Goju-Ryu karate, kajukenbo is a combination of hard and soft movements, joining strong power blocks and strikes with soft, circular blocks and flowing movements.
But in addition to its physical differences, the system has its own individual precepts. The kajukenbo motto is "Train Strong to Remain Strong," and the "Kajukenbo Statement" reads, "We should all remember, refusing or avoiding a fight is not a sign of a coward. Especially when well-trained in kajukenbo, such a refusal is a demonstration of respect to mankind, since knowledge of kajukenbo will make you aware of your own personal danger, and the great degree of injury that can be inflicted on an opponent. Our sijo once said, 'War and killing are wrong; it is also wrong not to be prepared to defend one's self.'"
The coat of arms is what the kajukenbo practitioner trains by, and training begins with the kajukenbo salutation. The salutation begins and ends with the kajukenbo "trademark" in which the right hand is clenched in a fist, and the left hand is over the fist, covering the knuckles as a symbol of respect. This first "coat" represents the mind, which defines concentration, mental discipline, knowledge and inner strength.
Following is the second coat, wherein the hands open up, palms face out with thumbs crossed; this represents the body, which defines physical proficiency, health and self-defense.<
The third and final hand coat puts both palms together with fingers pointing upward, which represents the spirit. This includes having the proper attitude, dedication and self-control. Immediately following the three hand coats are hand snap movements to the left, center, right and center. This symbolizes the idea that you must look before you strike. Next, using your peripheral vision without moving your head, look left, rear, center, right rear; by showing that you are aware of your surroundings, you can fool your attacker, countering a sneak attack by him. This is followed with a kiai, to bring out your inner strength.
Progress of the Art
Among those who learned from Emperado was Professor Joe Halbuna, who was first introduced to kajukenbo in 1955 by Andriano Emperado's brother, Joe Emperado, at the home of "Lucky" Lucaylucay in Honolulu, Hawaii. He started his kajukenbo training in 1957 with Ben Medero. Halbuna honed his art with many other martial artists, but it was Sijo Emperado who convinced him to devote his life to martial arts. Receiving his black belt in 1962, he currently holds a ninth degree red belt with silver lining, and has worked for the San Mateo Sheriff's Department as a training sergeant from 1970 through 1982. Professor Halbuna has taught baton and riot training to the police force and has certified police officers in the art of judo.
As Professor Halbuna got older and more proficient in his martial arts skills, he decided to move to California where he opened a school in 1962 and has remained a prominent figure in Northern California. He has opened martial arts schools in San Francisco and Pacifica, and works with outlying cities to teach martial arts in their community recreation programs. He also promotes many martial arts tournaments, including competitions in Hawaii and Europe.
Stemming from his kajukenbo training, Professor Halbuna retains an open mind about all styles of martial arts. "I openly accept the other disciplines as good and serving a purpose," he says. "I look forward to the day that all martial artists compete and practice fellowship openly and without animosity toward each other. I feel we have taken significant steps toward this."
When asked how he feels about martial arts today, Professor Halbuna comments that "martial arts in the 90's seem too commercialized to me. The techniques are watered down so that schools will not lose students. The emphasis has moved more toward running a business, rather than teaching an art. (However) I do like the fact that, even through these times, there continues to be an emphasis on teaching respect toward the teachers, elders and fellow members.
"If I could give one message to all who practice any and all martial arts, it would be to promote fellowship and encourage everyone to get to know more people in the art for the sole purpose of becoming friends. Martial artists should take care of each other, help each other and work hard toward becoming a strong family."
About Nes Fernandez and Marie Sanchez:
Grandmaster Nes Fernandez is trained in several styles including tai chi, aikido, fut ga kung fu, arnis and escrima, and is based in San Francisco, California. Marie Sanchez is a student of Halbuna and a freelance writer.