The Martial arts have been practiced and studied for centuries. Many different styles and philosophies have developed as martial arts spread around the world. This is an account of Kempo’s history, starting from approximately one hundred years ago.
Many Chinese and Japanese families moved to Hawaii in the early 1900’s. As a result, Americans had much greater access to Eastern martial arts knowledge than ever before. The art of Kempo as we practice it today started with a man named James Mitose.
Mitose, a Japanese martial artist, began teaching Kempo in Hawaii around 1939. By 1942, he had set up the “Official Self Defense Club,” where he taught Americans, and revealed secrets of self defense he had learned in Japan. Martial arts weren’t as popular as they are today, so instead of training at a dojo, Mitose’s Club met at local gyms and churches for classes.
William Kwai Sun Chow began training under Mitose in 1942. Interested in the practicality, he often tested his techniques in street fights. Chow was lightning fast, earning him the nickname “Thunderbolt,” and became one of only five people to be awarded a Black Belt under Mitose.
By 1947 Chow was teaching all classes at the Official Self Defense Club. In 1949 he started teaching on his own at the local YMCA, and many of the students followed him. Several students of Chow are responsible for bringing Kempo to the States, including Ed Parker and Victor “Sonny” Gascon.
Ed Parker started training with Professor Chow in 1949 and earned his Black Belt in 1953. The following year, Parker opened the first “Americanized” karate school in Provo, Utah. In 1956 Parker moved to California and opened a dojo in Pasadena. He quickly became well-known in Hollywood and taught famous actors like Elvis Presley.
Ed Parker used his Kempo knowledge to create the system of American Kempo. In 1964 Parker held the first Long Beach International Karate Championship, a tournament that still exists today. At these tournaments, many famous martial artists were recognized including Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, and Bill “Superfoot” Wallace. Bruce Lee was discovered by Hollywood as a result of Parker introducing him at one of these Championships.
Kempo also found its way to the States through another source. In 1950 Victor “Sonny” Gascon started training in Hawaii under one of Chow’s Black Belts, John Leoning. Gascon and Leoning soon moved to Los Angeles and each opened a Kempo dojo. Together they created what we know today as Kata #1-5, and Combinations #1-13, 22, and 26.
In 1961 George Pesare started studying under Gascon. Two years later, Pesare opened a dojo in Rhode Island which helped spread Kempo to the East Coast. He created Kata 6 and introduced Stature of the Crane, a form he modified from the Karate form Rohai.
Soon after Pesare opened his dojo, Nick Cerio started taking classes with him. Cerio had some prior training in martial arts, but developed a true passion for Kempo. In 1966 Cerio earned his Black Belt under Pesare.
When Cerio learned of William Chow, he wanted to train with him. So in 1967 he traveled to Hawaii to train under Chow. Cerio said,“Chow was tough and gave you a good strong workout.” “…He was so powerful and quick that he didn’t realize himself how much damage he did when he demonstrated a technique on you.”
Cerio also trained in a wide array of martial arts styles to complement his training, like Shotokan, Jujutsu, Sil Lum Kung Fu, Judo, and Boxing. His instructors were some of the greatest including George Pesare, Tadashi Yamashita and Ed Parker. Cerio applied his wealth of martial arts knowledge to his Kempo system. Pinans 1, 3, 4, and 5 came from his Japanese training, and he created what we know as Pinan 2. He also filled in the remaining Combinations up through #26.
Kempo spread like wildfire along the East Coast largely due to Cerio’s efforts. Subsequently, a young martial artist named Fred Villari sought out Cerio to learn Kempo and began training under him in 1967. Villari had previously studied Kung Fu and Jujutsu, and picked up Kempo naturally. In 1969 Cerio awarded Villari his Black Belt.
In 1971 Villari opened his own dojo in Dedham, Massachusetts. Over the next few years, Villari opened an incredible amount of Kempo dojos. He spent countless hours developing his system of Shaolin Kempo. By 1987 he had developed Combinations #27-108. Villari also added many forms to his curriculum including Two Man Fist Set, Invincible Wall, Five Dragons Face the Four Winds, and many others.
Grandmaster Villari was a very talented martial artist and his organization attracted many aspiring young practitioners such as Brad Randolph. (For more on Master Brad Randolph, read here.)
Today, Master Randolph and the Alpine Martial Arts team is excited and honored to share the wonders of Kempo with you and your family!