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About Shaolin Kenpo Karate

Is Shaolin Kenpo the same as kempo, kenpo, kempo karate, Shaolin Kempo Karate, or American Kenpo Karate?

The below answer comes directly from Ralph Castro, our founders website in his FAQ #3 here:

"Some generic terms broadly identify a wide range of historically-related martial arts. Such terms include kempo and kenpo. On the other hand, Shaolin Kenpo, American Kenpo Karate, and Shaolin Kempo Karate are three of the many examples of specific, distinctive, and governed systems of martial arts.

"Shaolin Kenpo" is the name of the art developed by Great Grandmaster Ralph Castro (also called Shaolin Kenpo Karate, and Ralph Castro's Shaolin Kenpo). On the other hand, "Shaolin Kempo Karate" was developed by Grand Master Fred Villari, while "American Kenpo Karate" was developed by the late Grand Master Ed Parker. Both Shaolin Kenpo and Shaolin Kempo Karate incorporated the name 'Shaolin' to acknowledge their inclusion of martial arts techniques whose origin was the Shaolin Temple in China.


All three arts have distinguished founders and lineages. As to lineage, Ralph Castro was a student of the late Great Grandmaster William Kwai Sun Chow. (Also known as 'Professor' Chow, he was the first Great Grandmaster of Shaolin Kenpo). Ed Parker was an earlier student of Professor Chow. We understand Fred Villari was a student of Nick Cerio, who was a student of George Pesare, who was a student of Sonny Gascon, who was a student of Adriano Emperado [Kajukenbo], who was also an early student of Professor Chow.


An event that confuses many today, some years ago a few martial artists broke away from the (Villari) Shaolin Kempo Karate organization. Later, some of their students misspelled the name of the (Villari) art their teachers once studied -- They misspelled it with an 'n' rather than 'm', such as Shaolin 'Kenpo' Karate, or sometimes even shortened it further to Shaolin 'Kenpo'.


Today, a few still innocently propagate this same unfortunate spelling error that was first made by their seniors. They give the impression, by misspelling the name this way, that they practice the art of (Ralph Castro's) Shaolin Kenpo. In fact, they have no connection to Shaolin Kenpo and are not from the lineage of Great Grandmaster Castro. Rather, they use the name of his art without permission. They should investigate their history, and correct their error out of respect for their lineage.

True for many martial arts styles, occasional name and style confusions (and resulting rank confusions) might ordinarily make it difficult to determine who ARE the teachers and practitioners of the art of Shaolin Kenpo.


However, the International Shaolin Kenpo Association is responsible for governing Shaolin Kenpo. It has the authority to decide the status of claims about any individual's rank in Shaolin Kenpo, and the status or sanction of any school."

How does Kenpo vary from Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, Karate and other arts? 

The first paragraph comes from my instructor's website FAQ's, the rest are further answers from me: 

"Tae Kwon Do is a Korean martial art that focuses primarily on kicking techniques. Some Tae Kwon Do schools also teach Olympic style fighting. Kenpo is a practical self defense system which trains the student for modern day self defense encounters. Kenpo students are taught to use their hands and feet with multiple strikes to multiple targets on each attacker, in a multiple attack situation."

Karate is the name many traditional Japanese martial arts identify with, and while Karate is in the end of our styles name, we are a style influenced by both Chinese and Japanese martial arts, but not a pure karate system. Karate tends to emphasize deeper stances and extremely traditional forms. It is often considered a "hard" art that focuses on force and penetrating strikes.

Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art, many of its forms are animal based for the various styles (crane, tiger, praying mantis, etc) and you can definitely see a Chinese influence in Kenpo in our own forms. Kung Fu is often considered more a "soft" art that focuses a lot on circular and flowing movements. 

Tae Kwon Do, Karate and Kung Fu each originated in their own countries, where as Kenpo originated in Hawaii under William K.S. Chow and then Shaolin Kenpo began in San Francisco under Ralph Castro. 

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