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What exactly is Kempo?

Kempo has to be one of the most difficult systems to define. It can be translated as “law of the fist”, or the “followed path of the controlled hand”. It has been known by many different names during different times. Names such as: Shaolin Chuan Fa, Kung Fu, Karate, Kenpo, and Te. However, regardless of its current expression or name, all true Kempo systems have at their foundation the maximum of training to develop the Self. The first difficulty that arises when attempting to define Kempo is the division of Kempo in its external and internal systems or schools.

Internal Kempo

To paint the internal Kempo systems with a broad brush, we find a system of relaxed postures, strong balance and rooting, sensitivity training, and dynamic chi development. its main strategies are breaking the adversary’s balance and a relaxed suppleness in “soft” strikes. Main stream examples of internal systems are Tai Chi Chuan, Pak-kua, and Hsing-I Chuan.

External Kempo

To paint external Kempo with a broad brush reveals a system of explosive hand strikes, devastating kicks, overwhelming combinations, and poised practicality. its focus is effective, efficient, and logical self-defense. Mainstream examples of external systems are Karate, and Kung Fu.

The higher levels of each system reflect the mastery of physical skills, harmonization with the adversaries, precise targeting, tactful power deployment, and effortless effort. These higher levels are reflected in the systems of chi disruption, balance manipulation, pressure point attacks, and concussive technologies.

However, as with all generalities, this basic description falls short of truly explaining a system as beautiful and complex as Kempo. It is similar in trying to describe all flowers to someone who has never experienced the sight of a rose or the smell of jasmine. To add further confusion to this picture, no two Kempo schools are exactly alike. Different schools focus on different understandings. So, when we look at Kempo, lets look at it like the wild flowers that grow naturally in the mountains. Each flower shares with it’s neighbors similarities such as, anatomy, nourishment from the soil, the need for sunlight, the mountain rains and vibrant life, yet each flower is a beautiful expression of its environment and resources through their unique colors, size, and fragrance. So too does Kempo uniquely express its differences among the various different regions of the world, from school to school, and instructor to instructor. That it has grown and flourished during different eras and different cultures speaks to its adaptability and effectiveness and ensures its inclusion in future generations.