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Charlie Walton: American Martial art of KaJuKenBo


Charlie Walton


Charlie Walton is a practitioner of a relatively modern fighting system: Kajukenbo. He started practicing because he was small in stature and needed to protect himself from bullies.His training not only gave him a realistic approach to street fighting, but also confidence, mental focus, discipline and perseverance.

Besides being an efficient fighter, he is also a fearless business owner who runs a sleep disorders laboratory.

The system you are training under is called Kajukenbo. What is the origin of the name?
KA from Karate (Tang Soo Do), JU from Judo (Kodenkan Danzan Ryu) and Jujitsu (Se Keino Ryu), KEN from Kenpo (Kosho Ryu), and BO from Chinese Boxing (Chu'an Fa Kung-Fu).

This system must be relatively recent. Can you tell us about its history?
Kajukenbo was founded in 1947 at Palamas Settlement on Oahu, Hawaii. It developed out a group calling themselves the "Black Belt Society", which consisted of black belts from various martial arts backgrounds who met to train and learn with each other. This was the beginning of an evolutionary, adaptive style designed to combine the most useful aspects of the arts. There are five men credited as founders of Kajukenbo, and it is from their respective arts that Kajukenbo draws it's name.
Kenpo emerged as the core around which this new art was built. Although unacredited by name, other influences included American Boxing (Choo was Hawaiian Welterweight Champion) and Escrima (Emperado also studied Kali and Arnis Escrima).
Who were the "Black Belt Society"? Why did they create a new martial arts?
To understand the Black Belt Society, you really have to understand the environment at the time it was created. Due to it's physical location, Hawaii became a melting pot for Asians coming to America. Immigrants are typically poor, and therefore most of these Asians settled in poor areas of Hawaii - which is a small place to begin with. It seems polarization according to race was very strong, with each Asian race hating the others, the Hawaiian's not liking any of them, and the white Americans hating all Asians after Pearl Harbor occurred. So fighting was a frequent fact of life, and almost everyone was training in some sort of fighting art. Rivalries occurred and whole schools would challenge or "invade" other schools. Despite this environment, a group of black belts in various arts began to meet in secret to teach and learn from each other.

They decided to blend their arts to try and make a system that would be useful on the street, despite body-type (weight, height, etc.). After their meetings, they would go to the local bars and invariably get into fights. What worked consistently on the street was kept, what did not work consistently on the street was thrown out. After 2 years, Adriano D. Emperado opened a school to teach the new system, calling it Kajukenbo.

Why did the "black belt society" feel the need to found a new style.
In the late 1940's, Palamas Settlement was a violent area and fist-fights or stabbings were commonplace. From this environment, the founders of Kajukenbo wanted to develop an art that would be readily useful on the street. As they trained and fought in and around Palamas Settlement, the founders of Kajukenbo quickly gained reputations as formidable street-fighters. In 1950, Adriano Emperado, along with brother Joe Emperado, began teaching the new art in an open class. They called the school Kajukenbo Self Defense Institute (K.S.D.I.).

Late Master Adriano Emperado

Since the Emporado brothers were street fighters, what was the main emphasis of their training?
The emphasis during training was on realism - so much so that students routinely broke bones, fainted from exhaustion, or were knocked unconscious. Nevertheless, the reputation of this tough new art drew more students and Emperado opened a second school at the nearby Kaimuki YMCA. Soon Emperado had 12 Kajukenbo schools in Hawaii, making it the second largest string of schools at the time. John Leoning, who earned a black belt from Emperado, brought Kajukenbo to the mainland in 1958. Since that time, Kajukenbo has continued to flourish and grow.

From it's beginnings, Kajukenbo was an eclectic and adaptive art. As time has passed, Kajukenbo has continued to change and evolve. Currently, there are four distinct, "recognized" branches of Kajukenbo: Kenpo ("Emperado Method" or "Traditional Hard Style"), Tum Pai, Chu'an Fa, and Wun Hop Kuen Do. In addition, there are numerous "unrecognized" branches, including CHA-3 and Gaylord Method. While this may be confusing for an outsider, it is the essence of the art. Students are not required to mimic the teacher, but are encouraged to develop their own "expression" of the art.

Do you train in any traditional way such as forms or body conditioning?
Kajukenbo does have forms, however, there are only 8 in the whole system and they are relatively short and simple. Body conditioning is very common in Kajukenbo schools, focusing mostly on knuckle conditioning, iron palm, and forearm conditioning.

Thank you Mr. Walton for sharing your valuable insights.To learn more about Mr. Walton and Kajukenbo, please visit

Interview done by Hao Wong
Copyright ©2000 MartialLife. All rights reserved



Last Updated on Sunday, 28 November 2010 20:02  

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