Kempo is the original eclectic martial art. It combines in many different ways the martial traditions of East Asia, particularly those of Japan and China. Disciplines within the Kempo family cover all aspects of martial endeavour, and techniques without end. But Kempo is much more than just technique - underneath the variety lie consistent, fundamental principles of nature that contain not just the key to the unification of diverse martial strands into a coherent whole, but also an antidote to the worst effects of materialism.
Kempo is about the path that is walked, and dilligent preparation for it, not the end goal. Through the preparation and the walking we grow as human beings.
“At no time are we ever in such complete possession of a journey, down to its last nook and cranny, as when we are busy with preparations for it.” Mishima Yukio
It is thought that the word Kempo is derived as the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chuanfa, which can be taken to mean Fist Method or Fighting Method, and referred historically to the many different ancient fighting systems of China. However, the nature of the Japanese language is such that many characters are homophones, which means that two different characters can have the same sound but different meanings. As a result of this, the word Kempo has been written down in different ways.
In written form the Kempo consists of two Chinese characters, Ken and Po. The characters used to write it in Chinese are exactly the same as the characters used to write it in Japanese because the Japanese use the Chinese writing system (which they call Kanji) as the basis of their own writing system. When Ken occurs before Po in a word the pronunciation changes from Ken to Kem. Thus Ken-Po is commonly pronounced, and often written, Kempo. Po comes originally from the Chinese Fa and is taken to mean Method, but it can also mean Law or Lore, and may imply the laws of nature.
Ken can be represented as any one of four Chinese characters, one meaning fist or boxing, another two meaning sword, and one meaning dedication or offering. The most commonly seen way of writing Kempo is:
This common rendering of the word means all of Fist Method, Boxing Method, Law/Lore of the Fist, and Law/Lore of Boxing. The second most common form is:
This means Sword Method, or Law/Lore of the Sword. It is used to stress the importance of the sword as a weapon in Kempo, and the main weapon from which unarmed Kempo methods are derived. It will be noted that the first kanji is a simplified form of the character below - but the way in which this simplification has been done has significance beyond making it easier to write based upon the components of the respective kanji. Another way of writing Kempo, which also means Sword Method, is as follows:
In this instance the first character Ken means sword, but in specialist understanding it is used to mean generic weapons practice, including at once, sword, unarmed fighting and all other weapons. In Japan’s ancient past the sword was sometimes a spiritual relic, held as the object of veneration in shrines, and held rich meaning beyond a simple weapon. This is the sense of this version of Ken. Finally, the way of writing Kempo which we often use for our Mishima Kempo was first used by Kato Eiichi:
In this instance Ken means dedication, and therefore Kempo is taken to mean Dedication Method, or Method of Dedication. It refers to the special, sincere or refined effort that each Kempo practitioner must put into their practice. Actually, Mishima Kempo philosophy is that all four ways of writing down the word Kempo are equally valid. Kempo is all of these at once, and much more besides.