Adriano D. Emperado The Force Behind Kajukenbo

Adriano D. Emperado The Force Behind Kajukenbo

Article by John Bishop (Inside Kung Fu Present's, Mar.94)


Decades before anyone envisioned the combining of martial arts systems to form a eclectic system 5 men in Hawaii were already doing it. These men were not like some of our modern day style founders who have a marginal knowledge of various systems and no expertise in any. These men were all experts in their own systems. Peter Choo was a welterweight boxing champion and a black belt in tang soo do. Frank Ordonez was a black belt in sekeino jujitsu. Joe Holck was a black belt in kodokan judo. George "Clarence" Chang was an expert of sil-lum pai kung fu. And Adriano Emperado was a black belt in kara-ho kenpo. All 5 of these men worked together between the years 1947-49 to combine their techniques and create the Kajukenbo system. With the start of the Korean War, Joe Holck, Peter Choo, Frank Ordonez, and Clarence Chang were drafted into service. This left Emperado to teach their new art.

Adriano D. Emperado was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on June 16, 1926. He was born to Filipino-Hawaiian parents in the poor Palama/Kalihi section of Honolulu. Like a lot of poor areas, the Palama/Kalihi district settlement was a violent place to live. Confrontations and fights were a daily occurrence. Because of this Emperado started his self defense training at the age of 8. At this time in his life both his father and uncle were professional boxers, so of course he was taught how to box. His next training came at the age of 11 while he was living with his older brother in Kauai. There he learned the basic 12 strikes of escrima. At age 14 he found himself back in his old Palama neighborhood. There he trained in judo under Sensei Taneo at the Palama Settlement Gym. A few years later at the age of 20 Emperado undertook the serious study of kenpo at the Catholic Youth Organization in Honolulu. These classes were taught by the legendary Professor William K.S. Chow. Professor Chow had been a student of kenpo jiu jitsu instructor James Mitose, and also held a 5th degree black belt in judo. Emperado trained daily with Chow and soon became his first black belt. Emperado spent many years with Professor Chow becoming his Chief Instructor and attaining the rank of 5th degree black belt. During the developmental years of kajukenbo Emperado would train with the 4 other co-founders during the day and then teach classes for Chow in the evenings.

After the other 4 went off to war, Emperado started the first kajukenbo school at the Palama Settlement Gym in 1950. At the Palama school students could train for $2.00 a month. The workouts that took place there are legendary for their brutality. Emperado has been quoted as saying that a workout wasn't over until there was blood on the floor. When this author asked him about this statement he explained that the statement was true. He went on to say "that you have to experience pain before you can give it. You have to know what your technique can do. "We lost a lot of students in those days, but we also got a lot from other schools, including black belts. These students would look at what we were doing and realize that we had a no nonsense effective system". When asked who some of these early black belts were he named Woodrow McCandless from the Mitose school, Brother Abe Kamahoahoa and Paul Yamaguichi from the Chow school, and others from various fighting systems. He then described how his early black belt Marino Tiwanak joined his class after being soundly defeated by him in response to Tiwanak's challenge. What makes this such a astonishing story is the fact that Marino Tiwanak was the flyweight boxing champion of Hawaii at the time of the challenge.

With the success of the Palama Settlement school Emperado started expanding. He left the teaching at the Palama school to his brother Joe while he started classes at the Kaimuki Y.M.C.A. and the Wahiwa Y.M.C.A.. Soon the Kajukenbo Self Defense Institute of Hawaii, Inc. was the largest chain of karate schools in Hawaii. Emperado also became instrumental in the development of tournament karate in Hawaii. He sat on the Hawaii Karate Rules Board, which established standards for competition used throughout the islands. He also promoted and officiated at several major karate tournaments throughout the islands.

Although he was very successful in the martial arts he never made a living at it. Because he taught at Y.M.C.A.'s and recreation centers he always kept his student fees low. A lot of Emperado's knowledge of street fighting came from his many years in law enforcement. He had spent 14 years as a harbor policeman for the Hawaii Department of a Transportation, and a year with the Hawaii Attorney General's Office. While with the Attorney General's Office he served as a body guard to the governor. He then entered the private sector as the security director for a large company. He worked in the corporate security field until he suffered a heart attack in 1982.

All of his life Emperado has studied various martial arts. In his 30s he expanded his knowledge of escrima by training with his step father Alfredo Peralta. Peralta taught him a method using the single stick. Emperado described how they would take 2x4s and taper down handles and then train with them. He said that "after a workout with the 2x4 you could make a rattan stick go like lighting".

About the same time he started a serious study of various kung fu systems. He studied under Professor Lau Bun of the Choy Li Fut system and Professor Wong of the Northern Shaolin system. Several years later these professors and the Hawaii Chinese Physical Culture Association awarded Emperado the title Professor 10th degree. Also at this time he was awarded a certificate by Grandmaster Ho Gau of Hong Kong appointing him as a advisor and representative of the Choy Li Fut system. This certificate was signed by Grandmaster Ho Gau, Professor Cheuk Tse, and the directors of the Hawaii Chinese Physical Culture Association. This was truly an accolade when one considers that the Hawaii Chinese Physical Culture Association was the first kung fu school outside of China.

Because he had been exposed to many fighting systems Emperado has always been one to welcome innovation. Unlike most of the traditional systems, his kajukenbo evolves constantly. To date there are 4 systems within then kajukenbo style. The first of course is the Original Method, sometimes referred to as the kenpo karate branch. This is the system that Emperado, Holke, Choo, Ordonez, and Chang formulated between 1947 and 1949. The original method uses kenpo karate as a base and adds selected techniques from the tang soo do, judo, jujitsu, and sil-lum pai kung fu systems. The second system is the Tum Pai branch. This system was in development from 1959-1966 by Emperado, Al Dacascos, and Al De La Cruz. Development was suspended in 1966 when Dacascos moved to the mainland. Its development was then re-activated in 1984 by Jon Loren. The Tum Pai system incorporates the original kajukenbo techniques along with tai chi chuan elements. The third system is the Chuan Fa branch. This system started development in 1966. Again this was a collaboration of Emperado, Al Dacascos, and Al De La Cruz. This system incorporated the Northern and Southern styles of kung fu with the original method of kajukenbo.

The result was a blend of soft and hard techniques. The Chuan Fa system also opened the door to the richness and unlimited techniques that the Chinese arts had to offer. The last system is the Won Hop Kuen Do (combination fist art) branch. This branch was the brain child of Al Dacascos. When he moved to the San Francisco area in the early 60s Dacascos supplemented his kajukenbo training with an extensive study of the Chinese and Filipino arts. In 1969 he saw that his kajukenbo was becoming a blend of the various systems that he was learning. This system that he named Won Hop Kuen Do contained the original kajukenbo forms and 25 exclusive fighting principles. Like all of the systems, Won Hop Kuen Do is in a constant state of evolution. Although kajukenbo has 4 systems Emperado has always stressed that no system is superior to another and that they are not improvements on the original method. They are just kajukenbo expressions that emphasize different techniques.

In his lifetime Emperado has seen his kajukenbo style grow into a major martial art that is practiced all across the United States and in several countries.