Where’s the Shaolin in Shaolin Kempo?

The age-old myth that Shaolin Kempo Karate (SKK) is a modern derivation of the famed temple boxers is wrong. Sadly, visible and structural evidence is lacking in my humble opinion. The style has more in common with Karate than Kung Fu.

Time and distance dilutes the relationship. Kempo is not similar to what we know as “wu shu” or “kung fu”. The Kempo we have looks more like Karate and Jujutsu than anything akin to the Chinese arts. This may make my name a dirty word in the Shaolin Kempo Karate community but that’s what it looks like to me. We use a gi and call the instructor “sensei”. Yes we use poetic terms like “statue of the crane” and “1,000 buddhas” but many unrelated styles do that.

Train in a traditional Chinese art and you’ll find out that it is very different. I learned a Tiger and Leopard form from a headmaster of his family’s art – it wasn’t like Kempo or Karate at all. Stances are different. Punching is different. Kata are very different. The forms didn’t start and stop at the same spot. They started here and ended wherever you finished. They were also long…very long.

Long ago when working with a Karate teacher, he corrected my blocks. They were too vertical, he said. He wanted them slightly angled out. I accepted the advice and correction. Yet, I distinctly remember being told to be vertical, perpendicular to the floor by my Kempo instructor. Did I learn it wrong? Is Kempo so hackneyed that it lost some valuable information over the years?

During the 2005 seminar with Choki Sensei, he mentioned that his art of Karate keeps the block vertical unlike other styles of karate. It’s so he can stay closer to the opponent and attack swiftly. This subtle connection lends support to my belief that Shaolin Kempo Karate is closer to Okinawan Karate than Shaolin boxing. Kempoka like to be close to their opponents, real close.

The bottom line is this. Yes SKK has ancestral roots to the Shaolin Temple, as do many arts like Silat, Arnis, Tae Kwon Do, and Karate. No, SKK is not recently plucked from the line of Shaolin and the Temple. There’s no Shaolin in Shaolin Kempo Karate. Professor Chow named our art Shaolin without regard to actual practices.

Do you think Shaolin Kempo Karate has real, recognizable Shaolin Kung Fu moves in it?