Kajukenbo' Devastating Hand Strikes

by John Bishop (Black Belt, Dec. 94)

Fierce, brutal, overkill, street effective. These and many other such terms have been used to describe kajukenbo. Kajukenbo gained it's reputation for being brutally effective decades ago in the U.S. Territory of Hawaii. Since then it's eclectic use of five martial arts, and it's no-nonsense approach to self defense has contributed to it's strong reputation as an highly effective self defense system.

Kajukenbo' Origin
Kajukenbo is a prime example of American ingenuity. It is also America's first martial art system, having been founded in 1949 in the U.S. Territory of Hawaii. One of kajukenbo's leading instructor's is Gary Forbach from San Clemente, California. According to him kajukenbo's inception came about in 1947 when five Hawaiian martial arts masters calling themselves the "Black Belt Society" started on a project to develop a comprehensive self defense system. These five men of vision were Peter Choo, the Hawaii welterweight boxing champion, and a Tang Soo Do black belt. Frank Ordonez, a Sekeino Jujitsu black belt. Joe Holck, a Kodokan Judo black belt. Clarence Chang, a master of Sil-lum Pai kung fu. And Adriano D. Emperado, a Chinese Kenpo black belt, and Escrima master.

Together these men trained for several hours a day taking advantage of each others strengths and weaknesses to develop their new art. When Joe Holck and Peter Choo would spar Holck could see his weaknesses in striking techniques, and Choo would realize his vulnerability once he was on the ground. Emperado was able to show Choo how a kenpo man could work inside a kicker with rapid fire hand techniques. Chang in turn showed the others how the circular, flowing techniques of Sil-lum Pai were used to evade and strike. And Frank Ordonez showed everyone how to go with an attackers force and then re-direct it against him with painful locks and throws.

After it was decided that kenpo would be the base to build on, it was a long three year process incorporating the tang soo do kicks, jujitsu joint locks, judo throws, and sil-lum pai circular techniques into a complete system. Now all the system needed was a name. Joe Holck suggested that the name should be "Kajukenbo", ka for karate, ju for judo and jujitsu, ken for kenpo, and bo for Chinese boxing (kung fu).

Today kajukenbo is practiced all over the world. The chief organization for kajukenbo being the "International Kajukenbo Association", based in Oakland, California. Kajukenbo Hand Strikes
Kajukenbo utilizes rapid fire hand strikes and low kicks. These hand strikes came from Adriano Emperado's vast knowledge of Chinese Kenpo and Escrima. Along with these two systems he studied thousands of martial arts technique's and different types of movement. He used physical principles to analyze existing hand techniques and develop new ones. One of the basic physical principles that Emperado used was the rule that for "for every action there is a equal and positive reaction". When applied to the martial arts this principle means that when struck, the body will react to the strike in a certain way. Forbach feels that this is very important to the kajukenbo stylist since he utilizes multiple hand strikes in rapid succession. "We have all seen demonstrations done by martial artists who have tremendous hand speed.

Unfortunately in the case of some, when you break down their strikes you realize that half of them would not have been effective or even hit their desired targets. Just being able to strike several times rapidly is useless if your strikes do not hit your intended targets." Before one concentrates on developing hand speed he has to learn how the body reacts to strikes to different areas. As an example: If your first strike was a reverse punch to the stomach it would not be effective to target the face with a follow up back fist strike. If done properly the first strike to the stomach would cause the body to double over. In this position the attacker's face would be bent over towards the ground.

As a result the face is not at an angle to be targeted with a back fist strike. A more effective way to target the stomach and face would be to reverse the sequence of strikes. If the first strike is the back fist to the face the attacker's body would react by having his head thrust backwards. This reaction in turn would cause the stomach to be positioned and exposed for the follow up reverse punch.

When attempting multiple hand strikes Forbach feels that target acquisition is critical. "This is where one has to have an exceptional understanding of body movement. Thankfully Professor Emperado saved kajukenbo stylist thousands of hours of evaluation, analyzation, and trial and error. The martial art system that he developed utilizes a myriad of effective self defense combinations. These combinations are taught progressively to all kajukenbo students as they advance thru the ranks".

Developing Hand Speed
Most people are as fast as they will ever be. Repetition training can increase speed somewhat, but other factors such as "flow" and "economy of motion" can have a greater influence on the speed of combination techniques.

Because kajukenbo employs both circular and linear hand strikes it lends itself well to flowing movement. When hand techniques flow they follow a natural path of movement. Instead of throwing separate strikes, strikes are thrown and then without pause redirected into other strikes. As an example; if you were to strike the side of the neck with a knife hand strike, instead of retracting the hand you would redirect the knife hand strike straight down to the groin. The groin strike can then be redirected back up to a uppercut punch to the face.

Economy of motion is used to increase hand speed by reducing the distance that the hand has to travel when striking. A simple example would be the jab or back fist strike versus the reverse punch. Because the jab or back fist is much closer to the target it gets there faster. Of course there is a tradeoff. A technique like the reverse punch is more powerful because it covers a longer distance and employs more muscle groups than the back fist or jab. But to achieve the greatest possible speed one should utilize economy of motion in delivering multiple strikes. To develop increased power behind these shorter techniques body mechanics have to come into play. The use of the hips and shoulders to put more momentum behind short techniques greatly increases their striking power. Increased power can also be achieved by dropping body weight into downward strikes and lifting with the legs when striking upwards.

When it comes to selecting hand strikes, again you need to consider flow and economy of motion. Circular techniques such as knife hand chops can be quickly redirected into snapping techniques like back fist strikes. Open hand strikes like knife hand chops, rakes, pokes, and palm heel strikes tend to be faster because of the relaxed state of the arm muscles when the fist is not clenched.

Thrusting techniques like straight punches are more powerful, but slower to redirect. So when striking multiple times it makes good sense to hold back your thrusting punch and use it as a finishing technique. In Conclusion
Anyone can achieve effective, rapid, multiple hand strikes. First you have to learn body reactions. Second, you need to understand flow and economy of motion. Third, you need to understand which techniques flow best together. And finally you need to do hours and hours of repetition training to develop your speed.

Even for highly experienced martial artists, training in kajukenbo will greatly enhance your hand striking skills and save you a lot of trial and error.


What is Kajukenbo?
  • Development of Kajukenbo
  • Kajukenbo Techniques
  • Kajukenbo Training

  • Sijo Adriano Emperado
  • Emperado Interview

  • Our Family Tree
  • Grandmaster Aleju Reyes
  • Grandmaster Gary Forbach
  • Professor Chow Video

  • Our School
  • Instructors
  • School Photos
  • Photo Gallery

  • Magazine Articles
    Kajukenbo Products

    Web Site Links

    ©1999-2004 John Bishop's Kajukenbo Home Page