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Karate Kenpo Kung Fu

Origins of the association to Chinese martial arts to the term kung fu
Origins of the association to Chinese martial arts to the term kung fu
ABC Television

Portland has a great selection of martial arts to choose from. Here are the top three or four words that describe martial arts instruction here and their cultural associations.


The birthplace of the word Karate is thought to be the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa Japan). Large groups of Chinese moved to the islands in the late 1300s as trade relations became established. One of these groups, the Kumemura established a wide variety of Chinese arts and sciences including the martial arts there. The root of martial arts in the Ryukyu culture is a fighting system of the Pechin class known as “te”.


Karate was brought to the Japanese mainland in the early 20th century as a form of cultural exchange. During the 1930s the way karate was written in Japan was changed from ?? “China hand” to ?? “empty hand” in an attempt to attach a more Japanese identity to the martial term.


Kenpo is the term used in Japanese martial arts for a Chinese martial art. Kenpo Karate was founded by James Mitose as a cultural blending of Chinese and Ryukyuan martial arts systems. Hollywood film star, Ed Parker further refined his system by utilizing more Chinese circular movements than the more predominately linear movements of his predecessor’s system. Parker was a student of Kenpo’s co-founder William Sun Chow who was also of Hawaiian decent. Grand Master Parker trained many famous people including Elvis Presley, Robert Wagner, and Joey Bishop just to name a few.


When most westerners think of Chinese martial arts they think of the term Kung Fu which probably comes from the association of that word to the 1970s American television series called “Kung Fu”. The word kung fu literally refers to any individual accomplishment or skill brought about through years of experience and or hard labor.


Wushu is a more politically correct term for Chinese martial arts. There is a mistaken conception in the west that wushu is only a competition sport similar to gymnastics. While most exhibition forms require gymnastic like ability and appear to be gymnastic to the eye, the judge is looking for the authentic (historically accurate) execution of each movement. Physical evidence of martial arts training in China dates back to the Xia Dynasty (approximately 4,200 years ago).


Finding a martial art that offers what the student is looking to learn can be as challenging as learning another language but through perseverance (and a bit of research) will come the reward.

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