Most of the information here is gathered from other sources. This is mostly an ‘organizational’ document. Please read the footnotes at the end. There are some ‘events’ missing, but that probably means that I could not find any reliable source to back it up. Please feel free to send feedback,corrections,complaints, threats, etc. to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, but be prepared to back them up with source material if you want to be taken seriously. This is a work in progress, so please take it with a grain of salt, and visit the sites listed in the endnotes to make up your own mind. While visiting ‘Dragon Times’, which is now ‘Classical Fighting Arts’ – subscribe. It’s a great periodical. This document is the product of many years of digging, so please do not plagiarize it. If you want to use it, contact me at the above email. Keep it intact with the introduction and especially all endnotes. Feel free to use it as a source, as long as you credit it properly.
I would also like to thank all of the people who have put their efforts out before me and the other fine sources, especially Professor Feliciano Ferreira, Joe Rebelo, Charles Goodin, Bruce Corrigan, J. Madriaga, the folks from the (now hardly active) Kempo/Kenpo list on Topica, and the (also hardly active) Shaolin Kempo group at Yahoo.com.
I have taken the liberty of inserting the approximate ages of some of the key players in the document, just to help get the mental picture of the young men from which this art sprang, as we often think of them in their later years. Finally, the views and opinions expressed in this timeline are those of the author, and not necessarily those of any particular school or instructor.
Thank you and Enjoy,
(Shaolin) Kempo History Timeline
1900– 26 Okinawan immigrants arrive in Hawaii on the S.S. City of China. One of them, Chinzen Kinjo, described using Karate to defend himself shortly after arrival. 1
1901– Seishin Uehara is born in Motobu, Okinawa(1901-1956)2
1913– Seishin Uehara emigrates to Hawaii. He later trains and teaches with Thomas Miyashiro, assists Mizhuo Mutsu with his demonstrations, and teaches in Honolulu after Mutsu returns to Japan.3
1914– William K.S. Chow is born in Honolulu Hawaii (b. 7/13/1914) 4
1915– Thomas Miyashiro is born in Hawaii (b. 4/25/1915) 5
1916– James Mitose is born in Kaelakekua, North Kona Hawaii (b. either 12/28 or 12/30/1916) 6
1920-21– James Mitose, age 3 or 4 Leaves Hawaii for Kyushu, Kumamoto Japan7,
1922– According to his ‘history’ James Mitose begins training in Kempo at age 58
1926– Adriano Emperado is born in Honolulu9
1927– Kentsu Yabu visits Hawaii, teaching Karate Kenpo.He gave perhaps the first karate demonstration in the United States at the Nuuanu YMCA in March of 1927 and another on July 8, 1927. One of his students is Thomas Miyashiro. 10
John Leoning is born (5/23/27)11
1932—Choki Motobu visits Hawaii, but is detained by INS. His only visitor, who trained with him during his month long detention is Thomas Miyashiro. Motobu brings with him copies of his two books, Okinawan Kenpo Tode Jutsu, Kumite Hen published in 1926 and Watashi no Tode Jutsu published in 1932, the second of which was devoted to the kata Naihanchi. 12
1933– Mizhuo Mutsu releases his book, Karate Kenpo. He brings copies of the book with him during his visit to Hawaii. 13 He was brought over as a replacement for Choki Motobu after his unsuccessful visit the previous year. During his visit, from August 18 to mid September, Mutsu and his dechi Kamesuke Higashiona14 put on demonstrations(assisted by Miyashiro and Uehara), and set up the Hawaii Seinenkai, teaching ‘karate kenpo’ in various locales throughout the islands15. Seishin Uehara was installed as a Shihan of the Seinenkai, and Miyashiro as a leader. Before he returns to Japan, Mutsu promotes Thomas Miyashiro to shodan, making him perhaps the first American born black belt.
Classes were also set up at this time by the Seinenkai at the First Methodist Church in Honolulu. These classes are especially notable as they were the first offered to students outside the Okinawan / Japanese community, and were open to Caucasians. Miyashiro and Uehara would continue the Seinenkai until 1948.16
Victor Gascon is born (3/6/33)17
1934—Chojun Miyagi visits Hawaii to perform a year long tour of martial arts demonstrations, billed in some newspapers as Kempo. 18
1936 – Nick Cerio is born. (7/9/1936)
1936-1937 – James Mitose, age 19-20, returns from Japan. Soon after, he starts teaching martial arts,19 and by 1946 when he ceased teaching, he has signed the certificates of 4 black belts. Two more were produced at his club, Chow and Lowe, but he did not sign their certificates. According to Thomas Young, the only empty hand kata he taught initially was Naihanchi20, and others were added as they were appropriated from karate practitioners who joined the club. This was confirmed by Bobby Lowe, but according to Lowe, Mitose also taught a Bo Kata. 21
1937 –Walter Godin is born, (3/21/37)22
1939 – S. George Pesare is born. (2/21/2009)
Early 1940’s- William Chow begins training with Mitose.23
1944– Fred Villari is born (6/25/44)*
1946– Gascon (age 13) trains in Judo with ‘Rubberman’ Higami24
1946– Mitose leaves Thomas Young in charge of his school and ceases actively teaching class. 25 Young’s Instructor’s certificate is dated July 1st, 1946, in the art of ‘Jiu Jitsu (Kempo)’ and is signed by James Mitose. *
1947– Chow leaves Mitose’s school, apparently with Mitose’s blessing, to start his own. He brings with him some of the existing students, most notably Adriano Emperado. Chow, like Mitose, only taught the Naihanchi kata. It is commonly held that other kata may have been produced by students, and ‘approved’ by Professor Chow.26 According to some sources, John or Bill Chun Sr. created Hon Suki, but according to Bill Chun Jr., his father learned it from Chow. It is presumed that Chow’s black belt came after Mitose left Young in charge in 1946, as it is Young’s signature on the certificate and not Mitose’s.27
1947-49– While teaching for Chow, Emperado (age 21-23), along with Walter Choo, Clarence Chang, Joe Holke, and Frank Ordonez forms the ‘Black Belt Society’ and develops what will be known as Kajukenbo. 28
1948– John Leoning (age 21) begins training with Emperado29
1950– Victor ‘Sonny’ Gascon (age 17) begins backyard training sessions with John Leoning (age 23).30 This same year, Frank and Adriano Emperado establish the Kajukenbo Self Defense Institute.31
1953– Gascon rejoins Leoning for training when he is stationed at Hickam Air Force Base32
1954– Mitose retires from teaching (at about age 37) and moves to California33
1956– Victor ‘Sonny’ Gascon moves to California34
1957– Emperado sends Leoning to Los Angeles to further Kajukenbo’s spread. Gascon is among the group of Leoning’s early students. Leoning is accompanied by Julio ‘Joe Black’ Blacquera.35
1958– Gascon (age 25) begins teaching at John Leoning’s Burbank School. Leoning (age 31) had already begun to modify the Kajukenbo curriculum into something new. This is the year that George Pesare (age 19) began learning kenpo (or Karazenpo Goshin-jutsu) from Victor Gascon. 36
1958-61– During these years, Gascon,and his brother in law Walter Godin develop what are now 3 of the 5 katas, and some combinations including possibly 1-12, 13, and 26. They were not necessarily ‘numbered’ at this point. They were developed out of the Kajukenbo ‘tricks’ and the forms that were the ‘palamas sets.’ Dave Kamalani has been included in this process by some sources, but this has apparently been discounted by Sonny Gascon. 44
During these years, Nick Cerio studies Judo with George McCabe at the Providence YMCA37, but this is discounted by George Pesare.
1960-By this time, Gascon was teaching on his own
1961– At this time, due to ‘political’ differences, Gascon and Godin separated from the Kajukenbo organization, calling the new art, ‘Karazenpo Go-shinjutsu’ 38 This was the time when George Pesare (age 22) moved back to the East Coast to Rhode Island to start his own school.39 GM Pesare’s curriculum Initially consisted of Ten combinations, and 5 katas, but would come to include Rohai (statue of the crane, modified from the Okinawan Tomari-te kata Rohai) 22 combinations, and 6 kata, a form GM Pesare created.
According to some accounts, this was also the year that Nick Cerio studied TKD with Ted Olsen.40 According to George Pesare* and Nancy Lee Cerio*, this was not the case.
1964– Nick Cerio (age 28) begins training with George Pesare (age 25). According to George Pesare, he had “no prior experience”. 41
1966-Victor Gascon closes his Pasadena school. Nick Cerio receives his black belt from George Pesare(5/16/66). According to some sources, GM Pesare stated that he taught Professor Cerio only 1-3 kata.42 This year Nick Cerio also meets Ed Parker.43
1967– Cerio meets with William Chow in Hawaii while training with Bill Chun, Sr. From Chun, Cerio learns Hon Suki and incorporates it into his curriculum. Cerio (age 31) is promoted to 1st degree black belt in Chinese Kenpo by chow, and learns additional material from Chow that is used to complete combinations through 26.44 This is also the year that Fred Villari (age 23) began studying with Nick Cerio.45
1968– Nick Cerio receives his nikyu in Hakko Ryu jujutsu46
1969– Gascon (age 36) and Godin (age 32) return to Hawaii. Walter Godin establishes ‘Godin’s Chinese Kempo’ in the Palamas settlement.47Fred Villari (age 25) receives his black belt from Nick Cerio. Nick Cerio is awarded his Sandan in American Kenpo from the AKA/IKKA.
1971– Fred Villari (age 27) goes on his own to start a school in Dedham, MA.48
Nick Cerio ( age 35) visits Chow in Hawaii again, is promoted to 5th Dan.49
1971-88– Fred Villari adds material from various sources, and his own invention to cover all material past black belt. 50
1972-1973 According to Fred Villari, he spent these years in the West Indies studying with a master (Sun Li) Chow (Chou) and a Master Su (Soo)51
1973– Nick Cerio (age 37) is awarded a hachidan in Sil Lum Kung Fu by Gan Fong Chin.52
Walter Godin (age 36) is promoted to 10th dan by Professor Chow.*
1974– Fred Villari (age 30) promotes himself to 10th Dan due to his creation of ‘Shou Ton Kwok’ 53
1977– Thomas Miyashiro passes away (d. 3/22/77)54
John Leoning passes away. (3/23/77)55
1981– James Mitose dies in San Quentin prison medical center, having been transferred after having a stroke at Folsom prison while serving a sentence for conspiracy to commit murder. (3/26/81)56
1983– Nick Cerio is awarded his 9th dan in Kenpo Karate (not American Kenpo) by Ed Parker. 57
1987-Professor Chow passes away. (9/20/87)58
1991– Masters Self Defense Centers is created. 59
1998– Professor Nick Cerio passes away.
2001 – Walter Godin passes away. (8/7/01)60
2009 – S. George Pesare celebrates his 70th birthday. (2/21/09)
2012 – S George Pesare passes away. (10/14/2012) 61
2017 – Nancy Cerio passes away. (3/5/2017) 62
1.)(Goodin-http://www.tanega.com/seinenkai/art-roots.html), also Uchinanchu: A History of Okinawans in Hawaii
4.)Confirmed by United States Social Security Death Index
6.) Confirmed by United States Social Security Death Index, prison records, and Birth Certificate
7.) On 10/22/1920 according to www.tracyskarate.com
There does seem to be an INS interview that indicates that Mitose actually went to Japan, which can be found online at http://www.sanjosekenpo.com/mitosereturnfromjapan.htm.
13.) Goodin, Charles C., “Mizhuo Mutsu: Unraveling the Mystery.” Dragon Times Vol. 18, 2001, 8-10
14.)Kamesuke Higaonna (also pronounced Higashionna) was the man pictured in Mitose’s 1953 book, What is Self Defense breaking the roofing tiles. He is only referred to as ‘Master of Karate Kenpo’ in the caption for the photograph. The same picture appears in Mutsu’s 1927 book, Karate Kenpo, which Mutsu (along withHigashionna) brought to Hawaii upon his visit, and made available to the Hawaiian students. This is one of several pictures that appear in both books. Coincidentally, when Mutsu returned toJapan, Higashionna stayed for several months, teaching in various locales, including James Mitose’s hometown of Kona. Higashionna returned to Hawaii four times, meeting with Miyashiro each time. Special thanks to Kimo Ferreira of the Kempo Jutsu Kai for sharing this information.
15.)Oahu, Maui, Olaa and Kona on the Big Island. Again, see: http://www.tanega.com/seinenkai/art-roots.html
17.) According to his website, www.karazenpogoshinjutsu.com
19.) One Sei Kosho Shorei website reports that Thomas young stated 1942, but another suggested 1939. According to Mitose’s ‘own’ book, What is Self Defense, he started the Self Defense Club after his discharge from the Hawaiian Territorial Guard. Mitose further states that he entered the Guard in 1941 after the Pearl Harbor attack, so that would imply the 1942 date as more likely.
20.) This information was from a letter written by Thomas Young in 1993. I find it strange that Mitose comes back from Japan teaching a form that did not reach the area he supposedly went to until about 1921, and didn’t even reach Okinawa until about 1760 at the earliest, originating in cities hundreds of miles from his reputed destination, especially since he claimed to be the 21st grandmaster of an old ryu.
21.)This information was provided by Professor Feliciano ‘Kimo’ Ferreira, based on a conversation with Bobby Lowe.
22.) Confirmed via his funeral program
23.)According to www.tracyskarate.com, this happened when he was age 26, i.e. 1940-41
24.) www.karazenpogoshinjutsu.com, also found at George Pesare’s Kaito Gakko, and in Bruce Corrigan’s old essays.
25.) According to Bruce Juchnik’s site, Thomas Young stated that he was Mitose’s ‘First real Student’, and that Mitose taught for only four years, from 1942-46. This would mean that Chow could not have started until at least 1942. See also footnote 19.
26.) Several historians have put forward the idea that Chow only approved, and never created a kata. However, Bill Chun Jr. told me that his father learned Hon Suki from Professor Chow.
27.) According to www.tracyskarate.com and Bruce Haines’ book, there were 6 black belts produced at Mitose’s school. They were, chronologically: Thomas Young, Jiro Nakamura, Dr. Arthur Keawe, Paul Yamaguchi, William Chow (whose certificate is signed by Young), and Bobby Lowe (whose certificate was signed by Chow). This does not explain the existence of one Lisa Chun (Chung) who is a black belt pictured in Mitose’s 1953 book, What is Self Defense.
33.) Letter from Thomas Young to a Sensei Toeniskoetter dated 8/5/93, text courtesy of Dave Hopper.
36.)www.karazenpogoshinjutsu.com, http://simeonegpesare.tripod.com/index1.htm, http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Bench/8528/
42.)Tuesday, February 26, 2002 1:51 PM, KempoList@topica.com, SlvrHwk777@aol.com;”In my discussion with GM Pesare and Carpenter I was told that he had taught Prof Cerio only 3 forms…those he refered to as Pinans.”
44.) This information is presented in the paper ‘History of Shaolin Kempo’ by J. Madriaga and in the History section at the Glastonbury (former) USSD website at www.ussdkarate.com/glastonbury/history.htm. I’m not entirely convinced, as the old (no longer active) Karazenpo site run by Bruce Corrigan listed 22 combinations, essentially identical to the Villari/MSDC/USSD combinations, and he was a student of Cerio before he was a student of Gascon, and to my knowledge, never a student of Villari.
45.) Again the Glastonbury Site – www.ussdkarate.com/glastonbury/history.htm
46.)Certificate at Hanshi Craig Seavey’s Studio, also Interview with Nancy Lee Cerio at Don Rodrigues Karate Academy (8/17/2002)
47.) Hawaiian Fighting Arts Magazine.
48.)This appears to be the beginning of the ‘bad blood’ between GM Villari and the late Professor Cerio.
50.)The history page at www.ussdkarate.com/glastonbury/history.htm states: “ He added all the combinations from 27 to 108, and the forms, Two Man Fist Set, Sho Tun Kwok, Nengli South, Nengli North, Swift Tigers, Invincible Wall, Branches of the Falling Pine, Lost Leopard, Tai Sing Mon, 1000 Buddhas, Five Dragons Face the Four Winds, Snake, Wounded Tigers and Immortal Monkey and the Plum Tree Blocking System. No one knows for sure where this material all came from. Until 1971 the material up to Black Belt comprised the whole of the Karazenpo system”. However, the Two Man Set is the one that Jimmy Woo designed for Ed Parker, and can be seen in Parker’s 1963 book Secrets of Chinese Karate. According to Joe Rebello, Mr. Parker unequivocably stated that he had never taught or even met Fred Villari, so the form must have been obtained (at least) second hand. Swift Tigers appears to be an alternate version of Nick Cerio’s ‘Circle of the Panther’ as seen in his book Nick Cerio’s Kenpo: The Master’s Text . The Plum tree appears to be an expansion of a kung fu blocking set called ‘Plum flower palm blocking’ from a Kung Fu book, Alan Lee’s Kung fu Wushu.
51.) Black Belt Magazine, July 1975
53.)Black Belt Magazine, July 1975
56.)Social Security Death Index, Prison Records
58.)Social Security Death Index
59.)Masterscenters.com, MSDC student manual
60.)Confirmed by his funeral program