-Sigung Thomas A. Elias

Kajukenbo is a blend of Karate Judo/Jujitsu Kempo and Kung Fu or Chinese Boxing which was developed post World War II in Hawaii. There is a ton of historical information you can find on the web. But I would like to give you my perspective on what is truly the first American Martial Art.

The beauty of Kajukenbo lays in its philosophy: “Adapt to the existing environment, bring in what is useful and throw away the rest, but always keep the roots.”

Sijo Emperado (the founder of Kajukenbo) told me: “It’s the roots that creates the system.” Hence, the stem of the Shamrock in the Kajukenbo symbol. Sijo took the Kenpo triad symbol and added the stem to make the now famous Kajukenbo symbol. “It’s the roots, you see, the roots” he said to me when I stole a few brief moments of private conversation with Sijo during one of his visits to Tucson.

This was the answer I’ve been looking for! And it came right from the source, from the founder himself. You see, I had been struggling with the concept of what makes a true system. I’ve ran into too many people who have said to me “Yeah, I’ve created my own style of martial arts.” “Neat.” was my usual response.

At what point does blending of techniques, concepts and strategies become an actual system? When you give it a name? If two or more credible people write things down on paper into some formulized method?

Kajukenbo is an open system, no two schools are alike. My Grab Arts are different from the ones they teach in California which are different from the ones in Mexico and Hawaii. But we all call ourselves Kajukenbo Brothers. Why?

“It’s the Roots!” he said.

A wise man once said, “You can get the eyes of Cleopatra and the body of Alexander the Great and brain of Albert Einstein and put them all together and what do you get? A body sewn together, a Frankenstein’s Monster with no life no spirit.” A collection of dead parts does not create life. And collecting techniques from different styles don’t make a TRUE system.

It’s the roots that make the system. I’m not talking about just the historical lineage. Nor am I talking about the foundation of practice, “The Basics”. That’s all part of it, a very big part of it (subjects deserving of many future blogs).

But I’m talking about the living spirit of the system itself. Any good Kaju instructor will talk about the Spirit of Kajukenbo. When they do listen well, because that’s what makes Kaju alive and a real system.

It’s intangible and hard to explain. But you’ll notice it, one day, when you’re training real hard and completely in the zone you’ll feel something. That something that keeps you coming back. A spirit that is living and breathing and you’ll look at your instructor and he’ll smile at you like he knows what you’re feeling. That’s the Spirit of Kajukenbo, the roots.