Martial disciplines have a history as long as humans have been fighting each other, but they did not start to form into martial arts until around 500 a.d. This is when it is generally agreed that the spiritual side and the “art” were introduced. There are many stories as to how this came to pass and how each version of the art was developed, but (as the title suggests) we are only going to focus on the origins of Kenpo Karate and the lineage that brought us Kenpo Academy.
Our story starts with William K.S. Chow who is credited with starting Kenpo Karate. As Chow grew up his father taught him the Chinese art of Shaolin Kung Fu. Living in Hawaii he met and began working with James Mitose, who taught William Chow Japanese style karate. After receiving his black belt from Mitose, Chow combined the two styles to create Kenpo Karate and opened his own dojo in Hawaii, often choosing to teach in the public park. The most notable of his students were Adriano Emperado and William (Bill) Chun Sr.
The next important figure in our lineage is Grandmaster S. George Pesare who learned the art from Grandmaster Victor (Sonny) Gascon, a student of Adriano Emperado. Pesare is the one that brought Kenpo Karate to New England when he started his school in Rohde Island. It is said that if you learn Kenpo Karate in New England than you either learned it from Grandmaster Pasare, one of his students, or one of there students. All paths lead back to him.
Shihan Lenny learned his style from Shihan Robert Nohelty. Nohelty, like most others, learned from multiple teachers. His teachers include Grandmaster Pesare, Professor Nick Cerio (who also learned from Pesare and eventually created Nick Cerio Kenpo), and Fred Villari (a student of Cerio’s who went on to start another new style named Shaolin Kenpo).
It is important to understand the lineage of your style because whether it is a lot or a little every martial artist adapts the style to fit their personality and body type. These adaptations change what is being taught over time. Much of the lineage, especially before Chow, is passed down by word of mouth and is an oral history. In this same way, the style that is taught is only passed from Sensei to student relying on memory and practice to carry it forward. We as martial artists do our best to remember even the smallest details but over this long game of telephone, it would be impossible for the message to be the same with every new link.