The Rules and Characteristics of Kenpo
by Jim Hanna


The first rule of Kenpo is proper awareness. All successful self defense is predicated upon this rule. You can not successfully defend yourself if you are not properly aware. It does not matter if you hold a black belt, if you are armed with a weapon, or if you can bench press 400 pounds. If you are not aware, then you will be injured or killed. Only through this, the first rule of Kenpo, is one protected from all of the forms of violence, i.e. direct violence, indirect violence, chance encounter, or reckless/negligent violence. A simple code for reminding us of awareness is the color code of combat. White = relaxed and unalert. Yellow = relaxed but alert. Orange = anticipating a problem. Red = action is occurring. Black = deadly force confrontation.


The second rule of Kenpo is fighting spirit. This rule can be summed up in the epigram: "will beats skill". More properly stated: "will without skill beats skill without will." The development of fighting spirit is absolutely necessary in order to implement any of the physical skills of Kenpo. It involves the "never give up" attitude but extends beyond that to the willingness to cause trauma and even death to an attacker(s). It is the fuel needed to ignite and power a self defense technique during an actual gut check assault.


The third component of Kenpo is physical skill. Physical skill is embodied in and developed through the curriculum of Kenpo. Numerous self defense techniques are taught for a variety of self defense situations. These situations include escapes and counters for grabs, pushes, holds, locks, chokes, throws, punches and kicks. As one's skill develops, escapes and counters to multiple assailants is learned. Next, unarmed defenses against various weapons attacks are learned. These include attacks with sticks, knives, and pistols. At the highest level, spontaneous responses are initiated against any combination of attacks, i.e. multiple attackers with and without weapons. The curriculum of Kenpo not only teaches the "how" of physical skill but also gives examples of the "when". When the techniques are learned and mastered then "ability" is attained. When "ability" is coupled with "awareness" and "fighting spirit" then "capability" is attained. Then through constant practice "capability" is maintained.


Kenpo practitioners use an imaginary clock inscribed on the floor and stand at it's center. This rule instructs one to move out of the center of the clock. The center is where the attacker(s) see you and expect you to be. Simply by moving, something positive has been accomplished. However, there are certain environments where one can not even move from the center. Kenpo teaches responses for those situations also. Understanding and internalizing the clock principle of movement is absolutely critical for self defense. By placing oneself or one's attackers in the center of the clock and then analyzing the angles, answers to many self defense situations are revealed.


1) Kenpo is primarily an upright striking system of self defense. The Kenpo philosophy believes that most assaults begin from a standing position.

2) The second scenario of Kenpo involves the transition from an upright position to a horizontal, ground position. Safely learning how to roll and fall is critical to being able to survive in order to defend oneself.

3) The third scenario is ground fighting. Although locks, holds, and chokes can be used in this form of self defense, Kenpo philosophy dictates that striking and kicking is generally preferable and that it is best to get back to an upright position as soon as possible.

4) The fourth scenario is the transition from the ground back to an upright position. Kenpo philosophy instructs that there is a great potential of jeopardy in trying to get back to one's feet. How to do so safely is the fourth scenario. Any martial art that does not teach these four scenarios is an incomplete martial art.


The sixth characteristic of Kenpo prioritizes the use of unarmed "weapons".

1) Kenpo is primarily an upright, striking system utilizing the hands in various strikes that are executed with precision and speed to multiple specific targets of the human anatomy. This is an important concept for those practitioners who stand a good chance of being attacked by someone larger and stronger. At the highest level of precision striking are the chi cavity strikes.

2) Next in priority comes punching, which is a more generalized form of striking. In the earlier days of Kenpo, punching was ranked first in importance. However, it must be remembered that the hands were toughened and heavily conditioned at those times.

3) Kicking comprises the third aspect of Kenpo but it is limited to approximately 20 to 30 percent of the system and are delivered to low targets such as the knee and groin.

4) Last in priority are the control manipulations which consist of the application of various holds, locks, and chokes that can be used against an attacker. Although these control manipulations can cause serious bodily injury, and, in the case of the various chokes, strangles, sleepers, and neck cranks, even death, the Kenpo fighting philosophy advises that they utilize a lot of energy and time and that it is generally more advisable to strike, punch, or kick than to grapple.


The seventh characteristic of Kenpo instructs a practitioner in how to maximize the power of his or her strikes, punches, and kicks through the proper application of stances, torque, momentum, and body weight. For example, a Kenpo practitioner does not merely punch with the arms. Punches are delivered with the whole body and utilize the explosive momentum that is generated. It is an explosion of energy through an attacker in which the trauma is enhanced even more because of the negative body positioning that an attacker(s) is compelled to oftentimes assume.


Although Kenpo is primarily an unarmed self defense system, the use of weapons is taught. Because Kenpo is a striking system, the application of weapons such as the fist load, knife, and stick are easily learned because they mimic the execution of the unarmed strikes. The philosophy here is that by being trained in the use of weapons, one is better able to defend against those weapons. Kenpo was developed as a "war time martial art". When one finds him or herself in an environment of anarchy, then kenpo is the ultimate response for self defense. The use of weapons makes what was an effective unarmed technique, a devastating, even deadly technique. The war time or anarchy philosophy also allows and even promotes the "first strike" concept, i.e. a Kenpo practitioner will sometimes strike first, hard and multiple times in situations in which his or her life is in great jeopardy.


The healing arts of Kenpo are also raised to the apex of physical skills. At this level the practitioner has learned how to heal and alleviate the trauma caused through training mishaps and actual assaults. The Kenpo practitioner who can cause trauma and alleviate it is a valuable person to have on your side or in your corner.


This is the highest of the high of all characteristics of Kenpo. Some practitioners develop into phenomenal fighters and warriors. Some practitioners develop into phenomenal martial arts scholars, teachers, and healers. Some practitioners develop into phenomenal warriors AND scholars, and then there are the very few who struggle to UNITE the warrior WITH the scholar. Perhaps the union of the warrior and the scholar is mythical, like the Chinese dragon. To use a metaphor, assume that an apple held in the right hand is the warrior and an orange held in the left hand is the scholar. The person holding the two fruits has the warrior AND the scholar. Now cut the two fruits in sections and mix them in the hands. Both hands will now contain mixed sections of orange and apple. However, what is orange and what is apple is easily identifiable. Lastly, puree the two fruits. One can then taste the puree and say "Ah, there is some orange and apple here, but the orange and apple are no longer separate, identifiable fruit. This is the true journey that the Kenpo practitioner undertakes.