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This form of martial arts can be translated in several ways. Some will call it "fist principles" or "the way of the fist," or even "law of the fist." The first character literally means fist. The second can mean law, method, way, principle or Buddhist teaching.
Kempo is really a potluck of martial arts. Often a combination of Chinese martial arts such as Shaolin Kung Fu with Japanese martial arts such as Karate, Jujutsu (Jujitsu), Aikido, and others. You may see the term "Kempo Karate" which basically means Karate with other disciplines added. In this way, Kempo becomes an adjective rather than a title or school of martial arts.
These facts will long be argued by various masters and students of Kempo. Even the argument as to whether it should be spelled "kenpo" or "Kempo" ensues at dojos around the world (the correct Romaji should actually be "kenpou" if you precisely follow the rules).
The benefit of Kempo is that the techniques are easier to learn and master compared to pure Kung Fu (wu shu). Students are often taught basic Karate moves, kicks, and punches before augmenting the basic skills with complex Kung Fu techniques. This allows students of Kempo achieve a level where they can defend themselves or fight in a relatively short amount of time (a few years rather than a decade or more).
Because the definition of this word is so fluid, I should make some notes here:
1. Purists in Okinawa will claim that "Okinawa Kenpo" or "Ryukyu Hon Kenpo" is the original and true version of this martial art from the old kingdom. There is actually little or no connection between Okinawa Kenpo and the way the word is used elsewhere.
2. In Chinese, where these characters are pronounced "quan fa" (sometimes Romanized as "chuan fa" because the Chinese-pinyin "q" actually sounds like an English "ch" sound), these characters do not hold the connotation of being a mixed martial art. It is simply defined as "the law of the fist."
3. In my Japanese dictionary, it oddly defines Kenpo as "Chinese art of self-defense." I personally don't feel this is the most common way that people perceive the word but just something you should know.
少林寺拳法 is a specific type of martial arts in Japan that claims origins in the Kung Fu practiced in the original Shaolin Monastery of China.
The first three characters mean "Shaolin Monastery" and you might notice the Japanese is pronounced in a very similar way. 少林寺拳法 is because many words were "borrowed" from the original Chinese when Japan did not have a written language and simply absorbed Chinese characters into their language around the 5th century. When a Japanese word did not exist, the Chinese pronunciation was often absorbed as well as the written form.
The last two characters mean "fist law" or "method of the fist." It has long been argued as to whether the Japanese for these characters should be Romanized as "kempo" or "kenpo." The official method should be "kenpou" but it's common to drop the "u" that comes after the "o."
I imagine if you are looking for this title, you already know what it means, so the above is simply extra information that a student of Shorinji Kempo might want to know.
The first two characters mean "fist law" which is Romanized from Japanese as "Kenpo" or "Kempo."
The last two are a secondary way to express "karate."
The more common way to express "karate" is literally "empty hand" (meaning "without weapons in your hand"). This version would be translated literally as "Tang hand" (as in the Tang Dynasty) or "China hand" (sometimes "Tang" means "China" in Japanese). Even though the character for "Tang" is used instead of "empty," it's still pronounced "kara-te" in Japanese.
拳法唐手 is not commonly used in China - so please consider it to be a Japanese-only title.
Many Japanese people will say the last two Kanji are the old and antiquated way to say Karate. This fact does not stop this title from existing, as these four characters are often seen in Kenpo / Kempo Dojos around the western world.
The first two characters mean "karate" - technically they express "empty hand."
The last two express "fist law" which is Romanized from Japanese as "Kenpo" or "Kempo."
That "empty hand" translation can be understood better when you grasp the idea that karate is a martial art without weapons (other than the weapons organic to your body, such as your foot, hand, fist, etc). When you practice karate, you do so with empty hands (no weapons).
Note: There is also an antiquated way to write karate. It has the same pronunciation but a different first character which means "Tang" as in the Tang Dynasty. Some dojos use that form - let us know if you need that alternate form, and we'll add it for you.
Below are some entries from our dictionary that may match your kenpo search...
If shown, 2nd row is Simp. Chinese
|Simple Dictionary Definition|
| quán fǎ / quan2 fa3
ch`üan fa / chüan fa
kenpou / kenpo けんぽう
| boxing; fighting technique
Chinese art of self-defence (defense)
More info / calligraphy:
Kenpo / Kempo / Quan Fa / Chuan Fa
| jiàn bǎo / jian4 bao3
| medical or health insurance
(abbreviation) health insurance
| kenpo けんぽ
|| good walker; (female given name) Takeho
| kenpou / kenpo けんぽう
|| Kempou era (1213.12.6-1219.4.12)
| kenpo けんぽ
|| (noun/participle) carrying on a second line of work
| kenpou / kenpo けんぽう
| xiàn fǎ / xian4 fa3
kenpou / kenpo けんぽう
| constitution (of a country); CL:部[bu4]
(noun - becomes adjective with の) constitution
The following table may be helpful for those studying Chinese or Japanese...
|Title||Characters||Romaji(Romanized Japanese)||Various forms of Romanized Chinese|
|拳法||kenpou / kenpo||quán fǎ / quan2 fa3 / quan fa / quanfa||ch`üan fa / chüanfa / chüan fa|
|shào lín sì quán fǎ
shao4 lin2 si4 quan2 fa3
shao lin si quan fa
|shao lin ssu ch`üan fa
shao lin ssu chüan fa
|Law of the Fist Karate
|拳法唐手||ken pou kara te|
ken po kara te
|quán fǎ táng shǒu
quan2 fa3 tang2 shou3
quan fa tang shou
|ch`üan fa t`ang shou
chüan fa tang shou
Law of the Fist Empty Hand
|空手拳法||kara te ken pou|
kara te ken po
|kōng shǒu quán fǎ
kong1 shou3 quan2 fa3
kong shou quan fa
|k`ung shou ch`üan fa
kung shou chüan fa
|mu shin dou|
mu shin do
|In some entries above you will see that characters have different versions above and below a line.|
In these cases, the characters above the line are Traditional Chinese, while the ones below are Simplified Chinese.
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Some people may refer to this entry as Kenpo Kanji, Kenpo Characters, Kenpo in Mandarin Chinese, Kenpo Characters, Kenpo in Chinese Writing, Kenpo in Japanese Writing, Kenpo in Asian Writing, Kenpo Ideograms, Chinese Kenpo symbols, Kenpo Hieroglyphics, Kenpo Glyphs, Kenpo in Chinese Letters, Kenpo Hanzi, Kenpo in Japanese Kanji, Kenpo Pictograms, Kenpo in the Chinese Written-Language, or Kenpo in the Japanese Written-Language.