The Perfected Art of Dirty Streetfighting
by William Beaver, 5th Dan kajukenbo
Originally an article in Karate/Kung Fu Illustrated (February 1992)
The streets of Pacifica, California, where Bob Maschmeier, a high-ranking kajukenbo instructor teaches, are far from the rough and tough ghetto where the art began. Five martial artists, calling themselves the Black Belt Society met in the Palama Settlement on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. They came together in 1947 with only one purpose: to perfect a martial arts system which would allow to survive any streetfight situation.
Peter Y.Y. Choo brought his expertise in the Korean art tang soo do. Frank Ordonez contributed years of experience in se keino jujitsu. Clarence Chang was a teacher of shaolin kung fu. And the fifth member of the black belt society, a master of Chinese kara-ho kempo and Filipino escrima was Adriano Emperado.
After two years of exchanging ideas and techniques, these five martial artists created a street-wise, highly effective combat system which derived its name from the first letters of the styles that comprised it.
KA (from a Korean style of karate) JU (from judo and jujitsu) KEN (From kenpo) BO(from Chinese boxing, kung fu)
Since then this now-familiar style had developed a reputation as "the perfected art of dirty streetfighting," as Sigung Maschmeier likes to call it.
Emperado, the man now generally recognized as the founder, had a rugged childhood in the rough and tumble back streets of Honolulu. His initial martial arts training was in escrima, which later influenced aspects of kajukenbo. Emperado later took up kempo and reached the rank of fifth-degree black belt while studying under William K.S. Chow.
The first kajukenbo school was opened in the Palama Settlement, and operated by Emperado, and his brother Joe. The brutal training that took place there is legendary. Since the goal was to be invincible on the street, the training had to be realistic, and students sparred with full contact. Broken bones were an everyday occurence, and the trauma of training caused some to become sick to their stomachs. The number of students in the school soon dwindled to a dedicated few.
Those who remained developed into tough fighters with a reputation for employing their art in streetfights with very little provocation. Emperado's school turned out several future instructors who would themselves leave a mark on the international martial arts community, including Sid Asuncion, Tony Ramos, Charles Gaylord, Aleju Reyes, Al Dacascos, and Joe Halbuna, just to name a few.
Maschmeier, a direct student of Halbuna, teaches kajukenbo with a two-part philosophy: teach students to survive a streetfight, and encourage them to explore other martial arts, looking for techniques which will make them better fighters. The emphasis on survival is primary in kajukenbo, and in Maschmeier's Coast Karate Studios.
"Anyone can learn to kick and punch, but to teach them how to survive in a violent street situation, you have to develop their animal instinct," says Maschmeier.
The animal instinct is described as a feeling, one which Maschmeier conjures up for himself by imagining someone trying to injure one of his children.
"If you put together the martial artist's knowledge of vital targets, how to strike, and the concentration of power combined with anger and rage at the thought of someone hurting your loved ones, the person can be a devastating fighting machine."
Maschmeier points out that, at least in his school, he teaches the junior students differently than the adults. Children are still taught self-defense techniques, but the training to bring out the animal instinct is not emphasized.
The second factor of the kajukenbo philosophy is the notion of taking what works and not being afraid to try other martial arts styles.
"I tell my students that I try to open doors for them, teaching them as much as I can, but also having them experience other forms of martial arts," says Maschmeier, who regularly takes students to the annual Danzan-Ryu jujitsu camp. Maschmeier himself also studies kyudo, the art of Japanese archery.
"One of the things I like about kajukenbo is that whatever works is acceptable. So the kajukenbo people are exposed to, and use, a variety of things, including karate, judo, kung fu moves, tang soo do kicks, aikido takedowns, and jujitsu joint manipulations."
The goal of the variety is the ability to achieve one objective: surviving a street situation.
Winning A Streetfight
According to Maschmeier, there are several tactics that kajukenbo teaches in order for the martial artist to win on the streets.
ANYTHING GOES: The first thing to remember is to to do anything it takes to win. Even if you have to bite, scratch, and kick, there are no rules. You have to fight like an animal if necessary. The old phrase in the martial arts is "be humble," but be humble only to a point. Be a person because you choose to be, not because you're intimidated.
FIGHT FAST, FIGHT HARD: If you find yourself in a position where you have no other choise but to fight, do it fast and get it over with.
DON'T BE STUPID: Remember that a good streetfighter is as good as, or better, than a black belt in a street situation. Some of the streetfighters go out and fight every Friday night. They know how to take a punch. They know how to use a beer bottle. They know how to use a lot of things and they move like a cat when they fight.
STRIKE WHILE HE ARGUES WITH YOU: If you can hit your opponent while he's in the middle of a sentence or a word, you have the element of surprise. He can't think of two things at the same time.
SPIT IN HIS FACE AT THE EXACT MOMENT YOU STRIKE: Normally, a grown man will flinch because he doesn't like the idea of someone spitting in his face.
USE UNEXPECTED DIVERSIONS AND DISTRACTIONS: An older person can fake a heart attack long enough for the opponent to hesitate and be caught off guard by a couterattack. Surprise is always an advantage.
ATTACK THE MOST VULNERABLE TARGETS: Kajukenbo emphasizes attacking the most vulnerable targets including the eyes, the throat, the groin and the knees.
DON'T STOP UNTIL THE PERSON IS FINISHED: One or two moves may or may not be enough to take a person out. The kajukenbo strategy is to stike or kick a person, get him down to the ground, and then continue until he stops.
The Spirit of Kajukenbo
Although many styles adhere to a near-religious degree of training, oriented towards perfecting character, and in some schools, even attempting to reach some form of enlightenment, kajukenbo, at least as taught by Maschmeier, tends to be more pragmatic.
"Being a little more practical about what I teach, and what I believe the kajukenbo is all about," says Maschmeier, "I'm not saying that meditation or having a religious feeling about martial arts is wrong. I think kajukenbo teaches that you should be nice to people and not hurt people. But at the same time, you can't let someone hurt you."
Maschmeier believes that if there is anything that makes kajukenbo unique as a style, it is both the willingness of the style to evolve and grow, and the old Hawaiian idea of ohana or family. This means that if a person is a member of kajukenbo, he is a member of the kajukenbo family.
But ohana is only half of the kajukenbo spirit. The other half is a fighter's axiom--"Take the opponent out, and go home."