Evolve to Remain Strong

Part 1: Train Strong to Remain Strong

Adriano and Joe Emperado began to spread their new system of self-defense, KAJUKENBO, by teaching at YMCA’s, graduating more instructors, spreading to neighboring areas in Hawaii, and eventually the art was brought to the mainland United States. Their goal was to “create the most effective street self-defense system and then bring it to the public to learn” (Conway). 

It is said that KAJUKENBO stylists were feared on the streets, but once the system was brought to the mainland, KAJUKENBO practitioners also began to win sparring and forms tournaments. The sparring format in tournaments was easy to prepare for compared to the full contact style found in the KAJUKENBO dojos. Beautiful traditional forms had been brought to the self defense style to enhance the curriculum, as well as develop a student’s focus, discipline, balance, coordination, and overall skill.

Two of the early practitioners of KAJUKENBO were Walter Godin and Victor “Sonny” Gascon.

Walter Godin trained in the martial arts as a child, and as a teenager sought out training in Kenpo after watching the movie “Lightning Karate” with his cousin, Bobby Lowe, who was a student of Kenpo. He tried to join Bobby’s academy but they were no longer accepting students, so he continued to ask around looking for a good place to train. He was referred to a Kenpo school in the Palama settlement, run by none other than Joe Emperado.

At first, Godin was not permitted to train because of an old rivalry between neighboring areas in Hawaii, but he persisted and eventually was accepted as a student. He would go on to become Joe’s protege and apprentice.

In 1961, SiJo Walter Godin and SiJo Victor “Sonny” Gascon would go on to open a school in Burbank, California. They co-developed a revised system of punch defense combinations, weapons defenses, and forms. They named the system “Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu,” an acronym for KARAte, ZEN, and KenPO, Go - meaning five (for the 5 animals of Kenpo), and Shinjutsu – meaning “way of self defense.” 

One of the students at the Karazenpo school was George Pesare. Grandmaster Pesare is responsible for bringing Karazenpo/Kajukenbo/Kenpo to the East Coast. After his initial training in California, he moved back home to Rhode Island and began to teach the martial arts he had learned. Pesare too, added additional forms and punch combinations to the system and also continued his studies with a variety of notable teachers in arts such as Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido.

Grandmaster George Pesare executing a Side Kick.

Grandmaster George Pesare executing a Side Kick.

One of George Pesare’s most notable students was Nick Cerio. Like most of the people we have discussed in this story, Professor Cerio had trained in other martial arts before finding his way to Kenpo/Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu and George Pesare. He went on to study with Grandmaster Pesare in Rhode Island, as well as Professor William Chow in Hawaii. Professor Cerio then began teaching Kenpo at his own academy, before later revising his curriculum, and titling it “Nick Cerio’s Kenpo.”

Professor Nick Cerio (right) training with Professor Chow (middle).

Professor Nick Cerio (right) training with Professor Chow (middle).

Finally, this brings us to my father, Bruce Corrigan. After achieving his first Black Belts in Tae Kwon Do and Judo, SiJo Bruce began the lifelong study of Kenpo under Professor Nick Cerio. Beginning in the early 1980s, SiJo Bruce began augmenting his Kenpo studies with intensive training in Kickboxing and the Filipino Martial Arts. Later, SiJo Bruce began the study of Jeet Kune Do; and in the early 1990s, he began training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

From left to right, SiJo Bruce Corrigan, SiJo Victor Gascon, SiJo Walter Godin, and Professor Nick Cerio at SiJo Bruce's Kenpo school in Virginia, 1994.

From left to right, SiJo Bruce Corrigan, SiJo Victor Gascon, SiJo Walter Godin, and Professor Nick Cerio at SiJo Bruce's Kenpo school in Virginia, 1994.

As a result of SiJo Bruce’s years of experience and exposure to multiple systems, he realized that many fighting systems offered either skills, or a philosophy, which should be used by his method of Kenpo. 

Kenpo provides us with one of the most effective self defense methods against various punches and grabs available. Kenpo also provides our traditional basis and foundation. However, it still had holes. So he formulated his method of teaching, integrating the most effective aspects of the other arts that he studied, and named it FILKENJUTSU KAI. 

The term FILKENJUTSU stands for FILipino Arts, KENpo Arts, and JUdo and Jiu JiTSU Arts. However, as with any name, there are limitations. It is better to look at FILKENJUTSU - Kai as a “house of training” that has as it’s root, the system of KAJUKENBO. In addition, to the root of our system, we add the Filipino arts. The Filipino Arts of Kali, Pananjakman and Panantuken, add a devastating close range defense and attack system – something which had been lost. Additional training in the Filipino methodology of edged and blunt weapons use and defense are ingrained throughout FILKENJUTSU. To this is added the throwing arts taken from Judo, and the ground arts taken from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

My dad further recognized that the methodology used in teaching particular Martial Arts was as important as the martial art itself. In other words: if the most effective aspects of a Martial Art are taught poorly, then those aspects lose their effectiveness. As a result, he based his instructional technique on progressive physical training, mastery of range, emphasis on “aliveness,” significant weapons training, and most importantly, spontaneity.

As you can see, time and time again throughout this story of Kenpo’s beginnings all the way down to Kenpo here in Oak Ridge, TN, the art has evolved with each instructor. This evolution is so important because while it may be fun to talk about “in the old days” or being “old school” you have to evolve your teaching and training methods in order to provide your students with the most effective fighting techniques and the safest training environment.

The only way you can do this is when the instructor himself puts in many years of hard training, then continues to train, and not just in the parts that he personally enjoys, but in all of it. You cannot avoid one area of hand-to-hand combat, or the martial arts, just because it isn’t your favorite. While my Dad began training in all of these arts either before I was alive or when I was just a toddler, he is still out on the mat training them (and not just teaching them). He hits the pads, gets his knuckles hit working sticks, and gets mat burns grappling, on a regular basis.

SiJo Bruce Corrigan teaching a Jiu Jitsu class after Kenpo in the early 1990s. At the time, he would fly to California to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Rorion Gracie as it was not available in many places yet!

SiJo Bruce Corrigan teaching a Jiu Jitsu class after Kenpo in the early 1990s. At the time, he would fly to California to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Rorion Gracie as it was not available in many places yet!

Why? For no other reason then he knows there is always work to be done and improvement to be made.

While I am not in search of arts to fill holes in our method of teaching (it seems as though they’ve all been filled, but I keep an eye out just in case!), I vow to always continue to advance and evolve the curriculum that I and my outstanding team of instructors teach to our students. I can do this by making sure that the people that teach our classes have not only trained martial arts with me from white belt on up, but also by putting every individual that ever steps onto our mats to teach, through an arduous instructor training program that teaches them how to teach. I will never hire someone to teach martial arts at one of our academies that has not been trained by us. 

I am about to start the next group of instructor candidates through this process. So far, five individuals have gone through the training - and they’re all standing right here next to me.

From left to right: Sempai Madelyn Fowler (2nd Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), SiHing Terry Alcorn (3rd Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), Sempai Matt Thomas (Brown Belt in FILKENJUTSU), SiFu David Corrigan (5th Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), Sempai Brittany Corrigan (Black Belt Candidate in FILKENJUTSU), and Sempai Kristie Fox (Black Belt Candidate in FILKENJUTSU). Photo credit to Julio Culiat.

From left to right: Sempai Madelyn Fowler (2nd Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), SiHing Terry Alcorn (3rd Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), Sempai Matt Thomas (Brown Belt in FILKENJUTSU), SiFu David Corrigan (5th Degree Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU), Sempai Brittany Corrigan (Black Belt Candidate in FILKENJUTSU), and Sempai Kristie Fox (Black Belt Candidate in FILKENJUTSU). Photo credit to Julio Culiat.

P.S. - Sometimes people ask why we wear black gis. This was the traditional uniform of KAJUKENBO students! Later, some Kenpo stylists would separate themselves by "piping" their gis with white trim. At PMA, FILKENJUTSU students that achieve the rank of purple belts and up wear black gis, black belts pipe their gis in white, and 5th-degree black belts and up pipe their gis in red.

Works Cited

FILKENJUTSU Student Manual. Bruce Corrigan. 1985

Kajukenbo The Ultimate Self-Defense System. Frank Conway. 1988.