THe History of Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu
The history or Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu and it's founder, Victor "Sonny" Gascon has largely been quiet and mostly known to those who study it. However, what should be known is that Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu and Sonny Gascon have played a larger role in the development of modern Kempo what many may think. Some of the more well known systems of Kempo and their founders can trace their roots back to this system and it's founder.
So why has there been such a silence over this system and it's contribution to the world of Kempo?
The answer is rather simple, it has been the desire of its Master to remain anonymous and not add to the historical and still current conflicts which surround more commonly known Kempo groups.
Kempo's history has long been filled with unique, if not incredible stories. The development of this Martial Art is bursting with tales of infighting, migration, development, and unique personalities. Almost all of the founders in one way or another have been involved in some sort of dispute or controversy which spurred them to go out on their own. The most remarkable result from all of this is that we now have multiple forms or methods of Kempo, all of which seem to have benefited the system as a whole.
Any dedicated student of this Martial Art will be able to tell the legendary story of James Mitose heir to his families system. Mitose, born in Hawaii returned to Japan at an early age (Oct 22, 1920) to begin learning the way of his family. Returning to Hawaii, Mitose is said to have been greatly affected by the wartime strife between the Japanese and the U.S. As a result, he became one of the very first Asians to open the doors to the Caucasians known as haole’s. Additionally, it appears that Mitose pioneered the way for allowing women to enter the Dojo and begin training. Although his training was harsh, his training scheme and severity was no match for the brutal ways of many of his local students. As seniors of the school, their idea of training was very physical, and many times very bloody. They were always eager to learn anything and everything that was available - both in Mitose’s school and outside. This openness developed by Mitose led to a diverse student population, made up of all races of Asian and non Asian descent. This was a very unique situation which was all but unheard of on the island of Oahu. Previous to this, Chinese trained with Chinese, Filipino with Filipino, and Japanese with Japanese. Those who were left, mainly "haole" trained with whoever was available. As previously stated, Mitose's school began the breakdown of these barriers. What few could see at that time, is that this breakdown formed the root for kempo's diversity and effectiveness.
Chow had been an instructor under Mitose, however he was not the most senior. With him, he brought a young Hawaiian born Filipino by the name of Adriano Emperado. This was not done as on offense to Mitose Sensei, but rather with his permission to assist in the spread of the arts of self defense. Chow was wise to select this student as he was the most dedicated and most skilled of the students. Emperado brought with him a vast knowledge of the Filipino arts, kempo, and most importantly knowledge of the streets.
Emperado soon took over the main instructional duties of the school as was appropriate to the time. He established a very tough and brutal regimen which few could last through. Whenever the students felt that they had enough, enter Master Chow to deliver the required beatings. This group soon became legendary throughout the islands, and many would come and seek instruction. However, few would last. Another significant influence at this time was "Nonoy" Emperado's younger brother, Joseph. Virtually unknown, Joe also added significant aspects in the development of Kempo. Joe essentially became the stand in for Adriano when Master Chow, and his older brother were unavailable. During his training time with Chow, Adriano Emperado continued consorting with Martial Artists of all types and styles. He soon began a fastidious friendship with Joe Holk, Frank Ordonez, Peter Choo, and Clarence Chang, each an expert in a particular Martial Art including Korean systems, Kempo, Chinese Boxing (Kung Fu), Judo, Jiu Jitsu, and the Filipino arts. Meeting daily for three years, these young men in their early 20s would continue to evolve their Kempo to the point where it began to implement and employ empty hand leg and trapping technique of many systems. These were men of multiple backgrounds, representing the ethnic skills from many sources. Remember, at this time to reveal the martial secrets of one's race was almost considered blasphemous. However, this did not hinder these brave pioneers of the Martial Arts and they formed the first Kajukenbo "Black Belt Society" which exists to this very day.
The challenge they posed to each other was simple, create a Martial Art to beat all Martial Artss. The principle belief was if you train to beat the Martial Artist, the street is no problem. "Nonoy" Emperado was chosen to be the leader due to his level of skill and his dominant personality. In addition, Emperado wished to make this new evolved Kempo available to the general public. All students would be welcome as long as they could tolerate the initiation and training. The Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu Black Belt Society was named out of respect for Sijo Emperado.
Emperado began training students at the Nuanu YMCA on the island of Oahu. Later he would establish the KArate, JUjutsu/JUdo, KEMpo, and Chinese BOxing (KAJUKENBO) Self Defense Institutes. Although kempo, Emperado's methodology soon became known as KAJUKENBO to distinguish it from the rest. Emperado adopted the wearing of Black uniforms to distinguish his students from the other traditional Martial Artists of Hawaii. Those early years produced a line of Black Belts which would influence the Kempo world as no one could ever imagine. Among the early pioneer group were Marino Tiwanak, Sid Asuncion, Tony Ramos, Joe Halbuna, John Leoning, Victor "Sonny" Gascon, and others. The art soon spread the throughout Hawaii and became known as the most vicious practice of self-defense on the islands. Emperado's favorite saying during these years, "The training isn't over until there is blood on the floor." Among the early students to begin spreading this system to the mainland was Victor "Sonny" Gascon.
Sonny Gascon, born in 1933, was the son of a Filipino sugar cane worker who came to Hawaii in 1926 in search of prosperity. While Victor was a child, his father ran chicken fights in the back yard. There were always several young and old Filipinos which could be seen playing sticks during breaks in the fights. Victor especially remembers them showing what he thought was dances or monkey dances and empty hand applications. As a child, he thought they were just playing, but later he learned this was serious martial arts and developed an interest in learning what he could from these secretive Masters.
Sonny had an uncle named Bernard, a fairly renowned martial artist, who began the training of the younger Gascon. All of them lived in two houses, side by side, one house having 9 bedrooms the other having 3 bedrooms. Due to close proximity of the family and the large size and education in the Martial Arts or some sort was always available. In 1945, Sonny began the study of Judo from KAMAKUDO and "Rubber Man" Tagami at the local Japanese church. He studied Judo for 3 years from 1945-1948 in NOWANII eventually receiving first level certification.
In the early 1950s, one of his neighbors John "Johnny" Leoning began Sonny's introduction to the kempo system. Henry Papa, Julian "Joe Black" Blacquerra, John Leoning and Sonny would spend days training in the system. Although not called by the current name at that time, they later would find out it was the Kempo of KAJUKENBO. Since Sonny was the smallest, it became very advantageous for him to become a quick learner in order to escape the inevitable outcome. Sonny's training would last about 4 years until he left for the mainland and enlist in the U.S. Air Force.
1952 found Sonny Gascon attending basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Later he attended advanced training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. During this period he shared his Martial Arts with his new found Air Force Friends and obtained a slight following of students. Although this fact has remained unpublished to date, it is one of the most significant occurences in the history of Kempo and Kajukenbo - this was the birth of these arts on the East Coast of the United States!
Later Sonny Gascon was assigned to the war zones of Korea attached to the 51st Fighter Squadron "Checkerboards." While assigned to the war area, Sonny became close friends with a local Korean houseboy. As a result, Sonny was introduced to the boy s Grandfather who began teaching him Korean and Chinese principles of Martial Arts. Since this training pre-dated the arrival of Tae Kwon Do, the system was one of soft, smooth movement more attributable to the Chinese Kung Fu Arts than anything Korean. In 1953, Sonny Gascon was assigned back home to Hawaii. He quickly resumed his Martial Arts studies with the local boys of Kalihi.
In 1956, he was discharged from the service and decided to move to Pasadena, California. Later in 1958, John Leoning came to California and asked Sonny to become an instructor at the school he would be opening. One evening, while working out, some black belt instructors from Hawaii came to the school. The word was given to John Leoning and Sonny Gascon that they could not use the name "KAJUKENBO" or the Kajukenbo patch since they were not paying a required percentage to the home school in Hawaii. Sonny's first response to this was to tell them the school was not making a profit. They would have to wait. Sonny was told that he needed to pay the money right then. Sonny invited the Black Belts in for a "work out" - an invitation which they refused claiming that they were just passing a message along from home. This began Sonny Gascon's departure from the traditional Kajukenbo system and his journey to become independent of Martial Arts politics.One of his neighbors, and close friends would eventually become very famous and begin his own system - namely, Edmund K. Parker. Because of Sonny's close associations, he was able to continue obtaining the best knowledge from the myriad of stylists now in California. In those days, Sonny became legendary in the Los Angeles area and was frequently called upon to demonstrate Kempo in early television shows, and Screen Actors Guild functions. Sonny made a guest appearance and performed Karazenpo during a taping of Dick Clark's American Bandstand at recreation park in Burbank, California. In this early episode Sonny, Richard “Limo” Tanaka and others can be seen doing all the "original" dances. Sonny Gascon was one of the few asked to officiate at the first Ed Parker Internationals, where Bruce Lee performed his famous one inch punch and Martial Arts demonstration. He was the Chief referee at this tournament.
Later,Grandmaster Gascon summoned his Brother-in-Law, Walter Godin, from the islands to help him run the school . Walter went back to Hawaii a short time later and founded Godin's Chinese Kempo which existed until his death. It is the only school remaining in the Palama settlement of Hawaii - the founding place of Kajukenbo. It is now ran by his daughter. Grandmaster Gascon returned to his native Hawaii in 1969, but not before leaving a legacy of Kempo which lives even to this day.
Grandmaster Gascon is the person who brought the kata, combinations, and techniques now seen in many styles of Kempo throughout the United States. If you are familiar with Kempo/Kenpo descriptions such as the Numbered Kata’s , Statue of The Crane, Combinations 1 through 26, etc., then you are a direct descendent of Sonny Gascon. Many systems such as Fred Villari's Shaolin Kempo , Master's Self Defense Centers, United Studios of Self Defense, and even portions of Professor Cerio's Kenpo are either directly or indirectly linked to Grandmaster Gascon.
Shortly before his passing Professor Cerio asked Grandmaster Gascon to come to his house and bless the dojo he was building. Professor Cerio told him that there would be a spot on the wall for Professor Chow, Edmund Parker, and Sonny Gascon. Although Professor Cerio was not a direct student, Sonny Gascon is very humbled and honored that someone as world renowned as Professor Cerio was thought very highly of him and his art.
Sadly, on December 6, 2013 Grandmaster Gascon passed away. Until that time he presided as the head of the Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu Black Belt Society which he helped establish in 1998.