Hawaii, Birthplace of Kempo Karate in the U.S.


Professor Christopher N. Geary - Hawaii, July 2005 Today is Friday, July 29, 2005. A little over a week ago I returned from Hawaii, where I received the martial arts "School of the Year" award from the Hawaii Martial Arts International Society. Shihan Steiner and Melvin Muhammad (the senior assistant instructor at my school) accompanied me on this trip to paradise. The plane ride took a long time, but luckily we didn't have many problems with traveling. I had never seen bluer water in all of my travels throughout the world. It was nice to spend some time in Hawaii, and I felt at home as we explored the birthplace of Kempo/Kenpo in the United States. We spent most of our time in Hawaii relaxing and enjoying the beautiful weather. Shihan Steiner had been stationed there when he was in the Air Force, and it was nice to have someone with us who knew his way around the big island.

We spent a lot of time walking and driving around Honolulu. Our hotel was located about a thirty-second walk from Waikiki Beach bordered by Diamond Head just east of the downtown area. We walked along the strip and visited many stores. It was fun seeing stores like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Chanel. We had an opportunity to visit many historic sites, including Pearl Harbor (home to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial Museum), the Dole Plantation, the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, and China Town, among others. At the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii we enjoyed looking at some old Kempo photos.

For dinner the first night, we went to a place called the Royal Yakiniku where I had some of the best clams I had eaten in a long time. In the doorway of the restaurant we saw some photos of Steven Seagal and Jackie Chan taken with someone who must have been the owner of the restaurant. We had breakfast most of the time at a place called Keoni that had beautiful mermaid statues. Every morning that we ate there, at least one of us had fresh pineapple.

Professor Jaime Abregana, Jr., the Founder of the Hawaii Martial Arts International Society, and Professor John Pagdilao, the Society's Co-Founder/President, met with us to present the "School of the Year" award to me. The award was presented to me at the Palama Settlement (built in 1896), a site of historical importance to the development of Kempo in Hawaii. I was very surprised to also receive a diploma honoring me with the rank of seventh-degree black belt with the title of Professor (this title is usually given at the rank of eighth-degree black belt). Professor Abregana explained that as of July 2005, fewer than ten people in the history of the Hawaii Martial Arts International Society had received this rank/title. He said that the society had done a background check on me, and based on my outstanding accomplishments, credibility, and commitment to the martial arts he had decided to recognize me as a seventh-degree black belt and award me the prestigious title of Professor. I was standing on the steps of the Palama Settlement with Professor Abregana when he gave me the diploma, and when I told Shihan Steiner to come over and look at the diploma he was amazed to see the title. Melvin Muhammad was the first person to ever call me Professor, and it felt very strange.

After taking some photos, we went in back of the Palama Settlement to talk and work on some techniques. Professor Abregana talked about the goals of the Hawaii Martial Arts International Society and about different Kempo masters he had met or had heard about over the years, while Shihan Steiner and Professor Pagdilao spent some time working on techniques.

We learned that the area surrounding the Palama Settlement is rich in historical significance for martial artists. A block away from Palama is Auld Lane, where Adriano Emperado lived when he taught at the Palama Settlement. Emperado created the art of Kajukenbo, a style centered in Kempo/Kenpo with techniques contributed by several other martial arts experts from Karate, Judo, and Jujitsu. Adriano Emperado was a student of James Mitose and William K. S. Chow. To provide some historical perspective on these famous people, I need to explain that James Mitose began teaching in Hawaii in the late 1930s and was one of several individuals who were credited with bringing Kempo Karate to the United States. Also located near the Palama Settlement is the gym where Walter Godin taught until his death. Walter Godin was a co-founder of Sijo Gascon's Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu and a student of William K. S. Chow.

Professor Abregana gave me quite a bit of information about the history of the martial arts, including some interesting stories about the people who helped establish Kempo/Kenpo in Hawaii. He told me about people who were promoted legitimately and those who were not. Professor Abregana also talked about his work in television commercials and films in the United States and Mexico. He has been involved in films such as "Transformed," "The One," "Collateral Damage," and "Showdown." His career in show business has brought him into contact with celebrities such as Jackie Chan, Antonio Banderas, Robert Chapin, Jennifer Lopez, Chow Yun, Jet Li, and others. Professor Abregana mentioned that he was currently producing an A & E documentary, titled "The Gateway," about the history of the martial arts in Hawaii.

As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, I don't pay much attention to "he said, she said" stories. I don't really care either way when people, in general, talk about all kinds of martial arts history, good and bad. Over the years, I've learned to cut through the hype. I will say, however, that after soaking up the atmosphere and culture in Hawaii, talking with Professor Abregana, and hearing stories about martial artists throughout the years, I came back to Omaha with a better understanding of the development of Kempo/Kenpo and the martial arts in the United States. It was interesting to find out what was really going on in the old days and how so many truly believed that they had all of the answers. Then, as now, things were blown way out of proportion. People heard only part of the story-the part that other people wanted them to hear. In the end, though, history will always tell the truth.

For a lot of people involved in the martial arts in the past and present, it seems like everything is always about money. In my opinion, it all really comes down to how martial arts schools treat their students and instructors. The focus should be on helping each person learn and prosper to become a more confident and inspired individual. If people focus on the wrong things, the bad karma will catch up with them eventually.

On August 1, 2005, Professor Abregana sent me an e-mail referring to the updates that were made on my website about the Hawaii trip: "Aloha Chris, You did a great job and I'm so proud of you and all of what you did and what you are doing! I'm so honored to have met you and so is John. We'll talk more soon about the board for the society as I'm tied up at this time with production meetings and deadlines. Take care my friend! Jaime."

One day later, on August 2, 2005, I was again awarded the title of Professor by Hanshi Lou Angel. After hearing about the rank and title that had been presented to me by the Hawaii Martial Arts International Society, Hanshi Angel had decided to support their decision by presenting me with a title he had awarded to only one other person prior to myself.

Soon after I returned from Hawaii, Russ Dunham sent me the following note describing the treatment he has received as a student. Positive feedback like this tells me that I'm on the right track:

"I decided it was time for me to get back into Karate. I found Christopher N. Geary's Shaolin Kempo Karate on the web and was impressed by the information I found about the school and its founder Professor Christopher N. Geary. His background and certifications were very impressive, but in the past I've met people who say they have the certifications and then are unable to back it up in real life. I called him on the phone and after talking with him decided to attend a class to see what his school was all about. I had attended classes at two different community centers in the past and knew this time I wanted something more organized."

"When I attended a class, my first impression was great. Everyone I met at the school was very friendly and helpful. Unlike my experience in the past, I did not feel judged for being out of shape. Professor Geary asked someone to help me out by teaching me the basics, and he also demonstrated them for me. He made it look so easy and natural, and I felt confident that in time it would become easier for me also. Later in the class after seeing Professor Geary demonstrate some advanced moves, I could easily see the difference between him and the instructors who had taught me in the past. Here was a man who demonstrated a mastery of Karate and an ability to transfer this knowledge and technique to his students that I had never seen before. This confirmed that I had found what I was looking for: someone to learn from who truly has the real-world ability to back up and surpass his certifications and title."

On July 25, 2005, a couple of days after getting back from Hawaii, I received a reply to an e-mail that I had sent out to all of the USSD schools a while ago inviting anyone who was unhappy with their current organization to contact me:

"Greetings Mr. Geary; I received your Email a while back and was reluctant to contact you until now. I have been training for about 17 years and teaching for about 6 years. My rank is Nidan through United Studios of Self Defense. Recently I have been basically banished from the company and would like to continue training and hope to re-open a school in the Las Vegas area. If you are interested, please let me know. Thank you for your time in this matter. Chris Ashton."

The e-mail from Chris Ashton made me think about the stories I had heard in Hawaii and my own experiences with various martial arts organizations. It seems that power struggles, egos, and money have created some of the biggest challenges for martial artists of the past and present. I believe the future of the martial arts will be determined by people who can rise above the crowd and take a broader perspective on what can be accomplished.

Along these lines, I learned that on August 25 Professor John A. Pagdilao was promoted to the rank of 10th Degree Black Belt, with the title of Grandmaster, by members of the West Oahu Martial Arts Academy and Tsyyoi Bazuko Kenpo Karate Club of Hawaii. Professor Pagdilao received the honor in recognition for his personal dedication to his students and fellow martial artists, as well as his public commitment to his community. He has 48 years of expertise in the Martial Arts fields of Judo, Kung Fu, Kenpo Karate, and Mixed Martial Arts. Professor Pagdilao began teaching at the Civil Defense Tsunami Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, in 1966.

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