CN: Can you tell us about the founding of the Kajukenbo system?
EMPERADO: In about 1947 while I was still with Chow, I got together with 4 other black belts to train and develop a style of our own. I felt that the Kenpo Jujitsu system that I had learned lacked self defense techniques against multiple attackers or even multiple strikes. We had trained hard and fast to simply block and strike. We were developing the mentality of only facing one strike, and ending the fight with one focused punch. I started to ask myself, what if my attacker throws a number of strikes and kicks at me? What if my one well focused punch doesn't put him down? This is why we got together. We called ourselves the black belt society.
CN: Who were the other members of the black belt society?
EMPERADO: Peter Choo who was a welterweight boxing champion and a Tang Soo Do stylist. Frank Ordonez was a Sekeino Jujitsu stylist, Joe Holck was a Kodokan Judo and Danzan Ryu jujitsu man, Clarence Chang was a Sil-Lum Pai Kung Fu stylist, and of course there was me.
CN: So how did this development process take place?
EMPERADO: Because of the Korean War many of the military barracks and buildings around Honolulu were empty. We would use these abandoned buildings for our training so we could train everyday without distraction. We could train in one building for a while and then switch to another. You have to understand, in Hawaii there is much competition in the martial arts. Instructors would go to other dojo's and kwoon's to see what everybody else was doing. In fact some people would train at more than one school or have their own students on the side even though they were still students themselves. When we were developing Kajukenbo I was still training under and teaching for Professor Chow. Anyway we tried to keep our meetings as secret as possible.
During these training sessions we would take advantage of each others areas of expertise. We worked on ground techniques, Korean style kicks, jujitsu locks and breaks, kenpo hand techniques, and circular kung fu techniques. We tried them on each other, looking for each others weaknesses. A karate or kung fu man was no good if a judo man were to take him down and choke him out. We combined our knowledge into self defense techniques that covered every situation we could think of, including multiple attackers, knife defenses, and club defenses. Two years later when we were finished we needed a name to describe our combination system. Joe Holck came up with the name Kajukenbo. KA for karate, JU for judo and jujitsu, KEN for kenpo, and BO for Chinese boxing(kung fu).
CN: Some people have credited you as being the main creator of Kajukenbo, is that true?
EMPERADO: All five of us created Kajukenbo and we wrote all our techniques down. Because of the Korean War the other four were called to service in 1949. It was left to me to continue the system. I'm the only one of the five who has ever taught Kajukenbo. In 1950 I founded the "Kajukenbo Self Defense Institute of Hawaii Inc.". The first school was at the Palama Settlement in Honolulu.
CN: Tell us about the Palama Settlement?
EMPERADO: The Palama Settlement was a City of Honolulu recreation facility. It had several buildings that housed dance halls, gymnasiums, cafeterias etc. It was set up to serve the needs of the poor people who lived in the surrounding areas. At the time of the founding of the Palama Settlement school you could join the settlement for 10 cents a year and use all the facilities. For Kajukenbo instruction we charged the members 2 dollars a month. For this fee they trained 5 nights a week for 3 to 4 hours.
CN: Did you have other schools also?
EMPERADO: Yes, after I started the Palama school I added schools at the Wahiwa Y.M.C.A. and the Kaimuki Y.M.C.A.. My brother Joe taught at the Palama Settlement school while I taught at the Y.M.C.A.s. Eventually there were 14 schools, the largest chain of karate schools in Hawaii.
CN: So you made a good living teaching the martial arts?
EMPERADO: No, I've never made a living teaching karate. You see we always charged very low fees for our instruction and we taught at Y.M.C.A.s and recreation centers. At the first schools we only charged $2.00 a month. That didn't even pay for belts and certificates. I always worked full time until I had a heart attack in 1982.