Kajukembo was founded in 1947 in Oahu, Hawaii at the Palama Settlement, by Adriano Emperado and three other martial artists, who made a secret pact to create a street fighting combination of their arts. This foundation includes Western Boxing, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Kenpo, Eskrima, Tang Soo Do, and Kung Fu. The founders of Kajukembo wanted to develop an art that would “make them invincible in the most difficult streets of Hawaii.”
Emperado had a very difficult childhood living in Honolulu. He was born to Filipino-Hawaiin parents in the poverty stricken Palama/Kalihi section of Honolulu. Like many poor areas, the Palama/Kalihi district settlement was a violent place to live. Confrontations and fights were a daily occurrence. Because of this Emperado started his self defense training at the age of 8. His father and uncle were professional boxers and at the age of 11 he learned the 12 basic strikes of Escrima. Then at the age of 14 he came back to his old familiar neighborhood in Palama. There he trained in Judo under Sensei Taneo at the Palama Settlement gym. Then at the age of 20 Emperado undertook serious study of Kenpo at the Catholic youth organization in Honolulu. These classes were taught by the legendary Professor William K.S. Chow. Emperado trained daily with Professor Chow and soon attained his first black belt. He would eventually be promoted to 5th degree black belt by Professor Chow.
In 1947 Emperado and some of his martial artist friends came together and called themselves the Black Belt Society. They began training together and exploring the weaknesses of each martial art in order to develop a fighting style that suited not the ancient warrior, but the modern American citizen. Kajukembo was created to fight against the common criminal.
In 1950 Adriano Emperado and his brother Joe introduced Kajukembo to the public by opening the Palama Settlement School. The training there was notoriously brutal; Emperado’s philosophy was that if someone was afraid of pain they would be defeated the first time they were hit. Their goal was to be invincible on the streets, so the students sparred with full contact.
In 1959, Emperado continued to add more Kung Fu into Kajukembo, shifting the art to a more fluid combination of hard and soft techniques. Since then Kajukembo has continuously evolved, willing to accept what works in real life situations. The art slowly began to grow in popularity, and soon Emperado had 12 Kajukembo Schools in Hawaii. Three of his black belt students brought Kajukembo to the mainland in 1960, and many of Emparado’s students have a long history of victories and championships all over the world. Adriano Emperado died on April 4, 2009.
Modern Kajukembo has more grappling techniques, and incorporates joint locks, combination attacks, and multiple attacker defenses. While it does include some competitive elements, its primary focus is on realism and practicality. It is generally thought that “unfair” moves like groin strikes and eye gouges are perfectly acceptable as is whatever else the practitioner feels is necessary to get home that day.
Master Greg James earned his black belt in Kajukembo through Grand Master Emperado. He is true to the spirit of Kajukembo that Emperado intended, and he uses his Kajukembo when training military and law enforcement. For us at the Agoge Martial Arts Academy, our Kajukembo has always been based on real life practicality.