“Kenpo is my family’s art.”
On December 30, 1916, in the rural North Kona district of Hawaii, a Japanese couple gave birth to a child they named Masayoshi Mitose. In the years that followed, he adopted the given name James and rose to fame as the man who brought kenpo to the West. James Mitose remained there until October 22, 1920, when he traveled with his sister to Japan and lived under the care of their grandfather.
He learned Kenpo in a large temple on the mountain named Akenkai. He had to clean the temple, swept the floors and served the monks and members before he could receive education. He learned the Kosho-Ryu Kenpo and related philosophical views. James Mitose’s training at the temple included lessons in human anatomy, escaping patterns, energy collection, Japanese yoga and nutrition, as well as a body-contact art that revolved around pushing and pulling skills. He also learned balance, coordination, timing, and concepts of motion and movement.
In 1937, James Mitose set sail for Hawaii, where he planned to start a new life in the nation of his birth. On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, crippling the U.S. fleet. Eighteen ships were destroyed, 300 planes were damaged or destroyed, 2,400 people were killed and 1,100 were injured—all in two short hours. James Mitose decided less than 24 hours after the attack to enlist in the Hawaii National Guard and was honorably discharged after three weeks of service. He then volunteered in a labor battalion. Believing he should do more to aid the war effort, he decided to share his family’s martial art.
James Mitose traveled to numerous martial arts clubs in Hawaii. He adopted the gi and belt system and began teaching Kosho-Ryu Kenpo to the public. At first, he instructed in his backyard, where a couple of students, one of whom was Thomas Young and then encountered the one and only William K.S. Chow.
As James Mitose’s student body grew, he needed to acquire larger accommodations. In 1944 he opened the Official Self-Defense Club, first at the Beretania Mission in Honolulu and then at the YMCA. Its purpose was to convey the true meaning of self-defense to students regardless of rank, nationality or religion. The majority of those who signed up were non-Japanese. James Mitose trained them for law enforcement, military service and a variety of personal reasons.
He taught them how to use tools such as the makiwara board and “kenpo sticks” to focus energy and destroy the evil from within. He would show them an attack and allow them time to reflect on an effective response to it. He stressed the need to perfect balance and technique, and he augmented physical training with lectures on philosophy, respect, humility and situational awareness. James Mitose died on March 26, 1981.