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A perfect day, blue skies, warm sun and a gentle cool breeze–in the shadow of the Hangshan Temple, Kenpo has come home. I stood there thinking “How's that for a little responsibility?”

After all these years and many experiences in the martial arts this is the first article I have ever written myself. Not because I didn't have anything to say, but because any time I came up with a concept I always thought that there was so much more to do and learn before I could bring some kind of closure to the idea. Well, that finally happened during the week of August 22nd 2005 when I was invited by the Chinese government to participate in the first international forum on martial arts. I was requested to give both a demonstration of American Kenpo Karate and give a speech on this related topic to the members and guests of this forum. I brought my top student Trever Sherman with me and together we went to seek out the origin of this life commitment we share with so many called American Kenpo.

We really had no idea what we were going to find, but we were defiantly up for the journey. Arriving in Beijing in the early morning hours and greeted by the government officials we were taken to an amazing hotel called The Purple Jade Hotel for one day in the city then the next day on a 4 hour bus ride to Datong. We went to Datong because just another 40 minutes outside was the destination that would bring an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and ultimately a homecoming of sorts. This is what is referred to as one of the 5 magical places of martial arts in China, and for all intents and purposes the origins of martial arts and Kenpo Karate as we commonly think of it today. Although there are older fighting systems well documented from the Egyptian and Roman eras, the famous Shaolin Temple and the 4 other associated locations are the places sof legend, myth and fact. This truly special place, called the Hangshan Temple, is sometimes referred to as the “hanging temple”.

Well prepared, we began our journey from the hotel in Datong together with 4 other busloads of martial artists from around the world as well as other producers, directors and government officials. Both the city and country side was remarkably similar to Mexico we thought as we motored along wondering how this day would play out. I will never forget the first time we saw the temple, winding around the mountains to a clearing and there it was. It didn't look real at first, placed so high up on the side of a dramatic and steep mountain. Over 1,500 years old, the temple rises over 100 feet into the air from its anchor in the mountainside. It is the only one of the five temples where the three main religions of China are practiced at the same place, not only Buddhism but Taoism and Confucianism as well. Our guide told us that we would return after the presentations to be held in a clearing just ahead. As we turned the last corner we were shocked to see over 12,000 people all waiting patiently for the day's events. Along with the demonstrations of various styles of Chinese Kung Fu there were recognitions by the government and other performances of traditional Chinese song and dance. Overwhelmed somehow comes up terribly inadequate to describe the time, place and emotions. The crowd cheered as we all emptied the busses and made our way to the reserved seats in the front of a red carpeted stage some 60 feet wide and 30 feet deep.

Just prior to this trip, as fate would have it, I had met a wonderful martial artist by the name of Nelson Armstrong who not only is a qualified black belt in his own right, but a Chinese/American martial arts historian. He graciously agreed to give a presentation on his life's work and research during a seminar I conducted in Eureka, California. Because of this and my own research prior to the trip I came to China with a solid concept of our history. As most of our students know the word “Kenpo” is the Japanese term for the same art known in China as “Chuan fa”. In fact they mean the same thing --“fist law”. But what I discovered much to my surprise is that this translation doesn't refer to “the law of the fist” as we often surmise. The fact is that the fist is the protector of the law, it directly refers to the protectors of the Buddhist religion.

History continued >>

Read Jeff Speakman's full biography.
Jeff Speakman