The Mike Montego series takes place in the early 1960s. Mike is a highly skilled kenpō martial artist. Not an unusual feat today, but a half-century ago, the cross-cultural (Ryukyuan, Chinese, and Japanese) self-defense system was relatively unheard of in the United States.
In the U.S., kenpō is often referred to as kenpo karate. The most widespread styles have their origins in the teachings of Great Grand Master James Mitose, who learned the kenpo art in Japan from his grandfather, Sakuhi Yoshida, and Professor William Kwai Sun Chow.
Professor “Willie” Chow trained in “kenpo jiu-jitsu” under Mitose. However, Chow called it Go-Shinjutsu, sometimes spelled Go-Shinjitsu.
The American east coast features a branch of kenpo created by Nick Cerio, and later built upon and redefined by Fredrick J. Villari. who brought the hybrid art of shaolin kempo karate to the general public through his nationwide network of “Villari’s Martial Arts Centers.” The Villari system integrated the strengths of American kenpo with the larger scope of movement and grappling available in shaolin kung fu and chin na, to create a highly unique American kenpo offshoot system.
Kenpo karate is, therefore, a distinct form of kenpo, although its techniques are virtually indistinguishable from Mitose’s kenpo jui-jitsu. The difference is mostly in the katas, or training routines. There were no katas in Chow’s kenpo karate, while kenpo jiu-jitsu has four katas: Nihanchi 1 and 2, the Bear Kata, and the Old Man Kata.
In the Montego series, Mike practices an Okinawan form of kenpō that focuses on empty handed/open-handed striking. His teacher, Yoshi Kono, a fictional Japanese master, learned the skill in his native Okinawa.
Mike Montego’s stories parallel the time when Edmund K. Parker, a student of Chow, was employing a blend of Chinese circular movements and hard linear movements to produce an effective self-defense system. He created techniques with names such as Thundering Hammers, Five Swords, Prance of the Tiger, and Flashing Mace to provide a memorization tool to his students.
Ed Parker, in early 1962, changed the style he had been teaching since 1956 in his “Kenpo Karate” studio in Pasadena, and renamed it “Chinese Kenpo,” dropping “karate” from the name of his system, even though he continued to issue belt certificates under the Kenpo Karate Association of America (KKAA), an organization he founded.
The practice by others of this distinct form of martial arts is not mentioned in the Mike Montego series for literary purposes.
For more information on kenpo, see Wikipedia, where one can find Will Tracy’s “The Origin of Kenpo Karate,” a fascinating history .