Awakening Fighters

Adriano Directo Emperado


Adriano Directo Emperado is credited as one of the main founders of Kajukenbo. Long before anyone had envisioned the idea of combining different forms of martial arts to develop an eclectic system; and decades before the concept of Mixed Martial Arts ever came into existence, a group of forward-looking men in Hawaii were already keenly practicing the hybrid martial art of Kajukenbo. The name was derived from five original martial arts forms, which comprise the system: Karate (KA), Judo and Jujutsu (JU), Kenpo (KEN), and Boxing (BO).

Sijo Emperado is considered the Father of Hawaiian martial arts and the most influential martial artist in Hawaiian history.


A Lifetime of Dignity and Discipline


While Kajukenbo was actually conceived/conceptualized and eventually created by the joint endeavor of five men who were experts in their own individually chosen system, Adriano Directo Emperado was credited as the main creator of Kajukenbo.


Born on June 15, 1926 to Filipino-Hawaiian parents in the poverty-stricken district settlement of the Palama/Kalihi section in Honolulu, Hawaii, Adriano’s childhood was anything but easy. Growing up in Kalihi was a constant struggle and an education in survival. Besides being part of a big family with seven children, the Emperados lived in an environment fraught with violence. Like most poor neighborhoods in other parts of the world, confrontations and fights were typical scenes that residents witnessed almost daily.

As a young boy, Adriano had to shine shoes to help out with family expenses and he almost always got involved with “territorial dispute” every week. Other boys his age (or even older) would claim his nook and a fight over location would ensue. He had to contend with different boys each week – one after another; it was a case of “fight-or-lose” the spot that would help raise the little extra income for the family. Consequently, Adriano began to understand the meaning of the word “self-defense” early on. He had to start learning how to defend himself at a very young age.


He had some much needed exposure to western boxing when he was 8 years old, as his father and uncle used to be professional boxers. At the age of 11, he lived with his older brother Larry in Kauai and got further training. Although he was more inclined to take part in childhood activities and did not show much serious interest in the training, he still was able to learn the 12 basic strikes and some Escrima movements from a person he only remembered as “Professor Alex”.

He went back to his old Kalihi neighborhood when he was 13 and attended jujitsu classes taught by Professors Murata and Yamasaki at the Young Buddhist Association (YBA). His interest on the jujitsu classes was short-lived though. With renewed enthusiasm, he started his boxing training anew and fought competitively in the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) league. Despite his passion for boxing, Asian martial arts still held a strong appeal to him, so he struck a deal with the judo teacher, Sensei Taneo, at the Palama Settlement Gym. In exchange for judo lessons, he gave Taneo and his son (George) some boxing lessons.


Adriano was drafted into the Army at the age of 19 and participated in the mop up operation in the Philippines at the tail end of the war. It wasn’t until he was 20, after he came back to Hawaii, that he took his training seriously and began his study of kenpo at the CYO in Honolulu, under the legendary Professor William K. S. Chow. Adriano spent several years with Professor Chow with four other young martial artists (who would become the co-founder of Kajukenbo); they trained during the day and taught classes in Chow’s school in the evenings. Adriano became Chow’s first black belt (ranked 5th degree) and the school’s Chief Instructor.

The year 1947 was a turning point for Adriano Emperado; it was the year that would change his life forever. He started expanding his martial arts interests into a different direction and it was then that he and the other four co-founders (Peter Choo. Frank Ordoñez, Joe Holck, and George “Clarence” Chang) came up with the concept of what was to become America’s first Mixed Martial Arts system, and which after three years of development, would be named Kajukenbo as it is known today.

All five martial artists worked together between 1947 and 1949, wrote down all their individual techniques, and combined them to create the distinct Kajukenbo system. When the Korean War broke out in 1949, the four co-founders were drafted into service, and Adriano was left with the choice to continue the system and teach their new art – he was actually the only one who had ever taught Kajukenbo.


With the help of his brother, Joseph, Adriano introduced Kajukenbo to the public and founded the Kajukenbo Self-Defense Institute of Hawaii (K.S.D.I) in 1950. The first school was opened at the Palama Settlement in Honolulu. With the success of the first school, the brothers expanded their reach even more. Joe handled the teaching at the Palama School, while Adriano started classes at the Kaimuki Y.M.C.A. and the Wahiwa Y.M.C.A. The Kajukenbo Self-Defense Institute of Hawaii eventually became the largest chain of karate schools in Hawaii with a total of 14 schools.

Along with the expansion, Adriano also became instrumental in developing karate tournaments in Hawaii, promoting and officiating at several major karate tournaments throughout the islands. He was also a member of the Hawaii Karate Rules Board and among those who formulated and established the standards used to govern the competitions around the islands.


Sijo Emperado, as Adriano later became popularly known (“Sijo” being a title conferred to someone who is a “Founder” or “Master”), did not just sit on his laurels; rather, he continued to work on improving the system. By 1959, he had added more kung fu into Kajukenbo, and the art had shifted into a more fluid combination of soft and hard techniques. From then on, Kajukenbo had evolved into an improvement-based, open form, predisposed to accept any adaptation or modification that works and driven by the principle of transitioning smoothly from one specialty into the next with the purpose of creating optimal response to any situation.


In his lifetime, Sijo Adriano Directo Emperado had seen his Kajukenbo system grow into a major martial art and practiced across the United States and in several other countries. He was considered the Father of Hawaiian martial arts and the most influential martial artist in Hawaiian history. Just about every martial artist had been influenced by his endless creativity and would most likely continue to inspire others in generations to come.

Kajukenbo continues to evolve in the present day, taking in and adopting the different techniques of many martial arts, but never forgetting the principle that the Founder himself had inculcated: defense and self preservation should always be at the core of the system.

The great Sijo Adriano Directo Emperado had indeed left a paramount legacy to the world’s mixed martial artists as he peacefully passed away on April 4, 2009.

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