Difference Between Kempo and Kenpo

Kempo vs Kenpo

Those who are interested in martial arts and have some knowledge about martial arts originating from Japan know that Kempo or Kenpo are the names that are used to attribute to several martial arts. These martial arts are devised to help unarmed people defend themselves against armed opponents. As such, these words are generic in nature and do not refer to not one but many different martial arts. People in the west are often confused between Kempo and Kenpo and cannot decide which way to go. This article takes a closer look at the two terms to find out if there exists a difference between Kempo and Kenpo, or is there no difference and the two are differently spelled variants of the same Japanese word.

Kenpo is a Japanese term used to refer to many different martial arts and is, therefore, a blanket term. The Kanji word for Kempo or Kenpo is made up of Ken, which means fist and Ho which means law. However, when it comes to transliteration, the word is taken as a whole and depending upon the sound, the spellings that westerners arrive at are Kenpo and Kempo. There may be some who, after reading this would be tempted to say that the actual spelling then should be Ken-ho and not Kenpo or Kempo. To such people, it would suffice to say that, in Kanji, when the two different characters are put together, the sound that comes out is neither Kenpo nor Kempo, and it is something in between the two. This makes its comprehension difficult and thus there are people who call it Kenpo and also people who call it Kempo. This should not be a difficult concept to comprehend for English speaking people as they pronounce tough when they should spell it tuff.

It is difficult to explain how an H in kanji becomes P or how an N in kanji becomes M when one tries to transliterate the Kanji word for the martial arts. But the fact is that there is no difference between Kenpo and Kempo and both refer to the same generic word that is used to label several different martial arts that originated in Japan.


There is no difference between Kenpo and Kempo and both refer to the same kanji word that is used for several martial arts from Japan. The difference in spellings has got to do with the way people have attempted transliteration of the original kanji term for Kenpo or Kempo.

  • jimjn

    As I understand the difference, it is in the basic stance.
    Kenpo (Japan and American) is a Horse stance with left foot forward and Kempo (Shaolin Chinese style) is right forward.

    Shaolin Kempo says Right foot out and elbows because it’s the right foot you throw over the horse when getting on and off a horse.

    American Kenpo Says Attention training horse (step out w/ left foot) because
    it’s the Left side of the Horse you get on and off when riding a horse.

    One side is common in Japanese and the other in Chinese systems.

    The Roots of Shaolin kempo are the 108 numbered combinations.

    The Roots of American Kenpo are the named self defense techniques