GM Victor "Sonny" Gascon
Sijo Victor ' Sonny
Founder of Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu
All content taken from public internet postings,
and personal interviews with Grandmaster Victor "Sonny" Gascon.
This is the story of one of the original developers of modern Kempo- Sonny Gascon. His contribution to the
system lives on in possibly more Kempo stylists than will ever be known, largely because they themselves don t know the history
of their root. What has kept this story quiet for all of these years is this Master's own desire to remain anonymous and not
add to the historical and still present conflict which reigns among varying Kempo groups. Kempo's history has long been filled
with unique, if not incredible stories. The development of this Martial Art is bursting with tales of infighting, migration,
development, and unique personalities. Almost all of the founders in one way or another have been involved in some sort of
dispute or controversy which spurred them to go out on their own. The most remarkable result from all of this is that we now
have multiple forms or methods of Kempo, all of which seem to have benefited the system as a whole.
Any dedicated student of this Martial Art will be able to tell the legendary story of James Mitose
heir to his familys system. Mitose, born in Hawaii returned to Japan at an early age (Oct 22, 1920) to begin learning the
way of his family. Returning to Hawaii, Mitose is said to have been greatly affected by the wartime strife between the Japanese
and the U.S. As a result, he became one of the very first Asians to open the doors to the Caucasians known as haole’s.
Additionally, it appears that Mitose pioneered the way for allowing women to enter the Dojo and begin training. Although his
training was harsh, his training scheme and severity was no match for the brutal ways of many of his local students. As seniors
of the school, their idea of training was very physical, and many times very bloody. They were always eager to learn anything
and everything that was available - both in Mitose’s school and outside. This openness developed by Mitose led to a
diverse student population, made up of all races of Asian and non Asian descent. This was a very unique situation which was
all but unheard of on the island of Oahu. Previous to this, Chinese trained with Chinese, Filipino with Filipino, and Japanese
with Japanese. Those who were left, mainly "haole" trained with whoever was available. As previously stated, Mitose's school
began the breakdown of these barriers. What few could see at that time, is that this breakdown formed the root for kempo's
diversity and effectiveness.
Somewhere around the age of 30, William K.S.
Chow decided to go on his own.
He had been an instructor under Mitose,
although not the most senior. With him, he brought a young Hawaiian born Filipino by the Name of Adriano Emperado. This was
done not as an offensive act toward Mitose Sensei, but with his permission to assist in the spread of the arts of self defense.
Chow was very wise in his selection, for he had chosen one of the most dedicated and most skilled of the students. Emperado
brought with him a vast knowledge of the Filipino Arts, kempo, and most importantly the knowledge of the streets.
Emperado soon took over the main instructional duties of the school as was appropriate to the time.
He established a very tough and brutal regimen which few could last through. Whenever the students felt that they had enough,
enter Master Chow to deliver the required beatings. This group soon became legendary throughout the islands, and many would
come and seek instruction. However, few would last. Another significant influence at this time was "Nonoy" Emperado's younger
brother, Joseph. Virtually unknown, Joe also added significant aspects in the development of Kempo. Joe essentially became
the stand in for Adriano when Master Chow, and his older brother were unavailable. During his training time with Chow, Adriano
Emperado continued consorting with Martial Artists of all types and styles. He soon began a fastidious friendship with Joe
Holk, Frank Ordonez, Peter Choo, and Clarence Chang, each an expert in a particular Martial Art including Korean systems,
Kempo, Chinese Boxing (Kung Fu), Judo, Jiu Jitsu, and the Filipino arts. Meeting daily for three years, these young men in
their early 20s would continue to evolve their Kempo to the point where it began to implement and employ empty hand leg and
trapping technique of many systems. These were men of multiple backgrounds, representing the ethnic skills from many sources.
Remember, at this time to reveal the martial secrets of one's race was almost considered blasphemous. However, this did not
hinder these brave pioneers of the Martial Arts and they formed the first Kajukenbo "Black Belt Society" which exists to this
Their concern and challenge was defining a Martial Art to beat
all Martial Arts. Their principle belief was if you trained to beat the Martial Artist, the street was no problem. Because
of his level of skill, coupled with his dominant personality - "Nonoy" Emperado was elected as the leader of the group. In
addition, Emperado wished to make this new evolved Kempo available to the general public. All students would be welcome, as
long as they could tolerate the initiation and training. The Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu Black Belt society was named out of respect
for Sijo Emperado.
Emperado began training students in the Nuanu YMCA.
Later he would establish the KArate, JUjitsu/JUdo, KEMpo, and Chinese BOxing (KAJUKENBO) Self Defense Institutes. Although
kempo, Emperado's methodology soon became known as KAJUKENBO to distinguish it from the rest. Emperado adopted the wearing
of Black Uniforms to distinguish his students from the other traditional Martial Artists of Hawaii. Those early years produced
a line of Black Belts which would influence the Kempo world as no one could ever imagine. Among the early pioneer group were
Marino Ttiwanak, Sid Asuncion, Tony Ramos, Joe Halbuna,, John Leoning, Victor “Sonny” Gascon and others. The art
soon spread throughout Hawaii and became known as the most vicious practice of self defense on the islands. Emperado's favorite
saying during these years "the training isn't over until there is blood on the floor." Among the early students to begin spreading
to the mainland was Victor “Sonny” Gascon.
Sonny, born in
1933, was the son of a Filipino sugar cane worker who came to Hawaii in 1926 in search of prosperity. While Victor was a child,
his father ran chicken fights in the back yard. There always were several old and young Filipinos which could be seen playing
sticks during breaks in the fights. Victor especially remembers them showing what Sonny thought was dances or monkey dances,
and empty hand applications. As a child, he thought they were just playing, but later he learned that this was serious martial
arts and developed an interest in learning what he could from these secretive Masters.
Sonny had an uncle by the name of Bernard who was a fairly renowned martial artist who began the education
of the younger Gascon. All of them lived in two houses side by side, one house having 9 bedrooms and the other 3 bedrooms.
Due to close proximity of the family, and the large size, an education in the Martial Arts of some sort was always available.
In 1945 , Sonny began the study of Judo from KAMAKUDO and "Rubber Man" Tagami at the local Japanese church. He studied Judo
for 3 years form 1945-1948 in NOWANII eventually receiving first level certification.
In the early 1950s, one of his neighbors by the name of John “Johnny” Leoning began Sonny's introduction
the kempo system. Henry Papa, Julian "Joe Black" Blacquerra, John Leoning and Sonny would spend days training in this system.
Although not called by the current name at that time, they later would find out it was the Kempo of KAJUKENBO.
Since Sonny was the smallest, it became very advantageous for him to become a quick learner to escape
the inevitable outcome. Sonny's training would last about 4 years until he left for the mainland and enlistment in the U.S.
Air Force. 1952 found Sonny Gascon attending basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. Later he attended advanced training
at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. During this period, he shared his Martial Arts with his new found Air Force friends, and obtained
a slight following of students. Although this fact has remained unpublished to date, it is one of the most significant occurrences
in the history of Kempo and Kajukenbo - this was the birth of these arts on the east coast!
Later Sonny Gascon was assigned to the war zones of Korea attached to the 51st Fighter Squadron "Checkerboards."
While assigned to the war area, Sonny became close friends with a local Korean houseboy. As a result, Sonny was introduced
to the boy s Grandfather who began teaching him Korean and Chinese principles of Martial Arts. Since this training pre-dated
the arrival of Tae Kwon Do, the system was one of soft, smooth movement more attributable to the Chinese Kung Fu Arts than
anything Korean. In 1953, Sonny Gascon was assigned back home to Hawaii.
quickly resumed his Martial Arts studies with the local boys of Kalihi. In 1956, he was discharged from the service and decided
to move to Pasadena, California. Later in 1958, John Leoning came to California and asked Sonny to become an instructor
at the school he would be opening. One evening, while working out, some black belt instructors from Hawaii came to the school.
The word was given to John Leoning and Sonny Gascon that they could not use the name "KAJUKENBO"
or the Kajukenbo patch since they were not paying a required percentage to the home school in Hawaii.
Sonny's first response to this was to tell them the school was not making a profit. They would have
Sonny was told that he needed to pay the money right then. Sonny
invited the Black Belts in for a "work out" - an invitation which they refused claiming that they were just passing a message
along from home.
This began Sonny Gascon's departure from the traditional
Kajukenbo system and his journey to become independent of Martial Arts politics. In 1960 Sonny Gascon removed the Kajukenbo
patch from his uniform and replaced it with the patch of the KARAZENPO GO SHINJUTSU.
KARA- Karate ZEN- the mind arts. PO-Kempo. Go-Shinjutsu- School of self defense. It was not by coincidence
that the patch bore the image of Daruma, the founder of all Martial Arts. This was because Sonny subscribed to Daruma's favorite
saying "to fall seven times, to rise eight, life starts from now" - Sonny was beginning something new. Since Sonny grew up
in the Kalihi district of Hawaii, he was well known among all Kempo practitioners of that time.
One of his neighbors, and close friends would eventually become very famous and begin his own system
- namely, Edmund K. Parker. Because of Sonny's close associations, he was able to continue obtaining the best knowledge from
the myriad of stylists now in California. In those days, Sonny became legendary in the Los Angeles area and was frequently
called upon to demonstrate Kempo in early television shows, and Screen Actors Guild functions. Sonny made a guest appearance
and performed Karazenpo during a taping of Dick Clark s American Bandstand at recreation park in Burbank California.
In this early episode Sonny, Richard “Limo” Tanaka and others can be seen doing all the "original" dances. Sonny
Gascon was one of the few asked to officiate at the first Ed Parker Internationals, where Bruce Lee performed his famous one
inch punch and Martial Arts demonstration. He was the Chief referee at this tournament.
Later,Grandmaster Gascon summoned his Brother-in-Law, Walter Godin, from the islands to help him run the school
. Walter went back to Hawaii a short time later and founded Godin's Chinese Kempo which existed until his death. It is the
only school remaining in the Palama settlement of Hawaii - the founding place of Kajukenbo. It is now ran by his daughter.
Grandmaster Gascon returned to his native Hawaii in 1969, but not before leaving a legacy of Kempo which lives even to this
day. Grandmaster Gascon is the person who brought the kata, combinations, and techniques now seen in many styles of Kempo
throughout the United States. If you are familiar with Kempo/Kenpo descriptions such as the Numbered Kata’s , Statue
of The Crane, Combinations 1 through 26, etc., then you are a direct descendent of Sonny Gascon. Many systems such as Fred
Villari's Shaolin Kempo , Master's Self Defense Centers, United Studios of Self Defense, and even portions of Professor Cerio's
Kenpo are either directly or indirectly linked to Grandmaster Gascon. Shortly before his passing Prof. Cerio asked Grandmaster
Gascon to come to his house and bless the dojo he was building.
Cerio told him that there would be a spot on the wall for Prof. Chow, Edmund Parker, and Sonny Gascon. Although Prof. Cerio
was not a direct student, Sonny Gascon is very humbled and honored that someone as world renowned as Prof. Cerio was thought
very highly of him and his art. Grandmaster Victor Sonny Gascon is still very much alive and active today. In 1998 Grandmaster
Gascon helped to establish the Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu Black Belt Society. Which he heads and is still very much active in.
you can visit the Karazenpo Go Shonjitsu web site at the
following address on the bottom of thei page!