William Kwai Sun Chow (July 3, 1914 – September 21, 1987, AKA William Ah Sun Chow Hoon) was instrumental in the development of the martial arts in the United States, specifically the family of styles referred to as kenpo/kempo.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii he was the third of sixteen children and first son born to Sun Chow Hoon (AKA Ah Hoon Chow) and Rose Kalamalio Naehu. Chow's father came to Hawaii at the age of 19 and worked in a laundromat as a laborer. His mother was of Hawaiian descent. One of his brothers, John Chow-Hoon, would also become a well–known martial artist. Chow left school at age eleven from the sixth grade.
Training and lineage
Chow studied several types of martial arts as a young man, likely including boxing, wrestling, jiujitsu, and karate. Though he stood no more than 5’2” tall, he was well known for his powerful breaking techniques. Chow eventually studied “Kenpo Jiujutsu” or “Kosho Ryu Kenpo” under James Mitose. As he progressed it he often tested them against US military personnel in street fights. In spite of this, Chow did not run afoul with the law.
William Chow became one of five people awarded black belts under Mitose. Chow's black belt certificate was signed by Thomas Young, Mitose’s senior student and instructor.
Chow had a reputation for being a tough instructor, although this quote from Nick Cerio seems to indicate that the intent was to train, not to harm:
I got banged here and there with the old man, but not in a malicious way, Chow was tough and gave you a good strong workout. He was adamant about physical conditioning and when he did a technique, he meant business. I believe he didn’t have the intention of hurting you. It was just that he was so powerful and quick that he didn’t realize himself how much damage he did when he demonstrated a technique on you.
Creation of Kenpo Karate
In 1944 Chow began teaching what he called “Kenpo Karate” at the Nuuanu YMCA in Honolulu. As Mitose had never combined his kosho-ryu style with karate, this was a departure for Chow. His many students included Edmund Parker, Joseph D. and Adriano D. Emperado, Ron Alo,Abe KAMAHOAHOA, Bobby Lowe, Ralph Castro, Sam Kuoha, Matias Ulangca Jr, Bill Chun Sr., John Leone, William G. (Billy) Marciarelli (Kachi/Kenpo), Vernon Kam, and Paul Pung. He did not create or perform any kata but focused more on individual techniques.
Spread of Kenpo Karate
William Chow’s legacy grew as kenpo spread to the United States mainland with Parker (American Kenpo), Ralph Castro (Shaolin Kenpo), Adriano Emperado and his students (Kajukenbo, Karazenpo go shinjutsu) and later with George Pesare founder of the East Coast branch of Karazenpo/Kempo and his student Nick Cerio, who was instrumental in bringing kenpo to students in the eastern United States. Ron Alo was one of the first to bring Kara-Ho Kempo to the mainland, teaching Chow's art in Southern California before developing his own Alo Kenpo system.
In spite of his heavy influence on the martial arts in the United States and his many notable students, Chow never had a dojo of his own, often teaching in the park and is thought to have lived in near poverty much of the time. Cerio once stated, "He was a very cautious individual who had no business sense whatsoever." Chow referred to his style as an “War Art” and focused largely on techniques that he felt worked in the streets.
Shortly before his death in 1987, Chow renamed his system Kara-Ho Kempo. Chow died of a cardioventricular accident due to hypertension.