History of William KS Chow by Al Tracy



Dedicated to bringing  you the most authentic documented history of Kenpo possible!

The founders of Kenpo/Kempo
Professor William K.S. Chow

By Al Tracy

Last updated 07/17/09


Hence, during swiftness, be like the wind.
During Stillness, be like the forest.
During aggression, be like fire.
During immobility, be like the mountain.
Be as unknowing as the dark.
Move like a thunderbolt.

Sun Tzu’s
The Art of War


Don’t blame your sinsei/sifu for not giving you this information. The truth is, until recently none of us had it. It was only after years of research that most of the information has been made available.

Check back to this page as more will be added to this section.

William (Thunderbolt) Chow
William Kwai Sun Chow
William K. S. Chow
also known as — William Ah Sun Chow Hoon.

He would eventually take the simple title: Professor Chow!

Race: Chinese/Hawaiian.
Born: Honolulu, Hawaii – July 3, 1914. (He had a younger sister who was also born on July 3.)
Died: Honolulu, Sept. 21, 1987 – 4:15 a.m.
William Chow died of a heart attack caused by hypertension. His remains were cremated. He was survived by his wife, Patsy H. Matsumurea, and one son. The son from an early age studied Kenpo with his father and was a ranked black belt. He did not take over the leadership of Professor Chow’s organization after his father’s death.


Sun Chow Hoon – also known as Ah Hoon Chow. Born in Canton China in 1880, he came to the US (Hawaii) in 1899 at the age of nineteen.

Sun Chow Hoon was married and had a wife and children in China (not giving him much time to become a Shaolin Priest, as others have claimed). He came over as an immigrant laborer and started by working in a Chinese laundry. He would work up to becoming a tailor – a profession he continued all his life. He would go under the name of Ah Hoon Chow in his later years. This had a more formal tone of respect: instead of Hoon, it became, “Mr. Hoon Chow.”


In the past I have been criticized by some for giving the following information. Some claim I should simply not tell anyone. But this one “documented – official government record” show the type of research we have done. We are trying to get to the truth, not “cover up the truth!”

If would have been nice if “Sun Chow Hoon” or his father had been trained in the Shaolin Temple  and was a “Shaolin Priest” and passed that knowledge onto his sons. There is another problem “Shaolin Priests” did not marry! Making it very hard to have children to teach! But none of it is true! Yet we have many who still keep telling and retelling this fable. And with each retelling more and more is added! Unless someone gives you the “documented Facts and the truth” the true history and origin of Kenpo/Kempo will always be a fable.

The following incident gives you a better understanding of the “home environment” William Chow was raised in. Also the police records make it quite plain ‘”Sun Chow Hoon” was not a Kung Fu Master.

Sun Chow Hoon was in jail when William Chow was born; he had been in a “barroom’s brawl” — and it wasn’t “Kung Fu Fighting.”

Sun Chow Hoon’s exact words from official government records:

Question: “When William was born what was your business?”
Sun Chow Hoon: “I no do nothing. That time I get trouble and stay ten months in jail.”

Whatever happened to his wife and children in China?

Another myth exposed:

What happened to the mysterious grandfather (another great Kung-Fu master) from whom both Sun Chow Hoon and William supposedly learned Kung Fu?

A search of the family records shows there never was a grandfather who taught Chow or his father Kung Fu. Sorry all you “history makers” – Ah Sun Chow Hoon never studied nor taught Kung-Fu!


Beside William Chow there were three other brothers who also taught the martial arts. Not one of these brothers ever claimed that their father (Chow Hoon) taught them Kung Fu! Nor did any of their teaching ever contain Kung Fu or any Kung Fu forms.

At the age of 19, Chow Hoon left his first family in China with no one to support them or help work the fields. His was a dream of leaving the poverty of China. Come to the United States and earn enough money to bring his family from China. He never intended to leave his family in China. What he did not know was that the U.S. Immigration policy was so prejudiced against Orientals that no Chinese workers were allowed to bring their families to Hawaii. At that period of time the United States allowed only 300 Chinese to immigrate to the US each year.

For ten years Chow Hoon worked in the laundry and other odd jobs to earn enough money to support himself and still be able to sent some of it back to help support his family in China. Finally Chow Hoon had to make a choice between returning to China and his family or starting a new family in the United States. In 1909 at the age of 29 he married Rose Naehu, a divorced women,  and this union would result in the birth of William Chow.

Before marrying Chow Hoon, Rose knew that he had a family in China to whom he had been sending money for the past ten years. This caused a great deal of concern to Rose, especially as their own family grew and money was hard to come by.

While she was alive, Rose would never allow Chow Hoon to return to China to visit his “other” family. This decision left Chow Hoon with two families. As best as he could he still tried to send money back to China. The bonds of a Chinese family are very tight and Chow Hoon always felt a strong moral obligation to his family in China.


In the Orient the practice of having more than one wife or a wife and any number of concubines were quite common. Even the legendary. Henry S. Okazaki had two wives. On his death certificate there is a box for wife. The box looks as if it had been left blank without any wife named until you see the number (2). Since each box is numbered, we kept going back to the number (2) box — until we realized it referred to his two wives.


In 1928, three years after Rose’s death, Chow Hoon returned to China for a visit to the land of his birth and family. He took all of his boys with him except Willie! None of the daughters went with him.

At this time William (know to the family as Willie) was 14 years of age and refused to go to China. Willie’s formal education may have stopped at the 6th grade but Willie was very “street smart” and a survivor. He knew that by Chinese tradition, being the oldest son, he was 1st in line to take the father’s place as the provider for the family in China.

In time honored Chinese tradition, Chow Hoon, to make up for leaving his family in China with no one to work the fields, left his son, Albert, in China to work in his place when he returned to Hawaii. Nine years later, Albert became seriously ill. With the lack of modern medicine, he died in China in 1937.




Rose Kalamalio Naehu (died in 1925 giving birth to daughter Rose-Marie — named after her mother). Rose had previously been married to a Hawaiian before she married Chow Hoon, but had no children from the first marriage.


Always get official documentation when it is available. Don’t just view it and hope your memory will suffice years later. Get physical copies of all records and have more than one copy made, storing them in more than one location in case of fire, flood, theft or other loss. To protect our records, at least five people have copies of all original documents.

CHILDREN of Sun Chow Hoon

Listed alphabetically – some had four names: American/Hawaiian/Chinese/nickname. Here I have listed only their American names! William Chow was one of 16 children.*


Frank – (Ed Parker’s first instructor.)
Josephine – we were able to get a lot of information from this sister! (She is now deceased)
Mary – adopted


John Ah Chin – (John Chow Hoon) half brothers of William Chow by second wife: Lily Mahu. A student of Sig Kufferath, John was bigger (at 200+ pounds) than his half-brother William. After John was discharged from the military he teamed up with another Hawaiian and wrestled professionally before opening his own studios in the bay area of California. He will have his own story! Besides William Chow, three other Chow brothers would teach the martial arts.


Follow this link to the excellent web site put up by XXX Moro. He give an excellent history of “Goshijotus” covering Henry S. Okazaki:, Sig Kufferath, John Chow Hoon! Highly recommended! A must for anyone interested in History. Note they use the same crest as James Mitose! The family of Kenpo related styles is indeed very extensive.

*Four other children died in infancy. William Chow Sun was known to his family as Willie; this was also the name by which he was known when he first started studying James Mitose.


William Kwai Sun Chow – also known as William Ah Sun Chow Hoon. In later years he would take the humble title of “Professor Chow”. To many (especially in Hawaii) he was simply referred to a the “Professor”. In later years many others in Kenpo would take the title Professor. But to the older generation there was only “One” Professor and that was “Professor Chow”!

William Chow was the third child born and the first son. He was born in 1914. His mother died in 1925. After her death, William dropped out of school at age 11, having completed the 6th grade. He would have no further formal education. With no mother or parental control Willie learned to live on his own, drifting from one friend and relative to another. The oldest sister, Josephine, would assume the responsibility of raising the family. We have a lot of written family history from this sister. No one, including William, knew where he would be sleeping that night.

By today’s standards Willie came from a “dysfunctional family”. One of 16 children he simply got lost in the midst of the herd. It is very obvious that the family, while large, was not very close, at least in Willie’s case. In 1944 at an official government hearing (regarding his citizenship) he was asked as part of the inquiry his mother’s name. He replied; “I don’t know”. He was 29 years old at the time.

William Chow was a great warrior, but he was no general. He had an uncanny gift for remembering every self defense technique he had been taught. But that was not enough, he took each new self defense technique and spent hours working it with different partners practicing and perfecting and refining each technique. William Chow then used the streets of Honolulu, with its endless supply of U.S. military personnel for his final testing ground. Despite his many fights William Chow had few problems with the police. In those days if a GI got into a fight, and lost, he took his licking, kept his mouth shut and was ready for a few more beers and another fight next “payday”!


While he was not very tall (5’2″) he was extremely powerful. His was proven by his great “breaking ability” and his hours of practice on the Makawara. Many masters who knew the professor claimed his “powerful stance” was the root of his power.


William Chow from early childhood was a loner, a fighter. He became an excellent Instructor but he was not a leader. The Professor was a hard man to get to know and because of this he had very few “close friends”. This is one of the main reasons why each of his advanced students would reach a certain level of proficiency and leave The Professor. In his entire life he never created a kata!  To the Professor ***”Kata” was the proper method of doing anything. To him Kata’s were individual self Defense techniques: Waza. As kata started to become important in the 60’s and 70’s, his students would make up their own; they would then explain to Chow the kata’s purpose and meaning. At this point Chow would either give his approval or the kata would die. Since the Katas were not Chow’s he did not learn any of them; as the individual katas were not part of the system, they left with the person who made them up.


***Kata  This is a very prevalent part of Japanese society and culture. Their is a proper way to drink tea, great a guest, eat noodles (yes, you must slurp), die (supura), draw the sword, release the arrow, bow, etc. each done properly is a “Kata”. Without the proper kata each of the above becomes gross, unrefined and many times offensive!

In the martial arts “Kata” (Japanese) has a general meaning of “Formal Exercise” The Chinese use the terms “Sets”, but they lack the deep spiritual meaning of kata!

As for the unfounded claims that Chow was the founder of Kenpo, William Chow did not have the educational background or temperament to develop one of the most complex systems of self defense in the world. William Chow was only 26 when he started studying with James Mitose.

As the full history of Kenpo is told, you will see why William Chow was important in preserving and passing on the “WAR ART” aspect of Kenpo. Kenpo was not the offspring of a single man. It is a complex fighting system that was developed for over 800 years and finally brought to Hawaii in (1937)** by the 21st Great Grand Master James Mitose.

**Not 1936 as most historians have reported.

At an early age Willie learned to survive on the street. Being of mixed ancestry he was not accepted into the Chinese community, nor did he study “Formal Kung-fu”. To the Chinese he was a “half-breed”, which placed him off limits.


Bruce Lee would have this same problem in Hong Kong (his mother was half Caucasian). This made Bruce a “half-breed;” he was ridiculed and taunted by his peers. The problem became so great that his parents finally sent him to the United States. For this same reason his instructor, Yip Man, withheld information from Bruce that was given only to the “Chinese” students.

Bruce Lee’s father was wise in choosing the birth place of Bruce Lee. As a member of the Chinese Opera he made sure his pregnant wife was with him on his tour of the U. S. ; Bruce was born in the middle of the tour in San Francisco. This gave him “triple” citizenship.

  1. U.S. because he was born in the U.S.
  2. British citizenship because his parents were both from Hong Kong.
  3. Chinese citizenship because of his father’s ancestors.

In the future I will have a series on Bruce Lee that covers his time in Oakland. I was there; I had my studio in SF and Bruce had his in Oakland. We saw each other often! The series will be entitled: “Bruce Lee: The Lost Years.” For the first time you will get the true account of his fight with Wong Jack Man, as he related it to me, two days after the fight.


By the start of W.W.II William Chow (age 26) had learned to survive so well that he did not even bother registering for the draft as required by everyone at the beginning of the World War II. William Chow would simply “drop through the cracks of the system”. He finally found his niche in life when he enrolled in one of Mitose’s Kenpo Jui Jitsu classes.

William Chow learned at an early age never be in the wrong place at the wrong time. For this reason he was able to keep out of trouble with the police and — except for a couple of fights — had no police record. With no police record, no social security number and no draft record and no permanent address, Willie Chow did not exist. During the war he found plenty of odd jobs since there was a great shortage of manpower. During this period William Chow and James Mitose would develop a closer relationship than many realized. This did not mean that Chow and Mitose were ever great friends; their worlds were too far apart for them to have much in common except Kenpo. For a period of time Chow actually lived with and worked for James Mitose.

William Chow spent most of his time training with Mitose and hanging out at Henry S. Okazaki’s Jui-jitsu dojo! Okazaki had so many students that in 1936 he had to build his own gym in Honolulu which he called the Hawaiian Jujitsu Guild. The name changed many times, finally becoming the American Jujitsu Institute of Hawaii. Henry S. Okazaki died in 1951. The style is now headed by Sig Kufferath, who has been the source of a wealth of information, as he knew Mitose longer than anyone!


Sig Kufferath is now in his mid 89 and lives in San Jose, California. He is still active in the martial arts and gives seminars. We will be posting his seminars on the Coming Events section. If any of you get a chance, definitely attend one of these seminars. The same is true of Wally Jay (recent heart attack) who came out of the same style and now teaches “small circle jujitsu”.

Historical Note:


Do not take my reporting of facts as criticism of Professor Chow. I’m sure that most of you would prefer the truth. Kenpo’s history is too full of falsehoods, fables, half-truths and out and out lies.


During his life time Professor Chow received very little credit or reorganization for his important role in all the systems based upon Kenpo/Kempo. Outside the Kenpo community he was relatively unknown. None of the major magazines ever gave him any coverage. And his death went relative unreported by any of the magazines except for a mandatory few words. He tolled all his life teaching the arts he loved, but he never made a living at it. He lived most of  in poverty. He never had more than a handful of students. He never had a “dojo” of his own. He taught out of YMCA’s, boys clubs and recreation halls. A few private students he taught in the park.

It can truly be said Professor Chow “taught from the heart”! His warrior spirit never left him! To the Professor Kenpo was a war art. It was pure Martial Arts! The Professor would never compromise! The Professor understood there is no sport in a street fight. He had been in too many! There are no rules, no referees, no time out, no “King’s X”s)! The rules of self defense techniques: simple, direct, fast, powerful, effective.




Shortly before his death, Chow renamed his system KARA – HO – KENPO, so no one would forget that Kenpo is a Chinese art – NOT American. See the section on the history of Kenpo for a deeper understanding of “KARA” – and the origin of the Chinese characters and their meaning!

Tony Verburgt, (Tracy’s Karate of Springfield and Hollister, MO) drew the portraits of all these Kenpo pioneers. In the future these professional portraits will be made available to the Kenpo public. I hope that each Kenpo studio, no matter what your present affiliation, will give this Kenpo master (William Chow) the honor he deserved, but never received while he was alive, by displaying his portrait in your studio. When his portrait is available it will be announced in the GENERAL STORE section! Keep checking for the video release date of “The History of Modern Kenpo”.


I have talked Tony Verburgt into making his talents available to do your portraits in the same style as Motobu, Mitose and Chow to display in your studio along with these other Masters. Tony will need a good photograph to work from (head shots only).

You can contact Tony directly at: TVKENPO@AOL.COM


In the future as we open more web areas, all extraneous materials will be stripped out and put in their own sections. For now this is the best way of getting some of this other information out to you. In the future look for “last revision” dates!

LAST UPDATE 10/21/10