History > Who's Who in Kajukenbo

Grandmaster Rick Kingi


John Bishop:

Grandmaster Rick Kingi (in his own words)  Part 1

I never thought I would still be teaching, but here I am forty-two years later, year 2004 and I’m still teaching and loving it!  First, let me introduce myself.  My name is Ricardo Jiro Kingi, better known as Rick Kingi.  I stand just under 6-feet-3 and weigh about 220 pounds, and of African-American, Japanese and Portuguese descent.  I am a 9th degree grand master in the art of Kajukenbo.  I was born on April 18, 1946 in Los Angeles, and did my growing up in Los Angeles and Bakersfield, California.
In 1962, I started my journey in the art of Kajukenbo when I was sixteen years old, in Los Angeles, California, under the now legendary 9th degree Senior Grandmaster Carlos Bunda.  I also had the pleasure of training under the late John Leoning, who was Carlos Bunda’s instructor, and also the late Si-gung Dave Kawashima.  These three men have made such a big impact on my life.  They were excellent martial artist, smooth, fast and powerful, yet they had such a gentle spirit and a humble nature.
The late John Leoning was the first Kajukenbo instructor to bring Kajukenbo to California in 1958.  John had trained under Adriano Emperado and his brother Joe Emperado.  Adriano Emperado is one of the five founders that created the style of Kajukenbo, and is now living near San Diego, California.

How It All Started
I started Kajukenbo with my two older brothers, my twin brother and six of my friends.  Since we were all good street fighters, we knew that Kajukenbo was the style for us, because it was a hard style that practiced street fighting.  Our class was 3 hours long and our instructor made us squat in a low horse stance for the first half-hour.  The basics, foot work, forms and proper technique were strongly emphasized, and we fought with physical contact with no protective gear.  Often the lights were turned off, and we had to fight each other in the dark with our bare knuckles, which was part of our training.  It was common to have black eyes, busted lips, cracked heads and swollen fingers and toes.  We had no mats, just a hard floor.  Every class was a grueling three hours long.  A person would have to have the determination and endurance to get through the continuous pain and the boredom of doing the same exercises hundreds of times over.  We had to do hundreds of push-ups, sit-ups, kicks, blocks and punches.  Then we had to “street fight” and spar.  Every class was like a test!  

The color of our gi’s are black, but back in those days, gi’s only came in white, unlike all the different colors and styles you see today. We had to dye our white gi’s black.  Since our gi’s were black, all eyes turned towards us whenever we walked into a tournament to compete.  It was like, “there comes the bad guys!”  There were only white traditional gi’s at that time.  So it was very obvious when we walked into a tournament, since we were the only school that wore black gi’s.  The color of Kajukenbo belts in those days were only white, purple, brown and black; unlike the added yellow, orange, blue and green belts of today.

At home, we trained seven days a week, and fought at night in the garage with no lights on for hours.  We would fight all day and all night.  It was fun, because we never knew when we would get attacked around the house by each other.  That kept us on our toes, and helped us to be aware and alert at all times.  

I was the only one that continued with Kajukenbo and earned my black belt in 1968.  Back in those days, it would take about 6 years to become a Kajukenbo black belt.  Just before I became a black belt, the world famous boxing trainer Eddy Fudge, who trained heavy weight champions, Joe Frazier and George Foreman, saw me at the Hoover Street gym and was impressed on my boxing skills and speed.  He wanted to train me, but my wife wouldn’t have it.  She didn’t want a husband with cauliflower ears, she said.

A Family Affair
After I received my black belt in 1968 from then Sifu Carlos Bunda, I began teaching Kajukenbo in my father-in-law’s garage in Bell Gardens, California.  I was Sifu Carlos’ first black belt.  My wife was one of my first students along with her brother and a few friends from work.  In the early 1970’s, I taught in my brother’s garage in Los Angeles.  By the way, Kajukenbo started in Hawaii in 1947 in a garage.  

I had no idea at that time how long I would stay with it, but now it is a large part of my life, along with my family.  My wife Elaine is a 6th degree black belt and has been training with me for the past thirty-two years.  She was among the first group that I promoted to black belt.  All of my four children are also my black belts, and have been training since they were very young.  Currently, my eldest son Rick Jr. is a 3rd degree black belt, my son Ronnie is a 5th degree black belt, my daughter Kimberly is a 2nd degree black belt, and my youngest son Robert is a 4th degree black belt.  Robert has been training ever since he took his first steps, which was twenty-one years ago.  My children grew up and trained in my school not “by choice,” but because they “had to!”  It made them the fine individuals and excellent martial artist that they are today.  Now, my five grandchildren:  Jasmine, Victor Jr., Rhea, Gina and Shelli are my students.  I am so very proud of all my children.

Our First School
In 1981, I opened up my very first school, Kingi’s Kajukenbo at 209 N. La Brea Avenue, Inglewood, California.  Anyone today, who came from that school is considered, “old school!”   My students practiced hard and fought hard, and when they became black belts, they knew they royally earned it!  No matter if my student were going up for yellow belt to black belt, they had to work for it!  For their test, they had to do all their requirements for that particular belt, along with everything they learned from the first day they started.  The test consisted of doing all their basics, foot work, punches, blocks, strikes and kicks at least ten times each, (right and left side), forms, grab arts and punch arts, traditionals, rotations, knife and stick techniques.  After they were exhausted, and left with little energy, they each had to “street fight” where “everything goes,” and point fight against three different students or black belts.  At the end of the test when they were presented with their new belt, they were each punched or kicked in the stomach by all the black belts that were there for the test.  The test was long and grueling, lasting at least four to five hours long.  That was and still is a “tradition” at our school.  It wasn’t unusual for someone to have a fractured nose, broken rib, bruised body, cuts, black-eyes or bloody and busted lips.

It’s been 23 years since I first opened up my doors in Inglewood, California.  Now, I am teaching in Los Angeles, California and still going strong.  I have promoted over 60 students to black belts since 1981.  Up until 1998, I worked my regular job by day and taught Kajukenbo in the evenings.  Now, I am retired from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (M.T.A.), after driving a bus for 24 years, so I can devote my time to teaching Kajukenbo, while enjoying my other love of golf and NHRA drag racing.  I also enjoy camping with my family and friends.

Kim Kingi:
That's my daddy!   ;D

John Bishop:
GM Kingi (Part 2)

My teaching philosophy and approach
I still teach like I was taught.  I still emphasize and stress the importance of good foot work and basics, and doing forms (kata).  In order to be a good martial artist, you must have good basics.  If your basics and foot work aren’t right, then your forms and self-defense techniques won’t be right.  I never judge a student by whether he wins or losses in a match.  I judge a student by his ability to show good basics, good foot work, good technique and good form.  A good martial artist should possess all of these.  Without good technique, a person will lack the power, speed and effectiveness to execute a move.  That goes for doing self-defense techniques, forms and fighting.

We teach students:  Forms (Kata), Self-defense Techniques, Technique Sparring, Tournament Fighting (Kumite), Knife and Stick Techniques, and Street Fighting.  Mentally, Kajukenbo will teach you discipline, respect, concentration, patience, self-control, courage, self-confidence, perseverance and humility.

In the “old days” as I mentioned earlier, we had no protective gear.  Times have changed, now I have my students wear protective gear sometimes when they spar.  I don’t always have them wear their gear, because it will only give them a false sense of security, because in “real-life,” they will not be wearing it out on the street.  At our school, we hit very hard and can take a good punch.  We don’t deal with a lot of philosophy; we deal with “reality” and “practicality” in our training and teaching as Kajukenbo was created to be.  I always say, “if you can’t take a hit at our school, then you won’t be able to take a hit out in the streets; and everyone is going to get hit, it’s how you react to that hit that will determine the outcome.” 

I have won a lot of tournaments in my days, but I tell my students that I don’t measure their worth by winning a trophy in a tournament.  I tell my students that I would rather them win a street fight than any tournament.  By the same token, I tell them to do everything they can to avoid a fight if possible, and that it takes a much stronger person to walk away from a fight than to fight.  But, if it can’t be avoided, and it’s to protect yourself or your loved ones, use whatever you have learned.  I also tell them that it’s more important to get good grades in school than winning any trophy at a tournament.  I tell them that getting a good education will help them to succeed in life, and will benefit them for the rest of their lives.  Martial arts is really to improve oneself.  Once a person overcomes his fear of being in a fight or being hit, he’s not going to be intimidated.  He’ll develop self-confidence that will help him challenge himself, and overcome fears and limitations.

My students
We teach children, and women and men of all ages.  We have many people who come through our doors.  People hear about our school by “word of mouth.”  I have students that were children when they started with me and are still with me now.  Now, they bring their children to me so I can teach them.  I guess that’s what keeps me “young!”

We have the reputation of producing excellent martial artist, as well as helping children at risk and children with discipline problems, or other problems in their home or in their school.    Many times, parents will come to us, because they are having problems with their child either at home or at their school.  We help correct those problems 99.9% of the time.  We, along with one of our instructors, Dr. Lorenzo Brown, stress to the children the importance of getting a good education.  We collect the children’s report cards, and we give each child an award and recognition for their A’s, B’s, and E’s.

We are all one big family at our school.  It’s not just a karate school, we are “FAMILY.”  We all socialize after class……laugh, tell jokes and have fun.  Our school is like their “second” home.  We have annual summer picnics, Halloween parties with games for the children and adults, a costume contest and piñata breaking, and our Christmas party is one of the main events of the year.  We have lots of food, a talent contest and talent show, which only gets better every year.  We also have our own live DJ who happens to be our nephew Tony Kenji.  He is “DJ Dense” on the radio station 100.3 The Beat.  He’s our DJ at our tournament that we host every year.  We are the only school that has a “DJ” at tournaments.

If I could do anything to help make Kajukenbo stronger, it would be to find a way to unite the branches of Kajukenbo, and to help keep the tradition of Kajukenbo as it was created to be.  The system of Kajukenbo has grown so much since it came to the United States from Hawaii in 1958.  There is now a host of Kajukenbo schools across the United States, not to mention in many countries throughout the world.

I would like to acknowledge and thank my instructor, Senior Grandmaster Carlos Bunda for all the “hard work-outs,” and for teaching me Kajukenbo.  I am where I am today in Kajukenbo, because I was fortunate to have learned from the best!  Thanks to my wife, Elaine, my children:  Rick Jr., Ronnie, Kimberly and Robert for all your help and support.  Also, my senior black belts, Professor Keith Straughter, Si-gung Lucius Safford, Si-gung Cliff Sumida, my nephew Sifu Danei Gordon, and Sifu Rochelle Jordan, just to name a few who have helped me through the years.  And last, but surely not least, I thank all our friends, students and the parents of our younger students who have always put their faith and trust in us to teach them.  I thank you all for your love and support.

That's my pops!  It has been a privelidge and honor to train under my dad.  I can honestly say I have not been to any other school that do things the way we do.  In addition we have tried our best to uphold the tradition and traditional style of hard work and the original style of techniques, katas and self defense techniques as taught in the beginning.  When you get your black belt (or any belt for that matter) in Kingi's Kajukenbo....YOU EARNED IT! ;D

an excellent track record


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