Kempo brings the Far East to the east side
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
At the back corner of Iron Street and East Jefferson Avenue is the 36th Chamber University of Martial Arts, where trainer Aaron Green gives students rare lessons in the art of kempo, a ferocious fighting style that came from the Islands of the Pacific.
Kempo only gained a foothold in the United States over the past several decades. Schools of the martial arts like 36th Chamber University of Martial Arts are evidence of an era of when the East came to the West.
36th Chamber University of Martial Arts’ instructors only take on a modest number of new students interested in learning kempo. The style requires discipline and endurance, as those in practice will be worked through progressively more difficult routines to earn their degree belts.
Few teachers of the style are actively teaching in Metro Detroit, and though the school has relaxed its execution of discipline in recent years, the required training will test a student’s limits.
“You tell yourself I can, because there’s no such thing as I can’t.” says Green of the intensity necessary to train in kempo. “There’s so many countries that even when you translate their words, they don’t have the word ‘try’, and most of the don’t have the word ‘can not’. It’s not in their vocabulary.”
Detroit was a world cultural center after the 1940s, a time when the world began connecting like never before. By the 1970s, many of the ancient arts of the Far East were brought to popular culture in the city, including martial arts movies, yoga and tai chi instruction, and the ancient philosophical and spiritual texts of Buddhism and Confucianism.
During this time of learning Far East traditions, Green began to train.
“I’ve been training since I was eleven, so 38 years,” he says. “I started off in tae kwon do; my parents put me in because it was popular at that time. During the 1970s, of course — it was the Bruce Lee era — martial arts were at every corner like the liquor stores now.
“When my parents put me in, it was because I was bullied a lot in school,” he says. “Even my first two years, I was still getting bullied because I didn’t believe this stuff really worked on the streets. I’m winning in tournaments, first and second place trophies, I’m doing katas and forms, but I didn’t really believe it could carry on to the next level.”
It wasn’t until high school Green realized his ability. Working over a 12-year period he gained a second degree black belt in tae kwon do. By age 21, he had been out of training for a year when he met his kempo instructor, Preston Hosely. He was invited repeatedly to train, but hesitated to do so.
“So finally, after almost a year I go down,” he says, “There were about five or six students on the floor. And they’re working and training, and when he finished sparring with his students he turns to me and says, ‘I ain’t forget about you, come on get on the floor.’ I was like ‘Oh god, this man’s gonna kill me, he’s gonna destroy me in front of his students.’”
The two met on the mat, bowing to each other, and one of the students said “fight!”
“And I just did a roundhouse kick to his head,” he says. “I mean I kicked him, ‘blaow!’ and I said ‘he’s really gonna kill me now.’
“He said, ‘good one, all right, come on.’”
This lesson stuck with him Be patient with students and know it is their duty to challenge the instructor. This is an example of the philosophy and the physicality of kempo in practice.
“I was impressed because he never went on ego. Because of the fact he knew what he had. So once I got (kempo) in my blood, no other art existed.”
Green’s responsibility to the head instructor of the 36th Chamber University of Martial Arts, Duwat Muhammad, is to ensure the knowledge of the art does not deviate from any of the original forms. The elder master must be certain his apprentice can maintain the roots of the practice, which date back to India in the 5th Century BC.
“Find peace; find calm. When you can do that, when there is a little turmoil going on, you’re able to stay calm because you’ve already been through those kind of conditions.”
Green explains that martial arts training is great for developing focus with children, who often struggle with this because of their interactions with technology. He teaches a martial arts curriculum at Murphy Middle School on Detroit’s west side.
Kempo is a martial art designed for defense, like keeping bullies in line, but those in practice will develop confidence in themselves and find the best defense is more about not fighting than it is about fighting.
“For me, I believe it’s more of the aura, more of the energy,” says Green. “Because I’m not going out there with this arrogant attitude, I’m humble. Everybody doesn’t understand that energy, that projection.”
36th Chamber University Of Martial Arts is located at 227 Iron Street, Suite 122, Detroit. For more information, call 313.544.6221.