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Johnson keeps kicking

Eric Avissar/ The Observer Grande Ronde Kung Fu and Karate School founder Ken Johnson, right, provides instruction to Isabel Brooker on how to effectively land a kick during training Wednesday. Johnson currently has 35 students in the school. (ERIC AVISSAR/The Observer)
Eric Avissar/ The Observer Grande Ronde Kung Fu and Karate School founder Ken Johnson, right, provides instruction to Isabel Brooker on how to effectively land a kick during training Wednesday. Johnson currently has 35 students in the school. (ERIC AVISSAR/The Observer)

Johnson takes two world titles in Las Vegas

Since moving to La Grande in 1991, Ken Johnson has held numerous martial arts world championships and has never lost a title match. Johnson has fought competitively since 1969, and never had to pull out of a competition until his most recent one at the International Martial Arts Councils World Championships June 27-29 at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. 


While holding championships in three of the four events taking place, Johnson won kickboxing and Pointe Kumite, which was the one he did not hold at the time. In the semifinals of Kumite Continuous, Johnson tore his hamstring and pulled out of the remainder of the competition.

“Although it was disappointing to pull out, it could have been a lot worse,” Johnson said. “I could have separated the muscle or torn out my knee. I just feel blessed to still be competing.”

Johnson, who earned a ninth-degree black belt in Dec. 2013, said he was inspired to open the Grande Ronde Kung Fu and Karate School after he won his first world title.

Johnson took home his first world title in 1991 at the Shaolin Kung Fu Championships, and was completely unsure of what to do next.

“The next day after winning was the worst day of my life because I had already accomplished everything I sought out to do at the time,” Johnson said. 

Johnson then spoke with his former martial arts instructors, asking them what he should do next and how he could repay them for everything he learned. The answer to both questions was the same: Pass on your knowledge to others. Thus, Johnson found a new outlet as a Kajukenbo instructor. Formed in 1947 in Hawaii as the first mixed martial art created in the United States, Kajukenbo blends karate, judo, ju-jitsu, kenpo and chinese boxing together.

“Kajukenbo is a hybrid method of combat, not an art,” Johnson said.

As the owner of Racom Radio Communications, Johnson added that he is a scientifically minded person who is focused on teaching his students more important skills than the ability to fight.

“There are no secrets in martial arts,” Johnson said. “All martial arts is just applied biomechanics. Being a scientifically minded person, I like to break things down specifically and scientifically.

“The biggest thing we teach kids are leadership skills and not being afraid of getting singled out. I want kids willing to be apart from the crowd instead of being a part of the crowd. That gives them such a big jump in life.”

Johnson, 53, has 45 years of martial arts experience, and said he’s only awarded five of his students black belts in Kajukenbo, as his students must earn a black belt in each of the five branches first.

One of Johnson’s students to receive all five black belts is United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Mike Dean. Johnson said Dean went to Iraq as an intelligence officer in 2004, earning a bronze star for ensuring none of his approximately 400 troops were killed in combat. He was also the intelligence officer for the entire 43rd battalion, and ensured none of the 2,000 men under his supervision died due to a combat-related incident. 

Throughout his experiences as a Kajukenbo instructor, Johnson said he enjoys watching the transformation his students undergo.

“I often have shy kids that come in that are being picked on and have a lot of personal troubles,” Johnson said. “However, pretty soon you’ll see them standing in a group of 30-40 people telling them what to do. Kajukenbo is definitely a lifestyle. No one ever leaves this program as the same person they were before because everyone changes. The students see themselves as having responsibility for their situations.”

Johnson added that one of the biggest misconceptions in martial arts is that people how to hurt others. 

For the full story, see Friday's issue of The Observer



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