Kenpo Karate is a progressive Shaolin based street self-defense system that utilizes linear and circular movements through spherical orbits to incapacitate an opponent or opponents. Kenpo teaches correct body posture, movement and mechanics as it relates to fighting. Like other physical disciplines it takes a thorough understanding of body mechanics, structural alignment and leverage to move efficiently and with effectiveness. Additionally, knowledge of force, timing, footwork, methods and angles of striking, pressing, grabbing, checking, pushing, twisting, squeezing, pulling, and manipulation are also taught.
Unlike sport fighting systems, street systems like Kenpo train at every angle and range of fighting. We use pre-arranged self-defense techniques that give way to free form self-defense movements. These self-defense applications teach us to feel the concepts and principles of applied motion at work. This helps us gain insight into the most appropriate method of defense as determined by the attack.
The ultimate goal of the Kenpo practitioner (aside from avoiding confrontation) is to have the skill to defend against the mass attack, or multiple opponent attacks. Kenpo Karate is one of the only systems that have this as a primary goal of training. Kenpo incorporates every method and range of fighting to attain this objective.
American Kenpo Karate History
The Kenpo Karate system we teach at Poway Kenpo is commonly referred to as American Kenpo Karate, named by Edmund K. Parker, because it is an original system that the American culture has had a major influence on. This system of martial arts has been and is continuing to be developed into a system that fits current fighting methodology, the American mind set and the methods of learning we are accustomed to, plus the freethinking, questioning spirit we are famous (or infamous) for.
There are numerous books on the history of the martial arts evolving from the Shaolin Temple. I will not repeat that whole story because it is already covered extensively in other publications. The history contained here begins in Hawaii where American Kenpo was born. Kenpo is spelled with an 'n' here because we choose to use the linguistic spelling rather than the phonetic 'm' spelling.
Kenpo Karate is a modern, progressive, street self-defense art originally taught in Hawaii by James Mitose who was born in Hawaii but raised as a youth in Japan where he learned his family art of Kosho Ryu Kempo. He returned to Hawaii as a teenager and lived there for many years. His national loyalty was called into question with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. This must have been a very trying time for him but he decided that his loyalty was to the United States of America which had taken him in as one of there own. He began teaching martial arts to the Territorial National Guard shortly thereafter.
James Mitose taught his Kenpo Jiu Jitsu (title of his 1947 book) to, among others, William KS (Thunderbolt) Chow in the 1940's. Professor Chow, as he would become known, combined this new Kenpo knowledge with his previous knowledge from his families Gung Fu art, which he learned from his father, Hoon Chow. He combined all of this knowledge with his experience as a well-known and feared island street fighter and began teaching his Kara Ho Kempo to other local tough guys who wanted to learn how to fight better.
In those days especially Hawaii was a melting pot of many Asian cultures. Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Okinawans, Filipinos, etc. In addition, American military personal and local indigenous peoples found themselves mixing together in the local neighborhoods. With the level of pride these cultures have in their fighting arts one could imagine how much real life testing was going on in those days on the mean streets of Honolulu. Rumor and story has it that those were tough days out of which came some very effective martial arts. Professor Chow's Kempo was respected as one of the most fierce and effective arts to emerge from that era.
Several of Professor Chow's students went on to evolve their own arts or to expand and evolve what the Professor had shown them. Adriano Emperado trained under William Chow then went on to contribute to the formation of Kajukenbo. Nick Cerio and Sam Kuhoa went on to form their own systems using what they had learned from William Chow as their base system. Probably Chow's most well known student was Edmund Kealoa Parker (1931-1990) who went on to form what he called, and we continue to call, American Kenpo.
Mr. Parker's training with Professor Chow would prove to be his calling in life. After high school he attended Brigham Young University in Provo Utah where he graduated with a major in Sociology and a minor in Psychology. He had taught some self-defense courses to other students and law enforcement personnel in the area. Through his connections he received a job offer in Los Angeles. He moved to L.A. where that offer fell through so he decided to open a Kenpo Karate School in Pasadena in 1956.
Mr. Parker's school is said to have been the first martial arts school open to the general public in the country. Others challenge this claim but we can definitely say that his was one of the first commercial martial arts schools in the United States. Mr. Parker was a great practitioner and teacher, but he was also an outstanding entrepreneur. He ran a successful school, formed what would become the largest Kenpo organization in the world (the IKKA) and started what became the largest and most prestigious karate tournament in the country, if not the world, for many years.
The International Karate Championships became the showpiece that launched the martial arts careers of many well-known practitioners who then became entertainers as well, most notably Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. Other well known practitioners whose lives and careers were influenced by Mr. Parker include Jeff Speakman, Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace, Bennie Urquidez, and Dan Inosanto, to name a few. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Mr. Parker's tournament was the seed from which sprang the most influential martial artists of the 20th Century. He is responsible for discovering and/or displaying the talent that would bring martial arts to the mainstream of American society.
For Kenpo practitioners Mr. Parker's greatest gifts are the books that he wrote and left for us to study, analyze, reflect, and learn from. His love of motion is obvious when reading through any of these books. His analytical and organizational skill provides an incredible amount of insight into the levels of learning and discovery contained within Kenpo technique.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Parker passed away before he could complete his video project. He did complete two videos for commercial distribution, one on stances and one on foot maneuvers. The thoroughness with which he covers these subject’s shows how much thought was put in and the depth of knowledge this man possessed. When talking with "old-timers" who trained with Mr. Parker personally there is still this very strong sense of loyalty, respect, admiration and amazement at his abilities, knowledge, and wisdom, he is surely missed.