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American Kenpo

Early picture of Ed ParkerAmerican Kenpo or Kenpo Karate is a system of martial arts created by Ed Parker, characterized by the use of quick moves in rapid-fire succession intended to overwhelm an opponent. It is largely marketed as a self-defense system, and is derived from traditional Japanese martial art and other martial arts such as Southern Chinese kung fu found in the cultural melting pot of Hawaii.

Parker introduced significant modifications in his art, including principles, theories, and concepts of motion as well as terminology, throughout his life. He left behind a large number of instructors who teach many different versions of American Kenpo as Ed Parker died before he named a successor to his art.

Origins of American Kenpo

The modern history of American Kenpo began in the 1940s, when Great Grandmaster James Mitose (1916-1981) started teaching his ancestral Japanese martial art, Kosho-Ryu Kenpo, in Hawaii. Mitose’s art, later called Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu, traditionally traces its origin to Shaolin Kung Fu and Bodhidharma. Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes punching, striking, kicking, locking, and throwing. Mitose’s art was very linear, lacking the circular motions in American Kenpo.

William K. S. Chow studied Kenpo under James Mitose, eventually earning a first-degree black belt. He had also studied Chinese Kung Fu from his father. Chow began teaching an art, which he called Kenpo Karate, that blended the circular movements he had learned from his father with the system he had learned from Mitose. Chow experimented and modified his art, adapting it to meet the needs of American students.

Ed Parker learned Kenpo Karate from William Chow, eventually earning a black belt, though Chow was later to claim Parker had only earned a purple belt. Others have claimed Parker had only earned a brown belt from Chow, possibly because this was his rank when he started teaching in Utah in 1955. Al Tracy claims that Chow promoted Parker to sandan (3rd-degree black belt) in December 1961.

The system known as American Kenpo was developed by Ed Parker as a successor to Chow’s art. Parker revised older methods to work in modern day fighting scenarios. He heavily restructured American Kenpo’s forms and techniques during this period. He moved away from methods that were recognizably descended from other arts (such as forms that were familiar within Hung Gar) and established a more definitive relationship between forms and the self-defense technique curriculum of American Kenpo. Parker also eschewed esoteric Eastern concepts (e.g. qi) and sought to express the art in terms of scientific principles and western metaphors.

Evolution of American Kenpo

Although there were varying degrees of crossover from one evolving method to another, there were at least three clear and distinct philosophies or styles created by Ed Parker Sr.

Kenpo Karate

Ed Parker initially called his art Kenpo Karate. He started teaching other Hawaiian Islanders attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah in 1954. By 1956, he was teaching commercially in Provo. Late in 1956, he opened a studio in Pasadena, California. He published a book about his early system in 1960. This has been characterized as having a very Japanese influence, including the use of linear and circular movements, “focused” techniques and jujutsu-style locks, holds, and throws.

Ed Parker’s Kenpo techniques were modifications of the techniques taught by William Chow, combined with modifications that incorporated moves from Boxing, Judo, and Lua.

Chinese Kenpo

When Ed Parker embraced the Chinese Arts he began to refer to his art as “Chinese Kenpo.” Based on this influence he wrote Secrets of Chinese Karate, published in 1963, only very shortly after Kenpo Karate. The technical syllabus has recognizable similarities to Hung Gar, Choy Li Fut, and other Southern Chinese Martial Arts, including two forms, Tiger-Crane and Panther (or “Book Set”), and one training practice (“Star Block”) that can be traced back to Hung Gar.

American Kenpo

Elvis Presley, one of the popular student of Ed ParkerParker began codifiying his early understandings of Chinese Kenpo into a distinct and evolving personal interpretation of the art. Here he dropped all Asian language elements and many traditions in favor of American English. During this period, he de-emphasized techniques and principles organized in the same manner as in Chinese and Japanese arts in favor of his own curriculum of forms and techniques. Parker took his art through continual changes. Parker always suggested that once a student learns the lesson embodied in the “ideal phase” of the technique he should search for some aspect that can be tailored to his own personal needs and strengths. Furthermore, Parker’s students learned a different curriculum depending on when they studied with him. Some students preferred older material to newer material, wanted to maintain older material that Parker intended to replace, or wanted to supplement the kenpo they learned from a particular period with other martial arts training.

One of the best-known students of Ed Parker was Elvis Presley.

Belt rankings

Within American Kenpo there is a basic belt system consisting of White, Yellow, Orange, Purple, Blue, Green, Third Brown, Second Brown, First Brown, and First through Tenth Black. Different organizations have different belt systems, for example the WKKA (World Kenpo Karate Association) includes an “advanced” rank for each belt signified by a stripe of the next full belt’s color worn on one end of the belt. and also includes a 3 degree Red belt prior to first degree black. The black belt ranks are indicated by half-inch red ‘strips’ up to the 4th degree, then a 5 inch ‘block’ is for 5th. Thereafter, additional half-inch stripes are added up to the 9th degree. For 10th degree black belt, two 5 inch ‘blocks’ separated by a half-inch space are used.

Source: Wikipedia.Org

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