Special Event: Ohana Reunion in Grand Junction CO - March 18, 2017
A white paper is a certain type of report that is distinctive in terms of purpose, audience, and organization. It is written to help explain specific issues and provide information to enhance the readers knowledge on the subject.
Like many martial artists who take time to write, I do so to clarify my own thoughts as much as I do to share them. I don't expect everyone to agree with what I have to say and if you don't you're certainly welcome to write and tell me why. On the other hand, if you do agree with me you're welcome to write me as well. Either way, I hope you do find some value in my opinions.
A Case for Consistency: In some ways, I think Mr. Parker was his own worst enemy, when it came to creating a . . .
martial art that was based on consistency. On one hand he created a standard practice manual - then he personally taught many of his students to do the material differently.
On a personal note, I spent years searching for “the” way to do our techniques and forms. Then one day, in the early eighties, Mr. Parker sent me a thick packet of his most recently revised technique manuals and a videotape of Jim Mitchell performing all the material from yellow through black. Now, although Mr. Parker isn’t seen on the video, he can be clearly heard calling out the basics, techniques, sets and forms. You can hear him telling Jim to do the techniques slowly and at full speed. He asks that the camera zoom in to show detail and asks for additional angles. I was so excited to, at long last, have the final authority on Ed Parker’s Kenpo.
Then I noticed Jim doing unfamiliar moves within well documented techniques and forms. I would freeze the video and scramble to look up the moves in question. Sure enough, Jim was doing a fair number of things differently from how they were outlined in the manuals. How could this be? I had the most recent manuals available and a video tape that came in the same envelope - but the material already didn’t match. Damn, so much for “the” way of doing things.
Some time after that, when I'd had the opportunity to spend more time studying with Mr. Parker, I realized that he wasn't teaching everyone how to do things differently, but teaching everyone how to do "the same thing" differently. It was never about the techniques, but the principles that the techniques are based on that was important. I understand that now, but even with this realization in mind, I still teach "by the book". Not the one I got in the mail back in the early eighties, but the one Mr. Parker gave us just before he passed away. I find it to be consistent with earlier manuals, but more descriptive in terms of how techniques are executed and how the principles are applied.
But there's also another reason I teach from the book. I like knowing that I can visit other "Ed Parker" Kenpo schools and their material will be very similar to my own. To me, Kenpo is more than a fighting art, it's what I enjoy doing and sharing with other people. Having consistent material among schools makes it easier to share and interact with one another.
When Larry Tatum ran the West Los Angeles studio, we had a constant stream of Kenpo men, and women, from all over the world coming in to work out with us. The same thing was true for Mr. Parkers Pasadena studio, which was run by Frank Trejo. Although Larry and Frank are very different when it comes to their individual style of Kenpo, they were both teaching from the same manuals, making interaction between us and our guests not only possible, but enjoyable.
On the other hand, I recently visited a school where the material was so vastly different than what I teach, that it wasn’t even like being in a Kenpo school. I never went back, because the only thing we had in common is how we spelled Kenpo. I’m not saying they weren’t teaching Kenpo, because they were. But because they had chosen to deviate so far from the manuals, our two versions of Kenpo just weren’t compatible.
Mr. Parker wanted to create an internationally uniform system of Kenpo that you could start learning in California and continue learning in Texas, New Jersey, or Ireland - without having to relearn your material every time you moved to, or visited, a new school. This doesn't mean we can’t go beyond the base material, as outlined in our manuals. Of course we can, and we should. Mr. Parker said many times that we should expand our knowledge and grow individually. When someone asks me how a technique is done, I sometimes say, this is how it's done, and this is how I do it. What I keep consistent is the curriculum I teach, not the way I personally perform every move. I believe that Kenpo is in the principles, not in the specific techniques we use to learn those principles, so a person could make up all new techniques and forms and still be teaching Kenpo. I just don’t see any reason to do so.
To me it’s like playing baseball; you could give someone four strikes instead of three and it would still be baseball. But it would also be more difficult to play with other teams, who have chosen to stick with the standard three strikes and you’re out rule. I don’t think adding more strikes to baseball would make it better. I think it would just make it different. To me, changing the system all around, without really creating anything new, is like rearranging all the letters in the alphabet and calling it a new language.
So, until someone really comes up with a better system of teaching the principle of Kenpo, than Ed Parker did, I guess I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.
A Lesson in Humility: In 1982, while teaching in Caracas, Venezuela I met a man by the name of Rodolfo Rodriguez . . .
He was the Venezuela black belt fighting champion and number one student of my friend Oscar Gonzalez. Oscar’s school, in Caracas, was quite large and had approximately 600 students, so to be the number one student was quite an accomplishment.
During the weeks that I was teaching at Oscar’s school I learned as much as I taught and probably more. I taught them Ed Parker’s Kenpo and they taught me the true meaning of humility. Although the lessons were many, I’d just like to tell you about one.
As I have stated, Rodolfo Rodriguez was a guy who had paid his dues. A superb black belt who had not only earned the respect of everyone is his school but in his community as well. A good looking athletic young man, Rodolfo had distinguished himself as a champion at tournaments, teacher to his peers, protégé to Oscar and a friend to everyone.
At the time, Rodolfo was a 1st degree black belt and unlike most schools I’ve known, they actually title their certificates not only as to rank, but the position you hold in that rank. In other words their certificates will say not only that you are a 1st degree black belt, but you are the Number One 1st degree black belt, or the Number Two 1st degree black belt, etc.
Rodolfo, I was told, was to be promoted to 2nd degree black belt in a couple of months, which would make him the Number One 2nd degree black belt under Oscar – a position he would hold forever in that there may be other 2nd, 3rd, and 4th degree black belts, but there will never be another Number One 2nd degree black belt in the Gimnasio Venezuela Oskarate.
Toward the end of my stay, in early December, I was told there would be a banquet in my honor at the residence of another one of Oscar’s students, at which time I would be promoted from my current rank of 1st degree black to 2nd. At the time I didn’t understand the significance of this promotion, but was very much flattered and anxiously awaiting any opportunity to attend anything in my honor.
It was during the banquet itself that it was explained to me, by friends of Rodolfo, that I was now replacing him as the Number One 2nd degree black belt in the association. Although I was taken aback by the news, I was also bewildered in that no one seemed to hold any grudge against me stealing away Rodolfo’s position of honor. A position he had earned with years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears.
About this same time Rodolfo came into the room, looking for me, and carrying a large photo album. He insisted I follow him into the living room where everyone was gathered and look through the album with him. Finding it difficult so understand why everyone was still being so nice to me (especially Rodolfo) I followed along and sat with Rodolfo as he flipped through the album. The album itself was filled with photos of all shapes and sizes. There were picture of him training, competing, winning and just hanging out. Some were in color, some were black and white. Some were taken with a Polaroid, others with an Instamatic and others with a 35mm. One thing for certain is that he didn’t own the cameras or the negatives. All the photos in his album had to have been gifts from his friends, his family and his fans.
As we looked through the album, he kept insisting that I pick out my favorite photo. When we had finished looking through the album I flipped back to a black and white 8 x10 of Rodolfo poised to deliver a full power right punch to an attacking opponent. I said to Adolfo, “This is my favorite, this is the best photo!” He immediately peeled back the protective sheet, removed the photo and asked for a pen. As he speaks, in Spanish, instructing a friend what to write on the photo I insisted, “No, I didn’t mean for you to give me the photo! I was just saying which one I liked the best – I’m not asking for you to give it to me.” I was afraid his limited English was preventing him from understanding me, but my interpreter intervened and said, “No, this is what he wants to do. He wants you to have it. He insists.”
At this point I am feeling worse than ever. First I steal away Rodolfo’s place in history, now I possess the only copy of an irreplaceable photograph of (what I later learned) was the punch that had won him the Venezuela black belt fighting championship. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I read what he had written on the photo: “For Sensey Rich with love and admiration of his friend and student. Rodolfo Rodriguez”
I just couldn’t take anymore. I found Oscar and told him what Rodolfo had done and then I told him I could not accept the promotion. Oscar just smiled at me and said, “You do not understand, my friend. It was Rodolfo’s idea to have you promoted before him. He has told me that if I were to promote you as our Number One 2nd degree black belt, he would then be “directly under you” and that would be a great honor. I was surprised, I was speechless and mostly I was humbled.
A Matter of Principles: If I were to open a private school that specialized in teaching English, my clients would likely . . .
assume I was going to teach them how to speak, read, and write the English language. Therefore, if I were to do nothing more than teach my clients a series of commonly used English phrases; they'd likely become dissatisfied with my service and quit my school. Yet every day, in Kenpo, students are being taught a series of commonly used Kenpo phrases, and being promoted from one belt to the next, oblivious that they’ve never actually been taught Kenpo. In most cases the instructors themselves are unaware they aren't actually teaching Kenpo, because they’re simply teaching what they've been taught – how they've been taught it.
So, what is Kenpo anyway? For years I thought I knew exactly what Kenpo was, until one day when Mr. Parker told me he didn't want to teach me techniques or forms. He said anyone could teach me techniques and forms; he wanted to teach me Kenpo. Honestly, at that moment, I was completely lost. I had spent years learning one Kenpo technique after another and one Kenpo form after another, so if I hadn’t been learning Kenpo, then just what the hell had I been learning?
Looking back, I can tell you exactly what I had been doing. I had been memorizing the material Mr. Parker used to teach Kenpo, but I had not actually been learning Kenpo. Let's go back to the comparison of learning a language and how it compares to learning Kenpo. We've all read Mr. Parker's comparison of how basics are like words, techniques are like sentences, and that forms are like paragraphs and short stories, etc. But now think of a simple sentence spoken with no expression. A monotone sentence can easily fail to convey any useful information even though all the words are present. Now think of listening to an entire speech or, worse yet, an entire audio book read by an expressionless reader. This is memorized Kenpo without the application of principles.
Early on, I didn't see it that way; especially after my techniques and forms had become very fast and crisp. Not when my uniform was popping and sweat was flying. I must say, to the untrained observer, I was really quite impressive. Only I wasn't using my hips, I didn't anchor properly, I didn't control my opponent's actions, I didn't really apply the principles of Kenpo - other than maybe a few by pure accident.
By the way, I'm not just talking about my first couple of months, or even my first couple of years in Kenpo. I'm talking about my first eight years or so. It wasn't until I started to study directly under Mr. Parker that I began to understand what Mr. Parker had taught and written about for years. You don't master the art of Kenpo through memorizing the curriculum of the art, but through embracing the principles of the art. I apologize if I appear to be beating a dead horse here, but even though everyone in Kenpo will stand behind me when I say our art is based on principles, how many schools actually teach a principle based curriculum?
To fully understand what I'm saying, think of what you were "required" to learn in order to get your yellow belt, orange belt, etc. If you're an instructor, or a school owner, think of what you "require" your students to learn in order to earn their belts. In almost every case our "requirements" are expressed in specific basics, techniques, forms and sets. For yellow belt I was required to learn a horse stance, neutral bow, forward bow, etc. I was required to learn the self defense techniques Delayed Sword, Aggressive Twins, and so on. My form requirement was Short Form 1 and my required set was Star Block.
Not that the principles are left out entirely, they're often mentioned, talked about, and even required in some cases, but learning the principles are generally not required in the same way as are basics, techniques, forms and sets. Look on the wall of most Kenpo schools and what do you see? Generally, you see the requirements for each belt level, which again consist of basics, techniques, forms and sets. But how often do you see a list of principles required for each belt level? How is it that we can say we teach a principle based system, but fail to even provide a list of required principles to our students? Yes, the principles are listed in most belt manuals, but instead of having a prominent place of their own – more deserving of their importance - they're most often just included along with the rest of the "Terminology".
This is what I suggest:
Separate the principles from the rest of the terminology by moving all of the principles to a list of their own. This procedure alone can be somewhere between a little tricky and very controversial. For example is a parry a principle, or is it simply a term? It's described as redirecting a blow or a kick by riding or going with the force. One could say that because you're "riding" with the force, it's a principle, but on my list it's simply a term that describes an action; just like blocking, kicking and striking. Blocking, kicking, striking, and parrying are all actions that are made more effective through the proper use of principles, like anchoring, torquing, riding, etc.
To make the process easier, I suggest you develop your list of principles in several stages. First, look up the term "principle" and get a good look at what you're searching for. Principle is described as: A comprehensive and fundamental rule stemming from a theory which, through devoted analysis, developed into the proven characteristics and facts that made it doctrine. Let's refine that to a principle is: A comprehensive and fundamental rule. The fact that it stemmed from a theory and was developed through devoted analysis only supports how what was once only a theory became a rule – or principle.
With this information it makes it much easier to separate terms like, parry, technique, form, set, kata, attention stance, neutral bow, etc., from our list of principles. Next, separate (what I call) primary principles from (what I call) secondary principles. For example no one will receive so much as a yellow belt from me, until they have a basic understanding of economy of motion, back-up mass, torque, gravitational marriage, and timing. On the other hand, I'm not as concerned about how well versed someone is in the difference between the angle of opportunity and the angle of mobility. I'm not saying these principles are unimportant. I'm just saying that I see a need to prioritize everything we teach, including the principles. And in my opinion, knowing the difference between back-up mass and torque is more important than knowing the difference between the angle of opportunity and the angle of mobility.
Now that we've separated the general terminology from the principles and separated the primary principles from the secondary principles, let's determine which principles we want to require at each belt level. Notice that I didn't say what principles we want to "teach" at each belt level, but what principles we want to "require" at each belt level. This way we aren't going to limit the number of principles a student can be exposed to at any given belt level, but because we also don't want to burden a student with an unrealistic amount of information at any belt level, we should have a finite number of principles that they're "required" to know, understand and apply at each belt level.
Below is a partial list of principles divided into the various belt levels. This is not "the list", it's just a list. I expect your list and mine will be a little different and may change many times in the years to come. As we all become better acquainted with the principles it's quite possible that what we consider most important today, may be different tomorrow. Something else I remember Mr. Parker sharing with me was that he didn't like people carving everything he said into stone. Mr. Parker continually revised his teachings and writings in an effort to better teach his art to others. The principles didn't change, but the methods he used to convey those principles were continually refined.
2.Economy of Motion
3.Marriage of Gravity
5.Geometric Path & Line
5.Insert / Variable Expansion
Now that you've had an opportunity to read a list, let me reiterate: This is not an all encompassing list; it’s just a list that gives us a place to start. But now that we have a list, how do we put it to work?
It's well known that the amount of material we have, in American Kenpo, can be daunting to say the least. But when a student asks what's required of them in order to be a black belt, we point to, as many as a hundred and fifty-four techniques and say that's what they have to know (along with all the basics, sets, forms and freestyle techniques). Yet, how many black belts have forgotten a large number of the very same techniques they require someone else to remember in order to be a black belt? Of course, as black belts, we say that even though we may have forgotten some of the material, we're still highly qualified black belt belts. In fact, in some cases, it seems the amount of material forgotten increases in direct proportion to one's rank.
By the way, this isn't a rank bashing article. I know more than a few great black belts who don't remember all the material they had to memorize in order to earn their black belts and it doesn't diminish them in my eyes one little bit. I personally don’t claim the ability to spontaneously perform every technique in the system, if someone was to shout them out to me, but I'm not ready to retire my black belt status either.
What I do find disappointing though, is how many black belts don't know the difference between borrowed force and opposing forces. What seems to be lacking is what Mr. Parker always wanted people to know and that's the principles of Kenpo. Again I repeat his words, not mine, "I teach these techniques not for the sake of teaching the techniques, but for the principles that are involved in the techniques."
I propose we consider creating a list of principles that are required for each belt level and post them on our wall. Then when someone asks what's required of them for a given belt level, we point out - first and foremost - the list of principles. Then, when they ask what the other list is we can say that's a list of self defense techniques we use to teach what the principles are and how they're applied. When they ask if they're required to memorize all the techniques, we can say, "Well, it's not so much a matter of being required to memorize the techniques. It's actually more the end result of utilizing the techniques to master the principles that result in the techniques memorization." Then we can tell them that as time goes along they'll likely forget some of the techniques, and that's okay, because we're not teaching a system based on memorization, but a system based on the proper application of principles.
The first question I get when presenting this approach to teaching Kenpo is, "But many of the principles you listed for blue, green and brown belt are in and should to be applied to the yellow, orange and purple belt techniques." Yes, I agree completely. Nothing says additional principles can't be taught along the way, but I don't think yellow belts should pass or fail based on their ability to apply accumulated force and directional harmony. You can look at it this way; it’s important that Kenpo students be familiar with two-man techniques, but is it important that “yellow belt” students be familiar with two-man techniques? Kenpo forms can include take-downs, but should “yellow belt” forms include take-downs? We divide all our basics, techniques, sets, and forms into belt levels, so why not divide the principles into belt levels as well? It won’t prevent us from teaching additional principles, but it will insure that we do teach the principles.
The purpose of this article is to bring attention to how little attention many instructors place on the principles of Kenpo. Although it may be a little controversial and spark some debate, that's okay. If the debate is about which principles should be taught at what belt level, then the article has accomplished its goal.
Angles vs. Corners and The Clock Principle: From our first lesson in American Kenpo, we’ve learned to rely on . . .
the Clock Principle. This is a method used to help students visualize the direction in which they are to move. Students are asked to think of themselves as being in the middle of a big clock facing 12 o'clock, with 6 o'clock to their rear, 3 and 9 to their right and left, and all the other numbers in their respective locations.
This has to be one of the greatest tools Mr. Parker gave his students. Instead of simply saying, “Step back with your left leg and execute a right inward block.” In which case the student could step back on many different angles. We say, “Step back to 6:00, 7:00, or 4:30, depending on the circumstances.
In the beginning, the clock principle has a clear advantage over telling the student to step to various angles, because we visualize clocks much more often than we visualize angles. For example, I could say to step to 330 degrees, or minus 30 degrees, because they both mean the same thing. Or I could just say to step to 11:00. Which do you think is easier to relate to?
So much for telling you what you already know. Now did you notice how I said, "In the beginning the clock principle has a clear advantage over angles?" That’s because, in the beginning, the first thing we’re taught is how to step into basic stances and perform the basic maneuvers. At this point, if you’re standing in the center of a square room, 1:30 on the clock is the same as a 45 degree angle, which is the same as the corner of the room. We could tell a new student to step directly toward the corner of the room and he would be stepping to 1:30, on a 45 degree angle. Because of this we tend to recognize the corner of the room as being both 1:30 and on a 45 degree angle. Which it is – until you move out of the center of the room!
Once you’ve moved from the exact center of a square, neither the corner, nor the clock principle represent a 45 degree angle. The smaller the room, or mat area, the more critical this becomes. If I’m standing 5 feet back and 5 feet to the right of center, in a room that’s 50 feet x 50 feet, a front/right 45 degree angle is now aligned approximately 2:05 to 6:55 on the clock. If I were standing the same distance from center, in a room that is 20 feet x 20 feet, a 45 degree angle is now aligned approximately 3:05 to 5:55 on the clock.
How does this affect our art?
In regard to self-defense techniques the effects are minimal. The distance we travel from center during techniques is fairly minimal and the directions we're maneuvering to are always effected by our opponent movement. This being the case, the clock principle is helpful in learning a technique, and all but forgotten during the actual application of a technique. On the other hand, when it comes to forms the effects can be great. The distance we travel from center during our forms can be as large as our entire mat area, or the room we’re working in.
Take Short Form 2 for example:
If I started Short form 2 in the center of a 20’ x 20’ room, I would eventually travel about 5 feet back and to my right before I pivoted and stepped out into one of the final sequence that has a 45 degree angle. As you read above, if I were to follow the clock, or step toward the corner of the room, I would not be stepping on a 45 degree angle.
The Bottom Line:
Don’t confuse angles with the corners of the room, a marked off area on the mat, or the clock principle. Angles are consistent while the other three are inconsistent and change in relation to where you’re standing. Always remember the description of a neutral bow. Front toe, back heel alignment with feet on a 45 degree angle. This means if you're in a neutral bow facing the wall - your feet should be at a 45 degree angle in relation to the wall. If someone were to pick you straight up, turn you 45 degrees, then set you down again, your feet should be perpendicular, or parallel, to the wall, depending on which wall you're comparing to. Note the image below, the foot prints in the middle of the illustration represent someone standing in a right neutral bow, facing 1:30. Notice how the feet are perpendicular to the front and back walls and parallel to the side walls.
Also notice how a 45 degree stance only aligns itself from 1:30 to 7:30 and the corner of the room, when the stance is located in the center of the room.
The more off-center the stance, the more drastic the difference. (The smaller set of feet are 5 ft over and down.)
The smaller the room, size, the more drastic the difference.
In comparison, the off-center stance in a 50 ft room aligns from about 2:05 to 6:55, but the same stance in a 20 ft room aligns from 3:05 to 5:55.
You're welcome to click on the below link to see Short Form 2 laid out in relation to Angles, Corners and The Clock Principle.
Short Form 2
Concepts, Theories and Principles: The Outer Rim; is it a Concept, a Theory, or a Principle?
As listed in Mr. Parker's Encyclopedia of Kenpo it's called the Outer Rim Concept and is described as: An imaginary egg shape circle that is used as a visual aid. This egg shaped pattern starts at the eyebrow level, and ends slightly below the region of the groin. This concept teaches you to confine the defensive movements to those areas within the imaginary circle. You learn never to overextend, nor over-commit, beyond the circle with your arms and hands.
At face value, because Mr. Parker called it the Outer Rim Concept, this would seem to put the question to rest, but not really? Not to be argumentative, but I consider the Outer Rim to be a principle. So who am I to argue with Mr. Parker? Nobody really, but I'm not actually arguing with him anyway, I'm agreeing with him. And how can I possibly say I'm agreeing with him when, right there in black and white, he says the Outer Rim is a Concept? Easy, because if you continue to study the Encyclopedia of Kenpo, and eventually get to Zones of Protection, you'll see that Mr. Parker tells you, "when considering Zones of Protection, refer to the Outer Rim Theory". Which, in itself, really doesn’t prove my case, but if you go back a ways and look up Outer Perimeter you'll see that Mr. Parker said "not to confuse the Outer Perimeter with the Outer Rim Principle".
So there you have it; according to Mr. Parker, who's certainly the final authority on the subject, the Outer Rim is a Concept, a Theory and a Principle, but I'm sticking to my guns and saying that (to me) the Outer Rim is neither a Concept nor a Theory, but definitely a Principle.
Let me explain by first going back and looking at Mr. Parker's descriptions of Concept, Theory and Principle.
An abstract idea, conceived in the mind, that is neither protected nor trademarked.
An idea needing further research and analysis to prove its validity in order to make it a factual Principle.
A comprehensive and fundamental rule stemming from a theory which, through devoted analysis, developed into the proven
characteristics and facts that made it a doctrine.
Without trying to speak for Mr. Parker, I don't think it's a big stretch of the imagination to speculate that Mr. Parker first thought of the Outer Rim as an abstract idea, or Concept. Then, as his concept took on more clarity (in need of further research and analysis) it became the Outer Rim Theory. Finally, after devoted analysis, the Outer Rim Theory became the Outer Rim Principle. So why didn't Mr. Parker change every instance of the Outer Rim to describe it as a principle instead of leaving all three descriptions in place? All I can suggest is that Mr. Parker was a busy guy and it's possible that he just didn't have time to update everything he was working on. Another consideration is that maybe he thought of the Outer Rim, at different times and under different circumstances, as all three – I don't know. The bottom line is nobody can say for sure why he referred to the Outer Rim as a Concept, a Theory and a Principle, all in the same publication. What I can say is through my own devoted analysis; I've proven (to myself) the Outer Rim to be a Principle.
Hopefully I haven't confused anyone beyond repair, but there really is a method to my madness. First is to suggest Mr. Parker may not have completed his work by the time he passed away. As much as many of us would prefer to think he had, it only stands to reason this may not have been the case (which is why we'll always have a certain amount of conflicting information available to us). Second is to suggest there's an inherent risk in having a limited amount of information and thinking we have the entire answer. And third is to suggest we all follow Mr. Parker's lead and use this same Concept/Theory/Principle method of analysis as we study American Kenpo for ourselves.
This is especially important in this day of cross-pollination instruction. By that I mean there was a time when the bulk of everything we knew came from one instructor. We didn't have the Internet, e-Mail, or Facebook; even seminars and training camps were relatively unheard of. We could go all the way from white belt to black belt, relatively, unencumbered by overlapping information.
Today we have a fairly large number of men and women who've studied American Kenpo for thirty and forty years. With that comes the opportunity to train with, or learn from, many very qualified instructors. Only these opportunities come with a certain amount of confusion. With all these instructors, and our access to them, comes as many ways to a technique as there are logins and passwords. So who should we listen to; the guy who studied with Mr. Parker fist, last or longest? Should we listen to the guy who's written the most books, or posted the most YouTube videos? The comparisons are limitless, but I think the answer is simple; we should listen to all of them, but not without applying some logic when processing the information.
What I'm going to tell you now is about the most important thing Mr. Parker ever told me. He said, "I want to make you self-correcting, because when I'm gone I don't want you to go to another famous instructor and do what he says just because he's famous." As always, he said more than that, but I think that single statement goes a long way by itself. He made it very clear that the most famous person isn't always right and if you can't think for yourself, you could easily be led astray.
Now, when I'm teaching a seminar I ask those in attendance to consider what I have to say as being concepts; even those things that Mr. Parker has already proven and labeled as principles. Then I ask that they, themselves, prove or disprove what I've said to be true or not. I admit, that when I'm teaching, it may sound as though I consider everything I say to be a proven fact, but that's only because "in my mind" they are facts. The key phrase here is "in my mind" not in your mind. If the only reason you did something, in a certain way, is because I told you to, I'd totally expect you to change how you do it, the moment someone of higher rank, or more notoriety, told you to. So, is that how anyone wants to study Kenpo? Changing everything they do every time a well known or higher ranking instructor tells them to?
In the long-run each and every one of us will eventually have to decide, for ourselves, what's fact, what's fiction and what may be fiction based on fact. Therefore, I suggest we all consider using the same analytical process of studying American Kenpo as Mr. Parker did when he created the system of American Kenpo. This could be a viable option to the "This is how I do it, so this is how it's done" method of teaching Kenpo.
To finalize and clarify:
I think one of the reasons Mr. Parker was so successful in spreading American Kenpo around the world was his approach to sharing the art. Yes, he believed what he had to say was correct and was positive in his approach to teaching, but on the other hand he said things like:
"Rules generally refer to moves that must be followed to the letter. Strict adherence to the performance of such moves restricts flexibility of thought and action. Therefore, Kenpo emphasizes Ideas or generalizations of movements rather than Rules."
"Ideas are one of the philosophical views of Kenpo that consider defensive and offensive moves to be no more than concepts that vary with each and every situation."
"Variable Expansion is the ability to randomly select solutions, or build upon precepts, as a result of having a thorough knowledge of the principles and concepts of the Martial Arts."
So if we're going to consider ourselves students and teachers of Ed Parker's American Kenpo we should embrace his entire body of work and not isolate ourselves to a few examples of Kenpo that fit comfortably within what we already know and believe. I feel the best way to do that is to look at everything we know (or think we know) as Concepts, that in Theory, could be proven to be a Principles. And then allow everyone else the same opportunity.
Economy of Motion: Economy of Motion has mostly to do with moving from the point of origin and doing . . .
moves “with” one another instead of doing moves one after the other.
The word "and" implies one or more wasted beats of timing. In Kenpo we try to eliminate using the word "and", because it involves wasted time and is, therefore, contradictory to the principle of Economy of Motion. In Kenpo we use the word "with", so that one strike is coupled "with" another.
Before going further, I agree that many practitioners could benefit greatly by eliminating some of the wasted motion/time in their Kenpo - we all could. But, on the other hand, I think the principle “Economy of Motion” is all too often treated as if were the only principle in Kenpo.
Mr. Parker once told me he hated it when people carved everything he said into stone. He said he once asked a student, at a school he was visiting, to do a technique on the left side. Then he heard people whispering, “Oh, the left side, the left side, do it on the left side!” He then says he comes back ten years later and they were a left-handed Kenpo school.
So what I’m saying is, the more adept should not totally eliminate the word “and” from their vocabulary. To think everything must be done simultaneously is just as big a mistake as thinking everything must be done independently. Look back at Mr. Parker’s definition of the word “and”. He says “we try to eliminate using the word “and”. He didn’t say we totally eliminate using the word “and”.
We also need to go back to the Encyclopedia of Kenpo and read the description of the term “with”.
A very useful word in the Kenpo vocabulary, which is reserved for the more adept. It involves a dual movement and eliminates the word "and". One doesn't block "and" then strike. He blocks "with" a strike. Employing this principle eliminates wasted motion and economizes on time.
Think about this. He didn’t say that eliminating the word “and” will make us more adept. He said the more adept should eliminate the word “and”. But to eliminate “and” too early, or worse yet, entirely, can lead to having quick, inaccurate and underpowered techniques.
Picture yourself defending against an opponent delivering a right punch to your head. You can (for this example) defend yourself with this simple technique done in two different ways:
The One Step Method:
1. Execute a left inward block to your opponents’ right punch, with a right kick to your opponent’s groin while simultaneously delivering a right heel palm strike to his jaw.
The Two Step Method:
1. Execute a left inward block to your opponent’s right punch, with a right kick to your opponent’s groin while you simultaneously counterbalance your right kick by whipping your right hand directly back and behind you.
2. Immediately drop into a right neutral bow while striking your opponent with a right thrusting heel palm strike to his jaw.
The first method is quicker, but the second method is more powerful, thus having a more substantial and sustaining effect on your opponent.
Again we go to the Encyclopedia of Kenpo:
Economy of Motion:
Entails choosing the best available weapon for the best available angle, to insure reaching the best available target in the least amount of time. Any movement that takes less time to execute, but still causes the effect intended. Any movement that inhibits, or does not actively enhance the effect intended is categorized as Wasted Motion.
To paraphrase: Any strike that does not have a substantial and sustaining effect on your opponent is wasted motion.
This begs the question - what’s the hurry? As a rule, we’re sufficiently fast enough to accomplish the task at hand, but for some reason we “must” be faster and faster and faster. Sometimes our desire to be faster reaches the point that our Kenpo becomes the very thing it’s regularly accused of being - a slap art. Personally, I don’t want people to consider the art I study to be a slap art and I don’t want them to consider me to be a slap artist.
Let me just touch on a different term for a minute, the Outer Rim:
An imaginary egg shape circle that is used as a visual aid. This egg shaped pattern starts at the eyebrow level, and ends slightly below the region of the groin. This concept teaches you to confine the defensive movements to those areas within the imaginary circle. You learn never to overextend, nor overcommit, beyond the circle with your arms and hands. To do so not only exposes your vital areas, but limits your ability to counter quickly.
I once asked a practitioner of Kenpo why his strikes were so short and why he always kept everything so close to his body. His response was he was trying to keep within his outer rim. So, I asked him to define what the outer rim was. He said it was an imaginary egg shaped circle, etc., that your movements should be kept within, as per Mr. Parker.
If you didn’t already see the error in his thinking let me point it out specifically. The outer rim principle instructs you to confine the “defensive” movements to those areas within the imaginary egg shaped circle, not all your movements. Mr. Parker himself, was known to go way beyond his outer rim in preparation for a strike. It was this gentleman's misinterpretation of the outer rim principle that had led to his Kenpo being off track.
To emphasize that the Outer Rim Theory was specific to defensive movements, Mr. Parker coined another term for the area that offensive movements should stay within:
That imaginary circle surrounding the head and feet that "offensive" moves should be confined to if you wish to render greater power and speed when executing such action. That is not to be confused with the Outer Rim principle which request that you not overextend, or over-commit, your "defensive" moves.
As clear as Mr. Parker tried to be with his terminology; people still seem to either misinterpret terms, or gravitate to certain terms, concepts, theories and principles while forsaking other terms, concepts, theories and principles, that give our system balance.
For example, the term “with” is used more frequently to combine strikes with blocks, checks and covers than it is to combine strikes with other strikes. Below I’ve written out the first self defense technique we come to in orange belt - Clutching Feathers. I’ve highlighted the simultaneous strikes with blocks, checks and covers in blue, while highlighting strikes done with other strikes in red and strikes done independently in green. Note: I didn’t include simultaneous foot maneuvers and stances as they’re uniformly done simultaneously with striking, blocking, checking, etc.
1. While Standing Naturally, step back toward 6 o'clock with your left foot into a right neutral bow (facing 12 o'clock). Simultaneously pin your opponent's left hand to your head with your left hand as you thrust a right vertical middle-knuckle fist to your opponent's left armpit.
2. As your opponent begins to bend over and toward you, pivot into a right forward bow (facing 12:00) as you deliver a left thrusting heel palm strike to your opponent's jaw, simultaneous "with" a right extended outward block to the inside of your opponent's left forearm.
3. Immediately pivot back to a right neutral bow (facing 12:00) while delivering a right inward raking back knuckle strike diagonally across the bridge of your opponent's nose.
4. Without disrupting the flow and momentum of your right hand strike, pivot counterclockwise into a right reverse bow (while slightly altering your orbit), and convert your right hand into a right downward hammerfist strike to your opponent’s groin. Simultaneously have your left hand check near the right side of your face.
5. Immediately pivot back to a right neutral bow, facing 12 o’clock, while executing a right outward back knuckle strike to the right side of your opponent’s face. Simultaneously have your left hand positionally check.
6. Utilizing Progressive Directional Harmony, have your left foot cross over and in front of your right foot into a left front twist stance, facing 12 o’clock. Prior to planting your left foot execute a left vertical punch to your opponent’s sternum, simultaneous with a right horizontal forearm check, below your left punch. As your left foot plants into the twist stance, execute a right inward horizontal elbow strike to your opponent’s left maxillary hinge. Simultaneous with this strike execute a left inward horizontal heel palm strike to his right maxillary hinge, thus causing a sandwiching effect.
7. Simultaneously, thread a right knee kick to your opponent’s groin, execute a right outward heel palm strike to his solar plexus, execute a left inward five-finger circular claw across your opponent’s face.
8. Commence by having your left hand hook around the left side of your opponent’s neck, and with your left elbow anchored, pull his head forward and down. Then simultaneously drop into a right neutral bow, facing 12 o’clock, as you execute a right inward overhead hammerfist to the back of your opponent’s neck.
9. Pivot into a transitional right reverse bow, as you roll your right forearm clockwise to hook your opponent’s head, guiding it down and toward your right leg. Instantly flow into a right knee kick to your opponent’s face.
A further study into additional techniques will show a considerable amount of consistence in three things.
1. Strikes, blocks, checks and covers are often done “with” one another.
2. Strikes, blocks, checks and covers are often done “independently” of one another.
3. Haymaker strikes are rarely done “with” other strikes.
I think we’re all familiar with what “haymaker” strikes are. They’re the real powerhouse strikes at, or near, the end of our base techniques. The final hammer in Thundering Hammers, the final vertical punch in Parting Wings, the final knee in Crossing Talon, etc. With a few exceptions, haymaker strikes are only done in unison with foot maneuvers, checks and covers and not “with” other strikes. By the time we deliver a haymaker we’ve already thwarted our opponent’s attack and hit him several times. The haymaker is a strike that’s intended to do some real damage to our opponent. It’s the strike that’s supposed to stop our opponent’s aggression right then and there. Haymaker strikes are the same thing as what Mr. Parker defines as “Major Moves”.
Major Moves: Strong and positive moves which cause immediate devastation.
Now, with the above information in mind, it’s illogical to think that we need to do everything “with” everything else. You can block “with” other blocks and strike “with” other strikes. You can block “with” strikes and you can use foot maneuvers, checks and covers “with” everything you do, but save some time for the haymaker!
Economy of motion is a major principle of Kenpo and the term “with” exemplifies economy of motion. But, Kenpo is a system; don’t let any one principle, within the system, rule above all the others.
How I met AC Rainey: I was sitting in my office one day, at the Alaska Martial Arts Center, when an athletic looking . . .
gentleman walks in and asked me if we taught Kenpo. I tell him, yes we do. He says, "Ed Parker's Kenpo?" I again say, "Yes we do." He then tells me that he's a black belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo and that he's looking for a place to workout.
The odds of having a black belt, in Ed Parker's Kenpo, walk in off the street, in Anchorage, Alaska, in the late 70's, were slim to say the least. Never the less it could happen, so containing my excitement, I asked him if he's an Ed Parker black belt under "Ed Parker". He says yes he is, so I immediately say, please come, sit down, let's talk.
As he pulls up a chair, I reach for the phone and start dialing. With a look of slight confusion, he glances at the phone in my hand as I say, "Oh never mind this, I just have to make a quick phone call, please tell me about yourself, what's your name?" Still looking at the phone in my hand, more than looking at me, he says his name is AC Rainey.
Before he can say anything else my phone call is answered and I quickly raise my hand cutting off what ever he may be getting ready to say next. I say into the phone, "Hello, Mr. Parker - Rich Hale. Great sir and how are you? Say Mr. Parker I have a gentleman in my office by the name of AC Rainey and . . . Yes Sir! I extend the phone over to AC and say, "He wants to speak to you."
AC takes the phone and his side of the conversation went kind of like this. "Yes sir, yes sir, no sir, yes sir . . . yes sir, I mean no sir, I'll never be out of touch for so long again. Yes, sir, yes sir." Now having lost just a little of he color in his cheeks, he hands the phone back to me and I put it to my ear only to discover Mr. Parker had already hung up the other end. I set the phone back on the cradle and look over to AC.
With a look, on his face, somewhere between I thought I was going to die and I'm going to kill you, he says, "Don't ever do something like that to me again!" Almost laughing, I look back at him and say, "Apparently I won't have to."
After a few more minutes of small talk, during which time AC seemed re-gathered his wits about him, he says, "So who's your head instructor?" I look right back at him and say, "You are sir."
For the next several years AC Rainey was my teacher and head instructor at the Alaska Martial Arts Center.
Is Jiu-Jitsu our Missing Link: I'm not even going to try to give a precise answer to the above question. What I will do . . .
is share a little of what Ed Parker, the creator of American Kenpo, has to say on the subject. By the way, this isn't a first-hand account of anything Mr. Parker told me personally. Everyone and their puppy seem to have "first-hand" knowledge of what Mr. Parker said and meant by what he said. I really don’t want to go down that road, what I want to do is explore what Mr. Parker "himself" said in regard to American Kenpo. We'll start with page 56 of Mr. Parker's Infinite Insights into Kenpo v1 where he states that Judo, Jiu-jitsu and Aikido are Oriental means of WRESTLING. Whereas, Karate, Kung-Fu, Kenpo, Tae-kwon-do, Tang-soo-do and other similar styles are Oriental forms of BOXING.
Further reinforcing what American Kenpo is, earlier on the same page, Mr. Parker says, "They are separate and distinct systems containing merits of their own with the choice of selection predicated upon the interest, ability and talent of the individual." This should put to rest the often repeated statement; Jiu Jitsu is nothing more than Kenpo on a horizontal plane. That is unless someone can show me where Ed Parker Sr. made that statement.
This is not to say that Kenpo is entirely a striking art. On page 43 of Infinite Insights into Kenpo v2 Mr. Parker introduces us to the Divisions of the Basics saying: Basics are divided into five major divisions--STANCES, MANEUVERS, BLOCKS, STRIKES and SPECIALIZED MOVES and METHODS (moves and methods unrelated to the first four divisions that have distinct characteristics of their own). From this point forward, in v2 Mr. Parker devotes 60 pages to stances and 41 pages to maneuvers.
Picking up in v3 Mr. Parker continues with 68 pages on blocks, 96 pages on strikes and then on page 169 of v3 he describes SPECIALIZED MOVES and METHODS by subdividing them into four major subdivisions, being VICE-LIKE MOVES, PULLING MOVES, PUSHING MOVES AND UN-BALANCING MOVES. This entire section consists of only 8 pages.
This is where it gets interesting, because even though Mr. Parker has already stated that Kenpo is an Oriental form of Boxing, the movements within the four methods of Specialized Moves and Methods include biting, pinching, squeezing, grabbing, hugging, tackling, choking, sandwiching, fulcruming, scissoring, jerking, yanking, ripping, tearing, pressing, nudging, bumping, shoving, buckling, tripping, throwing, sweeping, pulling, pushing, striking, and other specialized moves. Now, before you get all excited and say, Ah Ha! Kenpo does include all the moves of Jiu Jitsu, on page 174 of v3 Mr. Parker states, "Specialized moves within the basics of Specialized Moves and Methods are numerous, however, those that are noteworthy are described herein. LOCKS, JOINT TWISTS and TAKEDOWNS." So in Mr. Parker’s own words, even though he definitely included the essence of Jiu Jitsu as part of Kenpo’s Specialized Moves and Methods, he clearly chose to emphasize striking over grappling.
Additional study of the American Kenpo 154 Self-Defense Technique Curriculum will provide further evidence that American Kenpo is primarily a striking art, in that out of the 154 techniques only a handful of them deal directly with grappling attacks and even those we do defend against are no more sophisticated than basic headlocks, chokes, etc. We have nothing (in our curriculum) to teach us how to escape a triangle, heel-hook, arm-bar, etc. I know, the next thing to come out of someone’s mouth is, "Well there's no way anybody's going to get past my feet, fists, knees and elbows, so I don't need to learn any submission escapes." I can understand why we may think this way, because a constantly reoccurring theme in American Kenpo is to defend against all attacks “before” they’re applied. This includes chokes, locks, etc., but unfortunately in today’s environment, you may very well find yourself in a submission hold that you never even saw coming.
Do we need to learn BJJ?
In an interview for Black Belt Magazine, Mr. Parker said, "I devised an American system of combating those things we find in our environment." The problem is he made that statement in 1985. It wasn't until 1993 that Rorion Gracie introduced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the United States by creating the Ultimate Fighting Championships. Since that time countless numbers of people have taken up the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. A quick Google search for Jiu Jitsu, in my area of Southern California, showed over a hundred schools teaching Jiu Jitsu. The same search for Kenpo showed about twenty schools.
The fact is, in a street fight "today" you're much more likely to be facing a skilled grappler than you would have in 1985, because the fact is in 1985 "our environment" included very few skilled Jiu Jitsu practitioners.
Let's go back to another article in Black Belt Magazine. This one was from February of 1975 titled "In the Beginning there was Ed Parker". In this article Mr. Parker comments on the value of knowing your opponent's game:
“A few years back, I was at a tournament in Texas. Mikami was there from the Japan Karate Association. Mikami was and is an excellent karateman. Okay, he’s fighting Fred Wren, who was then just a kid. Wren did a spinning back kick and caught Mikami in the first sixteen seconds. I’m not saying Mikami wasn't good but he had no idea what a spinning back kick was and Wren got him a second time and won the match. I’ll tell you this though, the next time around, Mikami was not a pigeon for that kick, because he knew what to anticipate and what to watch for. What I’m saying is, maybe you don’t believe in something, but you better know what others believe in, so you can best anticipate them and make proper precautions to avoid them."
Now back to the question, do we need to learn BJJ? The answer to this question depends entirely on our purpose for studying the martial arts in the first place. When I started my Kenpo training I had one reason for doing so – I wanted to learn how to fight. I wasn’t looking for health and fitness, I wasn’t looking to study an Asian culture, I wasn’t interested in anything other than fighting. Remember what Mr. Parker said about devising a system of combating those things we find in our environment? At first glance one might think he’s talking about physical locations where we’re more likely to find ourselves in trouble, like night clubs, wild parties, etc., but with a few exceptions I don’t believe I’m any more likely to get into a fight in a bar as I am in grocery store parking lot. Fights can be found, or avoided, everywhere we go. I look at environment as what my opponent brings to the table in a fight. This includes both his skills and his availability to weapons. In other words if I’m fighting a boxer, my environment is raining down punches, if I’m fighting a Tae Kwon Do guy it’s going to be raining down punches and kicks. If I’m fighting either of these guys in a bar my environment is likely to contain punches, kicks, beer bottles and pool ques.
Well in 1972 I was a twenty year old kid and my environment was ninety percent stand-up fighting with guys who had no martial arts training. During that time my Kenpo served me well, but not once, in any fight, did I have to defend against a Triangle, Kimura, Knee Bar, Heel Hook, etc. The few times a fight went to the ground we usually just kept trying to punch each other. On the rare occasion that someone really tried to grab a hold of me, or me them, it was because the fight wasn’t going well and grabbing a hold was more of a defensive measure than a submission attempt. (That’s what I call Kenpo on a horizontal plane.)
So if your purpose for studying the martial arts is primarily for self-defense, then yes you need to add Jiu Jitsu to your skill set. If self-defense is not your primary reason for studying the martial arts, then no you do not need to add Jiu Jitsu to your skill set. This isn’t to say that unless you add Jiu Jitsu to your game you lose every fight you get in against a Jiu Jitsu practitioner. That depends on how good/bad his Jiu Jitsu is and how good/bad your Kenpo is.
The bottom line is this. Having a little Jiu Jitsu under your belt will go a long way to prevent you from falling into a multitude of basic submissions. I remember in one of Rorion Gracie’s earliest videos where he says “You should learn just enough Gracie Jiu Jitsu to keep this from happening to you.” Then they cut to a clip where some poor guy is stuck under the mounted position and his legs are just flailing around in the air. So, if you’re at all concerned that you could be that guy, maybe you should look into studying some Jiu Jitsu. Who knows maybe you’ll even enjoy it.
Kenpo Standards - Subjective or Objective: There are those in the martial arts who resist things like standardized . . .
testing and clearly defined testing criteria, because they say the martial arts are too subjective. They believe we need to take into consideration, not only an individual’s physical abilities, but their personal, mental, and emotional characteristics as well. They say things like, “Remember this is a martial ART and art is subjective.” Yes, I know; “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I’ve heard that all my life and I totally agree that “some” art is subjective. On the other hand, some art is objective.
Subjectivity: Subjectivity is determined by an individual’s conceptions, emotions, personal bias, thoughts, and feelings. Subjective opinions cannot be verified with facts or by any scientific method.
Objectivity: Objectivity exists independently of an individual’s conceptions, emotions, personal bias, thoughts and feelings. Objectivity relates to actual facts that can be proven and verified through scientific methods.
So are the martial arts objective or subjective? With the difference between objectivity and subjectivity being the difference between facts and opinions, I believe the martial arts as a whole may be subjective, but I think individual martial arts are objective. In my opinion, many people place too much emphasis on the subjective ART and forget the objective being MARTIAL.
The term “art” is generally associated with beauty and aesthetic value. Things like beautiful paintings, sculptures, music, dance and butterflies are considered art, works of art and artistic. This is where I believe the ART, in martial arts, comes from; it’s the aesthetic value of the performance that people are seeing when they call it an art. Yet the underlying foundation of the martial arts in general, and Kenpo specifically, is based on solid principles of motion. Any aesthetic value is mostly coincidental and didn’t play a major role in its creation. This is not to say that I don’t see or appreciate the artistic quality of the martial arts, I do. In fact, I once performed Form 5, at a Tang Soo Do school and when I was done a girl came up to me and said it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. I was beaming with pride that our system contained such a beautiful form, but I believe this a case of function dictating form and not the other way around. What I mean by that is some art is created for beauty first and function second, if at all. This is form dictating function. Christmas ornaments are a good example; their often beautiful, but seldom serve any other purpose than decoration. Then there are things that are considered to be works of art, whose function dictates their form. For example, there are many beautiful musical instruments whose shape and appearance is dictated entirely by the sound it’s supposed to make and not merely because their shape and appearance is appealing to the eye. I believe this is, or should be, the case with the martial arts.
An example of subjectivity, in the martial arts, would be like when an instructor told me that he never had his students practice with speed or power. He said all that was important was the perfection of form. He said if the need were to ever arise, the speed and power would just naturally be there. He said it was like a mother, rescuing her child, can lift a two thousand pound automobile. I, on the other hand, said that we should not only train with speed and power, but we should train as realistically as possible, so we don’t freeze up during a real crisis. I also said I’ve heard a lot more stories about people dying under automobiles, while family members stood by helplessly, than I’ve heard about heroic mother’s lifting two thousand pound cars off their children. Okay, so in regard to what each of us personally believe and teach - that’s subjective, but once you’ve decided on what you believe is the correct method, it goes back to being objective again. That is unless you want to take a total “feel-good” approach another teacher believes in. I actually heard him say, So long as you feel good about what you’re doing, it’s okay and correct. Seriously, he told his students not to worry about anything they did, or how they did it. He said as human beings and creatures of the earth everything they did was correct. It was impossible to do anything wrong. If they just kept practicing, nature would lead and direct them to perfection. I tell you, it was like Martial Arts meets Gandhi at Woodstock.
Another, more realistic, example of subjectivity is the difference between Kenpo and Tae Kwon Do. In the system of American Kenpo we emphasize an even distribution of hands and feet, with our hands attacking the upper body and our legs attacking the lower body. In Tae Kwon Do, there’s a much greater emphasis on kicking and specifically kicking to the head. Right or wrong, these are two very successful martial arts with many strong proponents supporting each methodology. Yet, when we step away from the subjective discussion, we go back to the objective training practices that support our individual opinions. In other words, the value of kicking to the head may be subjective, but if we’ve decided to do it, training for speed and flexibility are not subjective, but necessary objectives in order to be successful at that chosen method.
People are all different; therefore testing should be subjective:
First: I don’t agree that people are all that different. Yes, some people are taller, heavier and so on, but everyone regardless of size can apply the same principles of motion. No matter how tall, short, heavy or light someone is power still comes from backup mass, torque and marriage of gravity. If an individual’s physical and/or mental differences are so significant that they can’t apply these basic principles, maybe they shouldn’t be testing in the first place.
Second: What minor differences do exist can be dealt with in the grading process. In general education you don’t need a perfect score to pass a test, but everyone still takes the same test. A passing score is generally associated with a score of 70% or above. This would be a D on the A, B, C, D, F scale, but passing all the same. So why should the martial arts be any different? Using a similar scoring method, when testing students, would allow for personal differences, without degrading the testing process.
Quantifying the Quality of Kenpo:
I know that telling a martial arts instructor that they need to quantify a student’s knowledge and abilities, before promoting them, is a little bit like telling a mom how to raise her kids. Maybe not quite as bad, because telling an instructor what they should do can get you not-invited back – telling a mom how to raise her kids can get you killed.
So what does it mean to Quantify? In asking people if they know what quantify means, many people have said, “Not exactly.” The first time I heard the word I was in a sales meeting. Our guest speaker spoke for about two hours telling us we needed to quantify our leads. He said it didn’t matter how qualified the client was, what we needed to do was quantify, quantify, quantify! After the meeting let out I asked another sales guy if he knew what quantify meant and he said, “No, not really.” He asked if I knew and I said, “Not a clue.” So I went and looked it up.
Put simply, Quantify means to measure the quality of something. Now that I know what it means, I think it’s extremely important as well. Telling a student they’re doing pretty good, but still needs to work on some things, doesn’t really cut it. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve retired to the back room after a test, to discuss the student’s performance, and someone says, “So what do you think?” Then someone else says, “Well, it was good, you know, there were some things that need work, but overall it was good.”
On the other hand if I were to ask someone how they liked their car, they may say something like, “I love my car! It’s got five hundred horsepower, leather interior, pearlescent paint, one-off custom wheels and a killer stereo!” Even if they don’t own a super-car, they can still tell you what they like about their car. “It’s dependable, gets great mileage, has a room for the kids and all their stuff; it even has little televisions in the headrests to keep the kids occupied on long trips.” Either way, they’re able to tell you exactly what they like about their car – that’s quantifying.
When you tell a student they’re doing well, but they still need to work on it, they’re likely to think of it in the same way as I look at running a marathon; all I have to do to improve is run faster and get done sooner. In order for a student to improve they need specific information as to their performance. It’s one thing to say a student’s techniques need more power. It’s something else to say their techniques lack power, because they aren’t using their hips.
Martial Art or Martial Science?
Another way to look at the martial arts is in relation to Hard and Soft Sciences. Hard Sciences are characterized as relying on quantifiable data and the scientific method while focusing on accuracy and objectivity. Physics and chemistry are examples of Hard Sciences. Soft Sciences are characterized as being difficult to establish measurable data for. Psychology and sociology are examples of Soft Sciences. So if we were to compare Objectivity to Hard Sciences and Subjectivity to Soft Sciences, where do you think the martial art of American Kenpo would fit in?
In the November 1985 issue of Black Belt magazine Mr. Parker said, “I teach these techniques not for the sake of teaching the techniques, but for the principles that are involved in the techniques.” In his Encyclopedia of Kenpo Mr. Parker defines Principle as a comprehensive and fundamental rule stemming from a theory which, through devoted analysis, developed into the proven characteristics and facts that made it doctrine. This leads me to believe that the martial arts in general and American Kenpo specifically are more closely related to hard science based on quantifiable characteristics, than to soft science and subjective thinking.
Kenpo may be called a martial art, but I consider Kenpo to be more a martial science. Quantifying the quality of a student’s knowledge and performance during training and at the time of testing will help insure that the principles, Mr. Parker based his system upon, won’t be lost and forgotten.
Life on Top of the World: I opened my first Kenpo School in Anchorage, Alaska, in early 1981. By May of . . .
that year I had about thirty students; I was a karate teacher, I was living the dream, I was living on top of the world. Since that day there's never been a down-side. Every day since then has been a learning experience that I wouldn't trade for anything. This is a small tribute to my earliest students, who helped make the dream come true.
McHugh Creek, AK - May 23, 1981
Being an avid hiker since I was a little kid, I've always included hiking with my karate training. One of my most memorable "Kenpo" hikes was one I did with a small group of students fairly soon after I opened my school in Anchorage.
The location was McHugh Creek, just outside of town. The hike took about four hours of good hard hiking to get to the top, but when I got about twenty feet from the top I stopped, nestled down into the grass, told my students I had gone far enough, and took a nap. Why?
The first thing I noticed, when we started hiking, was how everyone was so focused on getting to the top of the mountain. The hike itself seemed to be nothing more than a struggle that each of the students were willing to endure, all because they knew they were eventually going to stand on top of the mountain. So I definitely surprised everyone, when about twenty feet from the top, I stopped and said we were as far as we need to go. Then I nestled down into the grass, ready for a nap.
Of course I was met with immediate disagreement. "But Mr. Hale we're only a few feet from the top. We can't quit now!" But I insisted we were done and that we need not go any further. The looks on their faces were amazing. They wanted nothing more than to reach the top, but they dare not disobey my instructions to stop. Not that they stopped complaining by any means, as they were unrelenting with their requests to stand on top the mountain.
Eventually I did give in, but with one condition. I said you can go to the top, but only if you stay there for ten minutes. Looking at me like I was nuts, they readily agreed. (Most likely thinking that after such a grueling hike, an hour at the top would be more like it.)
So, with my permission, everyone dashed to the top, where they could bask in the glory of their achievement. When they reached the top they were ecstatic. They thrust their fists into the air shouted out how great it was to be on top of the mountain.
Only I had been on top of that mountain before - many times in fact and I knew something they didn't know – it was freezing cold at the top. You see the front side of the mountain faced the sun, so the hike on the way up was relatively warm, for Alaska standards anyway. But the backside of the mountains dropped down into cold shadows that kept the air cold until the sun was higher in the sky and the wind from that cold valley would kind of roll up the backside of the mountain right to the top, before being pushed back down onto itself from the warm air coming in from the front. The effects of this was to basically freeze anything (or anyone) on top of the mountain until the sun got directly overhead. But if you were to stop, say twenty feet shy of the top, you could avoid all this cold air and take a much deserved nap in the comfort of the warm sun.
Of course within a couple of minutes, everyone on top the mountain was freezing cold. As if the cold and chill factor weren't enough, you have to remember everyone had just hiked for about four hours to get to the top, so they were wet with sweat and when the chilling wind swept through their wet clothes - teeth chattering set in quickly. As you would expect, within minutes of reaching the top, my students were begging me to let them come back down to where I was comfortably tucked in. My response, as should be anticipated was, "You still have eight more minutes." To this they cried, "But we're freezing." My response to them was, "Yes, I bet you are, but the good news is you only have seven more minutes."
When their ten minutes were up I called everyone to come on down and join me in the warmth of the sun and out of the wind. I think they accused me of leaving them up there for the greater part of an hour, but I distinctly remember it being ten minutes . . . or so. Anyway, I patiently waited for everyone to re-warm themselves by alternating curling up, stretching out, and rubbing their arms and legs until the feeling started to come back. Then I said I wanted to talk to them for a minute or two before we went back to the top. No one, of course, wanted to go back to the top, but I think they knew we weren't taking a vote.
I said, hiking is a lot like karate and a lot like life in general, for that matter. We all have a destination in mind and can only imagine how great it's going to be when we get there. When we're hiking we can't wait to get to the top of the mountain. When we're studying karate we can't wait to get a black belt. At work we want to have important jobs that make us lots of money and we all want to marry Miss America. There's nothing wrong with having ambition, but sometimes the top of the ladder isn't all it's cracked up to be. From the time you started out this morning all you could think about was making it to the top of the mountain. You gave little thought to the journey itself, so you traded four arduous hours of hiking uphill and three more hours of pounding downhill for what? Ten minutes of glory? Which by the way, turned out to be ten minutes of freezing hell if I'm not mistaken?
You see on the other hand, I enjoy hiking. Sure it's great getting to the top, but it's not the top that's most important to me. What's important to me is that I'm out here hiking. With all its effort, pain and difficulties my entire body, mind and soul enjoy the practice of hiking. I won't say I don't enjoy making it to the top, I do. I enjoy the achievement, the bragging rights, the pictures, everything, but if I didn't enjoy the journey itself do you think I'd hike this same mountain time and time again? Oh yes, I've been to the top of this mountain many times before. How do you think I knew you're going to freeze your asses off when you got to the top?
In the martial arts, getting your black belt is kind of like reaching the top of the mountain. It's a great accomplishment, but like the mountain, it's not always what you expect when you get there. In fact, today's mountain is a great example. Not only was it a lot of work to get here, not that great at the top and a long way down, but if you look in front of us you'll see the mountain isn't just a mountain, but part of a mountain range and we're on the lowest peak. To get to (what looks like) the highest peak we would have to continue hiking down the back side of this peak and up the ridgeline to the top of the next one. That alone would take us more time and energy than we have available, but don’t worry about it, because that one only looks like the highest peak anyway. If we were to get there you'd see that it's not the highest peak either, it only looks like it from here. I don't know why that is, but the next peak over always seems to look higher than all the others. Maybe it's God's way of keeping us going by tricking us into thinking we're almost there.
The bottom line is this; if all you want is a black belt then quit now, because if that's all you want I can assure you that it won't be worth the price you'll have to pay for it. And if you did get a black belt, what would you do then, keep studying, keep training? Why should you? After all you'd already have what you came for, so why invest any more time, or endure any more discomforts. If it's a black belt you want, you have to know belts don't get any blacker after the first one anyway. On the other hand if it's the journey you enjoy then let's get up, go back to the top of this little mountain, and take a few more steps in the right direction. And don't worry about getting cold, I'll personally make sure that don't happen.
1 - 10
Patience and Consistency: Most of my writings are based on questions I'm asked. The answers to these questions . . .
sometimes turnout interesting enough to turn into a white-paper. In this case, a black belt recently asked me how he could improve his Kenpo. I hear this question often, but seldom from black belts. What I too often hear from black belts is, what do I have to do to get my next rank. I know, in most cases, it's almost the same thing as asking how they can improve their Kenpo, because everyone knows they need to improve their Kenpo to keep moving up. Still, I'll always be more impressed with someone who asks how they can improve their Kenpo, over what they need to do to get promoted. When someone asks what they need to do to get promoted, I generally say something like, well you have to suck less at Kenpo at 2nd than you did at 1st. This is always said in jest, but no less true.
How we become better at Kenpo is a good question. Another way to look at it is, how do we become good at anything? The old expression, practice makes perfect is too simple, but saying perfect practice makes perfect is seriously flawed. The problem with that is, how can we practice something perfectly, if we can't do it perfectly in the first place? Saying, perfect practice makes perfect, sounds good, but it's unrealistic. Instead, let's just say something like, correct practice makes improvements.
I mention this because what we're often told is perfect, at white belt and yellow belt, is not-so-perfect at brown and black belt. When I teach Short Form 1, to a white belt, performing the cover blocks is not a requirement. By the time students reach orange belt, the cover blocks are required, so if someone is testing for orange belt, with the same version of Short Form 1 they used for yellow belt, they risk failing their test.
I don't think the above concept will surprise anyone, but what may surprise a few people is when you reach black belt, that same process should keep repeating itself. It's one thing to say, "The journey really begins at black belt." But, how many black belts really understand what that means?
I've never seen a 1st degree black belt doing all the material correctly, but back when I was a 1st degree black, I remember thinking that I was. Well, I knew there were still a few things to learn, but I mostly thought all I needed to do was get faster and fight better. The truth is, 1st degree black belts need to work on their flaws more than any belt beneath them. If they don't work to fix their flaws at 1st, 2nd and 3rd, Ed Parker himself wouldn't be able to convince them to do it at 4th, 5th 6th and above.
This is not a realization that slipped by Mr. Parker. Just look at the titles he designated to accompany each degree of black belt.
1st - Junior Instructor
2nd - Associate Instructor
3rd - Instructor
4th - Head Instructor
5th - Associate Professor
6th - Professor
7th - Senior Professor
8th - Associate Master
9th - Master of the Arts
10th - Senior Master of the Arts
I remember thinking, when I got my 1st degree black belt, that Junior Instructor IS NOT going on my business card. I think it's a safe bet that "Junior Instructor" has been put on a business card NEVER!
We all know how the rank in American Kenpo has gotten mostly out of control, but I have a great idea to fix it . . . that won't actually work any better than Mr. Parker trying to humble 1st degree black belts with the title of Junior Instructor, but it's a fun thought anyway. What if when you received your black belt it came with a WHITE stripe, 2nd would have a YELLOW stripe, etc. This would continue through 9th degree black, with three brown stripes. Not until you reached 10th degree could you wear a plain-black belt. I bet we'd see a lot more plain-black belts on . . . everybody!
Okay, so let's look at a couple of ways we can improve our Kenpo. Keep in mind there are many specific ways I could improve your Kenpo, if I were standing there watching you perform. These suggestions are not about telling you what to do with your hands and feet. This is about helping you practice consistently, with the patience necessary, to learn Kenpo correctly.
I believe one of the most difficult aspects of our modern society, when it comes to practicing consistently, is the monumental number of distractions available to us. When my great grandparents went to school, they had very few distractions keeping them from their homework. In fact, many children, of my great grandparent's generation found homework preferable to their chores of feeding pigs, bailing hay and mending fences.
With each generation, while after-school chores are steadily decreasing, distractions are increasing exponentially. As children, my great grandparents had no television. Television was invented in 1927, one year before my dad was born, but didn't become mainstream until after World War II, when my dad was already a young adult. When I was a kid, growing up in Alaska, we had one television and two channels. Of course, there were no computers, Internet, video games, or Facebook.
By the time I started Kenpo, in 1972, the biggest electronic distraction was Pong. Yet even without high-tech electronics, video games and seventeen hundred television stations, I had plenty of distractions to keep me from practicing too. Personally, I've found the best time to practice is any time before I turn on the television. Everyone I've ever met, including myself, who sits down in front of the television, just to take a short break, tends to not get up again. Don't get me wrong, I love television. It puts me to sleep at night, but it can also put me to sleep during the day - if I let it.
Practicing correctly is even more difficult than practicing consistently, because practicing correctly takes patience. Above, I blamed distractions for our lack of consistency. In the same way, I blame the pace of these distractions for our lack of patience. I also mentioned that Pong was the biggest electronic distraction available, back in 1972, but I seriously doubt that today's generation would find it nearly as enticing as my generation did. By today's standards, Pong is a slow, one dimensional game, with only a handful of Bing and Boing sounds, to keep us entertained. It's hard to imagine that people used to throw their fists in the air and scream YES! after they won a round of Pong, but they did.
If you've never played Pong, or if you want to give it another go, you can play at http://www.ponggame.org/
Today, everything is faster paced, not just video games and movies - everything! Take today's computer start-up and internet connection compared to yesterday's computer start-up and dial-up modem connection. Today when I get in my car, one button automatically adjusts the seat five different ways and all three of the mirrors. When my dad got in his car, he adjusted the seat either forward or back and he manually adjusted all three of the mirrors. When I get home, I push one button to open the gate and one more button to open the garage. When my dad got home, he stopped the car in front of the gate, got out, removed the padlock, swung the gate open, got back in the car, pulled forward, got back out of the car, closed the gate, locked the padlock, got back in the car . . . get my point?
Being victims of this fast-paced society has left us being very impatient with anything that takes too much time. Believe me, I'm as bad as anyone else. One of my pet peeves is when I'm behind people who wait for our security gate to fully open and completely stop, before they drive through. When this happens I quietly scream to myself, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR! IT'S AN EIGHTEEN-FOOT OPENING AND YOU'RE DRIVING A SIX-FOOT WIDE CAR! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR! It's like those extra five seconds come directly off my TV watching time and I'll miss the end of my favorite show, because of this stupid . . .
PATIENCE! I mean, patience is not just a virtue, it's a requirement if you ever want to become good at something. Well, maybe except for losing your temper. The quicker and more often you do that, the better you'll be at it.
Oh, did I mention the difference between white belt patience and black belt patience? White belts are generally more patient than black belts. This is because a white belt generally knows they're not that good and to be better they must learn correctly, practice correctly and train correctly. Most black belts already think they doing it correctly, so they generally don't study or practice as much as they should. They usually just perform the material as they learned it as a colored belt. Eventually, left uncorrected, they'd fall back on saying they're tailoring it, adjusting it, or even "fixing it" instead of taking the time to correct it.
Every now and then, when I think I'm getting good at Kenpo, I pause and imagine AC Rainey fighting, Paul Dye doing techniques, or Angelo Collado doing forms. If that doesn't humble me back onto the mat with a little patience for practicing correctly, then I'm a lost cause.
Quoting Ed Parker: Just because a quote has Ed Parker's name and picture with it, does not mean it's an actual . . .
quote by Ed Parker. There's a popular "quote" running the Internet, that many people are reading and passing along as if were an actual quote by Ed Parker. I'm sure most of you have seen it, or a version of it, but it is not a quote by Ed Parker. It's close, but it's not an exact quote or even an accurate statement. The supposed quote is actually a number of separate semi-quotes, strung together, out of context, in an effort to justify someone’s agenda.
I'm sure whoever put this together wanted to change something, but would feel better about doing so if he could somehow get Mr. Parker (twenty years after his death) to go along with him. And how could he do that? By creating a fake quote by Ed Parker that support his own ambitions. His theme was obviously "Change" as he put together a series of quotes and misquotes that repeat "change" five times; using four of them to support his first misquote. (Please feel free to correct me if you find this exact “quote” in its entirety somewhere.)
Here is the complete supposed quote:
"When I'm gone, I hope that people won't try to traditionalize my art. I want you to always remember that Kenpo will always be the Art of Perpetual Change. If you remember this, then the Art will never become obsolete because it will change with the times. While the ignorant refuse to study and the intelligent never stop, we should always be mindful of the fact that our reward in life is proportional with the contribution we make. A true Martial Artist is not one who fears change, but one who causes it to happen. To live is to change, and to obtain perfection is to have changed often."
As you will see below, this is not a quote by Ed Parker, but a string of quotes and misquotes put together in such a way as to make the reader believe this was a complete statement made by Ed Parker Sr. Some people may say it doesn't matter, because it's similar to something Mr. Parker has said, or would say, but would you want someone to do this to you? We've all written many things; it would only take a few minutes for someone to skim through anything we've written and piece together a quote that misrepresents what we really said.
Now let me break down the quote and tell you, as best I can, where the statements came from:
The first statement: “When I'm gone, I hope that people won't try to traditionalize my art." Although I couldn't find where Ed Parker Sr. said this, there is a similar quote by Ed Parker Jr. which states, "Many martial artists have chosen to traditionalize Ed Parker’s Kenpo and refrain from changing anything. Yet my father made it obvious that he favored progress over stagnation." (Black Belt 11/1/1999 American Kenpo: Ed Parker's Son Sets the Record Straight - Ed Parker Jr.)
The second statement: “I want you to always remember that Kenpo will always be the Art of Perpetual Change.” The closest quote I found, by Ed Parker Sr., is: “Kenpo never changes it is perpetually refined.” (The Zen of Kenpo, Page 57)
The third statement: “If you remember this, then the Art will never become obsolete because it will change with the times.” Although this statement sounds very familiar, so far, I’ve been unable to find where Ed Parker Sr. said this, let alone where he said it immediately after saying, I want you to always remember that Kenpo will always be the Art of Perpetual Change.
The final statements: "While the ignorant refuse to study and the intelligent never stop, we should always be mindful of the fact that our reward in life is proportional with the contribution we make. A true Martial Artist is not one who fears change, but one who causes it to happen. To live is to change, and to obtain perfection is to have changed often.” This is a quote from Infinite Insights into Kenpo, Volume 2, Page 2. It's also in the Zen of Kenpo on Page 13. But now consider the context of this quote. Being on page 2 of a book in which Mr. Parker is expounding on the virtues of his system would lead me to believe he's suggesting the reader consider changing to his way of thinking - which he is about to explain, after page 2 and before the end of the book. It doesn't lead me to believe he is suggesting the reader change away from his way of thinking, or to change his art, which he has yet to even explain to the reader.
Some may say I’m splitting hairs, but again, how would you like for someone to string several of your quotes together, out of context, in order to come up with something you really didn't say? For example, I've said he words "I love you." and I've said, "Travis, want to get a beer after class?" But I've never said, "I love you Travis, want to get a beer after class?" See how important it can be to get a quote correct and in context? (Sorry Travis)
Mr. Parker always spoke of refining and perfecting the art of Kenpo - not changing it. This isn't to say we can't tailor it to suit our needs, because we can, but Mr. Parker talked and wrote about his art more often in the form of principles than he did as specific movements. So when people misquote him with statements like "Kenpo is an art of perpetual change" instead of "Kenpo never changes it is perpetually refined." they're fooling themselves (and trying to fool others) into thinking it's okay to change anything they want.
I suggest, before believing a quote is truly by Mr. Parker, that we look for proof and expect the writer to provide us with proof that the quote is real. Then we need to make an effort to understand the quote as it was written or spoken in context and not necessarily as a stand-alone statement.
Mr. Parker is no longer with us, but he dedicated many years of his life to writing down his thoughts and beliefs for us to study. To twist and distort his words to benefit our own agenda is an insult to the man and his memory.
The Protocol of Bowing: Interestingly enough something that once brought dignity and respect . . .
into the dojo, now often causes hurt feelings and animosity. I’m referring to the protocol of bowing.
The custom of bowing came to us through the Asian martial arts and has, in most cases, stayed with the teaching of almost all martial arts around the world. When I started in American Kenpo, I was told that we only bow on and off the mat, as a sign of respect for those who have gone before us. Our show of respect, to one another, was shown through a salute. This is done by stepping into a left cat-stance, while displaying a right fist backed with a left open hand. Our salute serves the same basic purpose as a bow.
As I remember, we would perform the short salute, as described above, to our instructor before and after class, as well as before and after working with a partner. The only time we did the full salutation was before and after the technique forms and at the end of class, in respect to Mr. Parker, whose picture was on the wall.
Over the years, who you salute, when you salute and how you salute seems to have become more complicated. If you don’t know the answer to those three things you may want to find out, because you could be, unknowingly, ruffling somebody’s feathers every time you come to class. It may be worth your while to ask your head instructor these questions. Then, you may also want to ask the same questions of each of the black belts who teach at, or visit, your school. If the answers you receive are inconsistent, you may want to go back to your head instructor and share your dilemma.
The first time I had an issue with bowing was when I was studying Tae Kwon Do. I had been told that when we entered the school, we were to bow to the instructor and he would, in return, bow to us. This went well for a few months, but then I noticed that our instructor would quickly tire of bowing to one student after another, as we all showed up for class. Eventually he started to kind of nod his head toward us instead of bowing. One day, when I was the first and only student in the school, I bowed to my instructor, who was seated at his office desk. He looked up briefly and nodded his head in return, I paused at his door and bowed to him again. Again he nodded his head in my direction. I bowed a third time and he stopped what he was doing and asked me what I was doing. I said, “It was my understanding that when I entered the school, I was to bow to him and he was to bow back to me.” He said, “I did bow back to you,” I very politely said, “No Sir you did not bow, you nodded your head.” At this he lowered his head slightly and closed his eyes briefly. He then stood up, apologized and gave me a full bow. I knew this was a risky move, but I didn’t make the rules, I just agreed to live by them.
On another occasion I wasn’t nearly as polite. I was still a white belt in Tae Kwon Do, but also a brown belt in Kenpo, when a thirteen-year-old black belt demanded I bow to him. When I refused, he said I must bow to him, because he out ranked me. To that I looked down at him and said, “Yes but I can kick your ass.” Our teacher happened to be walking by at that point, so the little twerp looked to him for support. Instead of telling me to bow to him, our instructor smiled and said, “This true, he kick your ass.” Then he walked away with the smile still on his face.
Both of these stories are no big deal. On the first occasion, I waited until my teacher and I were alone, then brought up the issue as politely and respectively as I could. The second occasion was just stupid.
The first time I recognized that who you saluted (and when) was becoming a real issue was in my friends Kenpo school. Somewhere along the line, having the entire student body stop what they’re doing and salute “all black belts” when they entered the school, had become mandatory. Although not all the black belts cared to be acknowledged every time they entered the school, one black belt in particular insisted that when he entered the school, whoever was teaching should stop the class and shout “Black Belt entering the school!” Then everyone was supposed to stop what they’re doing and salute him.
When I started in Kenpo our school only had one black belt, so we could have followed this protocol with ease. On the other hand, in recent years, I’ve visited some very large schools that have multiple training areas, with separate classes being held simultaneously. The number of black belts who walk through the doors of these schools can be staggering. It could be ten to fifteen adult black belts – not to mention the number of junior black belts. Can you imagine stopping every class to salute every black belt who walks into the school? Logistically, this can become a nightmare. Not to mention how many adult students would quit the first time they had to stop what they were doing to salute a ten-year-old black belt - who has his belt tied wrong.
I don’t know when saluting every black who enters a school became mandatory, but it seems to be a growing trend/problem. The IKKA manuals say that a student, upon entering the school, should salute each black belt, in order of their rank. It further says that when a class is being conducted, the instructor is required to call the class to attention and salute the “Senior Instructor” when he arrives. Note, the manual does not say the instructor is required to call the class to attention and salute “Every Instructor” when they arrive. Then again, the manual leaves a lot of gray area in regard to who to salute and when. It doesn’t say anything about being in or out of uniform. Walking in off the street, out of uniform, an instructor looks pretty much like anyone else. Sure, most of the students will know who he is, but the newer students may have no idea they were supposed to salute . . . that guy over there.
The way I see it, every school has “one” senior instructor. If you’re not him, you shouldn’t expect everyone in the school to stop what they’re doing and salute you, every time you walk through the door.
With that being said, every school has the right to make their own policies. Even the schools within my own association are welcome to decide for themselves who they would like to salute, when and how. My only suggestion is to keep it simple. Beyond that, regardless of what your policy is, make sure everyone is aware of the policy and that everyone follows the policy.
The Problem with Memorization: The problem with memorization is that, in itself, it has very little value as it . . .
relates to Kenpo. I’ve seen practitioners who have memorized our entire curriculum, but lack everything Kenpo – making them about as dangerous as a butterfly. I often ask this question when I’m teaching seminars, “What’s the least important thing about a form or a technique?” The answers form the students vary, but my answer always remains the same. “Remembering them.” I know this may sound crazy at first, but bear with me just a moment.
Let’s say I wanted to run a mountain marathon. As part of my training I’ll be training on a series of trails that my coach has laid out in a local mountain range. All the trails start from the same point, but split into a multitude of directions within the fist mile. One trail goes up a series of steep (but short) hills designed to build strength. Another trail goes out on a long easy course with long rolling hills, in order to build stamina. Yet another trail goes out slow and easy, for a couple of miles, and then goes up and down some killer hills interspaced with quarter mile flats in between. This trail will build both stamina and strength. In all, the training course has dozens of specific trail combinations that’ll provide me with all the training I need to eventually run a mountain marathon. To make the trail system a little more interesting and each trail more identifiable, my coach has given each trail a unique name. One trail is called LSD, which strands for the Long Slow Distance, then we have one called Cardiac, for obvious reasons, and another called the Warp Speed, because it’s a point to point trail and downhill all the way. All I have to do is follow the program, running each trail on the scheduled day and eventually I’ll be ready to run a mountain marathon.
Now, let’s take another look at memorization. What value is there in memorizing each of these individual trails? I can sit on the couch and memorize the trail system, but that’ll do nothing for my physical conditioning. What I need to do is memorize the trail system so that I can actually go out and run these trails – without getting lost. Eventually, long after the memorization phase is past, I’ll become comfortable enough with these trails that I may start out on one trail, but decide it’s not quite doing it for me today, so I may switch onto another trail in order to get in some extra hills or to add a few more miles. On another day I may switch trails in order to shorten the course or just to run on a different surface. Eventually, I’ll know the trail system well enough that I start my run with no predetermined course in mind at all. Instead I just start running and let my legs take me where they may, switching from one trail to another, always knowing where I am and where I’m going.
Kenpo is the same way – there’s very little value in memorization alone. The value is in practicing and studying that material that you’ve memorized. Just like running a mountain trail, your physical performance will be enhanced each time you perform the (memorized) material correctly and eventually memorization will give way to internalization. At that point you will no longer care if you can remember each and every technique, set or form, because you’ll know Kenpo.
So, where has all this emphasis on memorization come from anyway? Mostly it came from the Karate boom of the sixties and seventies. Prior to that karate was a relatively obscure in the United States. Then, in 1964, Mr. Parker held the 1st International Karate Championships in Long Beach, California – it was attended by an unprecedented crowd of 5,000 spectators. The following year, the International’s sold out for a second year in a row and by 1970 the International’s had around 2,000 competitors and 10,000 spectators. With all this attention the karate business in general, and Ed Parker’s Kenpo specifically, was booming.
With the karate boom in full progress, new schools were opening left and right but the number of truly qualified Kenpo instructors was still very limited. As a result many of the early Kenpo schools didn’t even have Kenpo instructors. What many of the schools had were black belt instructors, from other systems who were given a set of manuals to teach from. But unlike our manuals of today, Mr. Parker’s early manuals were relatively short on detail. By that I mean an early technique would outline the blocks and strikes, but didn’t include many references to the principles of Kenpo that would make the blocking and striking most effective and uniquely Kenpo. Therefore many of the newly converted instructors would simply teach the Kenpo techniques as if they were elongated versions of the more traditional one and two-step sparing techniques - placing no more emphasis on principles than they did in their original system. And how could you blame them? Like I said, many of these instructors had never studied Kenpo in their life, but Kenpo was selling and the last thing you want to do when your product is selling is to put your sales people through a five year training program before they hit the streets.
By the end of the original karate boom we had hundreds of instructors teaching Kenpo across the country, but only a fraction of these instructors actually understood that Kenpo was a unique system based on principles and not just another martial art with lots of techniques. Therefore instead of teaching their students Kenpo as a principle based system, they just kept teaching their students to memorize one technique after another until they memorized themselves all the way to black belt. They were teaching Kenpo because Kenpo was popular, but because they didn’t really know Kenpo, they couldn’t truly understand or appreciate its intricacies.
Now that we had a fairly large number of well-meaning, but uneducated, instructors teaching Kenpo, the quality of the art naturally started to decline. (This, of course, isn’t unique to Kenpo; the decline of the martial arts is epidemic in our modern society, but that depressing subject is an article, if not a book, all on its own.) What I’m really trying to clarify here is that, due to the rapid spread of Kenpo across the country and around the world, the principles of the art, in fact the very essence of the art, were becoming lost in the shuffle.
Although I hate to go down this road, let me take it a step further and say that not only did we have a fairly large number of – well meaning – but uneducated instructors teaching Kenpo, we also had an even larger number outright frauds teaching something to the public that they called Kenpo.
When I left Alaska in 1984, and moved back to California, I left my students with AC Rainey, who was actually our head instructor at the time anyway. I owned the school, but AC had shown up at my door about four years earlier and within the hour had become our head instructor, which is another story unto itself. Anyway, after I had been gone for about a year, I came back up to visit, only to discover that a yellow belt, from my own school, had decided not to go with AC, but instead went off and opened his own school – as a black belt. I just kept saying no way, no way! Finally they took me to this guys school, which was really nothing more than a room on the second floor of a small office building and there it was. Fortunately (for both of us) the school wasn’t open and I didn’t have to opportunity to personally express my . . . disappointment to this gentleman.
Anyway, so now we now have some well-meaning but uneducated instructors, along with some totally idiots, teaching “Ed Parker’s Kenpo” all over the country. It should be of no surprise that they would now start to, unwittingly, mess with the system. After all if you don’t know that a specific technique was designed to both introduce and reinforce specific principles, it’s easy to misinterpret the techniques as being ineffective.
Take the self-defense technique Thundering Hammers, for example. It defends against a right step-through punch with your first defensive maneuver being a left inward block against your opponent’s right punch followed by shuffling forward as you deliver a right inward horizontal forearm across your opponent’s stomach. But almost before the technique is committed to memory, many instructors started changing the forearm strike to a punch or a heel palm and they changed the target from the stomach to the solar plexus or groin. What they didn’t do (because they didn’t know it themselves) was explain to the students that through the tailoring principle of Kenpo you can change the weapon, the target and the timing at will, but what you shouldn’t do is overlook the power generating principles that make the technique effective in the first place. In this case it’s the forward momentum, rotational force and marriage of gravity that give power to the initial strike – be it a forearm strike, a punch or a heel palm. What’s worse is the number of instructors who not only neglected the power generating principles, but also the checks, covers and footwork. Fully half the schools I visit don’t remember buckle their opponent’s forward leg, in unison, with their first strike. On top of that many people’s Thundering Hammers don’t Thunder. Instead they use little flipping hammer-fists that look like a vain attempt to keep their offensive moves within their outer rim instead of taking advantage of their outer perimeter.
What all of this means is don’t let the memorization of Kenpo replace the understanding of Kenpo. As a student of the art you will eventually memorize a lot of material, but do so as a byproduct of your study, not as the purpose of your study. For a martial artist to simply memorize Kenpo and then perform it without the knowledge and use of its principles is like a body builder going to the gym and lifting weights, day after day, with no knowledge of body building principles or nutrition. They will progress, to some degree, but they too will never reach their full potential.
Which Technique Manuals are Best: I often get asked which version of Mr. Parker’s technique manuals are the . . .
best to study from. So, I've written out three versions of the Yellow Belt Technique "Delayed Sword". The first version is from my original 1970's Accumulative Journal, the next two are more recent versions from the 80's and 90's respectively. Read the below techniques, and then decide for yourself which manual may be best for you to study from.
1970s Technique Manual:
1. With your feet together step back with your left foot into a right neutral bow as you execute a right inward block to the right inner wrist of opponent. Have your left hand guard near your solar plexus to act as a check if needed.
2. Immediately deliver (from your right neutral bow stance) a right front snap ball kick to opponent's groin.
3. As you plant your right foot toward 11 o'clock deliver a right outward handsword to the right side of opponent's neck.
1980s Technique Manual:
1. With your feet together step back with your left foot toward 6:00 into a right neutral bow stance facing 12:00, while simultaneously executing a right inward block to the right inner wrist of your opponent. At the same time position your left hand at solar-plexus level as a precautionary check against further action.
2. Immediately slide your right foot back into a cat stance.
3. Without hesitation deliver a right front snap ball kick to your opponent’s groin.
4. Plant your right foot (back to its point of origin) into a right neutral bow, facing 12:00, as you strike with a right outward handsword to the right side of your opponent's neck. Immediately slide your right hand (after the strike) to the right wrist of your opponent as a precautionary check.
1990s Technique Manual:
1. Standing naturally, step back with your left foot toward 6:00 into a right neutral bow stance facing 12:00, while simultaneously executing a right inward block to the right inner wrist of your opponent. At the same time position your left hand at solar-plexus level as a precautionary check against further action. (Your block should clear your opponent’s right arm, and expose the width of his body.)
2. Immediately slide your right foot back into a cat stance.
3. Without hesitation deliver a right front snap ball kick to your opponent’s groin. (Your opponent’s reaction should cause him to bend forward at the waist.)
4. Plant your right foot forward into a right neutral bow (facing 12:00) to check your opponent’s right knee, as you deliver a right outward handsword strike to the right side of your opponent’s neck. Remember to maintain the position of your left hand as a precautionary check. Immediately slide your right hand (after the strike) to the right wrist of your opponent as a precautionary check. (Your opponent’s response should cause him to fall to the ground.)
The above versions of Delayed Sword are very similar - in fact they’re identical for the most part. What Mr. Parker did, throughout his career, was "refine" his written work so people could more completely understand his art of American Kenpo. He knew that he wouldn’t be personally teaching his art to each and every individual who was going to study it - so he put together the original “Big Red” Accumulative Journal. With a standard practice manual he could have some degree of consistency among those studying his art. Of course writing a manual of that magnitude was quite an undertaking and although Mr. Parker was college educated, he wasn’t a professional writer. Besides that, it would be naive to think that Mr. Parker knew all there was to know about the art, he was creating, on opening day. The concepts, theories and principles were there, but deciding on the best way to convey this information to the masses was still in the works. It would take years of Mr. Parker refining his written work before it would start to catch up with what was going on inside his head and on the mat.
His most recent manuals simply provide more information than the previous. I guess the biggest change would be the inclusion of extensions for purple through green belt. Actually, when people complain about the “new” manuals it’s usually the extensions they’re complaining about. Personally, I love the extensions. But, if you don’t like them, don’t study them. The base techniques, in the new manuals, are still more informative than the earlier versions.
The Practicality of Weapons Techniques: American Kenpo doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to . . .
weapons techniques. It seems many people believe these techniques are not practical enough for the street, but if you think Kenpo is a system of 154 self-defense techniques, all designed to work brilliantly on the street, then you need to go back and read everything written by SMA Ed Parker all over again. The very first thing you should know about a weapons techniques is that they’re techniques of last resort. Defending against a weapon, especially a knife or a gun, is something you should do only when you have absolutely no alternative.
American Kenpo is a system of principles that uses self-defense techniques, sets and forms to teach us how to utilize those principles. Some techniques seem more practical than others, but no technique, ours or anybody else's, is guaranteed to work on the street. This is because there's really no such thing as a practical self-defense technique. A technique may seem practical, if the person teaching it provides specific guidelines for what it defends against, but as we all know, the infamous What-if will always rear its ugly head. Not just in American Kenpo, but in any martial art.
Imagine yourself thrusting a knife at someone who's going to apply the best and most practical defense you've ever seen against a knife attack. Now imagine adding a quick snap kick to the defenders groin just before thrusting the knife toward him. All of a sudden, the most practical knife defense you've ever seen has problems of its own. Every knife technique I’ve seen, including those on the internet, defend against either a single movement, or an easily anticipated double movement. I’ve yet to see anyone defend against a knife attack where the attacker uses his lead-hand to prompt a reaction from his victim, before he follows up with a series of non-stop stabs and slashes with a knife held in his back hand. It’s like the only people who ever attack with a knife have only one hand. Of course right now someone is thinking, “Well I know someone who can defend against any knife attack, I’ve seen him defend against non-stop attacks with live blades and I pity anyone who attacks him with a knife.” Fine, everyone knows someone who’s superhuman, but are you superhuman? Have you, or do you intend to, spend thousands of hours honing your skills, so you can maybe someday defend yourself against a professional knife fighter?
To really know and understand Kenpo is to know that everything that happens in the street will be spontaneous - not rehearsed. If anyone thinks that any pre-arranged self-defense technique is guaranteed to work against any realistic attack - they're heading for disappointment and maybe disaster. Just think about what helps a technique work in class. The opponent attacks with a specific attack and we respond with a specific defense. As we respond, the attacker either just stands there, or better yet, dummies for our every move. Yet, as we know, out on the street the attacker won't be just standing there, or dummying for us. He'll be throwing everything he has in a nonstop series of attacks. This is why we learn self-defense techniques according to the Three Phase Concept.
This Concept states that no technique is a set pattern or rule unto itself, but rather is composed of Three Phases:
1. The Ideal Phase: Fixed moves of defense, offense and the anticipated reactions that can stem from them.
2. The What If Phase: Expected, as well as unexpected opponent reactions are projected and evaluated.
3. The Formulation Phase: That actual application of your newly found alternatives to the original Ideal, or fixed technique.
As you can see, the memorized movements of a technique are only Phase 1 of a technique. Don't get me wrong, it's an important phase, because this is where we're first introduced to the principles of Kenpo, develop our basics and learn about the many variables available to us. I'm just saying we shouldn't judge a technique too harshly based on the Ideal Phase - especially when it comes to weapons techniques.
In order to better understand the Ideal Phase of self-defense techniques, you can think of them like useful phrases in a foreign language. You wouldn't memorize 154 phrases in Spanish and claim to know Spanish, so you shouldn't memorize 154 techniques in Kenpo and claim to know Kenpo. The ideal phases of techniques are only an introduction to techniques, not their final outcome.
What-ifs and Formulations:
The most important thing to know about the What-if and Formulation Phases is they should be studied after the Ideal Phase - not during it. I know there's a tendency for all of us to say, “What-if” while we're learning a new technique. It's normal and we all do it, but consider this: You're learning how to tie knots so you can go rock climbing. The instructor starts the lesson by saying, here's the first knot you need to learn. It's used to attach you to the harness and keep you from falling to your death. Would you cut in and say, but what-if I wasn't attaching a rope to my harness and wanted to attach a rope to something else? Be it sports, music, math, or science every endeavor comes with its basics. My suggestion, for the martial artist, is to save the what-if questions for at least one, or two, belt levels below the belt you're currently wearing. In other words a student shouldn't concern himself with the what-ifs of yellow belt until he's already earned his orange belt.
Looking for Value:
If you want to find something, you have to look for it. Anyone can take a quick look at our weapons techniques and say they have little value, no value, or worse yet, can get you killed – especially when you consider what I’ve already said about the unrealistic nature of any weapons technique. To that I say, there’s always more to everything than meets the eye. So let's look for some positives in regard to weapons techniques.
The first thing I can appreciate is how training against a weapon heightens my sense of awareness, compared to my easy going approach to non-weapon techniques. To see exactly what I'm talking about pick any partner and say you want him to defend against a right-hand grab with Delayed Sword. Now say you want him to do Delayed Sword again, but this time he'll be defending against a push instead of a grab. Next have him do the same technique against a punch. Notice how his demeanor doesn't change all that much. Now pull out a knife and say you want him to do the technique one more time. Notice how he'll take in a little breath, shift his weight around, roll his shoulders and wiggle his fingers - all in anticipation of doing the same technique, but this time against a knife.
I once had someone tell me we needed more weapons techniques in American Kenpo. I responded with, "What, a hundred and fifty four weapons techniques aren't enough?" He said, "We don't have that many weapons techniques." I said, "Sure we do. It's all in how you look at it. Based on the Three Phase Concept, after we've learned the Ideal Phase of a technique we have to consider the What-if Phase and answer that with a Formulation. So, What-if no one wanted to grab, push or punch us? What-if all they wanted to do is club, knife or shoot us? Could we formulate each and every one of our techniques into a weapon defense technique?" Try it some night. You'll see people twisting/turning, dodging/blocking, reacting and focusing better than ever before; all because they're defending against a weapon instead of an empty hand.
Another outstanding benefit I've found in weapons techniques is to do the exact opposite of what I just suggested. Instead of using a non-weapon techniques against weapon, use a weapon technique against an empty handed attack. A great example to start with is Entwined Lance. I'll be the first to admit that I get stabbed more often than not when I'm trying to do this technique against an aggressive opponent. No matter what anybody says, twisting your entire body out of the way in less time than it takes an attacker to quickly poke you with a knife isn't easy, but it is great training. It goes back to the same heightened sense of awareness I mentioned above. When we first learned another technique, Thrusting Salute, we were told to ride with the force of your opponent's push, but because Entwined Lance defends against a knife, we can't ride with it, we have to get completely out of the knife’s path. I may never entirely trust myself to perform Entwined Lance against a knife attack, but because I've tried over and over again to make it work, several things have happened. 1) My reactions have improved, 2) Triggered Salute has improved, and 3) Entwined Lance has become a favorite techniques against a right hand grab. The same holds true for Raining Lance. It's hard to imagine keeping a knife stuck in my opponent's leg, with alternating hands, as they switch back and forth between striking, choking, checking, pinching, etc. But after working it hundreds of times, consider doing the same technique against an overhead club attack . . . hmmm, not so bad.
Every one of our techniques has value, but it's seldom found in something as simple as defending against a specific attack. To continually discover value, you have to continually look for value. Most people simply have to stop saying, "That one doesn't work, so I don't do it / fixed it / changed it."
The first time Mr. Parker told me to punch him, I thought he was too big and too old to avoid my punch. Therefore I made the mistake of throwing a lazy punch that he slapped out of the way as he growled, "I said HIT me!" Thinking, "Fine, you want me to hit you, I'll hit you." and I snapped out a punch that I thought was sure to hit him. That's the last time I ever doubted Mr. Parker's ability to move extraordinarily fast.
Sometime later, I had the opportunity to practice knife techniques with Mr. Parker and I can honestly tell you he hadn't slowed down a bit. Here's exactly what happened. I got to the house at 10:00 am and Mr. Parker immediately says, "We're going to work on knife techniques today." Then he pulls one of his big knives out of a sheath and holds it up in the air. All I could think is, "I don't what to." Then he puts down the knife and picks up a piece of blue chalk. He proceeds to coat both edges of the sheath with the chalk, hands it to me and says, "Stab me." Knowing from previous experience, when Mr. Parker says to punch, kick, or stab him, he really means it, so I took a stance and went at him. Instantaneously, he took the knife away and it was now me defending myself against Ed Parker with a knife. Within a moment it was over and he asked me how I thought I did. Having never felt him stab me, I said I thought I did okay. He then says, "Go look in the mirror." Looking in the mirror I saw blue streaks on both sides of my neck, blue streaks under both my arms and two more between my legs. Speechless I just stood there looking in the mirror until he said, "I think this is enough for today, what do you think Rich Hale?" If I answered, I don't remember. I just remember picking up my stuff and walking out the door. Once outside I looked at my watch at it was 10:02. My greatest lesson in Kenpo took only two minutes.
The Power of American Kenpo: I hate to sound too old, or start too many conversations with . . .
"Back in the day", but now and then there's no better way to start a conversation.
So, back in the day, being a Black Belt really meant something. Not just being a Kenpo black belt, but anyone who had earned a black belt in the martial arts had earned the respect of their peers and society in general. It was assumed, and to a major degree, rightfully so, that a black belt was a total bad ass who could take you out with a single punch. Only today if you tell somebody that you're a black belt they'll likely say something like, "Oh that's nice, so is my ten-year-old son." In fact, here's a true story that happened to me.
A lady came up to me and in an interested tone, said, “I hear you're a black belt in karate. So tell me, how long did it take you to earn a black belt?" I proudly stated that it took me nine years to earn my rank. She then smiled and said, “Really? My ten-year-old son is a black belt too. It only took him two years, but he's very gifted." Then she just stood there, looking at me like I was retarded.
Having reached my breaking point, of being compared to yet another ten-year-old black belt, I politely said, "That's great, so I guess he can really defend himself." She said, "Oh yes, I even let him walk around the mall by himself, because no one’s going to mess with him." I pondered this for a moment and said, "So, I guess when it's time to come in for dinner, or time to go to bed, he only comes in, or goes to bed, if he wants to. Right? After all he's a black belt and you can't make him do anything he doesn't want to do, can you?” After a slight pause she looked me in the eye and said, "He better do what I say or I'll . . ." "You'll what?" I asked her. "You'll spank his little bottom?" With the ball rolling in my direction now, I said, "Are you a black belt too?” She says, "Well no . . ." I cut her off and looking her back in the eye, I say, “So you’re just a girl, right?” Calling her a girl did little for our friendship, but she started this conversation and I thought it was about time someone told her the truth about little kids who get their black belts in two years. “So let me get this straight, you’re not a black belt, you’re just a mom who can spank her little black belts butt if he doesn’t do what you say, but on the other hand he can defend himself against a two hundred and forty pound, sex crazed, maniac who wants to throw him in a van, rape and kill him. Do I have this right so far?
Now, if looks could kill, she’d have taken me out at that very moment, but looks don’t kill so I kept talking. I told her that just maybe she should “realistically” reconsider her little boy’s physical abilities and think twice about putting him in harm’s way – even if he is a black belt in karate. I did manage to resist telling her that (1) I was not retarded and that (2) I could kick her (very gifted) son’s ass. Only I thought that if I actually told her I could kick her son’s ass, it would do little to convince her that I wasn’t retarded, so I let that one go.
The point, by the way, isn’t about if ten year olds should be black belts. I completely approve of junior black belts, providing it says so on their certificate. The point is it takes a certain amount of power for any block, strike, kick, etc., to be effective. A big ten-year-old, weighing in at one hundred pounds fighting a two-hundred-pound man is like a two-hundred-pound man fighting a four-hundred-pound man. The biggest guy I ever fought with was only three hundred pounds and my strikes were bouncing off like bee bees hitting a brown bear.
For those of you who knew Mr. Parker, or have even seen him on video, I’d like you to think back on his most impressive quality. Was it his genius, his form, his speed? Although Mr. Parker possessed an overwhelming abundance in each of these categories, no one has ever started a conversation, with me, in regard to one of these being his most outstanding quality. No, the single most outstanding quality people refer to, when speaking of Mr. Parker, was his power. This certainly doesn’t take away from any of his other qualities, but should make us stop and think. If Mr. Parker was so well known for his power, should we let power slip away from the forefront of his system?
At this point some may say, “But there’s a lot more to karate than just power!” Really? I challenge anyone to find “a lot more” to do with karate that is in no way related to power. Just about every principle in Kenpo relates to either the creation of powerful movements or the delivery of those movements. Be it defensive or offensive, movements with power are going to be more effective than those without power. Even a parry, which is supposed to merely ride and redirect an opposing force, can be delivered so weakly as to be ineffective or it can be delivered so powerfully as to end a confrontation with no further action necessary.
This is even expressed in Mr. Parker’s explanation of Economy of Motion: “Economy of Motion entails choosing the best available weapon for the best available angle, to insure reaching the best available target in the least amount of time. Any movement that takes less time to execute, but still causes the effect intended. Any movement that inhibits, or does not actively enhance the effect intended is categorized as Wasted Motion.” And what is it that generally causes a movement to be ineffective? He already said we’ve chosen the best available weapon for the best available angle, to insure reaching the best available target in the least amount of time, so what could be lacking to make this move ineffective? Power.
I know Mr. Parker told a lot of people a lot of different things, so I’m not going to say what he told me was the gospel truth above any other, but I will say this. When Mr. Parker explained the three stages of motion to me, he emphasized that the first two stages, primitive motion and mechanical motion, were not merely stages we were trying to get beyond, but were both necessary stages in our development. He explained that although it was our ultimate goal to be spontaneous, the first two stages of motion were necessary to develop our power, focus and form. He said I needed to go through these stages slowly enough so that when I started to move spontaneously, I’d do so effectively. He instructed me to slow down my forms, take my time and develop strong basics. Anyone who knew me before I started studying with Mr. Parker may remember how quickly I did my forms and how much more slowly and deliberately I did them after I started studying with him.
Too many of today’s Kenpoists seem to think the sooner they can jump from primitive motion to spontaneous motion the better. When I see this, I try to explain it this way. Most of us already move spontaneously the day we walk into the studio. The problem is we don’t move effectively in the process. Watch a new person fight for the first time. Most of them block and strike fairly quickly and without having to think about it. Only when they block, or strike, they’re generally so ineffective that we don’t give them much credit for moving spontaneously. Think about it, aren’t we always saying things like, “Hey there, take it easy, slow down, relax, take your time.”
As instructors our job is to, first, take our students back to the primitive stage of motion and teach them solid basics. Strong basics are something that can be used spontaneously, but not learned spontaneously. This takes time. How long, I don’t know and can’t say. How long it takes anyone to get good at something depends on many variables, but I tend to judge a student’s basics on how effective they are. When I no longer like punching at them because their blocks hurt like hell and I don’t like them hitting me because it hurts like hell, I consider them to be progressing nicely.
Once a student is moving primitively with considerable effectiveness, it’s time to get them moving mechanically. That is to teach them combinations, forms, sets, techniques, etc., by the numbers. The mechanical stage is there specifically to keep them from losing all their newly gained power and focus into a whirlwind of gaseous motion. Moving too quickly from primitive motion to spontaneous motion tends to leave a student moving strongly only in the first and last moves of a technique, with everything in between having the appearance of mumbling motion. Mumbling Motion, by the way, is something Mr. Parker also had a definition for; “Movements that are not executed with crispness. They can be compared with words that lack diction, or are slurred when spoken.”
Eventually, a student is encouraged to once again move with spontaneity. Hopefully enough time has been spent in both the primitive and mechanical stages that their spontaneous actions will now be adequately effective, but an occasional, if not regular, trip back to the basics should not be considered a bad thing.
I can still hear people saying, “I still say there’s more to the martial arts than power!” And I agree with them. There is a lot more to the martial arts than power alone. I’m just pointing out something that seems to be missing right now, today. When the day comes that I think we need more techniques, forms, sets and freestyle techniques, I’ll be sure to speak up. If I think everyone is trying to perform their material with so much power that their overall performance is suffering, I’ll mention that as well. Only those are different issues and different conversations. Today my concern is how the art of American Kenpo is losing much of its previous respect due to a lack of power being demonstrated by many of its practitioners.
I know many of the above points can be argued. I could argue the other side myself, to one degree or another, if I wanted to, but I also know this; power is an essential element of American Kenpo and over the years it seems to be drifting away. Our students will only learn those things we teach them and show them by example. If all we teach them are fancy techniques and intricate forms, which are void of power, that’s all they’ll have with them when their life depends on it.
The Crossover / Cover Out: Mr. Parker's Encyclopedia of Kenpo describes a “Cover Out” aka “Crossover/Cover-Out” . . .
as: A single crossover and step through reverse to increase the distance between you and your opponent, thus enabling you to conclude your maneuver in a safe position of cover.
Although this simple foot maneuver is used in virtually every self defense technique in our system, very few practitioners actually understand it, or do it correctly. Harsh words yes, but after you've read this article, watch a few people crossover and cover out and see if you don't agree. By the way, I'm not picking on anyone in particular, but all you have to do is search YouTube.com with “technique line” and you'll come up with several examples of poorly executed crossover/cover-outs and very few people doing it correctly. I suggest you do your own search and you'll see what I mean.
So, first of all, why do we crossover and cover out after a technique? The three most important functions are to increase distance between ourselves and our opponent, surveying 360 degrees of our surroundings in the process, and to place our self in a favorable position in relation to our opponent. But what I see happening in schools, tournaments, exhibitions, and in many videos, is mostly one thing and one thing only – creating distance between them and their opponent . . . but very little of even that.
Creating distance is the easiest part of a crossover/cover-out. It would seem that regardless of how poorly executed, simply crossing over, stepping out and then stepping through, would put a fair amount of distance between you and your opponent. But even so, I often see this most basic element of Kenpo executed poorly or not at all.
What's happening is this; Most people don't look where they going when they execute a crossover/cover-out. That being understood, it's also understandable why they cover so little distance, as they're reluctant to sprint backward (any measurable distance) without looking where they're going. Therefore they take a small front crossover step away from their opponent, and then quickly step off to the side (to an area within their peripheral vision) and then continue forward in a small arc around their opponent.
Done properly, you'll have executed a complete front crossover, stepped out into a neutral bow and continued to execute a full and complete step through reverse, placing you (depending on your height) a good four to six feet from your opponent. This takes us to another function of a crossover/cover-out.
Surveying 360 Degrees:
Done properly, you should scan 360 degrees around you as you execute a crossover/cover-out. For this example, let's say you're in a right neutral bow facing 12 o'clock.
As you step to 7:30 with your right leg, into a transitional right front crossover stance, quickly look to your left taking in a full 180 degrees to your left side. As you continue to step out with your left foot, again to 7:30, look back toward your opponent at 12 o'clock. You should now be in a right neutral bow facing your opponent at 1:30. Next, slide your right foot into a transitional right front cat stance as you quickly look 180 degrees to your right. Continue moving your right foot to the rear, settling into a left neutral bow as you again turn to face your opponent at 1:30.
A Favorable Position:
Having created a safe distance between our self and our opponent, and having surveyed 360 degrees of our surroundings in the process, our next step is to end up in a favorable position in relation to our opponent. This is accomplished by angling away from our opponent during the crossover/cover-out. This way, when our opponent comes to his senses and looks up, we're no longer standing directly in front of him. The advantage of this is that in order for your opponent to deliver a new attack, he will (more than likely) have to reposition himself towards you before attacking. It's during this time that you have the advantage as you’re already in position and would counter attack as he's repositioning.
I know this may sound like a small point, but check it out for yourself next time you're practicing techniques with a partner. Perform any technique with your partner and then move directly away from him after the technique – not at an angle, but ending up directly in front of him. Now, tell your partner (who has recovered from your technique) to attack you again, from his current position. Note how he can immediately move toward you with a new attack. Now, do the same technique with your partner, but this time, when you’re done with the technique, take up a position at an angle 45 degrees to your opponent. Again, tell your partner to initiate a new attack and notice how he will first turn toward you, then attack. Yes, your opponent could attack directly, without first adjusting his position, something we should also learn from this lesson, but in reality (most) people don't adjust and move simultaneously. People generally face the new direction first, then move in that direction.
What's Gone Wrong?
The problem is this; we're all in too much of a hurry and a simple crossover/cover-out just doesn't seem like something we need to invest that much time in. But, if we really want to understand and perform Kenpo at a level above the norm, we really do need to take the time to study and practice little things, like a crossover/cover-out.
So, let's take another look at the crossover/cover-out and consider this; should the crossover/cover-out be done quickly in the first place? After all, if I'm actually running away from my opponent, that must mean I haven't done him in yet, so maybe I should've stuck around and hit him a few more times, before leaving. If I'm not in a panic to run away from my opponent, then what's the hurry? All I can accomplish by executing a blinding fast crossover/cover-out is risk putting myself right back into trouble again.
Creating a safe distance in relation to my (current) opponent is only one function of the crossover/cover-out. Another function, as previously discussed, is to scan 360 degrees around us as we do it. And why are we scanning 360 degrees around us? One reason is to make sure we aren't running into trouble from additional opponents – but crossing over and covering out too quickly won't prevent this from happening, but actually cause it to happen. Doing extremely fast crossover/cover-outs may very well put us into the hands of additional opponents that we didn't even know were there . . . until it was too late. Not only does crossing over and covering out too quickly put us at risk of running into the arms of additional opponents, it may also have us running into traffic, bouncing off walls, and crashing into bystanders. It can have us stumbling over fire hydrants, falling off curbs, and dropping into pot holes. It can even have us tripping over our own feet.
But what about that 45 degree angle I've been mentioning. Go back to the Internet and watch your selection of technique line videos again. How many people are crossing over and covering out to a 45 degree angle and how many are going straight back? I can save you some time – almost everyone is going straight back.
The problem is this, it takes longer and is more difficult to do a crossover/cover-out correctly than it does to do a crossover/cover-out incorrectly. Watch the videos again and look to see how many people crossover, step out and then pivot into a neutral bow “before” they step through. Compare this to the number of people who simply crossover, step out and step through. If you don't pivot into a neutral bow “before” you step through, you'll fail to create the necessary angle change and end up traveling straight back from your opponent instead of angling away from him.
Admittedly, it can sound a bit confusing when you first start thinking about where your feet are actually supposed to take you while learning foot maneuvers, so this may help. Think of yourself in a right neutral bow.
If you do a front crossover, moving forward, you move in a straight line.
If you do a rear crossover, moving in reverse, you move in a straight line.
So, front/forward (f/f) and rear/reverse (r/r) both move you in a straight line.
If you do a front crossover, moving in reverse, you move on an angle.
If you do a rear crossover moving forward, you move on an angle.
So, front/reverse (f/r) and rear/forward (r/f) both move you on an angle.
A good way to study the crossover/cover-out is to go back to the book. Mr. Parker specifies the direction of each cover out and often specifies the direction you should end up facing. This is not always the case and sometimes the book can be confusing and a little difficult to picture. To clarify these, difficult to understand, techniques would take more time and space than is available in this article, but don't run across a few difficult foot maneuvers and use it as a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Look for consistencies in what Mr. Parker has written and in time you'll see the wisdom in his words.
Remember, the simple crossover/cover-out is actually our exit strategy and should therefore be executed with care and precision, not with reckless abandon.
The Color of Your Belt: Back in the 1930's, workers who performed professional, managerial, or administrative . . .
services were referred to as white collar workers. This was because they generally wore the traditional white dress shirt to work. Alternatively, a person who performed manual labor rarely wore a white shirt to work and came to be known as a blue collared worker. So if you were to see someone wearing a white shirt you could safely assume they were more well educated and working in an office somewhere. It was also safe to assume that if you saw someone on the way to work wearing a shirt of any color, he wasn't on the way to the office, but going off to do some type of manual labor.
Today, of course, this is no longer true, but the terms white collar worker and blue collar worker still bring to mind two separate classes of workers. The white collar worker representing a more well educated worker, who most likely makes more money and reaping the benefits of their position . . . while the blue collar worker still brings to mind someone who performs manual labor, makes less money and doesn't have the same professional status as a white collar worker.
So what does this have to do with Kenpo Karate, or the martial arts in general? Hang in for another minute, or two, and I'll tell you.
The biggest compliment I've ever received, in regard to being a black belt, came fairly soon after receiving my belt. I was in a conversation with someone when we discovered we were martial artists. I asked what he studied and what rank he was. He asked me the same question. When I told him I studied Kenpo and was a black belt, he paused, then asked if I studied "Ed Parker's" Kenpo. When I said yes, he paused again just staring at me. In a moment he stated, in a questioning tone, "You're a black belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo?" As he continued to stare at me, I started to become uncomfortable when he stated again, this time with less controlled exuberance, "You're a black belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo?" Then he said, "Man, there are not a lot of you guys around!"
That's what it meant to be a black belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo . . . thirty-five years ago. Fast forward to today and tell someone that you're a black belt in Ed Parker Kenpo, or any martial art, and they look at you like, Duh, so is my ten-year-old son and his eight-year-old sister.
Okay, I have a great story. About fifteen years ago a lady came up to me at a social function (that's what you say the first time you're invited to your bosses’ house for a party) and said, I understand you study karate. I reluctantly said, Yes I do. She then said, Can I ask you a question? I said, Sure. As she blinked her eyes, tilted her head and moved in a little, she said, How long did it take you to get a black belt? I quickly said, Nine years. Now, with a look of false sympathy and great pride, she says, Oh, my ten-year-old son is a black belt too, but it only took him two years to get his black belt . . . but he's gifted. Maintaining my professional demeanor, I smiled as I leaned in and whispered into her ear, Ya lady and I'm fucking retarded. From there I immediately walked up to my boss, nudged him to get his attention and as he turned to face me, I nodded back toward the lady and whispered, That gal just said if she eats another bite, she's going to shit her britches. As he laughed hysterically, I looked back at her and smiled as I shook my head. Then I simply turned away and went to get another beer. It was a good party.
Okay, the moral of the story. There was a time that if you were a black belt in the martial arts, it really meant something. When people heard you were a black belt they respected and admired you. Those days are over, just like today if you see someone wearing a white shirt you no longer assume they're a well-educated, highly paid, executive in the workforce.
So what do we do about all these karate masters running around. I think it's simple and I do it all the time. You see I'm contacted regularly by these masters as they search to legitimize their rank. They all say how impressed they are with me and my association and how they too stand for honor, integrity, friendship and respect.
I respond with, This fantastic! I love it when I come across a like-minded martial artist! Please tell me about yourself. Where, when and from whom did you receive your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th degree black belts? Tell me everything. Who were your classmates, show me your pictures, I'd love to read everything you've written. Can I see your curriculum, your testing requirements and your exercise program. Oh yes, I'm especially interested in what your training and fitness regiment is, because, boy-howdy, I know how hard it is to stay in shape after sixty! So, who are you currently studying with? Who are you teaching? Where are you teaching? What are you teaching? Do you still have all your certificates? Did I ask if you have pictures? I LOVE old karate pictures, please share everything with me!
Yep, I never hear from them again.
Tailoring the Art of Kenpo: When we’re describing the difference between Kenpo and other martial arts we . . .
inevitably talk about how we tailor the art to the individual and not the other way around. As a selling point, tailoring is one of the best features we have to offer potential students. They may not understand the difference between borrowed force and opposing forces, but telling them we’ll alter the art to fit them, instead of altering them to fit that art – now there’s something everyone can understand. Unfortunately, many practitioners don’t understand that tailoring is just a principle, not a license to do anything they want, because it “feels right” or “works for them”.
Defining the term: Tailoring
Mr. Parker, in his Encyclopedia of Kenpo, defines tailoring as one of the key principles of Kenpo, entailing two major aspects:
1. Adjusting your physical as well as mental and emotional attitudes to fit each given situation.
2. Fitting moves to your body size, makeup, speed and strength in order to maximize your physical efforts.
In Volume 1 of Infinite Insights into Kenpo, Mr. Parker also introduces us to the principle of tailoring by saying:
“The martial arts should be made to suit the individual and not the reverse. Each practitioner should learn to alter moves so that they produce maximum results for him.”
I think people get to that point and they’re so happy with what they’ve just read, they quit paying attention to the rest of what Mr. Parker had to say, which is:
“Interestingly, the basic principle of a move invariably remains unchanged. It is generally the timing of the move that is changed, or weapon, or angle, not the underlying principle contained within. Very seldom, if ever, does the underlying principle change. Therefore, if a move changes in appearance yet gives an individual maximum effectiveness without changing the underlying principle, it is correct.”
Notice that he said it’s generally just the timing, weapon or angle that’s changed. He doesn’t give free license to change the technique itself. The reason is; techniques are designed to teach and reinforce principles. If you change the technique to the point that it no longer teaches, or reinforces, the specific principle intended, the entire technique becomes just another what-if scenario. And above all else he emphasized four times in a single paragraph that the “principles” don’t change. This is because tailoring a technique is done in order to apply principles – not avoid them. This goes back to another of Mr. Parker quotes, “I teach these techniques not for the sake of teaching the techniques, but for the principles that are involved in the techniques.” Black Belt Magazine Nov. 1985
Here’s another quote from Mr. Parker in regard to tailoring:
“I'm a strong advocate of what we might term "tailoring." I believe systems are for individuals, not the reverse. When a person finishes, he should have the art designed to meet his own specific needs. I emphasize that although a sensei begins teaching a technique a certain way, he is offering a student a point of reference so that he may tailor the technique to fit him tightly. Even if a person alters the technique, so long as it is for his own good, I say, so much the better.”
“Now that I have said that, I should add that I do not advocate the helter-skelter approach. You must have a base to start off with or you have nothing. After you’re firmly versed, you can prefix the move; that is, put another move before it. You can suffix the move, or put one after it. Or you can insert another move within it. Once you have done this, you can put several moves together. You can alter the moves so they fit a particular offensive or defensive design. From there you might adjust the particular angle of offensive or defensive execution, without changing the essential strategy. On and on you can go, using force and speed as variables for your overall purpose and intent.” Official Karate Nov. 1975
Again the first paragraph emphasizes the benefits of tailoring while the second paragraph sets the parameters in which tailoring should be used to be effective.
Being allowed (even encouraged) to tailor the art of Kenpo has to be one of the greatest gifts Mr. Parker could have given us. People come in all shapes and sizes and we certainly do have different physical, mental and emotional attitudes as well as different body sizes and makeups. So, let’s take another look at tailoring and see if we can clarify it further.
Differences, Weaknesses, & Strengths:
On its most basic level tailoring is used to make adjustments, to our art, in order to compensate for anatomical differences or weaknesses, and in some cases our strengths. A good example of tailoring, for anatomical differences, is the self defense technique Twirling Wings. When executing Twirling Wings tall people should aim their spinning elbow strikes for the head and short people should aim for the ribs. But, when teaching this technique we have to keep in mind that tall and short are relative and always changing. So, we shouldn’t simply tell a shorter person to hit us in the ribs, as if we’ve fixed the technique for them. We should tell them that in order to make this technique work better against a taller opponent we can tailor the technique and strike to the ribs instead of the head. Then remind them that when they’re working with someone of equal, or lesser, height they should tailor the technique back to a head strike again.
A good example of a tailoring for anatomical weaknesses is the middle knuckle fist in step No. 4 of Parting Wings. Have you ever actually delivered a full power middle-knuckle fists against an opponent, a heavy bag, or a makiwara board? It can hurt, and I don’t mean the opponent, the bag, or the board. It can be especially painful if you miss the solar plexus and hit the breast bone. So unless you’ve properly conditioned your middle-knuckle fist, you may decide to tailor that particular strike into a vertical punch. Note that I said “tailor” and not “change”. To permanently remove the middle-knuckle fist and teach a vertical punch instead would be short-changing the student, because you’ll have neglected to teach the value and effectiveness of the pin-point effect principle. And undeniably, weapons with a smaller surface area have a greater penetrating effect than those with a larger surface area. Individual anatomical weaknesses don’t negate principles, and techniques are designed to teach principles. Tailoring a middle-knuckle fist into a vertical punch is a viable alternative for someone who hasn’t properly conditioned their knuckles, but unnecessary and counterproductive to those who have.
Tailoring to take advantage of our strong points is not that different from tailoring to compensate for a weakness. While tailoring for a lack of flexibility, we may kick to the knee instead of the kidney. While tailoring to take advantage of our flexibility, we may kick to the head instead of the kidney. Not because we have to, but simply because we can. Of course, not everyone is flexible enough to effectively kick to the head, so head kicks to a standing opponent should generally be considered tailored and not changed.
Mental and Emotional Attitudes:
As mentioned earlier, tailoring can also be used for mental and emotional attitudes. Take for example the finger thrusts to your opponent’s eyes in techniques like Five Swords and Circling Wing. I was teaching a woman’s self defense class once, when I said, “If attacked, you should go straight to your attacker’s eyes.” Most of the women cringed at the thought of gouging someone’s eyes out, and one woman even blurted out, “I could never do that!” I said, “But what if it’s a choice between being raped or digging a thumbnail into the attacker’s eyes?” Without hesitation, she repeated, “I could just never do something like that.” By now other women started to agree, saying it all sounds good on paper, but in an actual attack they would, more than likely, hesitate to gouge an attackers eyes. So I said, “How about a head-butt to the attacker’s nose? Could you violently smash an attacker’s nose with your forehead?” Amazing, not only could every woman in the room do it, most of them were smiling big-time when they said, “Sure no problem!”
Being an avid hiker, I was in training for the most difficult hike I had taken on to date. It’s called The Death March, which is a 48 mile, non-stop hike across the Grand Canyon and back again. You start on the South Rim, hike down to the bottom, across the canyon floor, up the other side to the North Rim, and then back again. There’s no camping and you rest as little possible, because in order to have done The Death March you have to complete the task in less than 24 continuous hours – hence The Death March. In preparation for the event I read everything I could find on how to train for a 48 mile day hike, with ten thousand plus feet of elevation gain and loss. I also needed to know what, and how much, I should eat while I was doing it. How to train was no problem; the available information was plentiful and consistent. Everything I read about what to eat, on the other hand, was extremely frustrating. Some people said to eat candy; others said to eat meat and cheese. One guy said he had taken a tuna sandwich and big bag of M&Ms. Then I read a single sentence that put it all into perspective. “Anything you will eat is better than anything you won’t eat.” The bottom line is this; all you need is calories, sodium, electrolytes, and water, and there’s no accounting for what the human stomach will tolerate under the stress of an ultra. You can figure out the perfect proportion of nutrients packaged into the lightest possible food source, but if it’s not palatable while experiencing physical exertion nausea – you’re not going to eat it!
Tailoring a self defense technique to an individual’s metal and emotional attitude is the exact same thing. Anything someone is willing to do during an attack is better than anything they’re not willing to do. If someone is so repulsed by an eye gouge that they won’t use it to save their life, then we should tailor the technique into something they are willing to do. After all, we’ve still taught the eye gauge and who knows, maybe in a moment of need, the victim of an attack will change their mind about using it.
The Ever-Changing Nature of Tailoring:
All practitioners should be aware of the ever-changing nature of tailoring. Early in our career we may need to tailor a technique to compensate for a lack of flexibility, later on we may tailor the same technique to take advantage of our exceptional flexibility, and later still we may need to tailor it back again.
Many new students may find it necessary to tailor techniques due to a lack of speed, flexibility, coordination, etc. This is to be accepted as part of the learning process. It’s like running a marathon. The best runners seldom, if ever, walk during the 26.2 miles, but beginners may take frequent breaks in order to drink, eat, rest, stretch, etc. They’re tailoring the run to fit their inabilities and lack of experience. The only problem would be if they were to limit their entire careers based on how they had to run their first six or eight marathons.
A good example of tailoring a technique back and forth is in step No. 8 of Obscure Wing. At this point we have flipped our opponent onto the floor, with him landing face-up at our feet. We have just done a left front crossover, towards 12 o’clock, sweeping our left foot across his head and face and our left foot is still in the air. Now, at step No. 8, with our left foot still in the air, we whip our right foot into the air, turning counterclockwise and deliver a right downward looping roundhouse kick to our opponent’s solar plexus. The timing, as written, is to deliver the right downward looping roundhouse kick simultaneously as we plant our left to the ground. But, not everyone has the physical dexterity to perform this maneuver effectively, so a tailored alternative is to execute your left front crossover, sweeping through your opponent’s head and face, plant your left foot on the ground and then execute the right looping roundhouse kick to his head. Note that I have used the dreaded word “and” instead of “with”, but that’s what tailoring is all about and why it’s ever-changing. Eventually, with training, you should be able to perform this technique sequence in a single uninterrupted move, planting with the kick. Then, eventually, you may need to tailor it back to planting your foot on the ground first and then kicking as a separate move again. But that’s only if you choose to continue with the art into your golden years.
What is vitally important, in regard to tailoring, is to continually revisit what we’ve tailored and make sure the tailoring we did yesterday is still relevant today. Let me ask all the more experienced practitioners a question. If a yellow belt came up to you and said that he had tailored one of his techniques in order to make it work better. What would your fist thought be? I suggest you may question if a yellow belt was qualified to make that decision. But I also suggest that many of the orange belt techniques you and I do today were tailored, by us, when we ourselves were yellow belts. This is why I say it’s vitally important to revisit yesterday’s decisions with today’s knowledge. I can’t begin tell you the number of times people have argued the validity of their technique based on how long they’ve done it that way. All I can say if you’ve spelled car as “kar” for the last forty years, all you’ve done is become very good at spelling it wrong.
As our skill sets and overall abilities increase it’s perfectly acceptable to spice up some of our material with a little custom tailoring. This is when term variable expansion is at its best. But, I would also like to add a word of caution. It’s at this point that tailoring tends to become change. For example, in the first sequence of Circles of Protection we’re instructed to simultaneously deliver a right upward parry under and outside of your opponent's right punch as you deliver a left upward ripping claw to your his face. In my case, as I practiced this technique, I found it very easy and natural to add a left outward elbow to the inner biceps of my opponent’s right arm en route to delivering the left upward ripping claw to his face. To experience this little insert for yourself, make a left middle-knuckle fist and punch yourself on the inside of your right biceps. (Be sure to punch really hard, or you might not fully enjoy the experience.) Now, I could easily decide this is simply a better way to do the technique and change how I teach it to include the additional strike. But not everyone has the flexibility to perform the technique in this way, so for me to change the technique, just because I can do It, would be a disservice to my students. What I’ve found to be a good alternative to changing a technique is to first, teach the technique as written. This way we have the base Mr. Parker referred to and have avoided what he described as the helter-skelter approach to teaching.
Then, if it’s a technique I’ve tailored, I show them my personal version of the technique, explaining the differences and my reasoning behind the differences. I don’t always tell them to do it my way and I don’t always tell them not to. Eventually, any alterations they end up making to a technique should be their decision based what works for them, not what works for me.
A Simple Suggestion:
If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you consider replacing words like “change” and “fix” to the words “tailor, tailoring and tailored”. Consider some of the below examples of tailoring verses changing and fixing.
I changed the technique to make it work better.
I tailored the technique to make it work better for me.
That technique could work better if you changed it.
That technique could work better, for you, if you tailored it.
Here, let’s fix that technique so it works better for you.
Here, let’s tailor that technique so it works better for you.
If Mr. Parker were here, he would thank me for fixing this technique.
If Mr. Parker were here, I don’t think he would mind me tailoring this technique.
Mr. Parker wanted us to make changes to the system.
Mr. Parker wanted us to tailor the system to meet our needs.
Mr. Parker always changed the system and taught everyone differently.
Mr. Parker always tailored the system and taught everyone individually.
Tailoring is truly a great and innovative concept that separates our system of Kenpo from most other martial arts, but it must be used intelligently and responsibly if we want it to add to, instead of take from, our art.
Speed vs. Mass: Speed, in relation to the martial arts, is mostly overrated and misunderstood. To truly appreciate . . .
speed we need to break it down into three separate categories - perceptual speed, mental speed and physical speed. These are the three categories of speed as defined by Ed Parker in his Encyclopedia of Kenpo.
Perceptual Speed: Refers to the quickness your senses monitor a stimuli, interpret that stimuli, and speed information is conveyed to the brain, so that the Mental Speed can determine a response.
Mental Speed: Mental speed is the quickness of the mind to select the appropriate movements to effectively deal with the perceived combat situation.
Physical Speed: Refers to the speed of physical movement - the speed of your response to a given stimuli. It’s the speed of the actual execution of a technique.
Now that we have several different types of speed, how should they be prioritized? Prior to learning that there are actually more than one kind of speed to even consider, speed was generally associated only with physical speed. This may be because, as an observer, physical speed is all we can see. We can’t see into the brain and follow the very thoughts, feelings and calculations it has to make before the body can act or react to a stimulus. If we could, we may be surprised to see how slow the perceptual and mental speed processes can be.
When I was in high school the boys and I were out having a few beers . . . not that I condone that type of behavior, but boys will be boys, as they say. Well, as the evening progressed one of the guys, who I knew but not well, started feeling the machismo associated with alcohol. At one point he comes walking up to me with a peculiar look on his face. He didn’t look angry, but he didn’t look friendly either. He wasn’t tense, but definitely not relaxed. When he gets about a foot away he stops, stares at me for a brief moment, then bam! He hit me with a sucker punch. Obviously, my perceptual speed was pretty much nonexistent. I didn’t have a clue that I was about to get punched, but during the punch itself, I did make a mental note – so “that’s” what someone looks like just before they sucker punch you!
Okay, now I’ve just been punched in the face and it’s time to retaliate. Damn, my mental speed was just as bad as my perceptual speed, because all I could think to do was . . . ask this guy why he hit me. Well I was lucky, because all he had to say was “I thought you were someone else.” Bottom line is this; the guy was likely no faster than I was on a physical level. Even if he was, I had a good five or ten seconds between the time I saw him strutting in my direction and the time he got there. Even after he punched me he just stood there with his hands down to his sides. I could’ve dropped a heavy elbow across his jaw . . . had I known that elbows were such formidable weapons. I just had no perception as to what was going to happen and I couldn’t think of a thing to do after it did. The point being, it doesn’t matter how fast you are physically, if your perceptual and mental speed are lagging behind.
Now that I’ve made my argument for priority of perceptual and mental speed over physical speed, let’s look at physical speed itself for a moment. In my time as a martial artist I’ve seen some of the fastest guys in the business. Not just physically, but the whole package. They perceive your next move before you do. They have a mental inventory of things to hit you with that’s staggering and they’re as fast as Quick Draw McGraw. But they don’t all scare me. Why not? Simple, I’m not afraid of people who can hit me, I’m afraid of people who can hurt me.
In the art of Kenpo we have four major power generating principles:
Backup Mass (momentum)
Centrifugal Force (torque)
The first three are various methods of utilizing body mass to generate power, so for the moment we’ll go ahead and clump them together and refer to them, jointly, as mass. Surely, at one time or another, all of us have heard the mathematical equation for power (or kinetic energy) is one half mass times velocity squared. “Kinetic energy being an expression of the fact that a moving object can do damage to anything it hits, therefore quantifying the amount of damage the object could do as a result of its motion.” Big words and very impressive sounding, but what does that actually mean?
What it means is this; from the day we sign up for karate class our body mass stays relatively constant. If anything, the vigorous exercise of karate training may actually decrease our body mass. The speed we move at, on the other hand, can increase through training. So, given the two choices - increasing our speed seems the logical choice for increasing our power. But even if it were true and speed was the only way to increase our power; to what degree can we increase our speed and therefore power? Can you double it, triple it? According to the formula if you double your speed you’ll have four times the power.
Before going further, we need to quantify the power a martial artist can gain through an increase in speed alone. I expect there’s lots of scientific equipment available for this, but let’s keep it simple and approximate one’s ability to increase power through speed based on something that’s totally relevant to martial arts training - the art of speed breaking. Keep in mind there are two types of speed breaking. First, is ones ability to break an object using maximum speed and minimum mass. Typically this is demonstrated by breaking a 1” x 10” x 12” pine board that’s tossed into the air. The other type of speed breaking is a competition to break as many boards, bricks, etc., as possible in the shortest amount of time (or within an allotted amount of time). This is not the type of speed breaking I’m referring to, because the competitor generally uses their body mass, as a major power generating force, for each break. The speed aspect is only in how quickly they can break one object, move to the next, break it, move to the next and so on. The winner is the person who has broken the greatest number of objects in either the shortest amount of time or during the allotted time.
The first type of speed breaking is a true test of one's ability to generate breaking power through speed alone. Over the years I’ve seen many impressive examples of this speed breaking; from relative new comers to bona fide masters of the art. I’ve seen white belts toss a 1 inch thick pine board in the air and quickly snap it in two with a punch. I’ve also seen Master He Il Cho toss a 1 inch thick pine board in the air, then totally shatter it with a jump spinning back wheel kick – while blindfolded! I’m not trying to take anything away form Master Cho’s amazing ability. Without doubt he’s the greatest kicker and board breaker I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing first hand. But, what I’ve not seen is anyone tossing a 2 inch thick board in the air and breaking it. Not that it hasn’t been done, I’m sure it has, but it’s certainly not a common practice – even among black belts at the top of their game.
Now let’s take a look at the other side of the equation - mass. Most people think to themselves, “Well I’ve weighed basically the same amount for the past ten years, so with my mass being constant, the only way I can increase my power is through speed.” I’m not picking on anyone in particular, but I’ve heard that most humans only use about ten percent of their brain power, so what makes us think we just “automatically” use one hundred percent of our body mass? What I do see fairly often are showmanship martial artists using a hundred percent of their striking speed - backed up with about ten percent of their body mass.
As another comparison, take the typical hammerfist to the back of an opponent’s neck. I see people swinging their arms down to the back of someone’s neck all the time. They’re using control, of course, but they’re totally confident if they had hit as hard (and fast) as they could, it would have been a killing blow. Note the average adult male arm weighs about eight pounds. Occasionally I see someone hook their wrist, anchor their elbow, and drop their full body weight into hammerfist, but not very often. Note the average weight of adult male body is about a hundred and eighty nine pounds.
So, let’s do a little math in our head. The average arm weighs eight pounds and the average body weighs a hundred and eighty nine pounds. So if we can totally lock our bodyweight into the action, it’s like hitting our opponent with an arm that weighs . . . a hundred and eighty nine pounds. This sounds down right scary. By the way, your speed will still increase as you practice your techniques utilizing momentum, torque and gravity, whereas none of these three power generating sources will necessarily increase with speed training. This is why I consider the pursuit of power through the proper use of body mass to be a more effective tool than doing so through speed.
Backup Mass: The utilization of body mass on a horizontal plane.
Backup mass is a term that Mr. Parker used to describe the use of body weight directly behind the action that’s taking place. In conventional terms backup mass can be compared to momentum, which can be described as the mass and velocity of an object in motion. The power generated through momentum is determined by its mass and velocity. But this is only part of the story. Another consideration is Newton’s First Law of Motion, which tells us that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. This is why you can get hit in the face by a butterfly at twenty miles an hour and the butterfly dies - and if you get hit in the face by a Mac truck at twenty miles an hour you die. This is also why we attempt to align as much of our body mass as possible directly behind our punches, kicks, elbow, etc. The greater “backup mass” we have, the more damage we can do. Why do you think a quick head-butt to the face is so much more devastating than a slap to the face? The average weight of an adult human head is eleven pounds while the average weight of a human hand is only fourteen ounces. Combine that fact with the head being a much more solid object (a point we’re coming to) and the advantages of a head-butt, over a face slap, is more than obvious.
Gravitational Marriage: The utilization of body mass on a vertical plane.
Some people will argue that there’s no such thing as gravitational marriage, or marriage of gravity, as it’s also called. They have a point as they’ve told me they tried looking it up in the dictionary and didn’t find it. I guess they’re right . . . so I suggested they look their own name up in the dictionary and if they didn’t find it, they should take that as proof “they” didn’t exist. Gravitational Marriage is a term Mr. Parker used to describe the process of uniting of mind, breath, and strength while simultaneously dropping your body weight along with the execution of your natural weapon(s). One could argue that this is simply gravity and not gravitational marriage, so let’s put it to the test. First find a willing volunteer and have him stand motionless as you stand on one of his feet, with one of your feet, resting your full body weight on his foot. Did it hurt? Now I want you to jump into the air and land on his foot, with your foot. Did it hurt this time? Gravitational marriage goes back to Newton’s First Law of Motion again, where an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Combine this (or marry it) with our body weight (as determined by earth’s gravity) and you have Gravitational Marriage.
Centrifugal Force: A force that tends to make rotating bodies move away from the center of rotation. (E.P.)
There are also people who’ll tell you that centrifugal force doesn’t exist either . . . and they’re right. Centrifugal force, Latin for “center fleeing” does not (technically) exist. When mud is flung off a tire, or a child is flung of a merry-go-round, they’re not being forced off. What’s actually happening is the object they were resting upon was forced out from under them. The force itself is on the object being moved, not the object being left behind. Here’s another example. We’ve all had something sitting on the dash of our car that shot across the dash as we made a sharp turn. But the object didn’t actually move across the dash, the entire car (including its dashboard), moved out from under the object. I know the first though may be, then why did the object keep moving after the car moved out from under it? In other words why did it fly out the window and keep going? This is because the object was in motion, but not do to “centrifugal force”. It was in motion because it was riding in a moving vehicle and, again, an object in motion tends to say in motion. Only what we perceive as a horizontal direction of travel, before and after it leaves the car, is really a straight line. We see it as traveling outward, because we’re, in fact, traveling inward. This rather self-centered perception to direction is graphically apparent while skydiving. When two skydivers are dropping straight down in a vertical position, they can exceed speeds of a hundred and seventy miles an hour. If one of these skydivers were to suddenly turn belly-to-earth, where the maximum velocity is around a hundred and twenty miles an hour, the remaining (vertical) skydiver would perceive his partner as having “shot upward”. We call this corking, as it looks like they popped up like a cork. Of course the belly-to-earth skydiver didn’t shoot upward at all, but is in fact still falling downward at a hundred and twenty miles an hour. But compared to his partner’s downward speed of a hundred and seventy miles an hour, he appears to have shot upwardly at about fifty miles an hour.
So if centrifugal force isn’t a force at all, what is it? Centrifugal force is a term Mr. Parker used to describe a force that tends to make rotating bodies move away from the center of rotation. As I have already explained, this is somewhat of a misnomer, but never-the-less it’s only a term and one that Mr. Parker also used interchangeably with the terms like rotational motion, rotational velocity and torque. To simplify things I’ve chosen to use the term torque, with the understanding that any of these terms may be used interchangeably.
Torque: The measure of rotational force.
Torque can refer to either the force of a rotating object or the force it takes to rotate an object. Our concern, at this point, is the force of a rotating object, i.e. how can the rotation of our body mass contribute to power generation. The most common point of agreement I have ever heard in any martial arts school is, “The power in a punch, kick, throw, etc. comes from the hips.” This has to be the most universally accepted principle in the martial arts. And what do the hips provide? Torque!
Speed: The utilization of body mass’ velocity on any plane or axis.
All the above power generating principles can benefit through an increase in speed. I haven’t been very kind to speed up to this point, but that’s only because I wanted to put things back into perspective. Speed is essential, but no more so than momentum, marriage of gravity and torque. Those who move quickly, but without power are often referred to as “paper tigers”. That’s because they look ferocious, but they tear apart easily.
Solidity: The solidifying of ones entire body “upon impact” when executing a strike.
Technically, solidifying the body unit isn’t on the list of power generating principles, because it doesn’t actually generate any power. But, the principle itself is essential.
Back in the 70s the automotive industry introduced the spring loaded bumper, which came to be known as the 5 mile an hour bumper - it was a stroke of automotive genius. Instead of mounting the bumper directly to the car frame, they mounted the bumper with spring-loaded shocks. The object was to minimize the damage done by cars bumping into each other at 5 miles an hour or less. It worked amazingly well. So do Nerf balls, Wiffle bats and marshmallow guns. Anything you can do to make the object you’re hitting with softer will lessen the impact of the blow. Herein lies the value of solidifying the body unit when delivering karate blows. Soft fists, spongy elbows, loose abdominals, etc., can take more away from the impact of a strike than can be added through doing everything else right.
If you would like to be fast and powerful, I suggest you:
Learn Slow: Bad form is the number one deterrent to creating power. Take your time when you’re learning forms, techniques and sets. Your form is the foundation you’ll be building everything else upon. If you have a weak foundation nothing of value can be built upon it, because it’ll all be tumbling down when its foundation falls out from under it. Don’t just memorize – visualize. Visualize your opponent in detail, every target you’re striking and your opponent’s reaction to it. Visualize where his hands are and where his feet are. Visualize the checks as well as the strikes. Visualize what-if scenarios and counters to counters. Visualize everything you can and practice slowly enough that you learn correctly instead of quickly. Train with a partner as soon and often as possible. Imaginary opponents (no matter how good your visualization is) pale in comparison to a real-life training partner.
Practice Hard: Once you can execute your movements with good form, put some meat into it. Training with a partner at this stage should look and feel more like controlled rage than anything else. This isn’t a time to laugh and slap your partner on the back. This is a time to focus and practice the material like you mean it. A heavy bag is essential at this point. You have to deliver your weapons at full power in order to create more power. Training with a partner is still important, but partners can only take so much abuse so a heavy bag is a great alternative to maiming your training partner.
Train Fast: For now forget about your form and forget about your power. Focus on speed, lots of speed. Strange as may seem though, speed training (in my book) is less about how fast you can move and more about monitoring how fast you can move until you start screwing everything up. No one can move at full speed and keep it all together. Stances, targets, transitions, and timing – everything is going to come falling apart at some point. That’s the point you’re looking for and those are the items you’ll want to take back to the drawing board.
Repeat: The learn slow, practice hard, and train fast scenario is cyclical in nature. In other words the cycle should continually repeat itself. The object is to work your way up to training fast, discover your weak points and take them back through the process again. This way you won’t be making the same mistakes (but doing them faster) year after year. Remember a mistake that was done so quickly that no one saw it is still a mistake. Following this procedure, you’ll be continually refining your technique while simultaneously increasing your speed and power.
Rank & Lineage: I was recently asked to provide some private lessons and conduct a seminar at one of my . . .
student's schools. This isn't at all unusual, but what happened the day prior to the seminar sure was.
A gentleman, who I prefer not to name, stopped at the school, while I was teaching a private lesson to the owner, and said he wanted to clear something with me before showing up for Saturday's seminar. He said he couldn't find his 5th degree black belt and just wanted to check with me and make sure it was okay to wear an alternative belt he was able to find. Expecting to see a colorful, uniquely designed belt of some kind I waited for him to pull it out of his bag for examination. After all it's not unusual for anyone who's been in the martial arts for a long time to have several different belts. Sometimes they're from different systems and sometimes they have simply decided to display their rank in some kind of personal style. For example, many Kenpoists didn't like going from four stripes to a single five-inch bar, so they added a fifth stripe instead. A good friend of mine decided to reverse the colors on his 7th degree from a black belt with a red bar and stripes to a red belt with a black bar and stripes. In either case the rank itself is still clearly stated as 5th and 7th respectively.
So, imagine my surprise when he pulls a 9th degree black belt out of his bag and repeats, "I just want to make sure that it's okay with you to wear this one." I was shocked and damned near speechless. I've only known this gentleman for a few years, but he's always represented himself as a 5th degree black belt and now, all of a sudden, he's a 9th degree black belt.
When I eventually gathered my composure, I asked him who he received a 9th degree black belt from and in what system. To this he responds that he was 8th degree black belt in the Tracy system of Kenpo, but one day he called the office and they said he was no longer a member of their organization and hung up on him. He said he was quite upset and even thought about quitting the martial arts altogether. He further stated that because his students didn't want him to quit, they gave him a 9th degree black belt. To this I asked what rank his student were, who promoted him. He answered, and I quote: "Oh, they were way, way, way down there." And then he says, "But it's just a belt, it's no big deal, right?" I responded with, "No, actually it is a big deal – it's a 9th degree black belt." Not only that, but it's a 9th degree black belt in the design of Ed Parker's American Kenpo. I was thinking, how can anyone say it's just a belt?
I eventually said this, "Well, I'm not your instructor and you're not in my association, so I'm not actually in a position to tell you what you can or can't wear, but I will tell you this. When I'm honored with the presence of an extremely high ranking black belt, it's my policy to call upon them during my seminar to share their knowledge and skills. So, you need to be aware that I'll be calling on you to explain some of the more intricate principles of American Kenpo and to demonstrate and teach some of our more sophisticated techniques. Are you comfortable with this? He responded with, "Well you need to know that (for various reasons) I've suffered some memory loss, so if it's anything above Delayed Sword, I probably don't know it."
We continued our conversation a little longer and eventually he suggested that he did have a T-shirt with him and maybe he should just wear his gi bottoms and a T-shirt – to this I readily agreed. Of course later that evening I was informed that this gentleman had just become aware of some family problems that he had to take care of, and that he would not be able to attend my seminar after all.
I ask you, what are people thinking? What is it that makes people think they can simply put on a 9th or 10th degree black belt, call themselves Grand Master and get away with it? There are a number of men out there who have actually earned these belts and it's an insult to every one of them when someone like this decides to simply put one on and wear it around like it's a Halloween costume.
By the way, this isn't the first time something like this has happened to me. Not too long ago I invited a gentleman, who claimed to be a 5th degree black in American Kenpo, to stay at my home while he was visiting California. I even offered him an opportunity to take part in a seminar that Mohamad Tabatabai, Dave Crouch, and I were doing up in Fresno that weekend. Only when we started going over material for the seminar it became obvious that his knowledge of Kenpo was extremely limited. I found this surprising based on his claims of having been a long-time personal student of Si-Bok Tom Kelly. At this point I questioned him as to who had promoted him to 5th degree black belt. He gave me the name of a gentleman whom I had never met, so I asked him what rank he received directly from Mr. Kelly. He told me he received a 2nd degree black belt from Mr. Kelly, so I dropped the inquiry completely. After all if Mr. Kelly gave someone a 2nd degree black belt, that's good enough for me.
But after the seminar and pictures got posted on the Internet, I received the below e-Mail from Mr. Kelly.
What the hell is the story of (name deleted) doing teaching Kenpo? What belt does this turd claim to be and who promoted him?
It looks like he's a fifth degree black belt? I trained this turd to only purple belt.
Okay, I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I did learn something that day. Had I called Mr. Kelly when I first had doubts about this individual's knowledge of Kenpo, I could have saved myself and my friends a lot of time, trouble, and embarrassment.
I understand that people, within the Ed Parker system of American Kenpo, may have earned their rank in different ways, with different curriculums and under different circumstances, but it's becoming ridiculous. Mr. Parker created a unique belt design and ranking system for those who study "his" art of American Kenpo. And the belt configuration that Mr. Parker created represents more than just rank, it represents a lineage. Anyone wearing Mr. Parker's belt configuration is not only saying they're of that rank, but that you can trace their lineage directly back to Ed Parker himself.
Since his passing some of us continue to use this same belt configuration, and some of us have chosen to wear plain black belts, or belts of another design, but I haven't seen any of our guys wearing the red and white paneled belts of a Japanese Judo master, or the single red bar with a half dozen white stripes of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Master. No self-respecting martial artist should ever wear a belt they personally know to be directly associated with someone else's system – especially one that would represent them as a Master of that system. I know there are various systems using similar, if not identical, belts and that's okay, but that shouldn't be used as an excuse to claim false rank and/or lineage.
I, for one, would appreciate those who have decided to become masters of their own art to design their own belt and stop diluting the integrity of ours. Wear red belts with gold stripes, or gold belts with platinum stripes, something, anything, but please stop wearing ours. Why don't they do what Mr. Parker did and create their own unique belt configuration that says, this is who "I" am and these are "my" students. Or is it really about wanting to be associated with a highly respected system, while at the same time not being held accountable to any of the standards associated with that system?
Don't get me wrong, I don't think everyone has to have studied directly with Mr. Parker to be a legitimate black belt in his system. I think there are a good number of great Kenpoist out there who have never met Mr. Parker. But they had to have studied with somebody, don't you think? It's a rare bird that can master an art as sophisticated as American Kenpo without a little help from someone who's been there and done that.
So the bottom line is this; I think we've been too tolerant and accepting of those who want to wear our rank, but don't want to earn it. I'm not asking for a witch hunt or anything, but at the same time maybe we shouldn't be so shy about asking for proof of rank and lineage when someone shows up wearing a high ranking American Kenpo black belt.
Of course they can say, who died and left you in charge, and I understand completely. And although somebody did die, nobody left me in charge and I don't want to be in charge. I just want to be one guy - among many – who are doing their best to preserve and advance the art of American Kenpo. So if someone shows up at one of my events wearing the belt of an American Kenpo Master, I think I'll ask where he got it, when he got it, and who he got it from. Not disrespectfully of course, but what's wrong with asking? When I go scuba diving they ask to see proof of my certification and the same with sky diving. Try renting an airplane without showing a pilot's license or even a car without showing a driver's license. Seems like as martial artists we're the lone hold-outs on taking everyone at their word and look where that's gotten us.
I do understand this may sound good on paper, but of course it's more easily said than done. There are perfectly legitimate black belts out there who have lost their certificates through no fault of their own. There are such things as fires, floods, tornados, hurricanes, and dogs and cats that really do eat paper. But let's say I lost the black belt certificate I got from AC Rainey, I still have his phone number. Even if he up and died on me, I can tell you Roger Thomas was there, because Roger received his black belt the same day. If we can't find Roger, I can give you at least a dozen names of students, in Alaska, who were with me when AC was our head instructor and promoted me.
There are times of course when there are absolutely no witnesses to ones promotion. When I received my black from Rich Callahan it was just him and me at his house in Colton, CA. No witnesses, pictures or any other evidence besides a piece of paper . . . and of course his shaggy old black belt which he also gave me. I guess I could have stolen the belt, but then some years later when Rich and I traveled up to Utah and promoted Bobby Lawrence to 5th black he'd probably noticed me wearing it and commenced to take it back and give me a beating instead, but that didn't happen. Bobby and Charlene can tell you that.
If I lost the certificates I got from Mr. Parker, I guess I could tell you to talk to Ed Parker Jr. After all, I expect he was the one who actually prepared the certificates anyway, so he may be able to back me up if need be. I also claim to be a black belt under Larry Tatum, but don't have a certificate to prove it. That's because I knew and studied with Mr. Parker before I met Larry and Mr. Parker signed my certificates, even when I studied at Larry's school in West Los Angeles – but I did notice, while checking out Larry's web site, that I was listed on his family tree. It's not much, but it's something.
Yes, somebody can lose their certificates, but their memory and lineage should still be relatively intact. Again I want to stress that I'm not advocating a witch hunt or even suggesting that we ask everyone wearing a black belt to prove it. And I'm definitely not saying men like Mike Pick, Frank Trejo, Huk Planas, Larry Tatum, Chuck Sullivan, Ron Chapel, Tom Kelly and many other respected masters didn't earn their rank. I'm not talking about these guys; I'm talking about people these guys have never even heard of. Honestly, how can anyone attain the rank of master in the art of American Kenpo and yet be virtually unknown and unrecognized by any of the men listed above?
The art of American Kenpo is not that old. This is evidenced by the number men & women who received their rank directly from Mr. Parker and are still teaching on a daily basis. So, if someone, unknown to you, walks in wearing a black belt in American Kenpo, ask them who they received it from and then do a little homework to verify their claims. Last time I called Mr. Pick, Mr. Trejo, Mr. Planas, Mr. Tatum, Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Chapel, or Mr. Kelly, they were all still answering their phones just like anybody else. And if they claim to be one of my black belts, then call me; my phone number is 805-807-6500.
On the other hand one could say, "What's the big deal anyway? Let these guys wear anything they want, they're not hurting anybody." But that's not true. In the last few years I've been contacted, on a regular basis, by students who've studied under various instructors claiming high ranks in American Kenpo, only to discover that after years of study and training, their instructor had little or no legitimate rank in American Kenpo and that is hurting somebody.
On a recent trip to Florida I was sitting in the hotel lobby when a guy noticed my T-shirt and asked me if I studied Kenpo. I told him yes and that I was in Florida to take part in a Kenpo camp. He then asked if I studied with Ed Parker and I again said yes. He then told me that his teacher also studied with Ed Parker and told me his teacher's name. When I heard the guys name it took me back about thirty years to a day when I was at Mr. Parker's house and he received a call from the Better Business Bureau. They were calling in regard to a man who claimed to have studied directly with Mr. Parker and had attained a very high rank in American Kenpo. Mr. Parker said, I'm sorry, but I have never met the man. They said, "But he claims to have studied directly under you for many years." Mr. Parker stated, "I understand that he says he has studied with me for many years, but I find that to be highly unlikely – in that I have never met the man." Now here I was, sitting in a hotel lobby, talking to a man who's studied Kenpo for sixteen years from the same guy who's still claiming to have studied directly under Ed Parker.
Without trying to be too insulting to his instructor, I clearly told him that his teacher never actually studied directly with Ed Parker, at least not according to Mr. Parker himself. To this he had a puzzled look and said, maybe he was mistaken, maybe it was with Mr. Parker's teacher that his teacher had studied. I said, you mean Professor Chow? And he said, yes that's it Professor Chow. I then asked him how long had his teacher lived in Hawaii and with another puzzled look he said, I don’t think he did, why? I then told him that Professor Chow lived in Hawaii, as had Mr. Parker when he studied with Professor Chow, so if his teacher also studied with Professor Chow then he must have lived in Hawaii as well. Now, with an even greater look of confusion on his face, I took the opportunity to excuse myself, as it was time to meet up with the other guys and go teach our seminar.
I don't know if this gentleman followed up on his instructors claims or not. I didn't get his phone number and didn't try to keep in touch. But I did feel sorry for him. No one expects their martial arts instructor to lie to them. No one expects their martial arts instructor to exaggerate their rank, or claim a lineage they don't have, but now we know better. The question is; what are we going to do about it?
Self-Defense Technique Extensions: Over the years, I keep hearing a couple of reoccurring comments about . . .
the technique extensions. The first has to do with the value of their very existence. I hear things like, if the base does not work - the whole technique is ineffective, or if you can’t take the guy out with the first six or eight strikes, what makes you think you can do it with six or eight more? Another statement is, Mr. Parker didn’t write the extensions but only approved their development by his senior black belts.
Surprisingly, these statements are usually attributed to one Kenpo senior or another. This really messes up my snappy comeback, because I’d like to say these statements are ignorant. Therefore whoever said them must be ignorant as well. The problem is, the very definition of ignorant means having a lack of knowledge about the subject at hand. This simply can’t be the case with someone who’s studied the art of American Kenpo for fifty years, so what’s really going on here? What is it about the extensions that rile certain people while enthralling others?
The first thing we need to do is determine if it’s all the extensions some people have a problem with, or is it only some extensions. Further investigation will show that it’s not all the extensions that are rejected by some of the seniors, but only the more recent extensions, the ones that were introduced in the early eighties. In case you’re not aware, the extensions were developed in two separate time periods. I’m not sure when the original extensions were developed, but in 1972 (when I started in Kenpo) there were 10 techniques for yellow belt and 32 techniques for orange belt through green belt. The techniques for 3rd class brown belt were the 32 extended orange belt techniques. At that time no one debated the value of the extended techniques. In fact, anyone who had reached that level of technique proficiency was thought of as of being one of the elite practitioners of the art. It was only in the early to mid-eighties when Mr. Parker announced that he had reconfigured the system into 24 techniques per belt and that he had also added extensions to the purple, blue and green that the value of extensions became an issue.
Think about it, have you ever heard a senior say that Dance of Death should stop at the reverse handsword, or after you snap his ankle? No, likely you haven’t. In fact the extended version of Dance of Death is so common that many people don’t even think of it as being an extension, and every senior I know teaches Dance of Death in its entirety, never once ridiculing it by saying if your technique is so weak that you failed to snap his ankle, what makes you think dancing all over the top of him will do any good. Yet, if the above statements are how they really feel about extensions, then they should feel that way about all extensions, not just a select number of them. In fact they should be stopping every technique after the first retaliatory sequence, because it’s not only the second half of a technique that’s an extension, but any and everything that comes after the first move designed to put your opponent down.
Statements like, if the base technique is ineffective, then the entire technique is ineffective, seems to say the techniques have no other purpose than to be used “as is” in actual self-defense situations. What about statements made by Mr. Parker like, “I teach these techniques not for the sake of teaching the techniques, but for the principles that are involved in the techniques.” (Black Belt Magazine Nov. 1985) This statement clearly states that there is much more to each and every technique than the sum of its parts. If we go back to Dance of Death, every senior I’ve ever seen teach the technique will be quick to point out that it’s unlikely we would ever use the entire technique in a real life situation. More than likely we’ll only use a portion of the technique and not necessarily the first portion. We may find ourselves in a position where our opponent is face down on the ground, but virtually unharmed. Then we can take the lessons learned in the extension of Dance of Death to properly stomp him into the ground. The leg snap itself isn’t reserved for use only within Dance of Death, but it taught to be used anytime you find yourself in that position and need to snap your opponent’s leg. Properly taught, techniques are broken down into their individual elements and the student is told how each element should be effective on its own, or in combination.
All self-defense techniques, base and otherwise, are designed to teach the principles of Kenpo through imaginary attacks, to which we respond with a predetermined defense, followed by a series of additional predetermined actions, all of which are based on the anticipated reactions of our opponent. In other words, the likelihood of us pulling off even a base technique (in its entirety) is highly unlikely. Watch any boxing match or MMA fight and tell me how many six or eight strike combinations you see taking place – mostly none. What you generally see are basic combinations, consisting of two to three moves. If someone in a boxing match, or an MMA fight, pulls off a four or five strike combination the place goes completely wild. The point is, everyone in Kenpo knows (or should know) that our techniques, extended or otherwise, are designed to teach us the principles of Kenpo while at the same time exposing us to various attack scenarios, to which we learn unlimited and variable responses.
Think of techniques this way: some of our forms consist of a series of techniques, yet nobody expects you to pull off Short Form 3 against multiple attackers. We know the variables are far too great and the chances of every attacker being in the right place at the right time is about the same as creating life by putting a handful of dirt in a jar and shaking it. So you can look at techniques as a series of combative sequences that are just slightly more likely to work in their entirety as a short form will work in its entirety. The extended techniques are simply larger catalogs of combative sequences than base techniques.
The beauty and value of extensions is that they’re more complex and difficult to perform than the base techniques. They generally require more opponent control and manipulation, which is challenging to even the most advanced practitioner. But to explain the value of the extensions can be really difficult, if you’re trying to explain it to a person has never experienced them or has been told, by a Kenpo senior, they’re of little or no value.
Now, what people say about Mr. Parker not creating the newer extensions is no truer than to say he didn’t create the original extensions. Mr. Parker certainly had some assistance along the way, as anyone would have. Every technique, extension and otherwise, had input from whoever it was being developed around. Does anyone really think that Mr. Parker simply created the entire system of American Kenpo in his own head and then showed it to his students and that was it? If this is true, why do some of the same people who say Mr. Parker didn't create the new extensions mention how they themselves had a hand in the development of the original techniques and their extensions?
As for the second generation extensions development I'll tell you only what I saw first hand. While Mr. Parker was changing from the 32 technique system to the 24 technique system he was simultaneously adding new extensions to many of the techniques. At the time he was being assisted by one of his students, a man named Jim Mitchell. They would meet at Mr. Parker's house at 10 a.m. each Wednesday. Mr. Parker would work on and develop the extensions and Jim would write them down into a spiral notebook. Then Jim would go back to his place and type them all out and return the next week at which time Mr. Parker would proofread the typed text. Then he would red-line anything he didn't like and Jim would take more notes and repeat the process. I say this because I've seen the stacks of notebooks and piles of typed techniques with red line after red line throughout them.
At some point in time Mr. Parker was satisfied with the work that had been done and he adopted the new 24 technique curriculum along with the new extensions. So who wrote the techniques, Mr. Parker or Jim Mitchell? When the president of any company calls in his assistant and says, "Take a letter." and the assistant listens to what the president says, writes the letter for him and turns it over to the president for his approval and signature. So, who wrote the letter?
And think about this for a monument. With all that you're heard, or know, about Mr. Parker. That he was a genius and that he was the creator of American Kenpo. That he was known as a rebel, standing up for what he knew to be proven principles of motion. Does this sound to you like a man who could stand by and simply approve the development of the extensions that would bear his name?
Or let me put it this way. I wouldn't expect that you or I would compare ourselves to Mr. Parker and his creative genius, but if a handful of our students got together and developed, what was going to be a major addition to our school’s curriculum, would we simply stand by silently and approve the changes? Or do you think we may pull from all our knowledge and experience and take an active role in any and all proposed changes and additions?
Again thinking of Mr. Parker, who could have possibly come to him with such a vast amount of material and he simply approve it? And if this person, or group of people, does exist, why is it that he, or they, aren’t extremely well known for this achievement? Tom Kelly is known for creating kicking set and for suggesting to Mr. Parker that our system needed a yellow belt. Chuck Sullivan is well known to have modified Staff Set into the one that is taught today. So if one guy or even a group of guys created the entire new generation of technique extensions why is it they’re only known as "his senior black belts"? I personally know many of the senior black belts and not a single one of them has ever mentioned being one of the men who “created” the extensions? This includes Mr. Mitchell, who is often “blamed” for having created them and Skip Handcock, who went on to assist Mr. Parker in the technique extensions further (written) development. I say “written” development, because most of the extensions haven’t changed all that much. What has changed is how they are written, which includes a more detailed description of how the techniques are done as well as additional information on the principles used, their effect on the opponent and reminders on how to keep your opponent in check.
I think the bottom line is this. The art of American Kenpo has a lot of material; more material than most of us feel is necessary to create good, or even great, martial artists. Basic math will show that to teach every student all the material available to them can take more time than most people are willing to put into the art. Of course we could say, “If they don’t want to learn the entire system, to heck with them then.” But realistically this isn’t what happens. I’ve seen schools that say they teach the entire system, but when push comes to shove they really don’t. Take the freestyle techniques for example. I’ve seen where schools say they teach them, but when I ask a black belt to do B6bhKbkls I’m met with a totally blank stare. If I say, I thought you guys taught all the material, they say something like, we do – I just don’t remember it all.
I’m not criticizing anyone for narrowing down the material they actually require their student to learn. I do it myself. For example I don’t require the sets. The reason for this is I’ve seen many schools where the students perform blocking sets, finger sets, kicking sets, stance sets, striking sets, elbow sets, etc., but can’t properly perform Short Form 1. It’s my opinion that Short Form 1 is essential to forming a good foundation for Kenpo. Therefore I’d rather spend more time on Short Form 1 and less time having the students memorize the sets. Again, that’s just my opinion, other instructors have different opinions. What we all have in common is we all have to divide the student’s time among everything in our curriculum, as best we can, based on the limited amount of time our students have to offer.
I think the technique extensions often fall into the “I don’t need anything more to teach my already overwhelmed students.” category, more than they fall into the “These extensions have no value.” category.