The Secrets of Speed - Oct. 1989 V-27 No. 10: Legendary karate pioneer Ed Parker begins his sojourn as . . .
a Black Belt columnist this month in our continuing effort to bring readers the most knowledgeable essayist in the martial arts. Parker, one of the true greats of the martial arts world and a Black Belt Hall of Fame member, is a storehouse of memories and anecdotes about people ranging from Bruce Lee to Elvis Presley. He is also perhaps the world's leading authority on Kenpo karate. We think you'll find his monthly column amusing, informative, and downright fascinating. – Ed.
To understand karate techniques and how they function, you must have knowledge of physics. You must study the body and learn how the senses - through the principles of mass, speed, body alignment, angles, momentum, gravitational marriage, torque, focus, stability, power, and penetration - can make the body function intuitively. An in-depth study of these principles of physics will also reveal the sophistication contained within basic techniques.
"He who hesitates meditates in a horizontal position" is a statement that I use to imply the need for prompt action. It is a statement referring to speed. "Do it now," “I wanted done this instant," You’d better be fast," and "Be quick about it" all are phrases that imply speed or hasten velocity regardless of direction. As we study these terms, we learn that they are concepts related to distance and time. By definition, speed is equal to the distance divided by the time it takes to move.
Speed, however, goes beyond this definition. Like the Eskimo who uses a number of terms to describe the types of snow, we too must distinguish and categorize speed to make it meaningful to the karate enthusiast. There are three categories of speed: perceptual, mental and physical. However, while the categories are separated in order to analyze why to speed in tales, they function as one.
Perceptual speed is the quickness of the senses in: monitoring the stimulus they receive; determining the meaning of the stimulus; and conveying the information to the brain so that mental speed can arrange the proper response. To the karate practitioner, it is the feel or smell of trouble, a sound, sign or gesture that suggests trouble, the site of an incoming strike, or the opportunity to attack or counterattack. The speed of this type can be increased by maintaining alertness and by conditioning the senses to develop environmental awareness.
Mental speed is the quickness of the mind to select appropriate movements to effectively deal with the incoming stimulus. Speed of this type can only be increased by practicing various karate techniques on a regular basis. This involves learning the techniques to a point of total familiarity and instinctive response. As you broaden your knowledge of combat alternatives, and can tap into the movements and concepts stored in your subconscious, the speed of your instinctive response increases.
Physical speed is the quickness of physical movement - fluency in response to stimulus, and the speed in which one executes the technique. The speed of this type can be increased through stretching, body conditioning, and other methods of training. Stretching exercises helps increase elasticity, which automatically develops a reach. Body conditioning prevents fatigue and allows a high level of speed to be maintained for longer periods of time.
Knowledge of the principles of economy of motion also contributes to speed. It helps you avoid erroneous angles and teaches you how to administer your strength. This principle stresses the importance of: being relaxed when striking, tensing only at the moment of impact; making one aware that time is crucial; using movements that follow direct angles and paths; eliminating "telegraphing" of techniques unless as a means of deceptive strategy; continuity, flow, and rhythm; responding to combat from natural postures; learning about target accessibility; and distance, or range.
In conclusion, while speed often enhances power, it is not the root of power. Synchronization of body mass and speed is a major ingredient that creates power.
Beginnings - Nov. 1989 V-27 No. 11: It seems as though only a short time has elapsed since I began . . .
my venture into the karate profession. I started teaching commercially in 1954 at a gymnasium in Provo, Utah, and also held a self-defense course for law enforcement agencies at Brigham Young University. After graduating from college with no experience in business, I moved to Pasadena, California, and opened my own school in September, 1956. I was determined and confident I could make it, and as I look back, I found that my ignorance really worked in my favor. Had I listened to my experienced business advisors, who would have warned me of all the pitfalls of my profession, I would never have been successful.
The following true story is a good analogy. A black belt was hired to protect a rock group on tour. A party was held on closing night, and a gate-crasher and his friends got out of hand. Their leader attacked the black belt, but he found he had overestimated his ability and was badly defeated. As his friends escorted him out, they yelled to the black belt "You'll regret this! This is the national heavyweight boxing champion!" Would the black belt have been as effective had he had previous knowledge of the party crashers identity? Would I have been effective if I had been told about the pitfalls that awaited me in the martial arts business?
At the time of my schools opening, there was no one in the karate business to appraise me of their experiences; there was no track record for me to follow. Learning the basic principles of business is not enough, because they are not the same for all businesses. A recent case in point: a very successful insurance executive decided he wanted to get into the karate business. I was consulted and gave him my advice. His plan to have big businesses sponsor underprivileged kids was a valid idea most of us in the profession had not considered. We have brought sponsors into the tournament scene, but not into the schools. After listening to his plan, I was impressed. However, as he revealed other aspects of his plan, I knew that his business practices would clash with ours. His monthly overhead, not including salaries and other miscellaneous expenses, was $15-16,000 a month. To meet these expenses he would have needed 400 regular students. To pay salaries, another 100 to 150 regular students would be required. I predicted he would stay in business a year. I was wrong. He closed in six months.
"Tailoring" is a very important concept. In Kenpo karate, tailoring describes your ability to fit moves to your body size, makeup, speed, and strength in order to maximize your physical efforts. Tailoring is also viewed as the ability to adjust your attitude to fit each situation. These concepts also apply to business. What works in one business may not work in another. Likewise, teaching and business procedures at a karate school will vary from one country to another, state to state and city to city. Economic conditions, ordinances, age groups, an annual income are some of the considerations that change with time and must be heeded.
One of those considerations is competition. Many of us have read about the Old West, with its gunfighters and challenges. Similarly, during my early years in business, I too became acquainted with challenges. Since karate was virtually unknown during the early 50s, I had my share of challengers. Because I had the only commercial school listed in the Yellow Pages, I was frequently sought out. I once had a challenger who said he was a "jujeeti" expert. He couldn't even pronounce the word "jujitsu" correctly. As much as I tried to avoid a confrontation, he persisted. You can only take so much, so I gave in. He proceeded to stalk me, traveling clockwise, and I faked a right punch. He attempted to grab my punch with his right hand and I instantly contoured the underside of his right arm and executed a right inward elbow strike to his upper rib cage, cracking a number of ribs. It was my intention to knock the wind out of them, not the fracture his ribs. As I escorted him out of the school, I felt remorse for what I had done, but I was angry with him for placing me in such a position.
I recall another incident where the gentleman in question did not actually challenge me, but felt he had the fastest hands in town. He wished to prove to me that he could block any punch directed to his head or body. I shot a right punch, and he blocked it successfully. I've been shot a left punch, which he blocked. I commented "Hey, you're really good." As his head swelled, I asked if he could block a right and the left punch combination. He again succeeded. I then delivered a left and a right combination. He beamed as he successfully blocked my blows. I commented that I had met a lot of martial artist, but that he was the best I had seen. His head was now so swollen he could have floated to the ceiling.
My last comment to him was "Can you block a right “with” a left combination?" He nodded his head, indicating he could. As I simultaneously delivered both punches, he blocked my right punch and was drilled in the face with my left. He did not expect to punches delivered at the same time, which is what I countered on.
That was one of the ways I used my wits to survive in the early days of karate.
Memories of Bruce - Dec. 1989 V-27 No. 12: I traveled extensively throughout Northern California during . . .
the 1960s. My travels afforded me the opportunity to meet and become friends with many kung fu masters and their students.
Among the close friends I made during this time was the late James Lee. He and I spent hours comparing the concepts and principles of his kung fu and my Kenpo. Although he was not a big man, he was tremendously powerful. He could break a six bricks with a single back fist. You could select the brick you wanted him to break, and he could break it without disturbing any of the other bricks. He was wiry, full of energy, and always seeking the ultimate challenge.
In September or October of 1963, I received a call from Jimmy. His voice is full of excitement and he could hardly contain himself. "Ed," he said, "I just met this kid from Seattle who you've got a meet. He is a Wing Chun man and he is something else! Not only is he fast, but boy does he pack a wallop! He isn't big, but he hit me with a one-inch punch and sent me clear across my garage - at least 15 to 20 feet. Unbelievable, unbelievable. I've never seen or felt anything like it."
I was finally able to get a few words in and ask him who this guy was, where he was from, and where he got his training, and other questions. Jim said "his name is Bruce Lee. He was born in San Francisco, and spent most of his life in Hong Kong, where he practiced Wing Chun."
I consented to meet Bruce in Oakland, California, where James Lee lived.
When I first met him, he struck me as clean-cut and handsome. He was extremely friendly, joked continually, and was obviously a philosophy buff, judging from his conversation.
He proceeded to discuss his martial art and its merits, along with his own concepts. Then he began to punch, and the sleeve of his windbreaker literally "popped" the air. His movements were graceful, crisp, and powerful. As I observed his technique, I could see his unyielding balance as his body settled with each punch. He had obviously mastered the concepts of body momentum and precise angles of impact. These factors contributed to his power.
Once I observed Bruce’s extraordinary talent, I knew that I should introduce Bruce to the film and television producers and directors I knew. A number of TV and movie people were expected to attend my first International Karate Championships in 1964 in Long Beach, California, so I asked Bruce to demonstrate his skills there. Bruce's demonstration was captured on film, and after the tournament I show the film to producer Bill Dozier, who hired Bruce as Kato for his Green Hornet television series. The rest is history.
I still think about the times that Bruce and I have spent traveling from coast-to-coast, and the memorable discussions we had. He once asked me which of the nation's three top point karate fighters generated the most power on contact. When I gave him my answer, he was shocked, because I had made the same choice after he had worked out with all three of them.
"Tell me how you knew," he said.
I answered, "because of the synchronized timing of body mass with the strike. That's why you're good, Bruce. Upon impact, your whole body is in focus with your natural weapon."
He looked at me for a while, and with a slight smirk on his face, comfortably sat back in his chair.
On another occasion, Bruce told me of his experiences on a live TV show in Hong Kong, where he and four other kung fu masters were asked to demonstrate their skills. The first master settled into a stance and invited a second master to throw him off balance. The second master was not able to do so, nor was the third. The first master then told Bruce, "hey, you young punk, you come up and try."
Bruce, ignoring the gentleman's impoliteness, calmly stood before him, settled into his stance, then punched the master in the face and dropped him. Bruce said "When I fight, I punch, I don't push."
That was Bruce.
Taking The Fall - Jan. 1990 V-28 No. 1: Falling, diving and rolling are essential ingredients of . . .
the martial arts. While most people associate falling with jujitsu, judo or aikido, Kenpo karate also encourages its study and practice. The ground can be an enemy; knowledge of falling, diving and rolling can avert injury.
A person falls to avoid being hit (defense), or falls after being hit or thrown (offense). Falling is an exaggerated method of “riding” an attack. Although riding normally is done while remaining upright, it can be combined with a fall, roll or turn.
When learning to fall, students must contemplate methods of landing safely. They must learn to: dissipate the force of the fall to reduce or limit injury; control breathing to limit loss of air upon impact; and make every effort to quickly regain a proper defensive posture.
Falling also requires proper use of the kiai (yell). Employing the kiai reduces natural buoyancy, so exhaling on impact prevents hitting the ground with air still in the lungs. If the lungs are even partially filled with air, there is the possibility of broken ribs, because tightening of the abdominal muscles is limited. However, exhaling completely tightens the abdominal muscles during the fall and minimizes injury and damage by helping the body to absorb the shock. It is also necessary to tuck the “hard corners” of the body (head, shoulders, elbows, knees, etc.) toward the more muscular areas of the torso. This allows the body to support and brace its joints prior to impact with the ground. This tuck posture not only decreases injury, but places the body in proper alignment to defend or attack with increased effectiveness.
The limbs also play an integral part in dissipating the shock of a fall. The limbs are used to slap the ground upon impact, which disperses the body weight over a wider surface, like having a book fall flat rather than on its corner. Your limbs can also be used aggressively; instead of breaking your fall, you may with to direct it toward an opponent already on the ground in the hope of hurting him. With proper timing, the power of gravity can be added to the power of the fall.
Dives are unique moves that employ springs and flips. These maneuvers are quite exaggerated and are used to avoid an attack, work in conjunction with an attack, or can be combined as a defense and offense.
The same procedures used to reduce injuries during a fall also relate to dives. While a forward stomach dive may require use of your arms to help disperse the weight in your fall, most dives are followed by a roll. It is the momentum of the dive and roll that disperses the weight throughout the body upon impact, thus reduces shock and injury.
Rolling consists of two types; a standing method employing a ride and turn to avoid an attack, and a revolving maneuver using the ground to travel from one point to another. It is the continuous, revolving flow of action that helps to cushion the impact of the body when meeting the ground. This revolving maneuver may be used to avoid an attack by increasing distance, or can be used strategically to close the distance between you and an opponent, as well to increase the force of your counterattack. In either case, rolls revolve from a 180-degree radius to a 360-degree radius. Rolls have the same flexibility as other falling methods and can be employed while simultaneously counterattacking.
Falls, dives and rolls come in several varieties. There are back, front and side falls. There are shoulder, head-and-shoulder, and back head and chest dives. Rolls can go to the front, side, or back. These may be combined with other foot and body maneuvers, such as step through, shuffles, crossovers, jumps, flips, turns and rides, to achieve maximum effectiveness. These maneuvers may be used in any combination deemed necessary to serve the purpose. The combinations you choose should be appropriate for the situation.
New Dimensions - Feb. 1990 V-28 No. 2: We often hear the terms gap, space, distance, and range used . . .
interchangeable in the martial arts. In truth these terms each have distinct and separate characteristics of their own. In the dictionary, a gap is defined as “a separation in space.” Space is “a limited extent in one, two, or three dimensions: distance, area, volume.” Distance is “the degree or amount of separation between two points.” And range is “the space or extent included, covered, or used.”
These terms all describe the martial arts’ dimensional stages of action. These martial arts techniques use space in all its aspects: height, width, depth, and direction. They also utilize the distances that maintain, control, close and open the gap (fighting distance). They employ long-, medium-, and close-range techniques in sequences while closing in on an opponent or when defending. They include a staggering amount of alternatives for close-range techniques, including various locks and chokes, twists, dislocations, holds, and takedowns.
Gauging the distance between you and your opponent when defending or attacking requires a thorough study of the dimensional stages of action. It involves choice of weapon and target, arm and leg lengths of both your and your opponent, foot and body maneuvers, speed and accuracy, and reaction time. You must consider intentional and unintentional moves, deceptive and deliberate moves, checking (pressing, pinning, or jamming), and nullifying moves made while simultaneously striking. It further includes considering height, width, and depth zones, restrictions such as environmental encumbrances or tournament rules, or lack of restrictions (no rules, anything goes), and the possibility of injury. Only with all this information can you determine the dimensional stages necessary to defend or attack with success. It is not simple.
You should become acquainted with the different stages of range within the gap between you and your opponent. They are crucial in combat as well as in tournament competition. Range refers to what you can do with the gap. There are four stages of range that should concern you: out of contact; within contact; contact penetration; and contract manipulation.
Out-of-contact range refers to that stage of distance that places you out of the reach of your opponent, or vice versa. Unless foot and body maneuvers are used to bridge this distance, conditions are generally safe. Contact range means exactly what it implies – the distance in which you or your opponent can be reached. An injury incurred at this range may not be as crucial, but damage nonetheless can occur. Contact-penetration range refers to the distance in which a weapon can effectively penetrate to a target, thus magnifying the damage or injury that can occur. Contact-manipulation range entails controlling an opponent. At this range, injury can be administered through locks and chokes, twists, dislocations, holds, and takedown.
The four stages of range pertain to depth. Space that exists between low and high points relates to height. Space that separates points from left to right involves the dimension of width. All action that bridges the gap that exists in height, width, or depth falls into this complex but vital theory called dimensional stages of action.
"The King" and I - March 1990 V-28 No. 3: On an afternoon in 1960, I gave a demonstration for a group of . . .
physicians at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles. Those who had gathered to see my and my students were full of enthusiasm, and were extremely amazed and pleased with our demonstration. As the group began to leave, I was shocked to see Elvis Presley present in the audience with his entourage and friends. Elvis approached me and said “I don’t think you know me, but my name is Elvis Presley.” I laughed inwardly, impressed by his humility. We went out by the hotel pool and spent about three hours talking. That day was the beginning of a close friendship that endured for 17 years.
Elvis told me of his great interest in karate. He mentioned that he had studied karate on a limited scale while in the army. He also mentioned that his mother had been very protective of him. He was not allowed to participate in any athletic activities at school or on the playground; the possibility of his being injured was his mother’s constant fear. He regretted not having participated in football or other athletic activities while he was in school, and he desired to participate in a contact sport.
Elvis felt that karate was the answer to his years of inactivity. He said he had noticed that my system was obviously innovative. He had been introduced to a rigid, traditional style of karate while stationed in West Germany, but preferred the fluidity of my style’s movements. Noting my system’s diverse methods of attack and defense, he said “It’s obvious that you are a rebel in your field, as I am in mine.” That was a great compliment, and was one of the points that solidified our friendship. Not long after, he began training with me in Kenpo.
I was impressed with Elvis’ questions. He was not a “know-it-all”; he listened intently to what I had to say and didn’t interrupt. He was always attentive, congenial, and enthused about new knowledge. No matter what the subject or who was teaching it, he remained attentive, curious, and fully engrossed in the topic at hand.
Elvis studied Kenpo primarily at his Beverly Hills home, but also while on tour, and occasionally at my West Los Angeles studio. He was an intense person; when the sprit moved him, he would study for days on end. Determination was a big part of his character. He prodded, pried and questioned. He was not only interested in how, but in why as well. He was intrigued with the logic of what I taught. He enjoyed my analogies to life’s experiences, which helped him understand Kenpo’s principles more precisely. He appreciated the realistic approaches to encounters. There were occasions when he wanted to feel the moves, wanted to be hit. He wanted to be assured that the moves he was being taught really worked. I can vividly remember his boyish grin when he was convinced that the techniques did work.
Elvis’ martial arts training greatly influenced his performances on stage. While his body language thrilled the girls, his use of Kenpo on stage did much to create interest in the martial arts. One of Elvis’ most interesting uses of Kenpo came when he would drop into a karate stance at the end of each of his concerts. He would assume a wide forward bow stance, placing his right arm above his head with his right forearm parallel to the ground, and his left arm positioned in an “L” pattern at chest level. If I was on tour with him, he would assume this pose while facing stage right, and look at me to see whether he should leave the stage in that direction. If I told him “Yes,” he would go that way. If I told him “No,’ he would assume the same pose facing stage left, get confirmation from me, and be off the stage like a shot in that direction. The audience never really knew the meaning of this pose; they just thought he was being dramatic. In reality, he was paying tribute to the martial arts.
Elvis did receive a black belt from me, and he is one of those listed under my family tree of black belts. However, Elvis was far greater as a singer and as a humanitarian.
I’d like to conclude with a story Elvis once told me. While stationed in West Germany, he was scheduled to go out on winter combat maneuvers. Elvis was looking forward to the maneuvers, but he later received orders that he was to be exempted from participating. Instead, he was given special permission to fly out of West Germany on the Pope’s private plane to entertain a private party. But Elvis refused. He said “If my buddies have to go out into the field and freeze their buns, so will I.” That was Elvis – refusing an invitation from the Pope himself for the good of his pals.
Elvis, like Bruce Lee, was one of a kind in his field. To this very day, I ask myself why I was a part of both their lives. Though I’m not sure of the answer, I do know that Elvis and Bruce were a memorable part of my life.
Opposite and Reverse - April 1990 V-28 No. 4: For every move, concept, or principle, there is an opposite or reverse . . .
If you can fully grasp this idea, you can infinitely expand your vocabulary of motion.
As part of their study for second-degree brown belt, my students are required to apply this idea to every facet of Kenpo karate. Special emphasis is placed on how this comprehensive statement applies to stances, maneuvers, blocks, and strikes. Students at this level are expected to internalize the basic concepts, theories, and principles of technique movement, and the terms and definitions related thereto. Their forms, techniques, and freestyle capabilities should clearly express their successful development of coordination, fluidity, speed, and power. They would then be ready for a formal introduction to man-made weapons.
Logic combined with realistic thinking are the keys. You must thoroughly understand the terms opposite and reverse and learn to apply them appropriately. If there is a right inward block, there must be a left inward (or opposite) block. If there are inward blocks, then there are outward (reverse) blocks. Deductively, if there are inward overhead claw strikes, there must be outward overhead claws. And if there are overhead claw strikes, there must be underhand claws, etc.
The neutral bow stance is a fighting posture that requires the legs to share the body weight equally. This 50-50 weight distribution strategically establishes and ideal point of reference when fighting. Just as Switzerland has been neutral in the last two world wars, so should you thoroughly understand the benefits of neutrality and how, when properly maintained, it can aid you during confrontation. Further in-depth thinking will tell you that the opposite of neutrality is non-neutrality. Therefore, when shifting your weight into a forward bow stance, you have temporarily given up neutrality. You must ask yourself if this is what you wish and, if so, what benefits you can obtain when in that position. And what about rhythmic changes to alter your timing when shifting forward or back? Do you wish to go forward or back (reverse) in terms of direction? What about converting into another plane - another dimension? As you can see, the questions are endless.
Let’s look at weight distribution in more depth. If there can be a 60-40 weight distribution, there also can be a 40-60. If there is a 10-90 weight distribution, there is also a 90-10. If 100 percent of the weight can be placed on the right leg, then the left leg can do likewise. Logic and experience will revel the appropriate answer to each predicament. This in turn will tell you what your weak points are, the areas in which you should devote more practice.
The logical use of opposite and reverse in endless. Movement should be examined and investigated from all angles, directions, dimensions, and predicaments. For example, if you and your opponent can face each other while standing, it’s conceivable you can do the same while one is standing and the other is in a prone position. The same applies if both of you are in the prone positions, both supine, both on your sides, or any combination thereof. Circumstances will often place you and your opponent in these positions.
Other thought-provoking variables can stem from asking yourself questions about other types of predicaments you may find yourself in. Did you begin there? Did he pull you down? Did you push or pull him down? Is the ground your friend or your enemy? Is the ground your opponent’s friend or enemy? If you can fall to the rear, can you not therefore fall to the front or side? Can falling be done intentionally as well as unintentionally? If you can roll forward, shouldn’t you be able to roll in reverse? If you can roll away from an opponent, can you not also roll toward him - accomplish both if two people are present?
Think of every predicament that can logically occur. If you can dive through a doorway as an exit, you can surely dive through a doorway as an entrance. If you can dive under an obstacle, you can dive over the same obstacle. If you can maneuver to avoid and object or person, you can maneuver to utilize that object of person. If a maneuver can be used defensively, you most certainly can use it offensively.
It all boils down to your ability to think. The importance of thinking is illustrated in a story about a gentleman who bought a gadget that was disassembled. As much as the tried to decipher the instruction sheet, he found no success and was therefore frustrated. He eventually called a handyman to take on the task of assembling the gadget. In a matter of minutes, the gadget was assembled, and not once did the handyman refer to the instructions. The gentleman asked the handyman how he was able to assemble the gadget without referring to the instructions. The handyman’s answer was simple: “Well, I can’t read, and when you can’t read, you gotta think.”
If you wish to expand your vocabulary of motion, you must investigate the opposite and reverse of all maneuvers: bobbing, weaving, rolling, twisting, turning, slipping, falling, jumping, switching, shuffling, feinting, etc. Leave no stone unturned, and of utmost importance, think. Free yourself from the bondage of complacency and blind acceptance. Seek for yourself and reveal the undiscovered.
My Kenpo Karate Roots - May 1990 V-28 No. 5: I was 16 years old when one of the members of the church I belonged to . . .
introduced me to Kenpo Karate. Frank Chow told a few of us how e had beaten a local bully renowned for his streetfighting prowess. The bully was big and as solid as granite, and not until Frank demonstrated the strategy he used did we believe his David-and-Goliath story.
Once convinced, I was instantly intrigued by this Oriental art and began studying under Frank. I had boxed and been in street altercations quite a few times myself, so I questioned, disagreed, and stood corrected by Frank in my quest for knowledge.
I soon recognized the value Kenpo could have on the streets. Having learned judo and treasuring its merits, I nevertheless saw that Kenpo was superior in handling two of more men at one time. Judo ties you up with one man for too long, exposing your vulnerable areas, whereas Kenpo offered explosive action with minimal target exposure.
I looked forward to every lesson, until one day Frank told me he could no longer be my teacher. Dejected and disheartened, I wondered what I would do now that my Kenpo training had come to and end.
Frank was pleased to see my reaction, and explained that he had merely taken me as far as he could. He was not qualified to go beyond the lessons he had already taught.
But my Kenpo training was far from over. Frank told me to further my Kenpo education with his brother, who was a top instructor in Honolulu. With mixed emotions, I visited William K. S. Chow. I found him conducting a class at the Nuuanu YMCA, and was impressed with what I saw. From the moment I witnessed William Chow move, and appraised the ability of his students, a strong spiritual feeling penetrated the very depths of my soul. Kenpo, I knew, would become my life's work.
Fighting against opponents with different reaches, mannerisms, and methods of executing moves forced me to learn motion thoroughly. The ability to protect and hit from any angle thrilled me to no end, because this knowledge increased my chances of victory on the street. Adriano and Joe Emperado were Chow's first graduating black belts in Kenpo karate, and I looked upon them with envy and respect. It was Adriano who, after his brother's death, formed Kajukenbo an offshoot of Chow's Kenpo system, with advocates throughout the world.
Many students branched away from Chow’s system, yet each had a greatest respect for his ability. Chow was not tall man, but he was fast, precise and powerful. He never wasted motion and reminded me of a mongoose fighting a snake. His defensive moves were never exaggerated. He allowed an opponent’s punch to miss him just slightly, then bam – he’d be in at the man's vital areas.
I wanted to learn as much as I could, so I followed Chow, questioned him, bugged him, and it paid off. He stressed the need for modifications and additions, and introduced me to key movements which set me on the road to becoming a creative innovator. He knew that Kenpo was only in its infant stages, and felt it must be modified to meet the needs of modern America.
I treasured the time I spent with Chow and the revelations I obtained from our conversations and workouts. As I look back, I cannot thank him enough for setting me on the path of logic and realistic thinking.
Chow's classes were loaded with great practitioners, and I think many of them for beating some sense into my head - Fred Lara, Manny de la Cruz, Ike Kaawa, Bobby Lowe (who now represents Mas Oyama in Hawaii), Masashi Oshiro (goju-ryu representative for the late Gogen Yamaguchi), and Paul Yamaguchi, as well as others who have passed on. I learned much from these men and then matured into the martial arts practitioner I am today. The workouts, demonstrations, and parties are all in my past, but they are etched into my mind for all eternity.
After two years at Brigham Young University, I was drafted into the Korean War in 1951 and managed to be stationed in Hawaii for two-and-a-half years of my three-year hitch with the U.S. Coast Guard. I could now continue my studies with Chow on a full-time basis! Far from tiring of Kenpo, the more I studied, the more intrigued I became.
On several occasions, Kenpo saved my life. I then knew firsthand that Kenpo worked, my desire to teach on the mainland grew stronger. I visualized the benefits others would gain and the confidence and character it could instill in our youth.
I talked with William Chow about the possibility of opening Kenpo schools throughout the continental United States after I graduated from Brigham Young. I felt that a university degree was essential to solidify our plans because it would discourage others from looking upon us as mere pugilists. Chow thought the plan was feasible and was willing to take up residence on the mainland.
I eventually established a successful school in Pasadena, California, and was ready to bring Chow to the continental United States to pursue our plan. In September, 1959, I flew to Hawaii for the first time in five years and went to see Chow, reminding him of our expansion plans. Chow told me I had his blessing that I was to go it alone.
My heart dropped to my stomach as Chow explained that he didn't think he could adjust to the new environment. He was basically shy and felt he would be out of place on the mainland. As much as I tried to change his mind, he stuck to his conviction. I honored his wish and commenced an expansion program on my own.
Full-scale success did not come easily; Chow's change of heart was only one of the discouraging moments that were to follow. Yet determination and perseverance made my life fruitful. Kenpo remains as vibrant to me now as it was when I first began my studies, and its possibilities promised to intrigue me for a lifetime.
Blake Edwards and the Martial Arts - June 1990 V-28 No. 6: If anyone deserves credit for introducing me to . . .
the movie industry, it would have to be Terry Robinson. He was a trainer and friend to Mario Lanza (the tenor/actor), and he had prepared numerous celebrities to look as if they knew what they were doing on the screen.
I met Terry at the Hollywood American Health Studio in 1956 through another good friend, Roy Woodward. Terri was a combat instructor in World War II and was impressed by my demonstration of Kenpo karate. He said that what he knew about martial arts was like kindergarten level, and he invited me to teach Kenpo at the Beverly Wilshire Health Club in California, of which he was in charge. I accepted his offer - a historical part of my life that I've never regretted.
Terry was a great promoter. He arranged for Kenpo demonstrations at the club before many producers, directors and actors, enabling me to meet and become friends with a number of movie industry VIPs, some of whom later hired me for their productions. Frank Lovejoy, Fabian, Robert Wagner, and many others became students of mine as a result of this demonstration. It wasn't long before I developed lifelong friendships in the industry.
One such friend is Blake Edwards, world-famous producer and director. As a student of mine, Blake saw the potential of the martial arts for the screen. Used first in his film Experiment in Terror, starring Glenn Ford. Then in his Pink Panther series, he created the character of Cato, the faithful valet who keeps Inspector Clouseau on his toes with unexpected Kenpo attacks. I myself played the role of "Mr. Chong from Hong Kong" in two episodes of the series. I would venture to say that Blake through his films, was an important influence in promoting the martial arts around the world.
Blake was interesting to work with. On days I was not scheduled to shoot, I would visit him on location or on the set. At first, he would ask me why I was there since I wasn't scheduled to shoot that day. I answered that I was there to pick his brain, to become more knowledgeable about his trade. He was happy to oblige and taught me a lot about camera angles, lenses, lighting, and various effects. When I made suggestions, he was very receptive.
One suggestion I made was to intermittently employ slow motion with regular speed to get greater audience reaction. I felt the slow motion gave the audience time to observe and relate to a particular move. Switching back to regular speed would then change the audience’s pulse. He followed my suggestion in the fight scene for Revenge of the Pink Panther, changing into slow motion when I flipped my opponent into the air. The opponent continued to sail in slow motion, but when he hit the coffee table, it was back to regular speed, and the audience response was favorable.
During the initial screening of this film, Blake asked me if I notice anything different about the scene. I could sense something different, but could not say exactly what it was. Blake then pointed out that he had removed all of my grunts, groans and kiai (yells), leaving only the sound of my strikes. This technique magnified the effects of the strikes, and I again learned from this cinematic master.
Blake is a genius in his field. For a scene in Curse of the Pink Panther, where I break a huge boulder with a knife hand strike, he wrote additional dialogue for me on the spot that went something like "Visualize strength like a gathering cloud which, when transferred to the rock, will act as a delayed chain reaction on an atomic bomb." I then struck the boulder and nothing happened. But as I walked out of the room, not only did the boulder disintegrate, the entire building collapsed!
The next shot showed me exiting from the building as it collapsed. Concerned about my safety, Blake warned me to start at the foot of the stairs, but I insisted that I start at the top to give him the extra footage he needed for editing. I convinced him that I would react faster than the man pushing the plunger to detonate the dynamite. And I was right. The most difficult part for me was to walk away without reacting to the shockwave from the blast.
A Prediction for the 1990s - July 1990 V-28 No. 7: If you run a school or are otherwise involved in the business side of . . .
the martial arts, you better gear up, because I predict the martial arts will hit an all-time high in the 1990s.
What has led me to this conclusion? An onslaught of martial arts related motion pictures scheduled for the next five years. And not just run-of-the-mill pictures, but movies with believable plots, written by professionals working for major film companies. The film industry is finally realizing the potential of martial arts movies. Consequently, those of you who make a living from martial arts should upgrade your business practices.
There are two essential parts of our business: the art, which is our product, and the manner in which we package the art with regard to sales and marketing. In the long run, only those who have a solid and valid product, along with a substantial market plan, will weather the challenges which lie ahead.
Steven Seagal's highly successful Hard to Kill is a good example of this trend toward quality martial arts films. Seagal's display of aikido, along with his departure from the spinning and flying kicks typical of martial arts films, has given audiences a new and varied perspective on the martial arts.
I am personally involved in a major Paramount production that will address the martial arts. I will be involved with choreographing the fight scenes, and it is my desire to introduce new dimensions of action which the audience can relate to, be part of, and learn from. Exciting martial arts films should increase interest in the arts and add students to our schools.
Of course, this can be a blessing as well as a curse. Many unqualified schools will again come out of the woodwork and attempt to cash in on the boom. Students who enroll at such schools will gain a false confidence in their skills. When they discover what they have learned is useless on the street, it may ruin their interest in the arts or may even cost them their lives.
When seeking organizations that might help structure our business, be sure to first investigate their credibility. Consult current or former clients to learn the pros and cons of doing business with the organization. Study the firm's past and present policies, and determine whether its practices match your desires.
As I prepare to go back into franchising martial arts schools, I too am gearing up for what’s to come. I have found computers to be a significant tool in solving business problems. It has been said that those who do not turn to the computer in the next five years will become statistics in the world of business. The level of sophistication in martial arts business is indeed rising. Take heed and gear up.
I am sure many of you have questions pertaining to business practices, teaching methods, and/or motivational concepts that can prolong student interest. If so, please voice your questions so I may help you. Whether you are a commercial martial arts school, club, or group of friends just working out together, I may be able to present a solution to any martial arts related problems you might have. Please write to me and, if possible, I will give you an answer. Keep in touch.
My Experiences with James Mitose - Aug. 1990 V-28 No. 8: Contrary to some published claims, I was never . . .
a student of James Mitose. I observed his Honolulu Kempo class in the mid-1940s, but my experience as a young streetfighter made me doubt the effectiveness of many of his methods. I felt many of them lacked realistic applications. For example, a streetfighter punches comes fast and furious, but Mitose’s students would practice catching punches in midair! This was in sharp contrast to William K.S. Chow’s teachings, which were based on Chow’s extensive street altercations.
The next time I saw Mitose he was in the early 1970s when he visited me over a period of five months at my Pasadena, California, home. Many of our conversations lasted hours on end, touching on an array of topics, including his desire to build a Kempo Temple replete with resident trainees. Mitose revealed many interesting historical facts about Kempo and occasionally demonstrated self-defense techniques and discussed Kempo principles with some of my black belts. Many of Mitose’s moves seem to lack continuity and forethought, and left him dangerously exposed.
Many questions came to me during his visit. Why had the Mitose (Kosho) clan deviated so drastically from the circular moves that were a vital part of the original Kempo teachings of Ta Mo (Drauma) and his disciples? I cannot understand why the Kosho clan, which probably trace their roots to Ta Mo, were willing to discard the circular theories as well as other rudiments of motion. While I supported the Mitose clan’s desire to change the art to suit the needs of the Japanese people, I wondered why they chose to employee moves that were predominantly linear. Circular moves, used within the framework of logic, indisputably balanced the blend of motion which leads to practical movement. Replacing Kempo's circular moves with linear motion's would be like replacing and automobiles round tires with square ones.
I'm not saying that all of Mitose’s is teachings were impractical. He did employ methods that, once modified, could work with convincing results. Mitose’s Kempo stressed attacking vital areas by punching, striking, thrusting and poking, and also incorporated throws, locks and takedowns. Although similar to judo's methods of atemi waza (vital body-part strikes), Mitose’s methods and philosophy were different.
I also give Mitose credit for placing importance on the order that fundamentals are taught. He felt that punching, striking and kicking are not only faster than throwing, but were better methods of self-defense. He felt that when a person was attacked, he should preserve his physical resources and use his energy economically. It was his belief that one should not risk exhausting himself by attempting to grab and throw his opponent. Throwing, Mitose warned, exposed one's vital points. Mitose also taught how to unknowingly maneuver your opponent into precarious and vulnerable positions.
Although Mitose did not encourage Kempo as a sport he did feel that, if he were able to be made into a sport, effort should be taken to properly protect the body's vital areas. Kempo, he said, was purely an art of self-defense and, although similar to boxing, possessed differences in fundamentals and philosophy.
It was Mitose’s desire that Kempo would one day become Americanized. And although it was William K.S. Chow who actually started to cultivate the seed of American Kempo, Mitose will always remain part of Kempo history.
Defeating Multiple Attackers - Sept. 1990 V-28 No. 9: Learning to face multiple attackers is equivalent to . . .
learning the words that make up our spoken language. When we first learned to speak, we used primitive sentences, then graduated to more complex ones, and in the case of a college professor, to sentences that go beyond the comprehension of the average layman.
Similarly, as your skills against one opponent to improve, you extend your study to predicaments involving two attackers. Begin with transitional maneuvers that favorably link you with them. Learn how to make these maneuvers flow with continuity. Experiment to discover how they convert into convenient angles of attack, defense, or escape.
When facing two opponents, examine how you can reposition yourself to limit your exposure while allowing access to targets on your attackers. Once "contact manipulation" occurs, where your depth and range come to a standstill, began "control manipulation," in which you steer or maneuver your opponents into positions of immobility. As you guide them into one another, you can gain access to targets and can prevent them from further retaliation. Jam them into each other, disrupting their attacks with effective blockades. Such strategy allows you to work effectively on one opponent at a time while you are protected from the other.
Next, look at your attackers as part of your environment, as objects that you can use like stick, rock, or table. Aside from making them obstruct each other, make them hurt each other. Let them destroy their base, obstruct their vision, cancel their natural weapons. Tie them into knots. Learn to guide them into a wall, a stanchion, a table, etc. if you can drive your opponents into various segments of your environment, can turn these segments into weapons.
Next, consider the principles of the "three points of view": yours, your opponents’, and that of a bystander. As you watch your confrontation from these three points of view, you can learn that the third point of view, that of the bystander, is all inclusive. It trains you to fight three-dimensionally.
You should learn to apply the principles expressed in the "gaseous state of motion." This concept is derived from the three states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. Water, when it is solid, seeks its shape. As a liquid, it seeks its level. Converted into steam (its gaseous state), it seeks its volume. Consequently, the gaseous state of motion teaches you to strike out in several directions at once. Like steam seeks its volume, you can strike two opponents at the same time. However, to succeed with simultaneous strikes, you must gauge your distance properly.
Finally, your study should include the "21 basic principles of technique movement." This will make you aware of how posture can benefit you and how altering your opponents’ posture protects you from their aggression. Consider not only strikes, but also grabs, holds, locks and takedowns. For example, if two opponents grab your shoulders from either side, step away from one, thus upsetting his balance and move toward the other to strike.
After familiarizing yourself with all the variables involving two opponents, apply the same logic to three opponents, then graduate to four or more attackers. You will find that the same principles are applicable to all groups. Study the various formations of attack your opponents can use, and create solutions for each problem. Consider your opponents’ directions and distance from you. Determine which one is spearheading the group. How is he attacking - punching, kicking, shooting? Do you move left or right? Are you prepared to confront the opponent on your left or right? Formulate a plan and act, applying the preceding principles.
The ultimate in proficiency is a result of simplicity and repetition. Internalize the lessons learned when facing one opponent, and you will gradually become proficient against multiple attackers.
Gary Cooper and the Karate Caper - Oct. 1990 V-28 No. 10: Joe Hyams is a good friend to help you succeed in . . .
Hollywood. It was he who arranged for me to put on a Kenpo demonstration for Gary Cooper in 1961. Cooper was interested in having his daughter Maria take karate lessons, and wanted to see firsthand what she would be learning. Having been longtime fan of Cooper's work, I looked forward to meeting him.
Cooper's Beverly Hills mansion was magnificent and overwhelming. It stretched for what seemed to be half a mile. Hyams was already there when my students and I arrived, and he made the introductions to Cooper, his wife Rocky, and his daughter Maria.
As the demonstration got underway, I suddenly realized our roles were now reversed: cooper the actor had become Cooper the spectator, while I was now the performer. It was very gratifying to see Cooper's excitement and facial expressions. The demo lasted about 45 minutes, after which I answered questions about the martial arts. Cooper's questions were straight into the point. He wanted to know, for example, exactly what Maria would be learning, how Kenpo would benefit her and, most importantly, wanted to be assured that she would not be injured while training.
A Spanish bullfighter who happened to be visiting Cooper was also in attendance and was fascinated by the speed and footwork necessary to get out of the way of an attack. I detailed the various foot maneuvers Kenpo employs when defending or attacking. I can understand his interest sense, in his work, his life depended on his ability to evade the bulls attacks.
I asked to take a shower after the workout, and Cooper said "Yes, by all means" and escorted me to his bathroom with a slight smirk on his face. I sense something was up, and found out what it was only after I had turned on the water and leapt shrieking from the shower! Cooper had just installed five showerheads aimed at different parts of the bathers body - bottom, sides, and top - and I could hear his laughter behind the bathroom door at my reaction to being hit unexpectedly. This actor who seemed so poker-faced on the screen actually had a sense of humor. I found this to be even more evident later on.
Our lunch included some regal-looking sandwiches prepared in a manner I had never seen before, and I had no clue as to the proper way to eat them. The food just sat there as we conversed, and although I had worked up an appetite, I was hoping that Hyams or someone else would start in on the sandwiches so I could find out how to perceive myself. Finally Rocky picked up a fork and knife and transferred one of the sandwiches to her plate. I watched discreetly as she cut and ate the sandwich as if it were a stake, then I nonchalantly did the same. Later I asked Hyams if he knew how to tackle the sandwiches, and he said "Hell, no. I was waiting for someone to make the first move."
Cooper was a primary conversationalist during lunch. Having pictured him to be a man of few words because of his on-screen manner, I was astonished to see and hear him talk as much as he did. He was a captivating speaker, blending humor and wit as he told us about his recent trip to Russia.
Cooper died of cancer two and a half months after our meeting, and I never had the privilege of teaching his daughter. But the experiences I had that day will always live in my memory.
The Environment and Self-Defense - Nov. 1990 V-28 No. 11: Our environment is one of our primary considerations in . . .
life, dictating what we can and cannot do. Thus it is necessary to understand the environment and how it can be used for or against us in the martial arts. You should be prepared physically and psychologically when you travel to new and unfamiliar surroundings.
When considering the environment as it relates to the martial arts, you should take into account social and cultural conditions, the objects around you, mental trepidations, the state of your body and body language, weather conditions, your opponents ability, objects which you or your opponent may use as weapons, and all other factors that influence your chances of survival. It is everything around you, on you, and in you at the time of the confrontation. Let's examine the dangers and benefits of environment.
Dangers. Do not overlook the possibility that an opponent may know how to use the environment to his benefit. He may be a seasoned streetfighter, aware of his surroundings. He may know how to use a wall, the ground, or a car fender to his advantage. To him, they are objects that can be used for support, to drive a head into, or to increase the effectiveness of his own punches and kicks. He knows the bottle, ashtray or tire iron can be used as weapons. You must learn not only to counter his environmental skills, but also use the environmental objects as weapons.
Streetfighter's are also skilled at reading a would-be victim's body language. Therefore, look confident at all times. Look as if you know what you're doing and where you're going. Plan ahead when you travel. Looking like a typical tourist burdened with cameras, bags, or expensive jewelry places you at risk.
Benefits. The environment can be your ally when you guide or redirect an opponent into surrounding objects. Or, environmental objects can serve as weapons for striking or throwing, especially when confronting an armed opponent. Therefore, view all predicaments sensibly and realistically; your natural weapons may not always be enough to solve your problem. If not, use any available environmental object to overcome your attacker.
When using environmental objects, you have two choices: 1) you can guide the opponent into the object, or 2) you can direct an object in your opponent provided, of course, the object is movable. You may be able to give his head the "layered look" by forcing it into several points of contact - say a bar counter, then the bar stool, and finally the floor.
In addition to objects that surround you, consider others that may be found on you at the time trouble occurs: a comb, brush, lipstick tube, pen, pencil, keys, purse, belt, shoes, rings, umbrella, spoon, fork, salt or pepper shaker (to the eyes), can all be useful items for self-defense.
While shoes can be effective weapons in kicking, and alternative use, if there is time, is to place one shoe over the hand to protect it against a knife wielding assailant. The shoe covered hand can be used not only for blocking, but also to strike your opponents vital areas. Shoes that can be easily removed are best in such situations.
Be aware of all facets of your environment, and don't exclude psychological preparedness as one of your priorities. Study all of the necessary precautions for personal safety by earnestly learning how to defend yourself in all types of environmental conditions.
The Long Beach Internationals - Dec. 1990 V-28 No. 12: I hosted my first International Karate Championships in . . .
Long Beach, California, in 1964. It required almost two years of planning and preparation. Mills Crenshaw designed the tournament trophies, featuring a special karate figure. To further distinguish the tournament from others, we introduced the first logo ever created for this type of event, which we still give out today as a patch to each contestant and official. Another first was our rulebook outlining our tournament policies.
We sent invitations to all schools and styles, and got 865 contestants. A veritable martial arts Who’s Who attended the event. I had met Bruce Lee and kali master Ben Largusa a few years before, and invited them to demonstrate, knowing that Bruce’s ability in wing chun and Ben’s skill in the Filipino arts would impress the black belts. They did just that. They impressed everyone, even shotokan master Tsutomu Ohshima.
Aside from Ohshima, Robert Trias, Johoon Rhee, Mas Tsuruoka, Steve Armstrong, Anthony Mirakian, Tak Kubota, Fumio Demura, Dan Ivan, director Blake Edwards, Nick Adams (who played Johnny Yuma in the TV series The Rebel), Allen Steen, Pat Burleson, Jack Whang, Quoy Wong, Mike Stone, Joe Lewis, Chuck Norris, Skipper Mullins and countless other martial arts pioneers were in attendance. And although some objected to my inviting Bruce Tegner, I reminded them that Tegner’s books did influence many to take up the martial arts.
This first Internationals was an exciting occasion. Thinking that we had anticipated every detail, I was surprised to see Ruby Paglinawan, a black belt from Hawaii, enter the tournament in the men’s division. I had not made any provision in the rulebook about women competitors. Since Ruby could not be turned away, she was pitted against the men. She had great fighting sprit, but lost her first match.
New situations arose each year, requiring new and revised rules. Competitors also posed challenges. In the mid-1970s. I offered prize money in some divisions: $100 for first place in kata (forms) and $350 for first place in sparring. One of the kata contestants complained that prizes in forms and sparring should be the same. I reminded him of the greater chances of injury in sparring, with fractured teeth or broken ribs a real possibility. Unless the forms competitor tripped and fell during his kata, he was in no real danger. That didn’t satisfy him, so I had to think fast. I asked him “Have you ever heard of a world champion shadowboxer?” That seemed to work, because he looked at me, thanked me, and left.
On another occasion, I had to resolve a problem in kata judging that I would never have believed. I got to the ring in question and didn’t immediately see what all the excitement was about. But as I viewed the panel of judges, lo and behold, one of them was holding a white cane. He was totally blind! He insisted that his hearing was exceptionally keen, which he claimed qualified him to judge kata, but needless to say, I tactfully relieved that judge of his duties.
Another time, one of the peewee competitors got kicked in the groin. The center official had him jump up and down to remedy the problem, then asked him to run around the “outside of the ring” to further improve his condition. So the boy ran off, out of the official’s view. When the officials wanted to resume the match, the boy could not be found. Ten minutes later he returned, somewhat exhausted. Asked where he had gone, the boy replied that he’d done exactly what they’d told him to do - run a complete lap around the “outside of the arena.” Ah, the enthusiasm of the young!
During a recent Internationals, we had a kata competitor dressed up like Superman, cape and all. He did an aerobics routine to music, but was unhappy with his score, so he took his complaint to tournament director David Torres. After listening to his complaint, David reminded him with a straight face that this was a karate competition and not an aerobics contest.
Last August we held the 27th annual Long Beach Internationals. The number of competitors was in excess of 4,200. We have come a long way since our first tournament.
Growing Up on The Streets of Hawaii - Jan. 1991 V-29 No. 1: To many, the name Hawaii has a magical ring - land of . . .
enchantment, tropical paradise, memorable sunsets and the Hula. But to the natives of the 50th state, it has a deeper meaning: roots, heritage, friends, relatives, a melting pot of cultures, and the many celebrities the islands have proudly produced. Being Hawaii born and raised, I share this point of view.
I was the sixth of seven children and grew up in the Kalihi district of a Oahu, where survival was the daily concern. It didn't take much to get into a fight there. The philosophy was "If you get a main dish on me today, I'll get a sandwich on the way down, and tomorrow I'll get my main dish and you'll get nothing." I witnessed street battles I will never forget. In one particularly brutal fight, one combatant bit off most of his opponents nose. At this point, I was sure the other man would give up. No such thing. He came back like a madman and ruthlessly incapacitated his opponent. I quickly learned that there are no rules on the street, and that all avenues of fighting should be contemplated.
Looking back at those early years, I feel grateful for the many chances to develop my fighting skills. This environment made me an adult at a very early age and contributed to my later innovations in Kenpo karate.
My parents were deeply religious and created a home of spiritual, physical, educational and economic stability. They taught us children right from wrong and expected us to bear full responsibility for our decisions and actions. Each of us felt their deep affection, and this legacy alone has sustained me throughout my life. In a way, it was their affection that made me turn to Kenpo, to uphold their beliefs. As I internalize these beliefs, I learned to resist the pressures of my street-corner friends, going so far on occasion as to convince them physically that "No" meant just that. But I felt justified in doing so.
It is ironic that my introduction to Kenpo originated at a church meeting. I was 16 when Frank Chow, a member of my church, told me he had beaten up the local bully. Now Frank was light in stature, and the bully was big, solid and vicious. It was only when Frank showed me how he had done it that I believed him. I became interested in his methods and began to study under him.
I became a Kenpo addict, and Frank recognized my burning desire to learn. Having boxed, and having been involved in many street altercations myself, I questioned, disagreed, and stood corrected. One day Frank told me he had taken me as far as he could. He was not qualified to go beyond what he had already taught me, and arranged for me to further my Kenpo education with his brother William.
William K.S. Chow’s class at the old Nuuanu YMCA was closed to outsiders, but Frank's introduction opened it to me. I was impressed with what I saw. As I watched William Chow's movements and appraised his students, a strong spiritual feeling penetrated to the very depths of my soul, and I knew then that Kenpo would be my life's work.
Working with other students who had varying arm and leg lengths, mannerisms, and methods of moving proved fruitful. Heretofore, it had been just Frank and me - I had no one other than him to compare my ability with. The other students made me aware of the need to learn motion thoroughly. As I began my new classes, I compared the instruction with my street-fighting experience and immediately saw the need for some adjustments to modern-day methods of fighting.
I reviewed training films of myself religiously, extracting new concepts, theories and principles for practical combat. An even greater discovery unexpectedly occurred one day when I flipped the "reverse" switch on the film projector by accident, playing the film backward. Watching my moves in reverse, I uncovered a dimension I had never even suspected: I had been aware of only half the value contained within my moves; the other half had remained hidden. Since this disclosure, untold avenues have opened up, giving me a more thorough understanding of what Kenpo really means. Because of this added knowledge, I have learned how to convert embryonic moves into sophisticated moves, how to differentiate between the terms "opposite" and "reverse," and how movements in reverse can also supply answers for defense and offense.
Karate on the Streets of Hawaii - Feb. 1991 V-29 No. 2: My martial arts training in Honolulu was memorable. What . . .
stands out most in my mind are those individuals who influenced me during my early years of training - people like Fred Laura, Manney de la Cruz, and Isaac Kaawa. Although continuously bruised, occasionally laced with stitches, and the victim of broken fingers, I felt that the knowledge I gained far outweighed the pain and agony associated with my training.
Two other memorable individuals in my martial arts upbringing were Adriano and Joe Emperado. Adriano Emperado, the creator of Kajukenbo, and his brother Joe were senior students of William Chow when I started instruction in Kenpo karate. I had been with Professor Chow for just a short time when Adriano and Joe struck out on their own and established a school in the Palama settlement of Honolulu. I was happy for them and look forward to the day when I would be able to do the same. The district of Palama, Kalihi (where I was born and raised), and Kakaako near the Honolulu waterfront were notorious for their gangs and street fighters. And although fights were commonplace, they were nevertheless fair and ethical in most instances.
I missed seeing Adriano and Joe during training sessions at Chow’s school. Since I was on good terms with them, I was invited to visit or train with them if I wish to. So that I would not upset Professor Chow, I chose to simply visit the Emperado’s rather than train with them. They were always congenial and showed me the utmost courtesy. Their classes were serious and rugged, and when students practiced attacking each other, they did so with reality in mind. If they were unprepared or slow, injury was inevitable. Dislocated knees, broken bones, and stitches were commonplace.
I remember a number of occasions while visiting the Emperado’s when Japanese merchant seamen, just off their ships, would arrive at the school to train, their gi (uniforms) tucked under their arms. The Emperado's always extended an open invitation to those who wanted to train; they felt that the experience of training with individuals from other styles added to their own martial education. Besides, they look forward to, as they said, "working with fresh meat." However, upon witnessing one of the Emperado's classes it wasn't long before most of these merchant seamen would thank the two brothers and head to the closest exit. They wanted no part of the classes.
It was a sad day when Joe Emperado was stabbed and killed during a fight. He was stabbed in the kidney and went home thinking his wound was not serious. He died the following day. Joe's funeral was an experience I will never forget. Adriano was upset and could only think of avenging his brother's death. He wasn't all that concerned about the details of the ceremony. Frank Ordenez , one of Kajukenbo's charter members, did much to console Adriano, and Kajukenbo master Tony Ramos offered to handle the funeral arrangements. Ramos, who had trained under Joe Emperado, felt his instructor's funeral should be conducted with distinction.
Students from the districts of Wahiawa, Kaimuki, Palama and other areas were asked to attend the services attired in starched, white gi (this was before Kajukenbo practitioners were black gi). However, Joe was dressed in a black gi to distinguish him as a chief instructor. After the wake, the body was transported to the St. Teresa Cathedral, where a mass was held. The students, in their neatly pressed white gi, were aligned against the cathedral walls. At the conclusion of the mass, the students formed two lines as the casket was placed in a hearse. With the family members and school representatives at the head of the line, the procession walked 8 miles to the Sunrise Cemetery - Joe's final resting place. As part of the ceremony, a number of instructors and students performed, kata (forms) at the foot of Joe's grave in his honor. Although it was a sad occasion, it was wonderful to see the respect and affection of Joe's relatives, friends and students.
Today, Kajukenbo practitioners, under the direction of Adriano Emperado, are located throughout the world and are presently stabilizing their organization under Emperado's leadership. I wish him well.