Senior Grand Master Ed Parker is known worldwide as the "Father of American Kenpo Karate".
Mr. Edmund Kealoha Parker was born on March 18, 1931 in Honolulu, Hawaii where he lived until 1950, when he left to attend college in Utah. He studied and earned his Black Belt in Kenpo Karate under the late Professor William K.S. Chow, one of the world's leading Kenpo Black Belt holders and innovators of the Art.
Soon after he began his study of Kenpo, Mr. Parker knew that Kenpo would become a way of life for him. He opened his first private Kenpo Club in 1954 at Brigham Young University, and his first public school in September of 1956 in Pasadena, California. Early in his training, Mr. Parker realized the need to further modify the Art of Kenpo to suit modern day fighting situations. Professor Chow had taught Mr. Parker a number of "Master Key Movements" which provided Mr. Parker his start on becoming a creative innovator. "The Parker System of American Kenpo" is based on principals, theoretical innovations, and logic not yet employed by other systems. Mr. Parker founded the International Kenpo Karate Association in 1956 (albeit, the Kenpo Karate Association of America). He traveled frequently to share his vast knowledge of Kenpo, and he was also very active in writing books (most notable are his five volume series in Infinite Insights into Kenpo).
On December 15, 1990 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Mr. Parker passed away at the age of 59. That was a very sad day for Kenpoist all over the world. His death was unexpected and untimely. At the time of his death, he was in the midst of completing his first series of Kenpo instructional videos and his Encyclopedia of Kenpo. Thousands attended his funeral to pay their respects to one of the world's greatest innovators of Kenpo.
Although Mr. Parker has gone, his spirit carries on, and the many hundreds of Kenpoist who were fortunate enough to have known and studied with Mr. Parker, continue his legacy.
Due to the scarcity of authentic written records, the exact origins of the martial arts are obscure. Most historians agree some form of martial art was practiced in China as early as 1000 BC. In dealing with ancient martial art history we must rely partially on legend, keeping in mind that many legends, however exaggerated, have some basis in fact. Our most reliable information comes to us from Buddhist inspired martial arts such as those practiced at the Shaolin Temples. The most widespread account of the origin of Chinese Martial Arts is credited to the 28th East Indian patriarch of the Buddhist faith named Tamo. He was also called Bodhidharma and was known to the Japanese as Daruma Daishi. His arrival in China is dated about 515-530 A.D. Allegedly he is the 28th descendant of the original Buddha, bad became Abbot of the Shaolin Temple in Hunan Province shortly after his arrival in China. Legend tells us that when he arrived at the temple he found the monks to be in a state of physical decay and unable to withstand the prolonged periods of meditation which were essential to the practice of Zen Buddhism. Accordingly, Bodhidharma instituted a series of 18 exercises, similar in nature to Hatha Yoga in an attempt to improve the physical condition of the monks. The exact nature of the "18 Hands of the Lo Han", as the exercises were called, is unknown. We do know however, that they consisted of breathing, stretching, bending and reaching movements. These exercises apparently were the catalyst for the creation of other physical disciplines used to further the spiritual development of the Zen Buddhists. Prior to Bodhidharma's arrival, meditation was practiced as a purely mental discipline. Afterwards it became a combination of physical and mental, in keeping with the Doctrine of Yin and Yang.
In addition to being credited with the development of the Martial Arts, upon Tamo's arrival in China, he found that the Canton Warlords had disarmed the general public. This left them completely defenseless against marauding bandits and other warring factions. Tamo made extensive travels within China endeavoring to teach the Zen philosophy and integrate those ideas with the already existing Buddhist doctrines, i.e. that one must coexist with nature and the surrounding environment. He promised that if the people would do so, they would have a better understanding of their individual relationship with nature. He was rejected by the people initially because such a philosophy did not seem reasonable during war, thus he began teaching in seclusion at the Shaolin Monastery in the Hunan Province. As a result, his Zen doctrine became the foundation of study for Monk's within China's religious structure. The inhabitants of the Shaolin Monastery still practice the Martial Arts as a way of meditation and training today.
The Shaolin Monastery, or "Shorin-ji" in Japanese, Tamo entered due to the monks being constantly harassed by bandits. He told them that peace was within each person and not within the world. Tamo tried to teach the monks, but found that many fell asleep during the rigors of Zen meditation. As a result, Tamo introduced exercise to improve their fitness levels and taught the original 18 hand movements of the martial arts for both defense and offense. Under Tamo's tutelage, the monks became formidable opponents. To graduate from the Shaolin Monastery, the monk had to compete to travel through, what was termed the "corridor of death." This was a corridor equipped with 108 dummies which were triggered into action by the body weight of the monk as he proceeded along the corridor. Each monk could activate up to 5 dummies simultaneously, depending on their body weight. Many of the monks died in the process and some were injured and taken to the infirmary. As accounts relate the incidents, no one had ever lived to make it through, if they failed during the first journey. This resulted in defection of the monks from the monastery who emigrated to southern China and Okinawa and began the teaching the part of the full system which they liked best. Thus some would teach linear power movements and some would teach circular, flowing movements, animal forms, etc. This may explain why there is so much similarity between certain martial arts styles and why there are so many different systems. If the monk made it to the end of the corridor, he had to lift a burning metal urn which branded a dragon on his left forearm and a tiger on his right forearm. This should be familiar to many readers who have watched the old "Kung Fu" series on television in the 1970's with David Carradine. The historical setting for the program was taken from Ed Parker's book "Secrets of Chinese Karate", which was published in 1963. It was about 5 years after this book was published that many other Martial Arts systems began tracing their beginnings back to the Shaolin Monastery, no doubt a result of Ed Parker's hard work and research which was of great benefit to Martial Artists.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1260-1368 A.D.) there was noticeable improvements in the Martial Arts. Ch'ueh Yuan had increased the original 18 hand movements to 72. Ch'ueh Yuan eventually became partners with Li Ch'eng (or Li Shao) and Pai Yu-Feng (Pai Yu-Fong) and increased the number of exercises from 72 to 170, and categorized them into five distinct styles: Tiger, Dragon, Crane, Serpent, and Leopard. These three men also advanced a set of moral and ethical principles to govern the practice of this art. These five styles formed the basis of the art of Shaolin Chuan Fa also known as the "Five Forms Fist." Later other styles were added. As time passed, Martial Arts training became integral to the Chinese lifestyle due to their being in a constant state conflict. Due to its lethal qualities, the Martial Arts were taught only by select clans who had their own master, and who would teach only selected individuals in each clan. Great pride was taken by each master in his distinctive style. Family clans were sworn never to divulge the teachings they received from their masters. For many years the Shaolin fighting arts were practiced in utmost secrecy. Masters were concerned that the techniques would fall into hands that would use the potentially deadly art for purposes other than what was originally intended. Many factors contributed to the eventual spread of the martial arts. Buddhist missionaries to Japan, Korea, and Indonesia took their arts with them. Students sometimes left the temple prematurely and passed on what knowledge they had. The main factor was the ruthless domination of the Manchu emperor. Secret societies were formed for the purpose of restoring the Ming dynasty to power and overthrowing the barbarian Manchus. Most Chan Buddhists were anti-Manchu and many temples were training grounds for pro-Ming revolutionaries. On several occasions the Manchus destroyed temples in an effort to stomp out resistance. Fleeing monks undoubtedly carried their fighting art with them, eventually spreading all over China.
The Ming (1368-1644 A.D.) and Ch'ing (1644-1911 A.D.) Dynasties were the golden age of Martial Arts in China and many of the styles taught today were founded and expanded on during this period. In 1372 Chinese-Okinawan relations were consolidated, and in 1470 Sho-ha-shi became king of Okinawa and confiscated all weapons from the people. This forced the Okinawans to seek other forms of self-defense. As a result, some Okinawans emigrated to China to learn what was then called Chinese Kenpo from top masters. Upon returning to their native land, the martial art became known as Shorinji Kempo. As the years passed, practitioners continued to learn and demonstrate their skills in private and the Martial Arts improved considerably. Then in 1609, the Japanese dominated Okinawa and Lord Shimazu removed all forms of weapons from the public at large. Between 1609-1903 the greatest achievements were made in the Martial Arts. As a result, a variety of styles and systems emerged.
Modern martial art history is much easier to follow. During the l8th century, China and Japan were engaged in trade both material and cultural. At that time a senior member of the Mitosi clan of Japan traveled to China to study the martial arts at the Shaolin Temple where he remained for many years. Upon his return to Japan he introduced the art of Chu'an Fa which he called Kempo (Japanese for "Way of the Fist"). This was later developed into a system for healing, health, and fighting called Kosho-Ryu Kempo. The Okinawans had always termed the Martial Arts as "Te" which literally means hand. During this period (1609-1903) "Karate" meaning "Hands of China" replaced the word "Te" (during the latter part of the 19th century) until the Chinese character which denoted "Hands of China" or "China Hand" (the latter being more correct) was changed by the Japanese to their character which meant "empty hand". This change (officially dated to 1923) angered many of the Okinawan masters who were proud of the term designating their fighting style. They also did not wish to dispense with their loyalty and association with China. However, there was great pressure by the Japanese and the masters very reluctantly accepted the new character change. The change was spearheaded by a student of Chogun Miyagi named Nagashi Hanage of the Goju-ryu style of karate. It was actually Chogun Miyagi himself who desired to make the change and compelled his disciple Nagashi Hanage to pursue the change with great vigor. While the change may have brought a deeper meaning according to Chogun Myagi, in which spiritual overcomes the physical, it is yet another example of how the Japanese managed to make many think that the Art was theirs and not the Chinese from whom it descended. The Bonsai tree is also an example because the Bonsai tree was propagated in China long before anyone ever heard of it from Japan.
This art was practiced and passed down in the Mitose line until James Mitose, who lived in Hawaii in 1940, began teaching publicly. One of his students, William Chow, who also extensively studied Chinese martial arts from his own family, took over teaching the classes. William Chow taught a young Hawaiian named Edmund Parker who eventually developed Kenpo into the art we know and practice today. For further clarification, refer to the Infinite Insights Into Kenpo books written by Grandmaster Parker. If the reader will observe the last two oriental characters on the right hand side of the Parker System patch, you will note that these are the true Chinese characters referring to "empty" and "hand" respectively. This was done intentionally by Mr. Parker to honor the Chinese from which our system descends. It is not a mixture of Japanese and Chinese. This has always been a primary mistake of many students of the Kenpo system and others. It is due primarily to the fact that both the Chinese and Japanese character for "te" meaning hand, are identical. This is the last character on the right hand side of the Parker patch. Consequently, it is easy to mix the two or rather to think they are mixed when you look at both the Chinese and Japanese characters -- the character for "kara" is different in both languages. If one uses the word Kenpo, which took on the Japanese meaning when "kara" was added before "te" as described above and has generally been the accepted norm ever since, it literally means fist law. The Pinyin pronunciation in Chinese for fist law is "Ch'uan Fa" and is sometimes incorrectly called "Ch'uan Shu" which is the Chinese term for Kung Fu. We give credit to the Chinese from whom our art descends. Mr. Parker taught for many years and is considered to be the Grand Master of the modern Kenpo system. He died unexpectedly in 1990 without naming a successor. Mr. Parker had many brilliant students who have continued to teach the principles and concepts of American Kenpo Karate.Ed Parker Sr., founder of American Kenpo, in his Encyclopedia of Kenpo, says: Kenpo is "a modern term describing one of the more innovative systems of the Martial Arts which originally started in Hawaii, is heavily practiced in the Americas, and has now spread worldwide. KEN means fist and PO means law." The term stems from the Chinese "Kempo" which refers to all migrating Chinese Martial Arts outside of China. Mr. Parker brought Kenpo to the mainland from Hawaii and made "numerous contributions of innovative concepts and principles." Kenpo is a system of self defense based on logic and the scientific study of movement. By studying motion in all its nuances, Kenpo provides both maximum efficiency (no wasted time, movements, or energy) and maximum effectiveness (speed, power, focus). It offers "explosive action with minimum target exposure. It employs linear as well as circular moves, utilizing intermittent power when and where needed, interspersed with minor and major moves that flow with continuity. It is flexible in thought and action so as to blend with encounters as they occur."