In search of kenpo history and insight

I started this blog a couple of years ago as a place where I could save and organize as much kenpo history and information as I could, knowledge I came across while I began and continue my kenpo journey.

Having an emphasis on Mr. Edmund K. Parker, I will also try to learn about the other kenpo pioneers that have contributed so much to this intriguing art.

Thanks for stopping by, I hope you like the blog. And come back again, I'm constantly adding to it as I come across new and interesting information.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Q&A: Kenpo

(by Brad Bode

Getting answers straight from those "who were there" is tough today, unless you have the connections to call the right people. Fortuneately, through my association with Ron Chapél I can make those calls. So lets kick off the first Q&A session. Email me your questions at and I will do my best to get your questions answered by the most knowledgeable person on the topic possible. Don't hesitate to suggest that person either, as I probably can get them on the phone.

Keep in mind that subjective questions will get subjective answers. Everyone's history in the Martial Arts is different, but non-theless valid so please, treat all Q&A responders with respect.
For starters, Sami Ibrahim of Fort Campbell, Kentucky sent me a long list of question, which were answered by Ron Chapél. While this series of questions is highly Kenpo related, don't hesitate to ask questions outside of Kenpo.

When Secrets of Chinese Karate was published in 1963, did the old school Kenpo guys abandon Mr. Parker in favor of James Wing Woo? Did that have anything to do with why they were not a part of the American Kenpo transition?

First, Mr. Parker never created his "American Kenpo." It was a project he started and abandoned almost immediately when he ran into financial difficulty with the people he invested with to produce Action Karate Magazine. He was financially ruined by the partnership when the magazine folded after about 7 issues, and it forced him into bankruptcy. Bankruptcy was the only way he could protect his home assets, and his family.

 Having a Mother and five children to take care of was essentially the driving force that caused him to create a commercial martial arts product he called "Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate." It was never Ed Parker's American Kenpo Karate, nor did he ever market it that way. Others confused his pronouncements of being desirous of creating an "American form of Kenpo" with the creation of Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate, which was based on the study of abstract "motion."

 His proposed American Kenpo was supposed to be closer to the Chúan Fa of its origin, and a much more precise and meticulous vehicle, that was much too labor intensive for Kenpo Karate’s philosophy of teaching. There was also the element that he would, and could be the only qualified teacher, which doesn't lend itself well to proliferation.

 In the early days, it was not unusual for students to leave once they had received their black belts. It also was normal for it to take only about a year or slightly longer of diligent study to get there. Sifu Woo not only provided a great deal of the information, (along with contributions from Sifu Ark Wong) for the book "Secrets of Chinese Kenpo," but taught elements of the traditional Chinese Martial Arts in Mr. Parker's School in Pasadena. When Sifu Woo decided to leave, he took with him several black belts he was already teaching. As I recall Richard Montgomery and Rick Flores were the two to leave with Sifu Wong.

 Students were more migratory in the early days because everyone was fascinated with the arts in general, and wanted to "sample" everything new that came along to expand their knowledge. It happened in all the traditional arts as well regularly.

The most well known student to leave Mr. Parker was Dan Inosanto, but that too is misleading. Dan Inosanto had spent time with Sifu Ark Wong before forming a relationship with Mr. Parker, and was simply moving on. I would not ever characterize his relationship as student/teacher with Bruce Lee. In my opinion, they traded information with Bruce Lee being the greater beneficiary of Inosanto's knowledge. He certainly was responsible for the weapons training that Bruce Lee picked up. Bruce Lee was smart enough to surround himself with knowledgeable so-called "students'” he could learn from, while his celebrity students paid the bills.

All of this occurred before there was ever an Ed Parker's kenpo Karate as people know it today. But those that trained with Ed Parker in his "Original Kenpo Karate," as when he first came to the mainland, or his more traditional Chinese influenced "Chinese Kenpo" he switched to almost immediately, wanted nothing to do with the "new" commercial brand of kenpo he was teaching, and none of the previous students transitioned to it by choice. Most continued to do as they were taught, or transitioned into their own versions, or moved on to other things. The Kenpo that existed just before Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate is almost non-existent now. The closest you can get to it on ant decent scale would have to Be Al Tracy's guys. No one wanted to transition to “Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate,” because it was so “watered down” in comparison to Mr. Parker’s previous teachings in terms of physicality. The new Kenpo Karate had to be user friendly for everyone, including children and older people.

Is it true that when all of Mr. Parker's Black Belts left him only Chuck Sullivan stayed loyal to him? (Around the time of the James Wing Woo fall out and the Tracy's leaving?)

First, all of Parker's Black Belts didn't leave him en mass. This was something that happened gradually over time as students grew and wanted to be on their own. The allure of business opportunities pulled them away when they felt they had learned enough Kenpo, and the business. Mr. Sullivan, who is senior to us all, created his own product he called the "Karate Connection" long before Mr. Parker passed, which was quite successful.

Later he was criticized for his creation of his International Karate Connection (IKC) video teaching program. What most don't know is the video method was Mr. Parker's idea that he floated before his death. Mr. Sullivan was merely continuing with a Parker idea, and he isn't the only one. But, most stayed "loyal," (to use your word), to Mr. Parker even though they were no longer "students" and left to form their own schools, associations, and businesses. Mr. Parker never expressed any of these earlier students were being "disloyal," and he maintained a relationship with just about all of them. Few were actually physical students in the pure sense of the word anyway, because Mr. Parker stopped teaching.

What actually caused the Tracy fallout?

There was no "Tracy Fallout." When Mr. Parker decided he wanted to move in a different direction, he turned his Yudanshakai Organization, the Kenpo Karate Association of America, (KKAA) over to Al Tracy who was an astute business man, to run as he moved onto to form his then new, International Kenpo Karate Association, (IKKA). They ultimately became business rivals, but always retained a cordial relationship while Mr. Parker was alive, and Al Tracy, his troops and teams were always quite prominent at Mr. Parker's International Karate Championships Tournament every year.

Is it true that Huk Planas was actually busy traveling around the world playing in a band and had very little time training with Mr. Parker?

It is correct Huk was a musician and traveled a lot, but he didn't travel any more than Mr. Parker, so I don't know what that means. He was as much a student as anyone at the time and even ran the Pasadena School for a period. Huk came to Mr. Parker as a student of the late Sibok Tom Kelly, who was a student of Sigung Steve LaBounty out of the Tracy System, so all were well trained when they came over and simply continued, and contributed heavily to Mr. Parker's new method of teaching.

Did you ever see Ed Parker spar?


Did you ever witness Ed Parker in an altercation?

Yes I did. Mr. Parker was a devastating person.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Society of the Black Lion

Looks like these guys come from a Stephen LaBounty lineage.

I don't think it is a very big organization, but I kind of like the name and the idea of tying it back to China.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Kenpo Karate's Grand Master, James Ibrao Autobiography

Parker, Ibrao, 1958
(by James Ibrao)

I was born November 3, 1937 in the state of Hawaii in a city called Waialua. In Waialua, every element of our lives was based around a sugar plantation which meant that everyone worked with one another, knew one another and respected one another. For seventeen years I had the advantage of having an extended family of nearly three thousand people. I believe that this element has given me an incredibly strong base and advantage in dealing with people because I came from such a strong foundation of respect for so many people.

In addition, the positive development of the person came from the positive development of the entire group and so, common goals and traditional values were of the utmost importance. For instance, the development of the ego came from the the development of the ego of the entire community not just any one individual. Perhaps this is why I have been able to exceed and excel in the learning and much more importantly, the teaching of the martial arts to so many people. I have always judged myself by the number of people I have been able to assist and not on my own "personal achievements".

During this time I became very active in athletics and I was able to make my mark in every sport I played. Strangely enough, out of all the sports I tried, basketball was my favorite. In fact, many of you may find this difficult to believe, but at 5"foot 9" I was able to slam dunk!

Introduction to Kenpo

At seventeen I had the tremendous opportunity to go to school in Boise, Idaho. I found the climate to be too cold for me and I decided to return to Los Angeles. From there, I tried my luck at Brigham Young University, but again I found the climate was not to my liking. I returned once again to Los Angeles where my life would change forever. After being so active in sports, I found I needed a release. A friend of mine, Bob Sarno, had an acquaintance named Ed Parker who was involved in the teaching of a new martial arts called Kenpo Karate. On the island, martial arts instructors had to be registered to teach and the only art I had been able to study was a little judo. You can imagine my excitement at being exposed to the power, quickness, and innovative moves of Ed Parker who was literally a giant. It was more than just his stature, he had an aura of power and what many would call fearlessness. The very next day, I joined Mr. Ed Parker and his four students, on their journey into the experience called Kenpo Karate. I"m not sure whether it was natural ability or pure desire to learn, but I never found the "intensive workouts" to be too difficult. I was always trying to see and figure out what the next move would be. I always looked for the next logical step in the beautiful and deadly art taught by this dynamic and charismatic individual. Within weeks, I noticed that my already athletic build was beginning to grow and change. Almost instantly, I gained weight and watched as my muscle structure began to change. I developed power and strength in my legs, arms and back and was amazed at how my shoulders widened. Of all this, perhaps the most important change came in my level of confidence. The power I felt was tremendous. There was nothing that I couldn't do. All this came from my complete and total immersion into this new art. I lived, ate and slept Kenpo Karate. The year was 1956.

Hard Hitting Kenpo

Now for all of you out there who have illusions about some magical climb to Black Belt; let me explain a few things. When I started, there were only three belts, White, Brown and Black. It is true that I was the first man to achieve Black Belt under Ed Parker and it is true that I achieved this goal in only nine months. However, these things were not as important as the fact that not only was I determined to achieve these goals, I was driven to see that belt knotted around my waist. Back then, study was much more intensive and the judging of any artist was on the basics; ability, quality, coordination, speed and power of your techniques. In those days the only way to test your abilities was to really hit! While not very practical and in retrospect not very prudent, it did develop something in us that our current counterparts will never know.

The Kenpo Forms

That is in no way a slight to any martial artist, I am simply trying to translate the feeling of intensity derived from literally being involved in the creation and the development of such an awesome form of self defense. You must remember that we created the forms that many of you do today. In fact, many of you have been doing these forms incorrectly. Can you imagine the number of nuances and movements that have been lost over the last forty plus years? In addition, along with the loss of many of the elements of the katas; much of the original essence of the forms, the power; the raw power has been diluted and reduced. A perfect example of this is the Book Set which was believed to have been lost. This form was taught to me by Grand master James Wing Woo himself, and I in turn was charged with teaching it to the other students and instructors. Unfortunately, Grand master Woo was only able to teach half of the move to Ed before our days of training together came to an end. Thanks to the efforts of Al and Will Tracy, for the first time in over forty years, many of you will be able to finally see and learn this kata in its entirety. More importantly, you will be able to learn this form correctly. You will be exposed to a true kata that has literally been saved for each and every one of you!

Grand Master James Wing Woo

Grand master James Wing Woo came into the picture in 1960 when Ed Parker and I went on a road trip to San Francisco to visit a few of the Chinese Martial Arts Schools. Ed immediately recognized Master Woo's talent and invited him down to Los Angeles to document his knowledge in books and to incorporate some of the characteristics of the Chinese systems into Parker"s Kenpo.

Kenpo and Beyond

By 1962, I had been exposed to every aspect of Kenpo Karate. I had developed many of the Forms and Kata which would come to set the tone of the art for years to come. I also developed some of the most powerful and deadly techniques the system has ever known. Another of my innovations were the High Kicks, Double Kicks, Triple kicks, Spinning Kicks, Back kicks and many specialty kicks that have long been forgotten. I mentioned earlier that I was an avid slam dunker in basketball, this was a direct result of the power I developed in the martial arts. It"s funny now, but in 1961 I was invited to scrimmage against the world famous Harlem Globetrotters. After the scrimmage, I was asked to try out for the team. It was no surprise that I made the team. I do not say this to be conceited, it is only meant as a way to convey to you the level of confidence and ability that had been developed through the arts. I toured with the Globetrotters for two years, until 1964 and then returned to Los Angeles. I did not return to my studies with Ed Parker. I had made up my mind that I would begin to unlock the mysteries of the Chinese Martial Arts. Ed and I did not part enemies and over the years we continued to speak and remain on good terms contrary to what many people believe.

I never left my Kenpo roots, in fact, I believe that the Kenpo has been vital and essential to my development and longevity in the arts.

There is much more to my story and I am currently documenting hundreds of special moments and events that I am sure will be of interest to you all. I plan to publish a series of books and articles which will chronicle my experiences over the last forty years. I look forward to meeting you all and I wish you only the best in your endeavor to become the greatest martial artist you can be.