Friday, February 26, 2016

artwork by Ed Parker Jr.
(from the Striking Distance Facebook page 5-17-16)

Ed Parker was a visionary for martial arts culture in America. As one source told me, "Ed Parker is probably responsible for more than a million Americans taking martial arts classes." (Better yet, another source told me that one million is probably a low estimate.)

Born into the Mormon faith, Parker was raised in the multiethnic working-class Kahili district of Honolulu, a rough immigrant neigh...borhood that boasted its fair share of street violence. Parker studied kenpo under William Chow, a short, gruff man of pure muscle, who at 5'2" went by the nickname "Thunderbolt." Chow was a volatile character who was known to have often tangled with U.S. servicemen around Honolulu. As one student would reflect on his classes: "He was into full-on fighting in the classroom rather than sparring. I used to get broken ribs. It was bad. That's how we learned it."

Parker attended Brigham Young University in the 1950s and opened his first school in Pasadena around 1956...and soon began to elicit considerable attention from the Hollywood crowd. With a demonstration at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in 1960, Parker attracted the interest of Elvis Presley, and the two would remain close friends and colleagues for the remainder of their lives. Other Hollywood figures in Parker's orbit included Steve McQueen, Warren Beatty, Gary Cooper and Blake Edwards (who would cast Parker in two of his Pink Panther films).

Beginning in 1964, Parker's Long Beach International Karate Tournament would be a cornerstone of martial arts culture in America, bringing together a wide and diverse range of martial artists from around the world each year. The inaugural Long Beach event in '64 got Bruce Lee noticed by Hollywood, and resulted in him being cast as Kato on the Green Hornet shortly after.