Ed Parker and American Kenpo: A Lesson in Politics

Discussion in 'Articles' started by SifuPhil, Oct 18, 2012.

  1. SifuPhil

    SifuPhil Lucky Cat Is Lucky

    Ed Parker, often referred to as the creator of American Kenpo, was a man of many talents as well as peculiarities. One of the most troublesome of the latter was his failure to name a successor to his style, a failure that has led to much in-fighting in American Kenpo and has had repercussions throughout the martial arts world in general.


    ed-parker-05.jpg
    Ed Parker​

    As a quick background, American Kenpo has a lineage of five phases:

    Kenpo Style Generations - Ed Parker's American Kenpo
    • Fist Generation 1954-1961 (Original Kenpo - True Kenpo)
    • Second Generation 1961-1963 (Traditional Kenpo)
    • Third Generation 1963-1969 (Chinese Kenpo)
    • Fourth Generation 1970-1981 (Ed Parker's Kenpo)
    • Fifth Generation 1982-1990 (American Kenpo)
    Parker never appointed a style leader by the time of his death on December 15th, 1990.

    One site presents an apologia for his actions concerning the lack of appointment of a successor, stating that:

    This raises a few questions in my mind: why did his students move onto Kung Fu? Was it because he himself was so heavily influenced by Chinese arts? How did he train his black belts, that they would reject or forsake the new system? Did he have so little faith in his own students? Or didn't he think they understood what he was doing?

    crestp2.gif
    American Kenpo Karate​


    Al Tracy mentions the rush to fill the void left by Parker's death on his site, telling how so many of Parker's students promoted themselves as being the only true successor to the Parker Kenpo legacy. Thus, in part, if Mr. Tracy is correct this would appear to be just another example of greedy, power-hungry people jockeying for a high position in an organization. Nothing new there.

    The parallel problem of the scattering of students who wished to be known as the standard-bearers of American Kenpo only makes things worse. Mr. Parker never made films or videos of himself performing the full set of American Kenpo techniques. He DID leave written descriptions of belt-level requirements including self-defense forms, for yellow-belt level through 3rd black level, in his book Infinite Insights Into Kenpo Vol. 5, so it would be logical to assume that anyone professing to teach American Kenpo would include all of these techniques in their curriculum.

    Yet to this day there are “American Kenpo” schools that have modified Mr. Parker's syllabus to the point of non-recognition. They add and subtract techniques seemingly on a whim, yet few have the common courtesy to at least rename their style.

    Larry Tatum, an early student of Mr. Parker, has gone on to open his own schools in over 25 countries under his Larry Tatum Kenpo Karate Association banner. He has produced over 40 videotapes for Panther Productions that encompass the spirit if not the form of American Kenpo as taught by Mr. Parker.


    Larry-Tatum.jpg
    Larry Tatum​

    Yet even with that accomplishment there is strife in the Kenpo community – all because Mr. Parker did not give a piece of paper to one person. The saddest part of this story is that American Kenpo is not alone in this struggle – many other schools and styles have experienced and still are experiencing political division.

    What about YOUR style? Is it free of politics, or do you just ignore the battles and do what you do? Do you take sides or do you strive to maintain the middle ground, choosing to see both the good and the bad of both sides? Does your Master have a named successor, or will your style experience the same trauma that American Kenpo has?
  2. chris halkett

    chris halkett Disciple

    Is it just me or dose ed parker look like the bad guy from goastbusters 2?
    Dpendleton and SifuPhil like this.
  3. Gone

    Gone Guest

    Sounds like his expectations of a successor were a bit unrealistic and it seems as if it was he who started this whole infighting politics boosheit ^^^^

    I mean, I think you would be hard pressed alone to find someone competent in "all styles of Kenpo" (F'ed if I know how many that is) as well as three other styles AND still be under 30.

    Ohh but wait, they have to be a college professor and also a Mormon.

    I suspect the infighting is less the students fault and more his.
  4. Gone

    Gone Guest

    Ohh and also, he has a Justin Beiber haircut. That probably causes alot of fighting, too. No wonder he took up martial arts.
  5. SifuPhil

    SifuPhil Lucky Cat Is Lucky

    Excellent post, Aaron! (y) I always figured the Elvis promotion was an honorary one, but I thought Speakman was legit. Shows how deep the rabbit-hole goes, I guess ...

    Red, on his site Mark Urbin lists 30 unique styles but admits that there are thousands of variations even just in American Kenpo.

    And yes, Mr. Parker's list of requirements seemed very difficult to meet - I wonder if he did that on purpose ... :whistle:
  6. Aaron Hutto

    Aaron Hutto Master

    According to Will Tracy, Elvis was a legit black belt under Parker but there is no story or documentation between his 1st degree and his honorary promotion to 8th.
  7. Aaron Hutto

    Aaron Hutto Master

    PS - JB sucks ...
  8. Aaron

    Aaron Shadow Warrior

    OK so person in Parker's eyes had to have a minimum bachelors degree (22 years of age), male, competent in all forms of kempo ( that's at least 5th Dan and above, right???, so let's say 25-26 years of age. Competent in at least 3 other arts, thats what a minimum of 3-5 years of training each, so another 9 years, 3 if you don't work for a living. So we are at what age 28 to 34... oh wait under 30... that makes it people who have been training since they were kids under him, have had time to earn black belts or equivelant in another 3 arts, plus be Mormon yet too????

    WOW! Why not a Yale/Harvard PhD while we are at it... I know every GM/Soke has expectations/criteria for a successor, but , no offense, I think GM Parker should have looked closely at his student base to see if anyone met these criteria... Its a little unrealistic in my opinion.

    I don't agree with Elvis 8th degree black belt. To me honourary should be below 3rd Dan... anything else is a slap in the face to the people who actually but work in for there ranks.
  9. Gone

    Gone Guest

    ^^^ It's probably all the brain damage he got from other people by wearing a Justin Beiber haircut.
  10. draygin

    draygin Initiate

    Wow, bigotry and ignorance from all sides. I'll just say one thing about the article, never trust anything that has only the word of a Tracy. They are far from honest or trustworthy. I know many of the hierarchy and have been in on many discussions. I am a legit student of one of the legit Parker 7ths. I will not stoop to the level the Tracys have, but I am aware of multiple incidents where they have done things that leave them far from worthy as a source unless you are asking for an opinion on how to sort garbage. As far as Elvis goes he did earn his 7th through hard work despite the rumors. In his final years he spent a great deal of time with Mr. Parker. I can't only assume the snide remarks about Mr. Parker's religion is made only by those new to the arts.

    As far as criteria went for his successor, there was only one, who knew the system the best and who would hold it together. The Tracy's were bent because Mr. Parker had found out they were doing some dishonorable things behind his back. When they found out Mr. Parker had outsmarted them in their quest to stab him in the back they made up crazy stories which seem to be ongoing to this day. The tracys talk about going to Mitosie and all that garbage. Mitose was a con artist who did time for fraud. He was doing time during the time the Tracys were to have been training with him. Mitose plagiarized most of his written works and the Tracys to this day try to rewrite the history of this con man as well as Parker history.The fact is Mitose's history shows virtually no lineage to any legit Martial Art. Parker had several arts in his background aside from Chow's Kenpo.
  11. RJ Clark

    RJ Clark Tree Ninja Staff Member

    I had no interest in this thread until I saw this and was concerned. However, after reading through the posts I saw no indication of bigotry nor anything disparaging to the Mormon religion. If I'm mistaken and missed something please let me know.

    this piqued my interest. IMO any "honorary" black belt is BS. If he supposedly "earned" it what was the overall timeline on that (years) and just how much time was spent training each week? In particular if it was in Elvis' final years he was in no condition to train even if he had the time to with his schedule...
    Aaron likes this.
  12. draygin

    draygin Initiate

    More than once it was said that being Mormon was basically bad criteria. Mr. Parker had the right to chose his successor based upon whatever he wanted, but as stated, this rumor comes from a very unreliable source anyway. The bigotry comment is more the Tracy bigotry amongst the students of these men. They will trash Parker and his lineage as much as they can with a superior attitude without the realization their heroes are a group of frauds.. I am 100% sick of the Tracy BS. They have done nothing but promote the McDojo set.

    Elvis did in fact earn a 7th degree. In his final year he was in bad shape. That does not discount the many years of training he did prior to that. No one can prove that Elvis did not earn his belt, nor is there proof Elvis claimed an 8th Degree. It is a slap in the face to make judgment about a man who earned his belt just because they excel in other areas. That is nothing more than jealousy. Most of this is perpetrated by worship of the false profits, the Tracys. I understand where your questions come in RJ, my comments were based upon the BS that comes from the Tracy McDojo camp. The Tracys tried to con Mr. Parker and Mr. Parker outsmarted them. They still have their panties in a bunch about it.
  13. RJ Clark

    RJ Clark Tree Ninja Staff Member

    the burden of proof doesn't lie with anyone else to disprove that Elvis "earned" his seventh degree black belt in his final years. Elvis was drug-addled and in terrible physical shape plus had a hectic schedule in his final years. Let's say it should take at least ten years of consistent training to earn seven Dan grades after he was awarded shodan. (For most styles/arts it would take much longer, but moving on) What kind of documentation can you cite that would lend credence to him training with Parker at least once a week for even half that timeline (five years) or that he even trained once a month with him? If there is nothing, then it absolutely was "honorary" multiple promotions and that is ludicrous. You're making an extraordinary claim that Elvis "earned" those Dan ranks so you need to present some solid evidence to back that claim.
    Aaron likes this.
  14. draygin

    draygin Initiate

    Most places when you claim someone to be a fraud you need to back it up. Ed Parker, Kang Rhee, Bill Wallace, Frank Trejo and many other reputable Martial Arts masters claim him to be legit. His 8th was under Rhee who's lineage I do not have connections with. Under Ed Parker he trained quite regularly according to EP Jr and Frank Trejo again, among many others. He began in 56. Rhee gave him a promotion to 8th in 74. The word of the Tracys again, means little to nothing. There is more to back up the claims of Elvis than there is the mystical training of the Tracys under an imprisoned Mitose. In 74 Elvis was still in great shape.

    Attached Files:

  15. RJ Clark

    RJ Clark Tree Ninja Staff Member

    I'm not calling anyone a fraud and I don't care about the Tracy's at all. Knowing how much time and hard work that goes into training and truly earning rank I'm skeptical that Elvis was able to dedicate that much of his life to earning seven Dan promotions. If someone doesn't put the time in with the proper focus and intensity then it would be an "honorary" promotion. Someone saying he's "legit" does nothing for me when I have no clue what context it was said. I can say Anderson Silva is legit and that he's good, but if I award him with seventh Dan it is an honorary promotion and not earned. Again, I don't care one iota about the politics and infighting within any of Kenpo's incarnations or interpretations. I was merely interested in seeing something that Elvis actually earned his Dan promotions, which I would have thought was quite awesome if he did.
  16. draygin

    draygin Initiate


    Sorry about the tone I used. It reads different than I had intended it too. I should have also made it more clear I felt that others were claiming him to be a fraud. Mr. Parker had told many he was a legit 7th degree. Also the comments about the Tracys were meant for those who quote them and rely on their word. I can also say that many people closed to EP said that for several years prior to his 7th degree promotion Elvis spent more time than many others training. He was in the Pasadena school on frequent occasion. Frank Trejo has a great story about one of those times when he was aloud to remain in the building and Elvis knew his name. If you talk to those who were around Parker a great deal they all seem to think he earned it. What it comes down to is the only ones who know are those who were there. Regardless it is quite awesome the extent that I have heard Elvis trained. For a man with his schedule and lifestyle it is amazing he had any time at all for it. Those who shared the rank with him seem to respect it and as a man who spent 20 years training and to have earned a first degree, I don't think it takes away from my rank. I received it from Frank Trejo himself and would not want one any other way. JMHO.
  17. Eric Dufurrena

    Eric Dufurrena The Iron Fist of Fun

    In most styles, dan ranks beyond 3rd require teaching, and in some styles even running your own school. Do regulations like this exist in Kenpo?
  18. dmach

    dmach Martial Archivest

    I can only speak for the Jeff Speakman 5.0 branch of Kenpo, but I will tell you what I have learnt about the school in the last few months.

    The monniker of 5.0 comes from the fact the Mr Speakman has rewritten the curriculum in order to keep the style current, most notably including grappling techniques and ground work in the grading requirements.

    As far as getting to 1st Dan, it seems to be quite an involved process. There are 3 levels of brown belt and the emphasis in the training seems to be just as heavy on the instructor side as it is on technique. It can take up to 3 years to be ready for the 1st Dan grading. The brown belt's time is split between instructing belt levels on technique, taking warm up activities and one on one coaching. At the moment we have one brown belt in our school who is sharing the instruction load with the two main instructors (both 3rd Dan). His own technique training for gradings is being done at the instructor's home on the weekends.

    The grading itself is done in Vegas, at an annual Kenpo seminar. Not sure if this is the only option, but appears to be the PREFFERED among the different schools. It is done in front of the Kenpo 5.0 heirachy (including Mr Speakman, Mr Sherman etc).

    I'm also told that higher belt ranks (2nd Dan and above) can be called upon at any time during the seminar to reaffirm their belt levels by repeating parts of their gradings. This is to ensure that they are maintaining their skills and training.

    Some may see this as daunting and others as overkill. I see it as a challenge, can't wait to get there myself :D
    Dave76 likes this.
  19. Dave76

    Dave76 Deheuol Gwyn Dragon

    Your still doing the long distance thing dmach?
  20. dmach

    dmach Martial Archivest

    Yep, every two weeks. Had first grading at end of last year.
    Dave76 likes this.

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