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Rathdown Kenpo Karate

Ed Parker / Huk Planas /

Secrets of the Magician of Motion...ED PARKER.
(First appeared in Black Belt Magazine, July 1979)

By John Corbett

He calls himself a magician of motion-and at 48 years of age he claims he has to be one just to persevere. But this self-proclaimed master of illusion pulls no rabbits from a hat. Instead, this mar- tial artist, called by some the "father of American kenpo karate," has of late re- vealed to a few faithful followers-and now to BLACK  BEL T magazine-the se- crets ofhis fighting art.
For illusionist Ed Parker, the magic which comprises his repertoire is no mere collection of cheap tricks, how- ever. The magic of his art results from more than three decades of intense mar- tial arts.involvement in Hawaii as a stu- dent and in California (since 1956) as an instructor ~d promoter. He is known for his Long Beach International Karate Championships and as an instructor who awarded black belts to students such as Jay T. Will, Dan Inosanto and Jack Farr, all of whom have gone on to distin- guished martial arts careers of their own.
Nevertheless, Parker has at times been denigrated as the teacher of a "slap art" in which the practitioner strikes himself as much as he does his oppo- nent. But out of more than 30 years devoted to kenpo, Ed Parker has created much more than a mere "slap art." Ap- plying lessons from basic physics, geom- etry, philosophy, plus his Yankee-style common sense and youthful experiences in street scrapes in Hawaii, the big, gray- ing but still agile Hawaiian has devised concepts he claims lie at the core of kenpo. He calls them his "master key movements" and the "alphabet" or "vocabulary of motion."
To get to the core, however, the ken- poist applies a strategy that simultane- ously makes his points and captu res the interest of an audience to the same de- gree as a master storyteller-or magician -may when his material is novel. Parker the storyteller relies in great measure on analogy and metaphor to emphasize the points he considers crucial in revealing .the magic of his kenpo system, a diverse
system he said he believes represents the cutting edge of martial arts advance- ment in the United States.
Although Parker may enthrall an audience during one of his frequent demonstrations or clinics, the kenpoist today said he remains just as excited over the potentialities of the martial arts as he did at his first introduction to the arts-in church.
Parker recalled a skinny and not par- ticularly strong churchmate who bragged of whipping a bully because of his knowledge of the martial arts.
"He's lying in church!" Parker said, exclaiming at the time. But he made a "convert" of Parker then and there with a quick show of technique. Impressed, Parker soon went to his churchmate's brother, William Chow, and began his lifelong involvement with the martial arts.
After further studies with Chow and kenpoist James Mitose, Parker enrolled at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, in 1949. His college studies interrupted by the Korean conflict and military service, Parker returned to BYU in 1954. While still a student, he began teaching kenpo at a local body-building gymnasium.
Parker completed his university work in 1956, made the move to California in 1956 and opened a school. Success fol- lowed. Parker soon franchised his school operations, and the martial artist re- tained a roster of some of Hollywood's leading actors and actresses among his students. But for all the trappings of success, Parker maintajns he found him- self excluded from the mainstream of martial arts.
"I was a rebel," the kenpoist insisted. "I was a misfit in the damn community in the martial arts world. Only now are they listening to what I have to say. That's a fact."
Martial artists and others are listening to what Parker says concerning the mar- tial arts, however, for he said he travels an average of twice a month from his Pasadena, California, home, visiting teachers and providing demonstrations and conducting clinics. Parker remarked that his journeys are invaluable as a way for him to propagate his kenpo system and for his understanding of the devel- opment of martial arts overseas.
The kenpoist recalled a Chilean in- structor who had studied under him in the United States more thar a decade ago.
" Arturo Petite stayed with me about seven or eight months, then invited me to go to Chile," Parker said. "So, I went in 1968. At that time, he had around a hundred students."
Parker said he gave a series.of demonstrations and offered clinics-not only for instructor Petite but also at a naval base at Concepcion, a port facility south of Chile's capital city, Santiago. The Ha- waiian-born kenpoist remembered the rousing success of his demonstrations as he and local martial artists shared their expertise. Parker said the crowds "went wild" over his performances, not merely because of his skill but-and Parker stressed the point-also because the American gave the local martial artists a full measure of respect.
"I found out the reason was that they (the spectators) felt (my) acceptance," he said. "Two or three months prior to that, a few Japanese envoys in the karate world watched their demon- stration and criticized and condemned. That really got the Chileans mad. All they want is don't (just) criticize the guy, correct him and tell him what he shoul d be doing correctly ."
Parker said he found Chileans to be particularly wary of foreign martial art- ists who offer their individual styles to local students. .
"There's a guy who's a commander in the Air ,Force, a guy named Com- mander Alvarado, and he's in charge of deciding who does or does not come into Chile to teach," Parker said. "They do have various styles, but they will not allow any group to come in and take over. They want them to come in for a period of time to disseminate any infor- mation and training that will enhance their people-and that's it.
"You can come and go. You're not to reside and take over as has occurred in some of these other countries."
Parker emphasized that-at least partially-one outcome of his Chilean sojourn was the marked success of Petite's school, which he said now has "more than three thousand students-and he's doing very well."
The kenpo stylist said he has found a similar desire for the locals to control the course of their martial arts programs in other countries in South America.
"That's what they're doing in South America," he said. "Chile's the only one that'5' doing that (now), but all the other countries are starting to follow suit now, which I think is a great thing. ,.
Even on a more recent trip to Europe in 1974, Parker said, he found the same attitudes.
"That was the big complaint of the Belgians that the Japanese were trying to take it over," he said. " All they want- ed was for the Japanese to come in and teach them, but they wanted to control their own program and set forth their own rules and regulations.'.
Out of these travels and talks with martial artists everywhere, Parker has developed his kenpo art and philosophy
to a state where, with the help of analogy and metaphor, he has distilled certain essential points. First, he sees the techniques of his system three- dimensionally-actually, as a series of planes or orbits revolving about the practitioner which enable him to fend off attacks from any angle and launch effective counterblows.
Pointing to a chart circumscribing a human figure, Parker said that "what you see here is only one-fifth the an- swer. Make five of these {around the fig- ure of the man), then it will look like the structure of an atom. Therein ries answers I have to show you."
Those answers he admitted have kept him ,and other k~npo instructors search- ing for a good while.
"A lot of kenpo instructors are searching," he said. "I'm not saying I have all the answers, but I haven't stuck to tradition. When you stick to tradi- tion, you're bound. You're bound to see only what is in that realm of knowl- edge."
It is just this rejection of tradition that has led the kenpoist to the second secret of his system, a concept based on the age-old premise that the end justifies the means.
"When I teach, I want effects," Park- er said. "If a punch comes, if you block it and you look lazy, as long as you block it, that's alii care about. I don't give a damn about going down with beautiful form.
"1 was talking like this twenty years ago when I was a no-good-for-nothing rebel. I'm a street fighter. I'm a realist. I've seen guys go into a fight and bite {the other) guy's nose off. And knowing that his nose is gone, he still hits! He's an animal.
"What do you do for stuff like that?" he asked. "There's nothing in the book. You know, on paper you can prove you can outrun a bullet, but would you like to try it? "
For a person on the run-someone who must acquire a quick understanding of martial arts techniques-Parker said he has developed another concept.
"The secret of the martial arts is not to have knowledge of twenty-four things as it is knowing four things," Parker said. "That is the key to all keys. It's more important to learn four moves and the twenty-four ways in which you can rearrange them."
Parker said if he can teach a student just four basic moves, there is then a total of twenty-four combinations in which those moves may be used. In- crease the basic four moves to five, and the total of available combinations rises geometrically to 120.
"If I have a cUent who's going to Europe, and he carries a lot of money, I will then gear my instructing to teaching him a condensed version but still master the key movements."
This combining of specific moves to create a much larger vocabulary of tech- niques leads to Parker's fourth secret.
"If I taught you the alphabet from 'A'to 'G' and then taught you how to arrange them to create words, there are a lot of words that can come out from , A ' to 'G,' " the kenpo stylist explained. "Now, if we allow ourselves to use (the same letters) more than once, we can create even more words."
Saying that this is as far as many martial arts go, Parker continued that many popular systems offer only a por- tion of the alphabet-only a portion of the vocabulary of motion-to students.
"That's fine-that's great," he said. "But what about the additional letters of motion? You have to bring them into the picture. Then, your vocabulary of motion increases even more.
  Let's put it th is way I" he said with emphasis, "everything from zero to nine is constant Everything after that is (a series of) combinations, and that's the same thing with kenpo."
Parker said mastery of as much of the vocabulary of motion was essential for instructors, for I'then, you can take out from your (instructor's) mastery of knowledge those few movements that will work for that individual, knowing what his capabilities and limitations are."
However, there were and are some masters of the martial arts who, even though they possess a remarkable vocabulary of motion, are not able to convey their knowledge to students adequately. Parker said he discussed the problem with Bruce Lee, whom he said he helped
I"' get a start in Hollywood.
c "Bruce Lee, by the way, stayed here (at Parker's house when he was) broke before I got him started in the industry," Parker said. "He and I used to talk a lot. The kid was sharp. He was good. But he was one in two billion. For him
.to convey his thoughts and his style to
another individual who lacked anyone quality that he had would never work." Using another concept for compar-
ison, Parker said he and Lee likened the entire body of martial arts knowledge to a mountain and that portion mastered by anyone man a piece of granite.
"He said that a man should be like a sculptor who gets a piece of granite and chips away the unessentials to get the true image of his imagination," Parker said, cQl1tinuing that he countered Lee's comparison by asking the source of his granite.
" Lee retorted that to consider an en- tire mountain would lead to confusion," Parker said, "but I said {to Lee) that's not so. The instructor needs to know that mountain so that he can get that piece of granite {right) for that student."
And without further assistance from the instructor, the student would be in for further trouble, Parker said he told Lee.
"Now it comes time for me to chip away the unessentials to get the true picture of my imagination. What do I see?'. asked Parker. "Raquel Welch. I chip away, and all of a sudden, I end up with Gravel Gertie because I have no tal- ent. No matter how much I try , because of my lack of talent and skill, you cannot create that image."
Parker reiterated his recollection of Lee's inability to communicate his knowledge-of either the mountain or a piece of granite-to someone of less abil- ity. And this is where Parker's teaching comes in.
"He (Lee) felt that a lot of these things were unessential," Parker said, "unessential to him at h is level. I agreed -but not unessential to the guy down here."
Parker said he takes many pieces of granite, cuts them to size and assists his s tudents in carving them; in other words, the kenpoist tailors his methods and techniques to suit the individual needs of his students.
"Many of us appear normal and/or alike," Parker said, "but structurally, our muscles differ in size and strength. There is a definite need to adapt a sys- tem to the individual and not the indi- vidual to the system."
The kenpo instructor said he will alter the timing of a combination of moves or of a technique with more than one specific move in it to fit the need of a student.
"Whichever one works best is the one I'll pick," he said. "If you really look at it, the underlying principle has not been changed or altered. It's just the timing that has been altered."
Parker admitted that many kenpo students appear more awkward thanstu- dents of other styles-at first. He at- tributed the problem to the greater numbers of techniques which comprise his complete alphabet or vocabulary of motion.
"That's the problem!" he said. "That's why some of my guys at the early stages of learning look worse than ashotokan student. I'll admit that. But the shotokan student, because of his limited knowledge, has more time,to work at it (techniques)."
No matter how many techniques a student may study, Parker emphasized the importance of the student's under- standing why moves are made certain ways.
"When learning English," Parker said, "the alphabet forms the basis of our language. From them, words are created, phonetics added, pronunciation, along with definitions to give words meaning. I feel that over the years many students are going through their kata, but they don't know what the kata are for .
"It's just as if you and I were learn- ing French," he continued. "We say beautiful words just like a Frenchman, but we don't know what the darned words meant. That's idiotic!
"How can you place proper emphasis on kata if, in fact, you dpn't know what they mean or know that a certain kata has more than one meaning?" he asked.
Parker said that a single move may be at one tJme purely defensive, then again, it may be a defensive move finishing as an offense, or the move may be used as a ~rely aggressive technique. He gave as an example an arm thrown out above the head as an upper block. The ken- poist explained that the move may be used to thwart an overhead punch, later used for the same defense and then brought down against the opponent or used purely for offense. He admitted the precise positioning and timing of the move may be altered but insisted the basic technique remained the same.
"That's like words that have one spelling having three or four defini- tions," Parker said. "Can't that also be true of motion? I found it to be true."
Just as motion may have several as- pects, Parker says he believes different points of view also are important to un- derstanding and mastering the moves employed in kenpo.

"When I teach, I teach certain moves," the instructor said, "and before that man leaves, I tell him what the possible defenses could be. I want him to see visually what he did and why he did it when he leaves. When he goes home, he will think about it."
Parker said most martial artists con- centrate on what they must do in a spar- ring or fighting situation.
"We never take the time to take his (the opponent's) position to see what opening exist," he said. " At the time I'm executing a move, what could he hit back with? Also, could a spectator see an additional thing that could occur but you can't because you're too close to the subject?"
Yet another viewpoint seldom stud ied but which Parker values is motion reversed. "I studied my moves in reverse (on film), and then, 10 and behold, all the answerS came to me," he said. "Motion is motion, going forward and reverse. Therein lie your answers.
"Ifa punch comes, I can parry before I elbow. Reverse the motion, I can use it not as a defense but as an offense. That's how my vocabulary of motion in- creased tenfold."
Corollary to the importance of tak- ing in several viewpoints, Parker stressed what he terms his black dot concept. He explained that whereas many other systems utilize a white dot focus in wh ich students concentrate all attention towar'd a target area, kenpoists focus on the black dot target and the peripheral white area as well.
"They (stylists who follow other systems) concentrate on maximum force or power, and very little thought is about defense," he said. "But there are two things you've got to watch for -what a guy intends to do and what he does not intend to do."
To explain, Parker brought up New. ton's theory of action and reaction, ex plaining that by devoting all attentior on the attack-the white dot-the at tacker may not notice what the opponent's reaction is. He said this could prove dangerous by giving an opponen an unexpected opening. In another area, Parker again stressed the value of readiness.
"The one dirty word in my vocab ulary is the word 'and,' " he said " 'And' to me is a commercial break You can get nailed during a commercial Don't block and hit. Block with, no and. If you grab and twist, your facl will get filled with a fist during th 'and.' "
By drawing on philosophy, Newton geometry, the structu re of the atom language and other concepts, Parker ha developed a kenpo art and a teach in method of a very personal nature. H, admits as much.
"Kenpo is the system I teach," h! said. "If, however, we were to examin( my methods carefully, the system coulc very easily bear my name." Though thE system bears his stamp, the kenpoisl still gives credit where it is due. He is careful to note the source of his methods in the teachings of jame Mitose and William Chow.
"If you look at my articles, I always give credit to him (Chow)," Parker said. "You have to remember that Chow has been belittled by a lot of people. He was the first person who started my thinking on our position regarding tradition."
Parker also credited Chow for getting him to consider the notion of master key movements.
"Chow and I swapped a lot of infor- mation," he said. "He noticed a lot of thing; didn't work in an American en- vironment. He was the guy who started me thinking about master key move- ments and increasing my knowledge."
Parker explained that kenpo was not alone in undergoing modifications in the United States-at the expense of tradi- tion and in favor of simplification.
"You find a lot of styles still stick rigidly to their particular kata," he said, "but when you see them freestyle, they're a different breed. They look like they're from different schools. Each and everyone borrows like hell from each other."
One may well ask, that with all the borrowing that occurs, would the indi- vidual styles-kenpo included-begin to lose their separate identities? Parker said he believes not.
" My art will not lose an identity be- cause I have come up with concepts and principles nonexistent in other styles," he claimed. "In other words, I feel the alphabet of motion is complete-most systems have only a small portion of the alphabet as opposed to the completed alphabet."
Furthermore, Parker said he believes his system has much 'to add to others.
"They're going to have an American shotokan, an American gojuryu, because these principles and concepts can be adapted by anybody," he said.
Parker admitted he had encountered problems along the way in gaining ac- ceptance for his American kenpo sys- tem, problems revolving around an Ori- ental mystique.
"If you were Oriental, you were the in thing, " he said. "If you were Cauca- sian, forget it!"
The kenpoist said his own inferiority complex was shattered during a visit to Japan. He said he found "the cream of the (martial arts) crop" were the ones who came to the United States.
"Those are the talented ones," he said. "Little do we Americans realize it's a small minority who we think is the majority ."
Parker quoted a passage from a book he is writing to elaborate his position:
., Authenticity is said to be based on one having Oriental heritage," the pas- sage goes. '.But how false this belief is, for talent is not a gift given to a par- ticular race of people but to individuals. It can be adopted, cultivated and per- fected by an individual who least ex- pects to be able to do so.
'.Many are gifted with the seeds of talent, regardless of race. Cultivation and effort is the stimulus that makes them blossom. On the other hand, al- though you can buy talent or have the talent to buy, it cannot be ingrained if you do not have the capacity to absorb it or execute it."
Another complex Parker has fought
in propagating American kenpo 1s the twin concept of purity and tradition.
..How often have I heard members of
other systems explain that their system is a pure system," Parker said with a sniff. ,. As if other other systems were contaminated.
.'What is pure?" he asked. '.Everyone keeps talking about the fact that what Gichin Funakoshi taught is pure. Yet, if you go back and study history ,you find he studied from two individuals. He put together what he thought were the best elements to be taught to the J apanese. How can you say his system is pure?
"I'm always told," Parker said- ., .Well, here is a school directly from Japan. Their forms are authentic.' I say that's fine. But in actuality they've changed. That's why you have shotokan and shudokan.
.'If you want to study boxing, then don't study with Ali," Parker said, drawing yet another of his analogies. .'Don't study with Norton. Try to get some guy who has preserved the JohnL. Sullivan methods of fighting. Stick to the classical. From an historical point, I agree. From a practical standpoint, I would never use it. That style isn't what we're looking for in the United States."
Parker closed arguments on the pur- ity controversy th is way:
"My philosophy in answering this question is when pure knuckles meet pure flesh, you can't get any purer than that, regardless of who executes the punch, no matter what style he may be from."
Parker the realist nevertheless dresses up his demonstrations and explanations with a lode of analogies. In addition to those already noted, he compares kenpo methods with an eclectic array running the gamut from aircraft carriers to the three natural states in which water may be found.
..Every time I put on a demonstra- tion, I say it will be a little different from what the audience may be accus- tomed to," he said, continuing that the emphasis is on sharing rather than showing. Parker said a kenpoist's blow may be compared to the launching of an air- plane from the deck of an aircraft car- rier .The force of a punch in some ka- rate is diminished by the practitioner's pulling back with one fist while punch- ing forward with the other .
"But if the lower half (of his body) is the catapult, the upper half is the force of my blow," Parker said. "I then have the power and the force to keep th is
hand here (not pulling back as in shoto-. kan karate)."
Parker called his kenpo a gaseous martial art, not for all the talk that goes into describing the methods used, but because he said he sees its possibilities expanding in all directions at once.
"Water comes in three forms," he said. "While people are at the liquid level, I'm at the gaseous stage in kenpo. When you have a solid, that's it-a solid. When you have a liquid, it seeks its own level. But what does a gas seek? Its vol- ume. That to me is the highest level of the martial arts. When I can go three or four directions at a time, that's the high- est state."
By way of comparison, Parker called shotokan a solid-Ievel martial art. He gives gojuryu and isshinryu styles a liquid rating. He does assent to hap- kido's gaseous state, "but there gas comes from one end basically-the feet."
Even Bruce Lee's jeet kune do rates onlya liquid grade from Parker.
"You have to remember about Bruce," Parker said. "He could come in and not even know what you know, watch you, do a move he had no idea of doing before, come out and look just as good as you the first time out and bet- ter than you the second time around. That was his forte."
For all his willingness to share his art with students at demonstrations and clinics worldwide, Parker said he is not a publicity seeker.
"I'm not worried about publicity," he said, admitting that his system had received lesser amounts of publicity than many others. "1 've never called anybody to get me in. Many magazines have called me and asked me to talk to them, and I have refused, not because I'm( antisocial. Many times, if you ask me what I'm doing, what I'm going to do, the minute I put it all down, people set up roadblocks. The less said, the more I can get done."
"More" includes a book he said he put off completing when longtime stu- dent Elvis Presley died. But he said he is now ready to share his book and his knowledge.
"With what I have now, I'm going to just start to come out and hit heavy," he said. "You guys came to me, fine. I'm glad to share my knowledge. What I've done, I've done. But I do care abou t what I'm going to do. I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to do. There's a lot of jealous people out there."
However, Parker did tell BLACK BEL T a detail or two regarding his book on kenpo-concepts from which have been included in this article. The kenpo stylist added that he will include a chap- ter on the relationships of the martial arts.
"To me, judo is a more ethical form of jujitsu," he explained. " Aikido is a more glorified version of jujitsu. However, all three could be considered an Oriental means of wrestling.
"Kenpo, karate, kung fu, tae kwon do and tang soo do are Oriental forms of boxing. But again, if you were to compare American boxing to the Orien- tal means of boxing, because of the limi- tations on weapons, we can say that American boxing is to checkers as what we do is to chess. The variables are greater .
"But I would then say that kenpo is a three-dimensional chess game. It really is."
Parker said he also plans a work on
the subject of commonplace body move- .
ments and how they may be turned to one's defensive advantage. Titled Every- day Gestures that Can Save Your Life, he said that even the most common movements-opening or closing a swing- ing door or using a hairbrush on long hair-may be used to advantage to thwart an attacker .
Parker admitted more than the fear of jealous rivals has motivated his reti- cence regarding his American kenpo. He said he has worried over former students who would leave and open up kenpo studios of their own.
"I always had the fear of guys taking off, being disloyal and opening up on their own," he said. "And so I left out a lot of stuff."
Parker said he found some students resenting his secretiveness, once they found out he had hidden knowledge from them.
"They were somewhat hurt in a way ," he admitted, "but they still feel happy. They are (the now-complete techniques) some minor additions in the whole puzzle. I am teaching those who
stuck by me. The fact is, I was going to reserve it (the knowledge) for my chil- dren and my son. He's not interested in the martial arts. He studies, but his heart is in the (fine) arts."
In place of children lost as succes- sors, Parker ~oted he has taken on pro- teges to insure the continuity of the kenpo systemo .
"My key protege is this kid Larry Tatum," Parker said with a laugh, con- tinuing that "anyone younger than me I call a kid. He's my. number one guy right now. He moves like me. He looks like me. He's got the power-everything. "
The kenpoist noted that he is helping 15-year student Tatum complete a book, Confidence, A Child's First Weal on. He also named two others he consil ers proteges, insiders with whom he h. shared the full scope of his knowledge Tom Kelly, who Parker said is the higl est-degree black belt at a seventh-dG level, operates a Parker school in Sa Lake City; Joe Palanzo, another forml student who Parker said holds a fiftl degree black belt, teaches at a school i Baltimore.
I n addition to h is select protege Parker insisted he will offer his kno~ edge to "anyone else who's definitel sincere, because when I go to the grave want to know that there are other pel pie who (know) outside of my famil' They would have the mountain ( knowledge."
Once he sees his students and prc teges have the mountain securely withi their grip, Parker said he will rest eas regarding the future of kenpo.
"I don't see that once my studen learn kenpo, they'll modify it," he saic "They'll perfect it. And that's wher they will excel."
But again, the entire mountain wi be too much for anyone of them t grasp, according to the kenpoist. Eac will call his own only "a portion of th whole-only that which suits each pe son."
There will be enough to go arounc however. For Parker said he believes h system is more all-encompassing tha any other at this point.
"It's the most updated version of th martial arts, employing more. concep and principles than in other arts now,
he said. And though there may be plethora of content available to studen of kenpo, Parker said the real truth ( their mastery of the art taken as a whol may be gleaned in one fashion only.
"When it comes down to the end, Parker said, "what is true for one perso may not be true for another. The re, truth for both lies in the moment o actual combat."

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